Book Review: Networking for People Who Hate Networking

Cover Image for Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora ZackI’ll be honest with you: I used to hate networking. I really did. It always seemed like a pointless succession of stifling small-talk, cold canapes, and woeful wine. Despite what I wrote last time, Why Networking Matters, I used to rather be, well, pretty much anywhere else. I always figured that I was weird or odd – most everyone else I saw at these events seemed to enjoy them, while I forced myself through them.

Thankfully, Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack has set me straight. It’s not that I’m not suited for networking, it’s that I’m not suited to doing it that way – I’m an introvert trying to ape an extrovert. And that just doesn’t work.

This book’s subtitle is “A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected”, and that is exactly what it is. Zack starts off by arguing that the ‘traditional’ tenets of networking aren’t wrong, but are only one way of approaching it. They are a set of advice and techniques that work well for people who are extroverted – in other words, people who are probably doing just that already!

But there is more than one way to network, and Zack sets out new principles and techniques for you to try, building on your own strengths. So, for example, she suggests that an extrovert would typically excel at a networking event, with light banter, while an introvert would impress after the event, by making thoughtful and helpful follow-ups. Both styles can work, both can be effective, but trying to follow the wrong style for you is going to be a disaster – and leave you like me, muttering that you hate networking.

The ‘right’ style for introverts is described with three simple rules, based around Pause, Process, and Pace. Networking for People Who Hate Networking uses these general principles, and shows how they can be applied to certain types of situations, ranging from networking events through business travel up to job searching. Throughout, Zack highlights ways introverts can apply their strengths to achieve impressive results.

This book absolutely isn’t for everyone – as it says in the title! – but it is a networking book which, unlike others I have read, actually seemed to be talking to me. The new techniques, and indeed the new way of looking at networking and my own abilities at it, have encouraged me to try new things, and get better at building my own personal network.

So if you’re a project manager who feels overwhelmed at networking events, who would prefer to be having an in-depth conversation rather than trifling small-talk, or who sometimes looks at social butterflies and wonders why you find it so hard, give it a try.

Purchase on Amazon.com, Amazon UK.

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Why Networking Matters

Robonaut shakes hands with an astronaut

Almost right - network with humans, not robots

A quick word on why networking (the people kind, not the computer kind…) is important to project managers.

Building a team

With every project, you will have new team members and stakeholders to talk to, to bring onboard, and to keep involved. In essence, you need to build a new network for every project. This means you not only have to bring people together to form the team, but also make sure they have confidence in you as project manager. Networking can help you build trust, respect, and confidence among your team and wider stakeholders.

Adding value

By having a network of other project managers, you are able to give and receive advice on particular situations. The reciprocal nature of this arrangement is important! Maintaining and building these kinds of contacts helps everyone.

By having a network of past suppliers, you can bring extra value to your current project. You’ll have a better idea of the true cost of your project, or components of is. You may even be able to swing a better deal – because of your own personal relationship with the supplier.

Better career

As a permanent employee, a strong network within your company can help you raise your profile, and get promoted to handle bigger and more interesting projects. Making sure you get noticed for your contributions, and that your contributions are more likely to be listened to, helps your project and your career.

As a freelancer / contractor, a network is even more important – it is your primary tool for finding new work after your current role finishes! Building links with past and potential clients, and demonstrating value to them, will help make sure work keeps coming in.

So…

Good networking can help your projects, your employer, and yourself. I guess that means we should try to get better at it…

(Image courtesy of NASARobonaut. Some rights reserved.)

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Trust your team

Italian tug of war teamIt’s the people we work with who get projects done, but sometimes we don’t act like it.

When people talk about project management, a lot of the time they only seem to focus on the easy bits – the processes, procedures and methodologies. I don’t mean that these are simple to do, but they can be written down, tweaked, and agreed upon – they are easy to discuss.

What is less simple is team management, which is more important. No matter how good your plan, or how impressive your documentation, if your team aren’t committed to it, or just don’t know about it, then your project will fail.

That’s why I was interested to read two recent articles from Elizabeth Harrin’s blog, A Girl’s Guide To Project Management. They deal with the concept of team coaching, and what team leaders and members can do to help a team work well together.

The articles are an interview with Phil Hayes, and a review of his book. There are some interesting ideas in there, and they are certainly worth a read.

Personally, I think the only thing I’d add (or at least make more explicit) is the importance of trust within a team. All team members, including the nominal leader, need to be able to trust one another. As a project manager, I always try to demonstrate trust in my team by leaving them in peace to get on with assigned tasks, and by treating their concerns seriously.

