Busy Times Ahead

February 20, 2010

This is just a brief note to update you on what’s happening, for me 2010 looks like being a very busy year……

Two weeks ago I was elected President of the PMI Melbourne Chapter. The previous team have left the organisation in good shape, thanks are due to Ken Farnes and Doug Treasure, but as with any growing organisation there are always many new things to do and processes to improve. My other commitments to PMI continue, as a regular columnist in the PM Network magazine (next column due publication in March) and as a blogger in the PMI Voices on Project Management team.

The major work of editing and finalising the content of my new book, Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders cuts in shortly. The eminent panel of writers who are contributing chapters are due to submit their first drafts in a few weeks.

The next few days are occupied with the PMI Asia Pacific Congress, most of the time I will be around the Melbourne Chapter booth and have my paper, Beyond Reporting – The Communication Strategy to present.

I still have lots of ideas for posts for these blogs and white papers for the Mosaic site but may be slower in delivering them this year.

Just as well we are in the Year of the Tiger – I feel as though I will need all of the power and energy the Tiger possesses.

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Developing Competency

February 13, 2010

Knowledge alone is not enough! To be effective in any sphere of life you need to be capable of applying knowledge effectively to achieve an outcome; this is competency. However, to be really effective you not only need to be capable of being competent, you need to be willing to act, to use your capability effectively. Effective (ie, competent) managers need to know what should be done, have the skills to do the work and be willing to actually do the work.

Putting this into context, project managers agree that having an effective schedule is important and also know they need knowledge of CPM theory (summarised in Chapter 3 of the PMI Practice Standard for Scheduling) and their scheduling software to produce a realistic and achievable schedule. But simply creating a schedule is not sufficient – the project manager needs to make effective use of the schedule if it is going to add value to the project delivery process.

This makes measuring and assessing management competence difficult. Observing an artefact is not sufficient, it is the way the competent manger behaves that make the real difference. Fortunately, the definition and assessment of competency is based on a defined structure:

First, there are three basic elements within the project management competency framework,
        –   technical competencies – what you do or produce,
        –   contextual competencies – how you work within the organisation / environment, and
        –   behavioural competencies – how you operate in the workspace and interact with people.

Then each element of competence is assessed in terms of:
        –   knowledge (what you know – tested by CAPM and PMP exams),
        –   skills (the capability to effectively apply the knowledge in the workplace and the artefacts produced) and
        –   attitude (how willing or effective you are in applying the skills).

This is normative competence and is the structure of PMI’s Project Manager Competency Development Framework and virtually every other professional competency framework including those developed by the AIPM, IPMA and GAPPS. However, the framework dates back to the industrial age where task repetition was common and one could learn the best-in-class approaches and emulate these to deliver new tasks.

In the ‘age of knowledge’ this is probably not sufficient, competent project managers in the 21st Century need to grow beyond normative thinking and embrace transformative practice. Project management competence is shifting from a process view towards autonomy; self reference and group self organisation. These qualities empower professional project managers to perform well despite prevalence of complexity and rapid change. They develop customised solutions for each new, unique, occasion; implementing the new solution requires the use of existing knowledge but will also generate new knowledge.

This constructivism theory has a basic assumption that each time you perform a new activity you build on your existing knowledge to acquire new insight and competence, and consequently engage in continuous learning. To be really effective, the organic ‘on-the-job’ learning should also be reinforced with the acquisition new information from journals, innovative courses, discussions with colleagues and participating in communities of practice.

Consolidating the new learning into tangible and useful knowledge needs reflection (to understand what has been learned) and possibly the assistance of a mentor to help unlock the complex factors needed to grow within yourself, develop creative solutions, and find new ways to succeed.

Yesterday’s competence is the foundation on which you can build tomorrows, but relying solely on yesterday’s skills is insufficient! Competent project managers know they need to keep learning and developing.


