Leadership

One of the biggest roadblocks to success is the fear of failure. Fear of failure is worse than failure itself because it condemns you to a life of unrealized potential.

A successful response to failure is all in your approach. In a study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers found that success in the face of failure comes from focusing on results (what you hope to achieve), rather than trying not to fail. While it’s tempting to try and avoid failure, people who do this fail far more often than those who optimistically focus on their goals.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” –Winston Churchill

This sounds rather easy and intuitive, but it’s very hard to do when the consequences of failure are severe. The researchers also found that positive feedback increased people’s chances of success because it fueled the same optimism you experience when focusing solely on your goals.

The people who make history—true innovators—take things a step further and see failure as a mere stepping stone to success. Thomas Edison is a great example. It took him 1,000 tries to develop a light bulb that actually worked. When someone asked him how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

That attitude is what separates the successes from the failures. Thomas Edison isn’t the only one. J. K. Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter was only accepted after twelve publishers denied it, and even then she was only paid a nominal advance. Oprah Winfrey lost her job as a Baltimore news anchor for becoming too emotionally involved in her stories, a quality that became her trademark. Henry Ford lost his financial backers twice before he was able to produce a workable prototype of an automobile. The list goes on and on.

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” –Henry Ford

So, what separates the people who let their failures derail them from those who use failure to their advantage? Some of it comes down to what you do, and the rest comes down to what you think.

The actions you take in the face of failure are critical to your ability to recover from it, and they have huge implications for how others view you and your mistakes. There are five actions you must take when you fail that will enable you to succeed in the future and allow others to see you positively in spite of your failure.

Break the bad news yourself. If you’ve made a mistake, don’t cross your fingers and hope that no one will notice, because someone is going to—it’s inevitable. When someone else points out your failure, that one failure turns into two. If you stay quiet, people are going to wonder why you didn’t say something, and they’re likely to attribute this to either cowardice or ignorance.

Offer an explanation, but don’t make excuses. Owning your mistakes can actually enhance your image. It shows confidence, accountability, and integrity. Just be sure to stick to the facts. “We lost the account because I missed the deadline” is a reason. “We lost the account because my dog was sick all weekend and that made me miss the deadline” is an excuse.

Have a plan for fixing things. Owning up to a mistake is one thing, but you can’t end it there. What you do next is critical. Instead of standing there, waiting for someone else to clean up your mess, offer your own solutions. It’s even better if you can tell your boss (or whomever) the specific steps that you’ve already taken to get things back on track.

Have a plan for prevention. In addition to having a plan for fixing things, you should also have a plan for how you’ll avoid making the same mistake in the future. That’s the best way to reassure people that good things will come out of your failure.

Get back on the horse. It’s important that you don’t let failure make you timid. That’s a mindset that sucks you in and handicaps you every time you slip up. Take enough time to absorb the lessons of your failure, and as soon as you’ve done that, get right back out there and try again. Waiting only prolongs bad feelings and increases the chance that you’ll lose your nerve.

Your attitude when facing failure is just as important as the actions you take. Using failure to your advantage requires resilience and mental strength, both hallmarks of emotional intelligence. When you fail, there are three attitudes you want to maintain.

Perspective is the most important factor in handling failure. People who are skilled at rebounding after failure are more likely to blame the failure on something that they did—the wrong course of action or a specific oversight—rather than something that they are. People who are bad at handling failure tend to blame failure on their laziness, lack of intelligence, or some other personal quality, which implies that they had no control over the situation. That makes them more likely to avoid future risk-taking.

Optimism is another characteristic of people who bounce back from failure. One British study of 576 serial entrepreneurs found that they were much more likely to expect success than entrepreneurs who gave up after their first failure. That sense of optimism is what keeps people from feeling like failure is a permanent condition. Instead, they tend to see each failure as a building block to their ultimate success because of the learning it provides.

Persistence. Optimism is a feeling of positivity; persistence is what you do with it. It’s optimism in action. When everybody else says, “Enough is enough” and decides to quit and go home, persistent people shake off those failures and keep going. Persistent people are special because their optimism never dies. This makes them great at rising from failure.

Bringing It All Together

Failure is a product of your perspective. What one person considers a crushing defeat, another sees as a minor setback. The beauty is that you can change how you see failure so that you can use it to better yourself.

Project Management

Being busy has somehow become a badge of honor. The prevailing notion is that if you aren’t super busy, you aren’t important or hard working. The truth is, busyness makes you less productive.

