How to Inspire and Manage a Team with a Simple Concept

Project management can be tricky at the best of times, but when your team is up against something bigger than them, it can make things even more difficult. There is one woman in Kenya who is using a straight-forward concept to inspire not just her team, but numerous women in Kenya and beyond.

Life for women in Kenya is not without its challenges. Restrictive access to education, limited property rights, and underrepresentation in the workplace are just some of the problems woman continue to encounter on a daily basis in 2018.

This is not say there have not been concerted efforts from Kenyan authorities to address the gender imbalance. The unveiling of an ambitious and inclusive constitution in 2010 marked the beginning of a new era of gender equality in Kenya. But nearly 8 years on, progress has been slow, with the government falling short of their own minimum requirements and quotas in the National Assembly and Senate.

But rather than feel disenfranchised and disengaged with the political process, Kenyans are standing up to be counted as they actively look to redefine gender relations within their country.

Catalyst for Change

One such torchbearer for the movement is the businesswoman turned “leadership influencer and change catalyst” Patricia Murugami. Identifying major obstacles women face in their careers was the focus of her doctoral research. Her ground-breaking research concluded that some of the largest impediments facing women was their institutionalized exclusion and she considered whether these obstacles could be successfully turned into potential catalysts for positive change. To achieve this change, Patricia devised a formula which she believes simplifies the complexities of life into actionable and straight-forward steps which will enable women make small but consistent positive changes.

Patricia’s introduction to these obstacles began when early in her career she was working as an auditor in the male-dominated finance sector. It was here she became all too aware that the female members of staff were routinely being overlooked for progression and were largely underappreciated.

Beginning at the University of Nairobi, Patricia earned an MBA in Strategy and Marketing before completing a DBA at the International School of Management in Paris. She then went for another DBA at Strathmore Business School, juggling her studies with positions as Advisor to the Dean, Certified Transformational Executive Coach, and a member of the faculty.

It was that early experience working in finance in 2009 which drove her to the decision to single-handedly launch 15 leadership programs designed to inspire and elevate women in their professional and personal lives. Together with the support of her able team, she sought collaborations and customized programs with globally accredited business schools and large corporates including the telecoms company Safaricom and Strathmore Business School. The most noted of which is the Women in Leadership program, which is held in 4 locations annually; twice in Nairobi and once each in Kampala, Kigali and Dar Es Salaam.

Helping Disadvantaged Men and Women

Murugami focuses on helping disadvantaged women especially, through support and mentoring, instilling the lesson that progression can be sought through “lifting each other up.” Whilst Patricia is focused on the empowerment of professional women in the professional arena, it is not uncommon for her to throw open the doors of her programs to men, having welcomed male leaders onto her Board Readiness program for the first time this year. This was an important step as Patricia explains “we opened it up to male leaders as we want to be more inclusive and enable more boards to be constituted with a diverse range of directors. This will lead to more proactive and progressively sustainable organizations.”

Unlike similar research that preceded her own, Murugami’s stands out because of the formulaic framework she devised, which effectively simplifies all the complexities of life into actionable and straightforward steps. Once such step is to conquer and manage fear by accepting it as part of human experience. Upon acknowledgment of this Patricia revealed that they are then asked “what would you do if you were not afraid? Then do it proactively and without question.”

Another key step is for participants to raise at least 10 other young women and men to leadership in their companies and community through their example, mentoring, coaching and story-telling. The idea of this Patricia explains is “to increase the leadership circle, break silo effects and enable others to learn from their own experiences and personal wisdom’. The results of which enable women, and men for that matter, make small but significant steps forward in making positive changes in their lives. Notably, mentorship circles like the one at Breakthrough Consulting Solutions have created “ripple effects” that have resonated with this generation’s leaders through the development of a safe and high impact leadership atmosphere, changing the culture of their organizations.

Chloe Hashemi is part of the marketing team at ISM. She enjoys writing about everything from women in business, project management and leadership, to technology in business. 

How Project Management Can Help You This Valentine’s Day

We’ve talked a lot about balancing a personal and professional life, particularly as a project manager and/or entrepreneur. For those professionals with a family, marriage or long-term relationship, you know how hard it can be to balance both.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, project managers and entrepreneurs who are still single might suddenly feel the loneliness on the other side of being a professional and running a successful business. But did you know being a professional can help you with your personal relationships and love life?

