It is Memorial Day weekend, and as we take time out to say thank you to the men and women who have given us the right to discuss project management – or anything else we choose, I would like to highlight an author who has admirably served his country. Mr. Rick Valerga is a graduate of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and served as a Naval Officer. (His complete biography is listed in his book.)
The book, The CURE for the Common Project: Five Core Themes That Transform Project Managers into Leaders, and it’s main theme regarding a foundation of integrity is interwoven with the Core Values Mr. Valerga was instilled with during his time in the service. Upon that main theme, he builds the cure for the common project with five pillars: 1) Expectation Management 2) Ownership 3) Winning 4) Narrative and 5) Eliciting the best.
Without integrity, everything a project manager does will be like a house built on sand. The author points out the best way to keep integrity is through honesty and to only make realistic commitments that allow the team to have a life, yet meet the objectives of the customer and project sponsor. These commitments must encompass the three corners of the Cost, Schedule, and Performance triangle. Also, to make good solid plans for your team, ensure you get the complete scope of the project in writing, which will clarify expectations and communication to leadership, sponsors, customers, and your team.
One concept really struck a chord with me. He called it “Stan’s Challenge,” named after a member of his team who had much experience and was a very intelligent and well respected colleague within his organization. This type of person can be intimidating to lead, but Mr. Valerga detailed some points that make working with such a person less daunting and can even help you pull the best from the rest of your team. The main point of “Stan’s Challenge” is this: You have a brilliant team working with you, but they COULD be working for someone else, getting great things done on a different project. Because of this, you must make their time worthwhile, clarifying objectives and expectations for them. It is your job to organize their efforts and give them the right tools so you do not waste their time. Once you have done this, enrich their lives with professional development opportunities and professional recognition. He pointed out (and I have personally seen this) that some PM’s do not take “Stan’s Challenge” and simply sit back and say things like “I have a weak team” or otherwise degrade their team. Before you, as the PM, discount your team – you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have done all that you could to bring out the best from them. Do they know what you want? Do they feel that you VALUE their contribution to the project?
Through the rest of the book, Mr. Valerga described the five other competencies a PM needs in order to become a supercharged leader. Regarding “Expectation Management”, he reminded us that nearly all failed projects can be traced back to poor Expectation Management. In the “ownership” section, it was about leading by example and owning not only the project, but the company processes and decisions. If your leadership gives you direction, you do not go to your team and say, “It stinks guys, but we have to go to a review with the head of the Program Management Office.” Instead, you explain why the review is important and inspire them to help you prepare. This is true of any decision that comes down from above, own it and pass it to your team just as if you had made that decision. The chapter that talks to my very soul was the “winning” chapter. If you really want people to follow you, you have to go forward with a positive attitude, not unrealistically so, but you need to have drive and commitment, a certain refusal to give up that makes everyone believe you can move mountains. It was in this section he discussed a “Leadership Shadow”. This shadow can be positive or negative, but it is the manifestation of the feeling that washes over a team or an organization (good or bad) as the leader influences the workplace. Be aware of this and how it can affect others around you.
The next pillar he discussed was “Narrative”, which is basically a written strategic vision. This is a story you tell (in the level of detail necessary) to the leadership, the customers, the sponsors, and the team. He did have an example of a good one page slide depicting all the levels of detail and the current project status as it relates to the critical path. It was in this section that he also took on the topic of communication in all forms. I agreed with one point, he recommends people do not leave voicemails (unless no other choice), he suggests that e-mails are much more easily processed by the receiver and usually the sender puts more thought and organization into the e-mail. How many rambling calls have you received or left for someone else? Save the Monkey in the Middle is a big proponent of “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and this concept is MUCH easier for GTDers.
Finally he discussed “Eliciting the Best” from your team. This is as simple as listening to your team and all the other stakeholders as well. He suggested sending them all a customer survey and then implementing some of the suggestions where you know they are needed. Also, you need to manage the fear of everyone involved. We all get spooked about slipping deadlines, the new Harvard graduate management just hired, major funding cuts, etc. Just keep your eye on the goal, manage the expectations, and communicate well to ease fears.
Overall this was a great book, Mr. Valerga reminded us that Project Management is not only the PM Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), it is also the people, the leadership, and the integrity that really sells the project to both the leadership and to the team.
Valerga, Rick. The CURE for the Common Project: Five Core Themes That Transform Project Managers into Leaders. BookSurge. 2009. Kindle.