When we think of a super busy person, we think of a ringing phone, a flood of e-mails, and a schedule that’s bursting at the seams with major projects and side-projects hitting simultaneously. Such a situation inevitably leads to multi-tasking and interruptions, which are both deadly to productivity.

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” -Socrates

David Meyer from the University of Michigan published a study recently that showed that switching what you’re doing mid-task increases the time it takes you to finish both tasks by 25%.

“Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes,” Meyer said. “Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.”

Microsoft decided to study this phenomenon in their workers and found that it took people an average of 15 minutes to return to their important projects (such as writing reports or computer code) every time they were interrupted by e-mails, phone calls, or other messages. They didn’t spend the 15 minutes on the interrupting messages, either; the interruptions led them to stray to other activities, such as surfing the web for pleasure.

“I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task,” said Eric Horvitz, the Microsoft research scientist behind the study. “If it’s this bad at Microsoft, it has to be bad at other companies, too.”

Beyond interruptions, busyness reduces productivity because there’s a bottleneck in the brain that prevents us from concentrating on two things at once. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully. In a breakthrough study, René Marois and his colleagues at Vanderbuilt University used MRIs to successfully pinpoint a physical source for this bottleneck.

“We are under the impression that we have this brain that can do more than it can,” Marois explained.
We’re so enamored with multitasking that we think we’re getting more done, even though our brains aren’t physically capable of this. Regardless of what we might think, we are most productive when we manage our schedules enough to ensure that we can focus effectively on the task at hand.

If you read my recent article on mindfulness, you’ll recall that practicing mindfulness increases your ability to focus and concentrate because it increases brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). As it turns out, multitasking has the opposite effect on this critical brain area. Researchers from the University of Sussex compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the ACC. It’s as if being busy all the time (via multitasking) trains your brain to be mindless and unproductive.

I doubt these findings completely surprise you as we’ve all felt the distracting pull of competing tasks when we’re busy. So why do we keep doing it?

Researchers from the University of Chicago have the answer. They found that the belief that busyness is a sign of success and hard work is so prevalent that we actually fear inactivity. A recent study there coined the term idleness aversion to describe how people are drawn to being busy regardless of how busyness harms their productivity.

The researchers also found that we use busyness to hide from our laziness and fear of failure. We burn valuable time doing things that aren’t necessary or important because this busyness makes us feel productive. For instance, responding to non-urgent e-mails when you know you have a big project that you need to finish. It’s tough, but you need to recognize when you’re using trivial activities to shield yourself from sloth or fear.

Bringing It All Together

We are naturally drawn to being busy despite the fact that this hinders our productivity. As it turns out, you really do have to slow down to do your best. When you don’t, the consequences can be severe.

Project Management

Learning from Our Project Failures

In project management, unfortunately, failure is a way of life. You’ll never realize 100% success on your projects. In fact, you’ll likely never run a project that is 100% successful. While we like to talk about the project successes out there…and we often do talk about best practices, how to succeed and what ‘x’ number of steps might guarantee success (which can never really be true), the reality is that we must also talk about the failures and what we can learn from them so we turn today’s failures into tomorrow’s success stories.

What we need to do is learn as much as we can from history so that it doesn’t repeat itself. We need to make the bad project situations as we move forward and manage another project tomorrow, the next day and the next day. Right?

As I see it, there are two things we can do. Look at some of the reasons why projects frequently fail. And make sure we incorporate lessons learned into the project management process – something that many of us either can’t find the time to do at the end of the engagement or that we just plain tend to omit.

Let’s consider four key general reasons – from own observations – why many projects fail…

Lack of communication. I believe that communication is both the most important responsibility of the project manager and the biggest reason for project failures. It’s the most critical piece of the project management puzzle and it’s something that many of us struggle to do well. As a project manager, you must be ready to be the focal point of communication for your project and carry that task out well.

Incomplete or inaccurate requirements. This is definitely linked to project planning. Whether your project team is helping the customer with all of the requirements definition or if the customer has come to you with detailed requirements, they still need to be reviewed in great detail because missed requirements or poorly documented requirements end up costing the project budget infinitely more dollars down the road in re-work than it requires to just verify and drill down to more detailed requirements up front on the project. Do it right the first time and you’ll greatly lessen the risk of having a project that gets halted when funds run out or the customer is just too frustrated to move on.

Poor leadership. Weak project leadership – meaning a project manager who can’t run a project well – is another major contributor to project failures. The project manager must be a great communicator, a strong leader, an organized project professional, and have the dedication and stubbornness to make good decisions and stick to them. If too many of these characteristics are lacking, the project may flounder or completely fail.

