Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Office politics

What do you know about company politics? Did you ever had the chance to stumble on them?

I am very naive person, and I used to think that I could develop and progress in any company, provided the good performance is there, and there is some good reasoning on why some things are the way they are. And that I cannot change everything, like it or not.

What I discover - and I say "discover", not know, because I keep discovering this in many organisations - is that there are always some backstage games that take place, with many different purposes: career advance, getting the easy project, lower targets, more power etc. It often doesn't matter who is wrong and who is right in these discussions, but how a situation is handled. And you might not agree with the politics, but they are there to stay - and in any organisation, be it small or big.

What should you know about politics so that you can properly prepare and navigate in the troubled seas of office politics? Well, there are quite a lot of articles and books about this, but I will give you my personal point of view - feel free to disagree! I think politics takes a great deal of networking, access to information, attention (to detail, correlation of information), all connected by your interpersonal and communication skills.

Network means knowing the right people, as many as possible, and having the ability to interact with every major person in your network often enough to find out the important facts. It also means continually expanding the network, keeping the nodes that give you the right information, and dropping/forgetting about the "nodes" that do not help. And it's also giving back something to the network, so that they keep giving you the vital information that you need.

And it's communication - as you have to communicate a lot with your "nodes", but also with the people that are not part of your network, but have an influence on your objectives. It's also a crucial skills when it comes to communicating plans, explaining the why's, providing guidance, mentoring and coaching your people, giving feedback, influencing your peers, managing up - and in every interaction in your small universe.

You might also need to know the history of the company, how things used to be done in the past, who was the main driver in various key initiatives, who would support you and who would not appreciate your input, no matter how good.

I wonder where friendship and camaraderie fit in this picture - most probably nowhere, as you are in a company, which is meant to make profit, not to provide you with friends, and fun, and joy when you work. But this might lead me to a post about happiness at work, a different story.

If you think this game is for you, then go ahead and start playing it. But make sure you are aware of its consequences as well, as it drains a lot of energy from productive initiatives, from innovation, and from management as you know it from the books, while you pay attention to all of the above... and you might not succeed in the end ;)
If you still want to know more, here is one interesting reference to look into:

Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work

and some additional ones, if you really like the topic:

Games At Work: How to Recognize and Reduce Office Politics
21 Dirty Tricks at Work: How to Win at Office Politics
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

PMP certification - prep questions

As the Getting PMP certified article got so much positive feedback, I though I should also share some of the providers of free tests. I have also used them during my certification prep period as well, and I've found them really useful.

You should simulate your exam at least 3 times before stating that you are ready for the BIG TEST, so the links below should help you a lot. Still, one word of caution: not all the questions seem to have the right response, and not all explanations are really in line with PMBoK - but if you have a good knowledge of the practice part of Project Management, and if you've read the books I've recommended, you can already discover them.

Don't go for the real PMP exam if you don't score 80% in these simulations - they seemed to me a little bit easier than the real exam.

  2. PMSuccess offers via 400 questions to play with. Not an exam simulation per-se, but you can always try to do 200 questions in a row to get the feeling.
  4. There are 2 real-time simulations here: a 200-question exam for the PMP certification, and a 150-question exam for the CAPM certification.
  6. A real-time experience with 200 questions. ANd they don't really try to sell you anything, which is pretty cool :)
"Free 200 question test. This test includes all the final PMP Exam features including Marking Questions,Dummy Questions , Countdown timer and more. "
As mentioned in a previous post, there are several resources that you can use when you are not online. While I have not tried them myselves, you might be interested to go through
Hot Topics: Flashcards for Passing the Pmp and Capm Exams.

I've used the previous version of this book a lot, so I recommend it to you from all the heart:
PMP Exam Prep, Sixth Edition: Rita's Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam
Well, and in the Books section of the site you can also find additional resources that will help you get the certification, but also gain a better understanding of the complex topics in Project Management.

One interesting site that I've found recently is also this one below. I will continue adding more relevant sites as I discover them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Project management needs people management skills

I am still very surprised about the huge amount of focus that is put on general project management skills, and processes, and tools, and the limited attention that people management skills get.

What happens when the PM has no people management skills? quite a lot actually:
- attracting people to the project becomes very hard, as the line managers say no to letting their people handle other stuff
- keeping the people on the project remains as well as challenge
- conflicts inside the team grow unseen until they become uncontrollable
- project meetings become wars
- deadlines slip
- people blame each other

A climate of distrust is thus created, and instead of a productive environment for already difficult customers, the PM will also have to firefight each and every conflict.

As I was mentioning in a prior post, while the PMP certification will not bring as a guarantee that the PM knows how to manage people, it does force every candidate to read through the Human Resource Management Chapter, at pay closer attention to planning, acquiring, developing and managing the project team.

Recognizing the growing importance of people management, the PMBoKoutlines all these processes in Chapter 9, and goes in quite a lot of detail about how to manage the project team, adding more information in the 2008 edition compared to the previous ones.

I would outline here the addition of the Forming/Storming/Norming/Performing/Adjourning stages, which was not described in the past versions, as well as the bigger space reserved for Conflict Management.

And one major update, that I have just noticed: Interpersonal skills made it as a specific T&T for Manage Project Team.

As with a body of knowledge, the information that you find here is only a starting point for going more in-depth when it comes to people management. This is one of the reasons why I've re-started this blog, actually - knowing how to handle the various human typologies is not an easy task, and researching into the ways of communication and collaboration with each of them is essential.

We should of course avoid putting people into boxes - I've been through quite a lot of trainings, and we were asked to do some tests, based on which we've got an assessment saying that you are like that, and in this situation you would react in this way, and this is how others should work/communicate with you. Interesting enough, as time goes by, the results tend to change, the preferences update, and what worked yesterday does no longer work today - so one has to adapt again and again.

Coming back to my initial thought - it is good to know all processes for correctly managing a project, but there is still something more needed: a constructive approach to managing people, flexibility (or should I call it "openess") in communication and in style - without losing focus of your values, and of the goals of the project team: to take the project through a successful journey.

So manage the project work properly, and master the people skills!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Developing your Critical Thinking and the Leader inside

I am passionate about self-development and ways to improve yourself. Up until now, I can say that I have mastered one critical aspect: continuous learning. Let me explain.

Business today requires us to always deliver great results, by providing decreasing resources to increase profit margin. Or, shortly put: MORE with LESS.

I don't think this is actually possible if we continue to do the things the same way we did it in the past - what worked then, might continue to work today as well, or not... So you have to be prepared to adjust to the new requirements, to change based on how the world around us change, always dapt and discover new ways of doing things.

My key learning was that I have to never stop learning, never stop reading about how others are doing things, how others achieve great results, and see how this might give me ideas on how to change. I might not apply it today, or not even tomorrow, but it does build a different way of thinking, it does open up your mind to new approaches.

I've found today one really interesting article from HBR called "How Companies Can Develop Critical Thinkers and Creative Leaders" - making a comparison of the experiential learning that happens in the army and the one that should take place inside companies, but does not. I suggest you reading it, and let me know how much of your time do you spend it in working at your job, and how much you devote to your learning (formal, informal, coaching, mentoring, reading, experiential)...