This doesn’t mean I cross my fingers and hope work gets done – there are still regular update meetings. But this is about making sure everyone on the team knows where we are collectively, and is aware of any issues (and can suggest possible solutions!), and not an adversarial check on what they’ve done.

For my part, I try to show their trust in me is valid by dealing with problems promptly, always being available to help remove obstacles in the path of their work, and most importantly, letting them know I have confidence in them to get the work done.

I find once the team realises the project is a safe, shared environment, they are able to collaborate, and contribute, much more freely and effectively.

What about you? What are your tips for team management?

(Image courtesy of toffehoff. Some rights reserved.)

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Project Managed Resolutions

A new year is upon us, and many of us have made New Year’s resolutions. But, only a week into 2012, how many of us have already let some of those resolutions slip?

The problem with resolutions is we tend not to think them through. Chivvied on by the fast approaching end of the year, we pick something we’d like to change in the next year, and vow to do it. But it’s far too rare that we actually think about how we are going to do this!

So, after the first week of the year, full of good intentions and crossed fingers, let’s try to put our resolutions on a firmer footing, and give ourselves a better chance of actually getting them done this year. Let’s start using our project management skills to make our New Year’s resolutions project successful!

1. Define the resolution – Project Aim

Your first step is to get a clear grip on what you want to achieve. It may be that you have made a general goal, such as ‘lose weight’ or ‘get fit’. The problem with these is that they aren’t specific enough. Remember, in project management we want a clear aim – something precise enough that we know when we have met it. In other words, we need to know what success looks like.

In the two examples above, you could make the aims more specific, for example ‘lose weight’ could become ‘lose twenty pounds’, and ‘get fit’ could become ‘run a half-marathon’.

Remember, though, that you need to make sure your aim is not impossible. Aiming to go from couch potato to ultra-marathon runner in a year is not going to be successful! Be realistic, but don’t forget you should be trying to stretch yourself.

2. Define the benefit – Business Case

Now that you have a clear idea of what you are actually aiming for, you also need to make sure you set down why you want to do this. As you go through the year, there are going to be times when you simply don’t want to keep working towards your goal. After all, if it was easy, you probably wouldn’t be making resolutions about it!

To help you during those times, you need to remind yourself why you are doing this. For example, you may want to lose twenty pounds because you want to look good at your brother’s wedding, or to get fit enough to run a half-marathon so you’ll still be around to walk your 7-year old daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Focussing on the why will make the how seem a lot easier.

3. Define the actions – Plan

So, you know what you want to achieve, and you know why. Now is the important part of figuring out how you are going to do it.

Obviously this part is going to vary depending on what you have actually resolved to do, but there are some important principles you should keep in mind. Remember that you are trying to achieve something which will likely need continued small steps towards it over the year. In the two examples we have been using, we need to make some changes to our lifestyle, and keep them up.

For example, to lose twenty pounds, you may need to start skipping the latte you buy every morning, and eat better in the evenings. To get fit enough to run a half-marathon, you need to build time for exercise into your routine. Each of these are small steps, but they need consistency to have an effect.

Make a plan, and keep revising it. Remember, you need to pencil in the big milestones (e.g. able to run 5k, lost 5 pounds, etc.) that you are aiming for over the year, but you also need to look at a shorter timescale. Plan when you are going to train over the next two weeks, and stick to it. Revise the plan every week, to keep it up to date with everything else going on around you.

The important thing to remember is to not just have an aspiration, however well defined you have made it. You also need to take concrete steps towards achieving it – and the first of those steps is to create a plan!

4. Evaluate often – Project Monitoring

It is important that you keep an eye on how you are doing. It can be far too easy to allow the good intentions to be overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of life. Partly this can be combatted by making sure you keep your plan up to date, but partly it can be fought by evaluating where you are now.

Sometimes this will be a pleasant experience, as you realise you have done all you were supposed to, and are well on track. Sometimes it will be decidedly unpleasant, as you realise you have skipped too many actions, and are falling behind. But both of these are useful – good news can encourage you to carry on, and bad news can spur you to greater efforts.

On final word on this: in a project, sometimes we will have to change our plans, or even our aims, because we realise in our monitoring we have been too ambitious, and can’t achieve it. While ideally you will have avoided this with your resolutions project by setting a realistic goal, even realistic goals could be damaged by unforeseen events (e.g. a twisted ankle or broken leg preventing training). If this is the case, don’t give up completely – revise your aim, and work towards this new goal. Don’t make it too easy, though – it should still be a stretch.

5. Reward yourself – Milestones

A year is an awful long time to work at something without reward. I mentioned pencilling in some big milestones into your plan. When you meet these, reward yourself! They are a sign you are on the right track. Do something as a little gift to yourself – go to the movies, treat yourself to a good book, something that you enjoy – but that won’t derail your efforts so far!