Lack of project planning overall. If not enough time is spent up front in planning the project and getting a good schedule and the proper documents in place as well as mapping out the resource usage and the budget, then the project can get into trouble quickly. Plan well up front and you set a positive and productive course for your project for the rest of its life cycle. And remember, it will never be cheaper and you’ll never have more time to do the right project planning later on in the project. Do it up front or your project may be doomed before it is even started.

The always valuable, but often avoided lessons learned session

I know it’s very hard to face the problems when a project goes horribly wrong. Especially if you, as the project manager, were somewhat to blame. But the best way to ensure we don’t repeat the same failures is to make sure that we learn from them. So conducting a lessons learned session is definitely the right way to go. And yes, even conduct them on successful projects because there is always something we could have done better.

Summary

Failure happens. And it will continue to happen if we don’t learn from mistakes, oversights and customer missteps and mis-management. Project managers – what are your thoughts on lessons learned? How often do you actually perform lessons learned at the end of – or during – a project? And concerning my failure list above – what are your thoughts? Please share your own list and let’s discuss.

10 must have skills for the Project Manager

As project managers, you have to maintain a view of the “big picture” and guide the project to success, whilst handling the day-to-day tasks, and dealing with any crises that may arise. So, what are the most important qualities of an effective project manager?

1. Business Strategy

A career in project management requires you to not only be responsive to change, you need to see it coming. Project management is a fast paced business and is constantly shifting to the markets demands. Project managers will need to understand business strategy so they can anticipate market changes and be prepared when they strike.

2. Risk Assessment and Management

During this economic climate, businesses cannot afford to make any unnecessary risks or suffer project failure. You must have the ability to positively calculate an adequate amount of risk, as well as assess and manage threats, and also opportunities to your projects to achieve the best outcome in the quickest amount of time.

3. Conflict Management

Conflict management is tough and can be brutal, it is not enjoyable for anyone involved. People will always get into disagreements on projects, and this needs to be resolved. Conflict management is about understanding the disagreement, setting up meetings to discuss each side’s viewpoints and both sides agreeing to a solution that can allow the project to progress.

4. Resource Management

As companies handle increasingly complicated markets, their business strategies and the projects to implement them are becoming much larger and more complex. Complex projects usually mean larger teams to manage, more resources to coordinate and more stakeholders to please.

5. Time Management

As a project manager, you are probably handling numerous tasks and situations at any given time. Your time management and your ability to organise yourself and other are critically important. Time management is more than allocating a certain amount of time to certain jobs. You must be able to analyse what you are spending your time on and how important those tasks are to successfully completing the project. Your primary role is to do the strategic planning, overall monitoring and be creative and innovative at solving problems.

6. Highly Organised And A Good Multi-Tasker

A good project manager knows how to manage multiple projects or tasks and record and solve issues on a day to day basis. One of the main differences between the success or failure of a project is usually the difference between a project manager who is highly organised and one who is not. Project management is all about the details. You must be highly conscientious about managing every detail of every project and also the possible impacts each detail may have on the overall success of the project. Remember it is even the little details that can make or break a project.

7. A Natural Leader

It is crucial for project managers to be great leaders. Project management requires leading stakeholders and clients to a successful result. Effective project managers aspire and motivate towards a better tomorrow and inspire confidence in their team’s abilities to realise and withhold that vision. A great project manager is often described as having a vision of where to go and the ability to articulate it. Good visionary leaders allow people to feel they have a real stake in the project, they empower people to experience the vision on their own. It is also essential to build relationships with key clients to ensure alignment to the project’s targets and radiate the confidence necessary to hold everyone participating in the project responsible.

8. Enthusiasm

No one likes a leader who is negative, they bring themselves and everyone around them down. People want leaders who are enthusiastic with a can-do attitude. People tend to follow people with a positive attitude. Enthusiastic leaders are committed to their goals and express this through optimism. Good leaderships develops as someone expresses confident and commitment to a project that others want to share this optimistic expectation. Enthusiasm is contagious.

9. Communication

Communication skills are one of the most crucial skills every project manager should have. You may possess other skills that will help make you a great project managers but these are useless if you cannot communicate well with your stakeholders and team members. You will be needed to schedule meetings to resolve any issues, delegate risks and problems to relevant individuals once they occur, update senior management on project progress and listen to and understand your stakeholders and team members. Ensure all stakeholders understand what is expected of them throughout the project, and that they communicate effectively with one another as well as yourself. Project managers need to communicate status changes, good news and bad news to all staff and senior management. For instance, a slight scheduling delay may only need to be communicated to internal teams but not to the client if it does not affect the client’s review dates.