Here are some business skills that not only carry over to your personal relationships, but that can actually save your love life.

Communication. Most would agree that one of the most important aspects of a successful and healthy relationship is communication. Much like running an effective meeting or leading a team, professionals strive to practice open communication, effective and active listening, and encouraging healthy conflicts that lead to strengthening teams.

Relationships work much the same way. You would treat and speak to your partner in a way that values opinions, encourages open dialogue, and makes him or her feel heard. If there is a change to project scope or a relationship dynamic, then you would communicate this change or have a conversation to address it.

Connection. Having a connection to a particular customer, project or team member is also incredibly important in the world of business. It enhances value, improves team interconnectivity and functionality, and even boosts productivity. If you were to interview a number of team members and ask each of them the thing they love most about their jobs, they will likely say it’s the people they work with that makes their jobs enjoyable.

We, as humans, often strive for that level of connection with other humans; it’s just biology. This is just one reason why we seek relationships, whether or not we want to admit that we do. Having a deep and strong connection with a spouse, significant other or even a friend is a great feeling.

Trust. Another crucial component to any successful relationship is trust. The same goes for the world of business and entrepreneurship. A true leader trusts his or her team members. This is where micromanaging can ruin trust if a leader or project manager isn’t careful.

Sometimes in a relationship, a partner—or team member, in this case—needs “space”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it could just mean giving that individual the space they need to grow, develop, flourish, and simply be him or herself.

Are our professional and personal lives the same? Absolutely not…thank goodness. However, this merely shows how certain professional qualities and skills, particularly in the realm of project management, can carry into our personal lives, and even help us with relationships.

How Project Managers Maintain Their Mental Health

It’s no secret that project management comes with its challenging and stressful days. From putting out fires to problem-solving to a phone that never seems to stop ringing, it’s a wonder some project managers keep from tearing through the hallways screaming.

The truth is, project management isn’t always as easy as it looks. And for those project managers who are really good at keeping a sane, calm demeanor, are probably wreaking havoc to their mental states.

So how do project managers keep a straight face, tackle problems, and stay calm on those days when all hell breaks loose? Here are some tips to help project managers stay great project managers and also maintain their mental health.

Stay Calm. First and foremost, no matter what the job throws at you, it’s important to remember to stay calm. If necessary, take a walk to calm down and take a breather. Most project managers can’t fathom walking away or taking a break from a problem once it arises, however, most would also agree that allowing time away from the issue allows project managers to regroup, collect their thoughts, and address the problem from a calmer state.

Keep Emotions out of It. Try to keep the intense emotions out of every situation. Even if a customer or team member is heightened emotionally—or calls you screaming—it’s extremely important to remember not to respond negatively and take it personally. There’s a reason he or she is upset; therefore, the best approach is to listen at what their true concerns are and address them accordingly. Sometimes negative emotions are just a cry for help.

Communicate Clearly. One way to address that upset team member or screaming customer is proper communication. After practicing active listening and really hearing another individual’s problems or concerns, it’s the project manager’s chance to effectively and clearly respond to his or her concerns, show compassion, and provide and offer solutions and/or problem-solve as needed.

Before offering or providing solutions, it may be necessary to take the problem down a notch. For example, it may be necessary to smooth over the conflict and take down the tone and language by showing some compassion and understanding for an individual’s concerns. You don’t have to agree with what the individual might be claiming, but you will have to deal with it. And it’s best to deal with it from a less emotional state.

There are also a number of stress-reducing strategies project managers have perfected over their time and experience in the field. The above tips will certainly help keep a project manager from blowing up, jumping out the window, or doing or saying something he or she will likely regret, which never ends well…for anyone.

Finally, if you are a project manager that is easily overwhelmed or faces difficult projects, customers or team members on a daily basis, then it’s important to remember to stay calm, keep emotions out of a conflict, and practice active listening and effective communication. Not only will this reduce the intensity of a particular conflict or problem, it will also help project managers take control of the situation and manage it effectively.