6. Success! – Project Closure

Hopefully, by the end of the year, you will have met your goals. Even if you haven’t, you will have made some progress. Now is the time to evaluate how you did, to bask in the glory of having achieved your goals, or identify why you’ve missed them.

And why do you do this? Simple – now you can make a better plan for next year! Using the information you have on how you did this year, you can make an even better plan for next year. Now could be the time to start reading up on the Boston marathon…

Best of luck with your resolutions – and please wish me luck with mine (I need it!).

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Project Management Link Round-up (2011-10-10)

Here’s a selection of project management articles I’ve been reading over the last week. Hope you find them useful!

  • Project Manager By Choice or Default? – PM Hut

    The reasons for assigning a project manager role to an individual from within an organization are sound ones – knowledge of the company, its products and people should by no means be underestimated. But whether that person has the necessary skills to lead a project is not always taken into account and there can be just as many problems with promoting internally as in hiring an unknown, but experienced, person from a different organization who has specifically chosen this profession.

  • Making Decisions Like Sherlock Holmes – Herding Cats

    Just as in The Sign of Four, Holmes makes use of these three powers to solve crimes. A PM can make use the same three powers to make decisions on the project.

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Building Interfaces

Working in IT project management, I’ve had a lot of experience in building interfaces as part of my projects. But the important ones are nothing to do with the technology.

When you are working on an IT project, it can be too easy to get carried away with the technical possibilities. I have worked with many excellent technical staff, some of whom are more interested in seeing how far they can push the technology than in ‘just’ hitting the requirements.

Often they find it difficult to explain how the new possibilities the technology opens up could be applied in the business. Sometimes they don’t know – your technical staff will not know everything the business needs to do. Sometimes it’s because they aren’t able to explain it in terms that the rest of the business understands.

This is where you as a project manager can help. As well as running the project, you are also a major link between the project and the external environment. You are, in fact, an interface between what is going on inside, and what is going on outside.

For many of the projects I have worked on, an important part of my role has been to explain the technical process to others, and in turn explain business requirements back into technical steps that need to be taken.

The only way to do this is through listening – listening to what your technical team is telling you, and listening to what the business, or non-technical members of the team, are telling you. Only by listening can you find out both what is possible, and what is needed.

Interfaces aren’t dumb devices that just parrot what one side says to the other. They also need to do some conversion, some translation, to make sure both sides understand each other clearly.

So remember, listen carefully, understand what is being said, and make sure you help others understand too.

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Are you an expert?

Elizabeth Harrin has an interesting post up at A Girl’s Guide to Project Management called Use your experts. Despite my general lack of understanding of the importance of a good haircut (as anyone who has seen me recently can confirm…) I was interested by the idea of a project manager as someone who knows the right people to ask.

I’m fully on board with this idea, as I think a good project manager has a set of skills around helping people to work together, recognising when expertise is needed, and bringing in advice when necessary.

For those of us looking for contracts, though, we’re seeing a different trend among recruiters. While there has always been a bias towards hiring project managers who have already worked in a specific industry for that specific industry, it seems to me that this is getting worse.

Often I am seeing contracts coming up advertised as project manager positions which seem to be something else. Many of them are starting to really be adverts for a subject matter expert, with a bit of project management thrown in on the side. For example, I recently looked at a position which was asking for someone who could carry out a technical analysis, complete a full network design, and be able to go hands on to deliver it, dealing with all the technical issues along the way. The project management of this was really an afterthought, tacked on to the role.

Now, it’s understandable, with the constraints on funding in all businesses, for businesses to be trying to get this kind of ‘two for one’ type of individual. Many project managers, having come from a background where they did this work before moving onto project management, may indeed be able to fill this kind of role.

Is this a trend away from the idea of a ‘generalist’ project manager, I wonder? Is project management coming to be seen as a set of ancillary skills, something which can be of support in your usual role, rather than a role in itself?

What do you think? Are you an expert who does project management, or a project management expert?

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Project Management Link Round-up (2011-09-26)

Here’s a selection of project management articles I’ve been reading over the last week. Hope you find them useful!

  • I Just Want Everyone To Be Happy! – PM Hut

    It may seen at times that the success of the project is measured by the percentage of “smiley faces” among the project participants. However, project managers know that there are often unpopular decisions that must be made for the overall good of the project. While no project manager lasts long if everyone is always unhappy, there are times when s/he may have to make some people temporarily unhappy.

  • Finding the Reasons for a Project – Herding Cats

    If anyone is looking for one killer answer to why we need Project Managers in IT or software development, this is it. Who manages the demand? Who manages the capacity?