10. Problem-Solving and Technical Skills

Inevitably, there will be times when problems and obstacles may arise that will require immediate attention and solutions. How a project manager handles these particular situations will determine their success and make them stand out from the rest. A good project manager needs to have a solid knowledge of software, platforms and programmes that your company regularly work with. This allows you to be able to understand areas of the project and able to assign themselves some tasks. By assigning yourself tasks and successfully completing those tasks on time will help you gain the respect you require to successfully manage a team.

Project Management

A Brief Introduction to Project Management

There are many projects that begin well and unfortunately conclude in failure. The most likely culprit is a lack of understanding of the foundational principles of project management. It is a good idea for even seasoned project managers to review these principles periodically to ensure their proper application throughout the project management life cycle.

It is often said that Project Management is part science and part art, although it follows a systematic process. Appropriately applying the knowledge and tools of project management greatly increases the possibility of project success. Understanding and applying basic project management principles is, therefore, imperative for successful project management execution.

A Brief Introduction to Project Management.

This article provides a brief overview, and, perhaps, review of the basic principles of the project management discipline. It is based somewhat on the popular PMP Exam Prep guide by Rita Mulcahy.

Project Definition

A project is defined in its simplest form by two statements from the Project Management Institute: 1) it is a temporary effort and has a definite beginning and an end; 2) it creates a unique product or service. The project end is particularly important to define so there is agreement among team members and customers on what project completion means.

Once a project is complete, the product or service is provided to operations for implementation. The transition from projects work to operations work may require updates to the operations procedures and/or employee training, which all are considered part of the project.

Operations vs. Projects

Because operations work and project work are closely related, it is important to distinguish between the two. Those who do not understand the difference between operations work and project work may be tempted to handle an operations effort like a project, which does not work. Also, most work in an organization is described by either operations work or projects work.

So if you understand these two work types you will better know how to approach the task at hand. The main distinguishing feature of operations work is that it is ongoing. It is continuous in nature. Projects work, however, has a definite beginning and end, as described above. Operations work also tends to produce similar (non-unique) products.

Triple Constraint

The triple constraint of Project Management is a description of the three most important and opposing constraints that all projects undergo. One cannot change one of the constraints without affecting either one or both of the other constraints. .

Constraints

In addition to the triple constraint and quality, the project manager must prioritize resources, risk, and customer satisfaction. A knowledge of all the main constraints (time, cost, scope, quality, resources, risk, and customer satisfaction) in a project is important to know how to adjust appropriately to their competing demands. Again, understanding the impact of changing one constraint on any one of the others is critical.

Stakeholder Management

The question to ask here is who are my stakeholders? There is usually a long list of stakeholders that extend well beyond the project sponsor and customer. A stakeholder is any person that may be affected either positively or negatively by the project. The project manager’s task is to make certain that all the stakeholders understand the project and agree on what project success looks like.

Project Life Cycle

A project life cycle describes all the phases that a project goes through. The project life cycle is linear and describes what you need to do to do the work. It is a logical breakdown of the steps required to produce the deliverables of the project. Projects are either plan-driven or change-driven. Plan-driven projects have the scope, time, and cost determined early in the life of the project. Change-driven projects are iterative or incremental, and the scope definition is minimal. Generally, the change-driven scope definition is clarified just sufficiently for time and cost estimates.

Project Management Processes

It is important to understand all the phases of project management. These are what you need to do to manage the project. The phases of project management are as follows:

Initiating
Planning
Executing
Monitoring & controlling
Closing

The project is officially approved in project initiating. After initiating comes planning. Planning involves stepping through the project and getting it organized before actually doing the work.

The executing phase is where you complete the work defined in the project management plan, and also meet the project objectives.

The purpose of the monitoring and controlling phase is to measure project performance against the project management plan. Here you also approve change requests.

Finally, we come to the often-neglected phase of closing. Closing goes beyond scope completion. It is good here to get customer feedback on their satisfaction for the completed project.

Summary

By definition a project is a temporary endeavor to produce a unique product or service. It is distinguished from operations work by its temporary nature. Good project managers know how to keep the delicate balance between scope, time, and cost and the closely associated quality.

Additionally, they are aware of all project constraints and the impact of changing any one constraint on the other constraints. Identifying all stakeholders is an important step in successful project management. Expand your concept of stakeholders to include anyone who will be affected by the project.

Project life cycles are either predictive or incremental. Again, project management follows a systematic approach. Knowing the process of managing a project provides a framework for understanding the tools and techniques involved in project management.