How Learning Styles Can Make You a Better Leader

What is your learning style? Everyone, regardless of career, level or position, has a learning style. Adhering to and recognizing that learning style is critical to individual success. Furthermore, implementing various strategies and learning tactics into training team members is critical to your success as a leader.

The different types of learners include visual, auditory, and tactical. Each step in strategic thinking and planning should incorporate each learning style to ensure that team members are learning their jobs, incorporating their goals, and getting the most out of what they learn in the most effective manners possible, and that are just right for them.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Maybe…but let’s break it down a bit further.

Visual Learners. Visual learners are the team members that rely on visual aids, such as charts, graphs, concept maps, or even prefer reading material at their own pace in order to learn and intake information. So the team members in a meeting or presentation that may seem like they aren’t paying attention, they are, but will most likely read up on meeting notes or review presentations on their own time and at their own pace.

Auditory Learners. Auditory learners are the team members that prefer listening and participating in lectures by asking questions as opposed to reading material. Some leaders may find that the “talkers” in the group are often the people that wait until a minute before the close of a meeting to ask 100 questions. Be patient…those are just your auditory learners speaking up.

Tactical Learners. Tactical learners, also known as kinesthetic learners, are the team members that are doers. They are the fidgety, hands-on, “I need to just DO this” kind of people. These are the team members that might doodle or fidget in meetings or during presentations that others might find annoying or distracting. They are in fact listening, but they prefer to do it rather than listen to it.

By recognizing and understanding each learning style, we just learned a whole lot more about our teams, didn’t we? Now that leaders understand each learning style a little bit better, how does this knowledge make us better leaders, entrepreneurs, or project managers? It allows us to tailor meetings, training presentations, and even how we support and teach new team members the ways of the job.

For example, Joe is a visual learner on your team. He visits your office or calls you up and asks a question that may require some training or in-depth explanation, how do you show Joe what to do? If Joe is standing in your office or is on the phone, you can verbally explain to him what to do, and then you might follow up with an email with those same instructions after your conversation. You can also email him charts or slides from a training presentation for his review. This way, Joe, who may not have taken in every single word you said, which doesn’t mean he didn’t listen, but now he has an email from you to read on his own once he dives back into his task and figures out what to do.

Some of you who might be reading this might think this is borderline micromanagement. It isn’t. It’s not about doing team members’ jobs for them, it’s recognizing individual learning styles. Just like any team member would recognize a team member’s strengths and weaknesses, this is taking it one step further and reaching a team member in the way that they learn best. This is what truly will set you apart as being a good leader.

Project Managers Find Job Purpose

Everyone has a job. Well, unless you are one of those fortunate individuals who don’t have to work or choose to be a stay-at-home parent (except being a parent is probably the hardest job of all!) most individuals have a job. However, if you take the majority of working individuals, how many of them do you think have actually found a meaningful purpose in that job? Seldom few, we’re guessing.

Project managers, however, usually don’t have any trouble finding job purpose. There are always a thousand tasks, projects, and responsibilities to manage and monitor. However, project managers, in the midst of complete and utter chaos, should reflect on why they are a project manager and what it is they are project managing.

Fuel for the Fire. Project managers all have a burning passion and drive within them. It’s that fire that allows them to be the proactive go-getters that they are. In order to keep that fire burning, there needs to be fuel. The fuel, in this case, is job purpose.

It’s really easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae and boring details of any job, but it’s important to remember what and who is it that you are serving. What are your deliverables and how do they impact others’ lives? Maybe you are project managing a non-profit organization, or building houses, or contributing to our technical society and atmosphere in some fashion. Either way, find that purpose, give it fuel, and make it happen for yourself…because you are worth it.

Personal Touch. In addition to every project manager’s driving force and passion, they also have their own personality. Each project manager’s personality plays a huge role in managing a project and in creative problem solving. We’ve talked before about the psychology behind project management and how it is both an art and a science. The art behind project management is creativity, which varies upon the project manager or individual. That level of creativity is a project manager’s own personal touch, which is also what makes a project successful and allows any project manager to find job purpose.