  • An Approach For Wording Risks – Better Projects

    Sometimes a risk is expressed as just a couple of words, which although may speak volumes to its author, don’t always give enough information to all relevant project stakeholders – for example, ‘content migration’ or ‘server load’ or ‘key resources unavailable’ are some risks I have seen recently documented. The ambiguous language can become a problem when it comes time to rate the risk and to devise mitigation strategies.

  • The Need for Definition in Ethical Project Management – The Art Of Project Management

    Is it possible that company leaders are causing ethical dilemmas by not really understanding philosophical aspects of ethics? The importance of ethical business practices are being stressed, as are the findings that ethical leaders tend to be more successful. However, leaders don’t seem to be spending enough time stressing the simple truth that what is ethical to one stakeholder may not be ethical to the next.

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Be the Bad Guy

I read an interesting blog post the other day, called How Consensus Decision-Making Creates Shared Direction in a Team. The gist of the article is that for a team to be highly energised and committed to their work, they need to share a sense of direction.

Now, I have to say that I broadly agree with that. When working with a project team, one of the most important things you can do to build that team spirit, and the commitment to work through the problems that will inevitably arise, is making sure everyone knows the end goal, and wants to achieve it.

But I don’t think it is possible to get 100% consensus on every decision, every time. Sometimes it may just be that there isn’t time to go through all the other options to come to the full consensus. This is unfortunate, and if at all possible you should seek to make the time.

Other times, though, it will be because the people in your team also have competing and conflicting aims. The nature of a project team means you are likely to have people from many different areas of the organisation, and some of their aims may be different to the aim of the project.

For example, I recently worked on a project to completely change the way printing was handled across an organisation. The aim of the project was, ultimately, to save the organisation money, by eliminating excess capacity, and expensive processes used. One of the areas of excess capacity was in an internal print unit.

Now, the person who lead the team responsible for the internal print unit had, not unnaturally, a desire to protect her team from any possible cost-savings, and, ultimately, from possible redundancies. This is a perfectly natural desire for a manager who has worked with their team for many years – but it was at odds with the aim of the project.

One way of dealing with this would be to simply exclude that person from the team – if they have a competing goal, it makes no sense for them to be involved, right? But that person was also a source of valuable information about the current situation, the demand they currently deal with, and so forth. For the project to be a success, that information was needed and so, in at least some way, they needed to be part of the team.

So if exclusion is not an option, and you can’t reach consensus on the way forward, what do you do?

Well, then someone has to be the bad guy. Someone has to make the decision about what is the right way forward for the project. That means taking account of concerns about other areas, certainly, but it also means having to make a decision that some in the team may disagree with.

Of course, this is an awful situation to be in for the dissenting member of the team, and it’s important you understand that. But the project is working to provide a benefit to the organisation as a whole, and sometimes that may mean certain parts of that organisation suffer. Someone needs to make the decision to move forward.

It’s not nice, it’s not fun, and I hope it’s not just a desire for alpha male behaviour coming through, but sometimes you have to be the bad guy – and be willing to take the fallout from that.

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Wasteful Savings

Times are tough for everyone out there at the moment. The economies of Europe and the US are slowing down again, and there are real fears that they could dip back down into recession. So it’s only natural that businesses are looking to cut their costs – but sometimes they are making the wasteful saving of doing without good project management.

I’m hearing of companies who are running projects to try to save money, but starting themselves off on the wrong foot by not putting in place adequate project management. Projects designed to reduce costs, ranging from outsourcing entire IT departments to staff reduction work, are being begun, but there is a reluctance to bring in the necessary project management expertise. This can either mean internal project management resource is being overstretched, or someone with little to no experience is asked to make do as best they can.

The problem with this is that effective project management will actually save these companies money. Think about it – a good project manager will anticipate problems, and avoid or solve them. A good project manager will have planned well, so there isn’t any wasted time waiting for something else to be done before work can continue.

Too often the perception is that project management is a mostly unnecessary overhead, because it is all too difficult to demonstrate the ways we have reduced timescales, or avoided problem – some senior managers seem to think a problem avoided is one that never really existed.

By cutting project management, companies are making problems more likely to occur – and any delay they cause is a cost. I worked on a project recently that would, when it was implemented, start saving the organisation thousands of pounds a week – or to put it another way, the company was currently losing thousands of pounds a week. That means any delay quickly starts to cost far more than a project manager would!

I understand the temptation that senior managers may feel to cut the upfront cost they can see, but it is something we as project managers need to fight against – because down the line, problems will crop up which cost more than the solution of good project management does.

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