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“Project Management as the Customer Sees it"

 

 

So just who are our customers?

 

Customers are a bit like stakeholders, easy to define their attributes but hard to draw their boundaries. This is often one of the biggest problems or ‘issues’ that we face in the project or change world as we impact more and more people, are influenced by increasingly greater numbers and generate interest in larger and more diverse groups. Hence this is a very appropriate topic for a group of senior project managers.

 

What are they like?

 

Of course this section starts to get involved in the tricky area of personalities, perceptions and perspectives of which more later. However without a good scientific or ‘gut’ feeling for their potential future behavior we may be left floundering in the wind with a perfectly ‘beautiful’ MS project schedule and PMBOK® complaint plan.

 

We often start this piece by looking close to home. Are they like me, my family or my relatives? Are they like my neighbors, my acquaintances or people from my city, province? We then start to extend to comparisons with fellow countrymen, neighboring countrymen, fellow continentals. But now we are relying on gut feeling based on history, books, movies and a few samples at best. And this is where the twin dangers of ethnocentric and xenophobic behavior raise their ugly heads.

For larger groups some companies start to use ‘scientific’ methods e.g. Myers Briggs, Belbin, DISC as well as others with a more dubious background e.g graphology, astrology, Many of these systems give us nice comforting labels for individuals that go beyond local, national or international boundaries to titles like facilitators, plants, sculptors, artists, executives, visionaries, caregivers and performers. Some even give you a nice color hat or mug!

 However many of these systems are based on outdated ‘Freudian’ and ‘Jungian’ ideas, false positives and dubious statistics and fall foul to what is called the ‘Forer’ effect whereby individuals read into positive results and neglect negative attributes even though both are incorrect.

 

Why are they like that ?

 

Now this area is very interesting and depends on how much time we have and how much it affects you. At some point in your life you have no doubt reflected on why men are different from women. For those of you lucky enough to have two or more children will also have pondered on why they are different even though raised by the same loving parents. Perhaps at work too you have encountered differences between IT groups, Sales groups, Engineers and others. And also at a national level between Asians and Europeans, between Chinese and Americans, between Singaporeans and Finnish!

This takes us to the heart of the nature/ nurture debate that has swung both radically and irrationally from pure nurture (blank slate) to pure nature (instinct) to the present view of a compromise understanding based on recent genetic discoveries. Very basically we are descendants of primates that lived in savannah Africa for millions of years. Recent studies have identified 13 distinct ‘tribes’ in Africa. The rest of the world descends from one of those groups that left North Africa as hunter/ gathers about 150,000 years ago and settled in the Middle East or West Asia. From there it seems that 7 key tribes developed and started to spread out around the world between 40 and 20,000 years ago. Farming arrived about 10,000 years ago by cultural education although there are still some pockets of hunter/ gatherers. Language had been with us in various forms for millions of years, as dancing, singing and finally talking. Language started to differentiate into dialects and distinct languages around this time possibly to help us identify ‘free loaders’ or outsiders. Writing started in many different styles and methods but seems to go back no further that 5,000 years.

So when we ask the question – Why are they like that? We can now start to have an interesting debate. Was it because of something that happened yesterday? or last year? or in their childhood? Or is it something deeper that relates to their countrymen, their history and shared experiences? Or perhaps it goes deeper to where they live and have always lived, the climate and geography – factors that help select their ancestors and their beneficial characteristics. Or finally is it because of who they are at a genetic level, something that we all share to an amazing degree of 99.9% - interesting stuff indeed – and something that we must leave for the afternoon session as it may involve brief diversions into religions, genetics and brain chemistry.

 

What do they expect from us?

 

Expectations and expectation management are poorly dealt with in the PMBOK approach. Perhaps this is because they are difficult topics but this is a poor excuse and something that we should address here today.

We live in an exciting, changing, global world where perceptions and perspectives affect communication, where conflicts and motivation affect quality, where personalities and cultures affect team performance and they all affect the project environment. Within this environment the project manager must seek to achieve the project objectives, some explicit, some implicit. In many cases the project manager has split loyalties, to the client’s objectives and to his/ her employer’s objectives – a challenge that I’m sure that you have faced.

 

Project Management Maturity is a topic that is gaining ground in projectized companies and even in some operations/ functional companies. In theory a project manager is better supported within a more mature organization. However often there is still a lag between our performance and the expectations of the client/ customers.

Here we are talking about ‘professionalism’. replica watches uk As PMP’s we carry an interesting title that should convey a standard understanding and meaning. In general the expectations of doctors, architects and accountants is well understood as they are set and measured against a minimum set of criteria, tested and retested. How are we measured by our institution? Our peers? Our clients? Our bosses? What do they expect from us?

 

For many of us the expectation is set by the client, for others set by our own department and for a very few is set by the PMI. In essence this means subjective evaluation rather than objective evaluation which by analogy would be the difference between cricket (clear lines) and baseball (imaginary lines).

 

The road to a solution to this dilemma may be long but will involve three main areas of:

Competence

Credibility

and Power.

As project manager we need to increase our competence generally as a group and not solely as individuals. This means addressing the main areas of competence – knowledge competence, skills competence and finally personal competence. (see paper on personal competence measurement in appendix). replica watches uk This is an area that all professional bodies have addressed and I’m sure that a solution will be found. We have the PMP as a measure of knowledge competence, training, practice and development of skills competence and the introduction of the PMCDF (project management competency development framework) for the personal competence.

 

Competence leads to credibility through repeated provision of knowledge, skills, standards and techniques. A project manager in a environment will be less likely to encounter mistaken expectations of the PM role and given more freedom to initiate, plan, execute, control and close individual projects as well as establish portfolio and governance structures.

 

Credibility leads to power that enables the project manager to change, to motivate, to reward, to punish (yes, that too) and ultimately deliver on objectives thereby increasing credibility for the profession or PM body.

 

Where did they get that idea??

 

How easy is it for you to take another perspective, to understand another point of view, to tackle and overcome an incorrect perception. Have you been fortunate enough to work in an IT environment, live in Finland (for at least one winter!), to experience the thrill of a professional baseball game, the summit of a mountain or signing of a major contract? hublot replica uk There are so many perspectives that affect us, so many points of view – is this a futile exercise?

As trainers we have many tools to help us in this endeavor from Edward de Bono’s colored hats and the blind Indian elephant story for perspectives, to Belbin team roles for perceptions, to physical changes for points of view and many more. All of them useful to varying degrees. replica watches However it is still hard to explain snow to someone who has never experienced it – try it sometime?

 

As project manager we need to try to ‘get into the shoes’ of our customers and this may involve a knowledge and experience of operations environment, replica watches, European environment, legal environment etc. Can one person do all of this? And to what level of detail.

Fortunately the PMI does not expect this of us and perhaps it is only a matter of time and education of our customers when they will understand that our role as ‘integrator’ is the best approach to this gap. And this role is supported by steps, documents, tools and techniques.

 

I believe that the future lies in our own hands. By improving the competence and value of the individuals we will build the credibility of our profession and gain the power and respect of our customers to improve expectation management.

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