CIOB stocks our Stakeholder Relationship Management book

February 8, 2010

Construction Books Direct, the official bookshop of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB – UK) has selected Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation, for inclusion in its range of construction and building books and contracts.

To purchase in the UK see: http://www.constructionbooksdirect.com

To preview the book’s contents, see:
http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html


Communication or Confusion

February 5, 2010

Whilst preparing my March column for PM Network (available 1st March), I was considering the difficulties caused by language in the process of communication. Albert Einstein summarized the problem nicely: ‘The major problem in communication is the illusion that it has occurred.’

Communication, is a two way process to build a common understanding. But the process of communication is not helped by words. There are words spelt the same with totally different meanings:

  • The bandage was wound around the wound.
  • The farm was used to produce produce.
  • The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

And words that are spelt differently but sound the same:

  • The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

These are just a few examples, the meaning of some words also changes by national, regional and industry usage as well as the migration of slang into acceptable usage. The example I used in my column is Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. What’s really interesting though is most people with a reasonable command of English within the context of the whole sentence would have little difficulty in distinguishing between:

– present = the current time

– present = bestow or give

– present = gift.

Then bring in punctuation to change the meaning of words:

  • Eats shoots and leaves.
  • Eats, shoots and leaves.

The Australian version of the ‘eats shoots and leaves’ joke is:

A wombat walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires it into the ceiling.

‘Why?’ asks the confused waiter, as the wombat makes towards the exit.

The wombat produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. ‘I’m a wombat’, he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.’

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

‘Wombat: Mid sized Australian marsupial. Eats, shoots and leaves.’

(The Australian version of this joke is actually eats roots and leaves – wombats live in burrows – but I won’t go there).

In face to face conversations, recognising misunderstandings that can lead to a breakdown in communication is fairly easy; up to 90% of the communication is through body language and vocal tones. Even with telephone calls, the tone of voice tells you a lot about the other person feelings. Traditional writing with proper sentence construction and punctuation falls a long way short of verbal communication but is also a well understood structure for conveying information, if not understanding.

However, the arrival of emails, SMS and twitter has transformed the communication landscape. In a virtual team probably more than 90% of the communication is based on the words in emails and texts. These communication media do not follow the traditional rules.

People in a well established group operating virtually may be able develop language protocols that provide effective communication but to outsiders this ‘new language’ can be almost impenetrable. Cn u undRst& dis? (translated at Lingo2word  =  can you understand this?). Throw in some good old industry jargon and from the perspective of the old rules, it’s surprising any one actually communicates. But they do, or at least appear to!

One study has suggested good virtual teams outperform good co-located teams but poorly functioning virtual teams are far worse than poorly function co-located teams. I need to follow up on this but my first impressions are the breakdown in communication implied in the study has far more impact in the virtual arena.

In this new age of interconnectiveness the rules of effective communication are different and rapidly evolving and the degree of acceptance of these ‘new rules’ is likely to be in part age based. Most people in their 50s and 60s really need to see someone they are dealing with at least once or twice to build rapport and open effective communications; whereas younger people seem totally comfortable building rapport by email and text.

Another aspect is the global nature of ‘web2’. Old communication protocols varied from society to society based on each society’s concepts of formality, social structure and power. Outsiders who needed to communicate effectively in a different culture learned the appropriate cultural norms. How relevant these traditional forms are to people under 30 who can communicate with anyone, anywhere using SMS and email, not to mention the social networking sites such as twitter has not been determined. More things to look at…..

What does this mean for a manager developing a communication plan today? The short answer is I don’t know. Effective communication is still critically important in most aspects of business but I would suggest relying on any set of protocols that worked in the past without a careful assessment of their current effectiveness is likely to be counterproductive.

Some of these questions will be addressed in my new book, Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders (publication 2011), many of the others are starting to be worked into our communication workshops but there’s a long way to go both academically and practically to really come to grips with the new communication landscape.

More later.