Change Someone’s Life Each Day. Even if you have the most boring project management job known to man (and woman!), we’d bet money you could still find a way to changes lives with what you do. The point here is to find what that is and how you help and impact another’s life (regardless of how small or insignificant it may seem) and focus on that. Even if your job or area of expertise doesn’t change lives directly, focus this energy towards a coworker or supplier you have a great working relationship with. A “hello, how are you?” and a smile in the hallway can make a bigger impact than what you might think. It will make getting up and going to work each day that much more rewarding.

All in all, working for a living is tough. Some jobs are more challenging than others, some are enjoyable, but at the end of the day, it’s still work. That’s why we call it work. However, project managers have the ability to control that mind frame by finding job purpose. Analyze your job as it is now, and find out how you can integrate your personal touch, fuel it, and really make an impact on someone’s life. What more purpose do you need?

Language: The True Leadership Element

When we think about leadership, what do we think of? We might think of management, responsibility, a mentor, working with and encouraging others, or even working within a team. But there is a difference between “leadership” and “management”, isn’t there? When we think about leadership, we should also think about language.

Every organization has its own vocabulary or buzzwords they throw around in training materials, meetings, and even in official documentation. But what do these words even mean? The executive level management team throws them around and expects employees to alter their working habits, attitudes, and goals to adjust and align to the new buzz.

While most leaders and managers understand what organizations are trying to do, sometimes the message can get lost in the shuffle down through managers and teams, and under workloads. But rarely do we actually stop and think about what certain words mean, or the words we use in daily conversation and in the delegation of tasks.

This is why leadership and language are so important. A leader is certainly responsible for certain managerial tasks, one of which most likely includes overseeing a team of people. However, how a leader functions within that team is what truly makes him or her a leader. A leader doesn’t just run reports, answer questions, and see that work and projects get done; this is a manger. A real leader encourages a team member to reach his or her goals and succeed, and uses the appropriate language to make this happen.

For example, let’s say your organization and its stakeholders all have one common goal or focus: education or community. Then organizational leaders would want to utilize language within teams that corresponds with this focus. Some keywords that may apply here could include educate, inspire, create, or learn; or centered, unified, common, interaction, or participation. Remember, this isn’t a glorified Thesaurus or “free association” task; language is carefully selected so that it accurately pertains to team and organizational focus and goals.

The idea is for successful and wise leaders to use this vocabulary and integrate it into team goals and everyday tasks. The more leaders use them, the more team members will catch on and begin to align their work habits and attitudes along with the organizational focus. This isn’t about brainwashing here, but we’ve all heard the phrase that a laughter and smile is contagious; language and attitudes are too. The more leaders are language-centered, the more teams will be too.

Who knew that language could be so closely tied to teams, management, and overall organizational operations? Language is elemental to a leader’s and team’s overall attitude and success. How can you integrate the right language into your team that is accurately aligned with organizational goals? Regardless of whether you are a team leader, entrepreneur, project manager, supervisor, or small business owner, integrate the use of language. Study the organization’s mission statement, team member goals, or even stakeholder correspondence to see which kind of language is used, and then work to find links between team member tasks and attitudes. Language is true leadership.

Post-Mortem Meetings: They Don’t Have to Be Bad!

Professional project managers have all heard of post-mortem meetings. Some organizations work them into their workflows and project processes and others only hold meetings for high-level and high-risk projects. However, those project managers and organizations that incorporate them into their project processes typically dislike them. But why? Post-mortem meetings don’t have to be bad!

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Post-mortem” as “an analysis or discussion of an event after it is over”, which also means “after death”. Post-mortem meetings are typically held after project completion where the project encountered a lot of risks or errors, or the project was just a complete failure. The purpose of a post-mortem meeting is to discuss the problems or issues to see how the project can run smoother next time around.

Most project managers and team members dread post-mortem meetings. This is because team members often play “the blame game” and meetings are often negative in nature, or even closely resemble a boxing match than they are productive. Most team members and project managers don’t want to spend time discussing errors or negative events, but need to address management or personnel concerns if those were the reasons for the project’s failure.

