So here we are - the start of a brand new year - and, very possibly, already drowning in everything we need to get done. Let's hold on a sec! Before those task lists take over all our time, here is my New Year's wish for all of us: A little thinking time about what is MOST important for each of us to do and achieve -- to be maximally effective; to be maximally valued; and to ultimately have the best possible options for our careers.
Those who have followed me for a while or attended any of my classes know how critical I think it is that we pay attention to our internal customers' and stakeholders' perceptions of us -- and use them to guide our behaviors and actions and personal development. I am referring to those people in the organization that we are serving and affecting via the projects we run: the executive sponsor; functional managers whose people we need; outward-facing people trying to satisfy the company's external customers.
Many of those people are executive level. They control the budgets, resources, project assignments, promotions. And guess what, they do NOT necessarily see our project management work the way we do. They don't always value the same things we do. If I want to be MOST effective, and valued, and career-rewarded in 2015, it's imperative that I take into account how these people perceive me and my work, and whether they value what I am contributing. Their perception is the reality of how I'm seen, respected, and rewarded (or not).
I guess the above may come across as kind of heavy - not a rah rah New Years' speech! But I see it differently. I see it as a lifeline in my daily sea of "too much to do." My best help for priority-setting, my surest path to weekly sanity, and ultimately my largest career leverage -- is to understand what my customers value, what they MOST want from me, and then focus THERE. Focus my time, my communication, my problem-solving, AND my personal development.
So what do these people want from us? Here are examples of things I've heard from executives about what they respect and value in project managers, what they most depend upon us for, and how they hope we will behave, contribute, and develop ourselves. (And all these items are excellent input for each of us, as we think about what personal development goals to set for 2015.)
From a Director of Hardware Engineering: "He cares deeply about making the right product and technical decisions for the company. He speaks up on his convictions, even challenging the CTO on the product definition, and shows leadership on the toughest issues we face."
From a VP of a Product Line: "You know, I don't even know that much detail of exactly how our project managers do everything they do—what tools they use, how exactly they go about scheduling. What I do know, and look for, is whether they are on top of things and can give me a bottom line answer whenever I ask for it. By that I mean, what is the bottom line state of the project? What are the risks, and are they handled? The quality of their answer drives my trust in their project management.
From a start-up VP: "The PMs who build credibility with me are the ones who are able to speak multiple "languages". not just the language of project management, their main work. they understand our business model and justification behind each project."
From a VP of Engineering: "She commands the teams' respect across functions—she is respected for her knowledge of customers and our system and is proactive on cross-functional issues such as deployment that can cause big problems after delivery. She is also a vocal 'teacher' about how to do it right, which helps bring our developers up to speed. And they accept her knowledge, even about 'dreaded process,' because she's respected."
From a Senior Director: "As a project sponsor, the project managers I trust are those I know will 'bring the truth to the room' even when the news is bad. And they do so with emotional intelligence - they know how different team members and stakeholders will react - embarrassment, upset, risk reaction, conflict avoidance - and even orchestrate how the news is delivered to take those people aspects into account. But they still DO deliver the truth."
From a President of a small company: "He's different because he both understands methodologies—project management and development processes, for example—but also because he understands how to make it work for our environment. No bureaucracy, lots of flexibility, the right steps we need to get a project completed fast but not skipping steps that will impact the financial outcome of the project. That is critical for project management to work for us here."
From a CFO: Working well with executive stakeholders is about demonstrating true ownership first. We are all after a common goal. But likeability and credibility are also important. It’s not a popularity contest, but you HAVE to be pleasant to interact with, and willing to interact and communicate in the way that your busy, stressed stakeholders need."
From a VP of a Technology Development group: "The people who get promoted here and given big opportunities are those who take initiative to solve tough problems; whether problems happening within their existing projects, or problems that would require us to start a new project to address. The best ones do this before the executives have realized there is one. Then they bring us solutions. We are more than happy to trust them with the next set. They've proved they take a wide view and are looking out for the interests of the overall organization."
(Note: See the links at end of the article for additional executive commentary...)
What do I see reflected here - what matters MOST to these executives? Company and business understanding. Focus on business results. Bottom-line communication. Leadership. Proactivity on risks. Problem-solving initiative. Being sensitive to stakeholder needs. Making project management work for the organization. A focus on making the overall organization successful.
And the results for those PMs? Trust. Respect and influence (including across the organization). Bigger opportunities. Promotions.
These executives are essentially telling us what our personal performance and development goals should be about! Their words convey their view of the key, MOST important skill areas we can address. And, great for us, the "rewards" they say PMs experience as a result of those skills are the ones we say WE want -- respect, influence, opportunities.
Which leads me to have an exciting, positive take on everything above. I'll close this post by encouraging us to all think about our 2015 goals from this perspective:
It's a new year! With lots to do - but that means lots of opportunity! In this new year we can each set the personal priorities and development goals for 2015 that focus us on what our projects and organizations need most, what our internal executive customers value most. Such goals are our one true path to being successful on our projects and being the PMs executives most want for the long run - to trust, collaborate with, and promote.
In upcoming newsletters and site content, I will dive deeper into the areas these executives highlight, covering related daily "tools and techniques" for our projects, as well as ways to develop our broader personal capabilities in those areas that drive our biggest value. I will also be interviewing additional executives this spring to keep getting our "customers'" perspective out in the open and up for discussion - so stay tuned!
Until next time, happy new year! And wishing you a great start to your 2015 endeavors.
Related Links: (a few additional sources of perspective on "what executives (and teams) value"
The Medal-Worthy PMs Executives are Desperate to Hire - more quotes, detailed analysis, and ideas for developing in the areas executives value
An Executive View of Career- and Success-Limiting "Boxes" - a VP's take on how we inadvertently shut down our own career options
Evolution of a Project Manager - pithy view of a PM's path through different concepts of what being a project manager is about and what's most valuable and valued