However, post-mortem meetings don’t have to be this way. In fact, some organizations hold “post-mortem” meetings for every completed project, whether it was a success or failure. Each meeting addresses high and low points; things that worked really well and areas which needed improvement. This way, all meetings talk about the positives and the negatives and how teams can work on these items and keep them in mind for future projects.

In addition, post-mortem meetings should allow each team member and project manager a chance to speak and voice his or her concerns on what they thought went well and maybe what didn’t go so well. Each meeting is productive, positive, and efficient, and each team member leaves with action items as well as feeling fulfilled that their opinions were shared and valued.

The only downside to holding regular “post-mortem” meetings is time. Most project managers know that they are often pulled to another project before being able to properly close out the previous. As a result, there isn’t always time to hold a “post-mortem” meeting for every project that is completed. Sometimes it is months before a project manager is able to hold a post-mortem meeting for a completed project.

All in all, post-mortem meetings don’t have to be bad. They can be a productive and positive experience that team members and project managers don’t have to dread or avoid. It also gives team members a chance to focus on strengths, weaknesses, and feel valued by offering suggestions, giving and receiving positive feedback or constructive criticism, and maybe even learn a thing for two for the next project, particularly if the next project is for the same account. Finally, like every other process and phase in the project, post-mortem meetings should be properly documented and archived with the project during procurement so other teams or other project managers can review the notes before working with the same account or revising the same project in the future.

The Power of Brainstorming

Identifying project risk, performing risk management planning, and analyzing and responding to risk are all crucial areas when kicking off a new project. Regardless of how complex or straight forward a project may seem, there are always risks. It’s important for a project manager to think of how best to identify and address risks, especially with new projects or prototypes. So where should a project manager start? Brainstorming.

Brainstorming may seem like a very disheveled and disorganized method to generating ideas. However, while parts to this may be true, it’s also highly effective. Brainstorming can either be done individually or in a large group. Obviously we’ve all heard the phrase, “two heads are better than one”; this is certainly true with brainstorming. While the whole idea behind brainstorming is to just think up as many ideas that will pertain to a project and its associated risks as possible, there are some rules project managers need to consider.

1)      First and foremost, and probably even most importantly, there are no stupid ideas. Project managers and/or team leaders should never shoot down ideas. First, the whole idea behind brainstorming is to get creative and think up as many ideas as possible. Secondly, team members should never feel hindered to thinking of an idea or that their idea wasn’t well received or was “stupid”. The whole point behind brainstorming is to open up creativity, go in with an open mind, and just think of creative ways to respond to project risks.

2)      Keep it simple. To maximize brainstorming opportunities, groups should be held with a minimum of five team members and no more than ten team members. Whenever and wherever possible, team brainstorming sessions should include essential team members that will be participating or working on the project in some form. In addition, brainstorming sessions can also include managers, supervisors, and even higher level executives. Different levels of experience, points of view, and vested areas of interest can all be crucial components to a successful brainstorming session.

3)      Document ideas. So we’ve got a risk facilitator or colleague PM running the brainstorming session, we’ve got different team members of different areas of expertise and experience, and plenty of ideas…but how do we record them? They can either be recorded on a laptop or tablet with an overhead projector, a visual bulletin board or dry erase board, or even a flip chart. When team members offer ideas and can read them, then other ideas will “piggy back” off them, which is how brainstorming spearheads. Each team member should have at least one turn in sharing an idea.

All in all, brainstorming is just one effective method to identifying risk and coming up with different, creative ways to responding to them. There are other risk identification techniques such as the Delphi technique or interviewing. However, brainstorming is a great and casual way for team members to get together, bond on a particular project, or even participate in a great project.

Why We Always Say We Can Get It Done

Have you ever had the project sponsor speak up during a status call and ask if you can get that new report done a week earlier than requested…or some other similar type of request?  And what do say in return?  No?  I’m guessing not. And in reality, just giving the client a quick ‘no’ isn’t a good idea anyway.  But neither is giving them an immediate ‘yes’, which is what many of us do nearly all the time.  And why do we do that?  Because we know we can do it?  Maybe.  Because we think we can?  Probably.  We know it’s easier to say yes now and apologize later if we fail.  Is it because we have big egos?  Probably. Is it because we don’t want to tell the client no?  Again, probably.

So, we said we could get it done…how we should be careful to say and then how to follow up…

Saying yes is actually good.  First, saying yes is actually good.  But say it with a caveat.  Say, “Yes, I think we should be able to accommodate that request.  We just need to assess it on our end and get back to you on how to incorporate it into the current work and schedule.”  Something like that should do the trick.  Don’t say you have to verify if it’s in or out of scope – that’s sort of a given but you don’t have to always sound like the “Scope Police” (cue one of my favorite songs “Dream Police” as background music now).  It will quickly turn the customer off after about the second time you utter those words.

 Meet with your team to create a response strategy.  Gather the team together and use some mind mapping software to come up with a quick response strategy.  Likely you’re going to be coming back to the project sponsor with a change order and that’s good – but you need to do it strategically so that you meet their needs and get their money funnelled into the project as more revenue at the same time.  Always make the change they want look even more enticing and necessary than even they thought it was – it will make approval and signoff of that nice change order even easier to get.

Keep your ego in check.  The delivery team is full of big egos and you all think you can do anything for the client.  You may be able to, but it will almost always come at a price.  So the blanket response of, “We can do that” with nothing more said can give the customer the false idea that you can do it, will do it, and it’s all part of the current scope or will be so easy that they won’t have to pay for it.  On a long term engagement it’s very easy for each side to get so familiar with each other that you think certain things are just “included.”  Don’t play hardball, but try not to make it such a nonchalant response.  Be business like and let them know you’ll research and get back to them.

Summary

It’s ok to sound positive…that’s what the delivery team should always be about – fulfilling the needs of the project customer.  But remember that it’s your job to deliver a successful project, a profitable project, and to manage project scope all at the same time.  So, give the customer the feeling you can do anything, but never give that fully away in your initial response.  Count to ten before responding if you have to.  That’s a good strategy for any tense, critical or stressful situation and customer requests fall into one of those categories.

What Does Being a Project Manager Mean?

Many companies and organizations today establish a project management team to carry out a number of project-related tasks and responsibilities. Project management tasks and responsibilities certainly vary between project, stakeholder, and industry.

Project management is where it’s at today. Being a certified project manager and having extensive technical and project management skills, abilities, and experience is proven to be extremely vital and a huge asset to companies today. So what is a project manager anyway?

The Scope of a Project Manager. Again, this heavily depends on the industry in which a project manager works, but in short. He or she is the heart and soul of a project. A successful project manager takes in new information from a particular stakeholder, and carries through the necessary steps in the project life cycle to the outcome and delivery of the project to the customer.

There are also more fine-tuned, detailed tasks in between the steps as well such as drafting, following, and managing schedules and deadlines, as well as project milestones; managing budgets and following company profit and loss or P&Ls; identifying, managing, and responding to risk; and analyzing, managing, and overseeing stakeholder requirements and ensuring they are visible and met appropriately upon delivering the project at the end.

A Good Leader. Aside from all the logistics and details of project management itself, a good and successful project manager is also a good leader. He or she will work with team members, vendors, other functional areas within the organization, or all of the above on projects of different size, level, and complexity, and encourage participants in the project to succeed as team members both on the project and in their careers.

Project managers should keep in mind that managers manage projects, clients, talent, and resources. Leaders also manage those same things, but encourage colleagues and team members to strive to be better team members.

Project Execution and Plan of Attack. How a project manager manages a project and the decisions he or she makes is a reflection on what a project manager does and how well he or she performs. While many organizations have set work breakdown structures that each project manager needs to carry out with each project, a large part of project management is also about creativity and is open to interpretation, specifically regarding the logistics and details of how a particular project is carried out and even with problem-solving. Project managers need to be able to keep a level head during challenging projects, any change in specifications, risk levels, or steps that lead to schedule delays as well as an open mind in how to address problems and solve them.

All in all, being a project manager is an extremely important role and one that requires a lot of attention, organization, management and leadership qualities, and communication. Even though those responsibilities can vary greatly between industry and organization, the core of project management is still true. Managing and overseeing the overall project scope, acting as a leader while managing a project and customer specifications and expectations, and developing your own project execution plan style and plan of attack are all pertinent to the larger realm of project management.