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Putting Yourself in the Picture

By Eileen Strider

Who could possibly be missing from your project? The least noticeable and most important person – you, all of you, your whole self, not just your brain.

How do I know this? Because I have ignored key parts of myself as a project manager. And yes, I am willing to admit it, here, publicly to you.

You might be thinking “Isn’t this self-serving and arrogant?” I say a resounding no. It is about giving your very best effort to your project, your client and your company. Yes, if your project is successful, hopefully you will be seen as a valuable contributor, but that’s not selfish or arrogant. That’s doing a good job.

What in the world am I talking about when I say “your whole self”? I mean using not only your head but also your body, five senses, sixth sense (intuition), your emotions, and your free will to manage and lead your project. I know this sounds crazy but I’m not making it up.  Speaking from personal experience, my project outcomes were always better when I used my whole self. Here are some ways you can use your whole self to help lead your project:

Your Body

Pay attention to information that your body is giving you. Your body is an important source of feedback about the project that often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged. Are you experiencing headaches, a stiff neck, colds and sinus infections, digestive problems, sleepless nights, etc.? These might be warning signs that your project is in trouble. If your stomach is hurting, it may not be the flu. It may be something is not right on your project. Ask yourself what is it about your project that you are desperately trying to ignore but that your body is telling you to notice? This is one of the parts of me that I tried to ignore for too long on a failing project.

Your Five Senses

Seeing and Hearing: Observe with a critical eye; that is, see what’s really happening on your project, especially what’s happening to you, your customers, your project team and your vendors. Go beyond reading status reports. When you attend project meetings, listen for what’s being said between the lines and notice how people appear when they are giving their status report or listening to issues being brought up. If you notice that someone’s words don’t match how they look, then something else may be going on. Ask if there is something more they would like to tell you.

Smelling:If your project doesn’t “smell right”, maybe it isn’t right. I once reviewed a project whose schedule was slipping badly. I went into their project room and noticed that it smelled horrible, had no windows and no ventilation. People were calling in sick at an unusually high rate. No wonder the schedule was slipping. Their working environment was working against the project. Sometimes, it’s more of a metaphorical smell. One of my partners and I were once reviewing a project. We heard from various people that they got up to 3 different addresses for the same person, depending on how they entered their request into the system. Our noses started smelling a deeper issue and so we followed our noses until we tracked down the problem. The client had disintegrated the integrated software they had purchased, instead creating 3 different databases with similar but not quite the same data because part of the organization didn’t want to change how they worked.

Touching and Tasting: Sample your project’s output by trying it yourself as if you were your customer. Try sitting in a project team member’s seat. Visit your customer’s work place to understand what things look like from his position. Have lunch with your vendor and and ask her what’s keeping her up at night. It’s easy to develop myopia sitting in your office. Go out and experience your project as others are experiencing it.

Your Sixth Sense: Intuition

What is your intuition telling you about your project? Find a quiet spot, sit for a few minutes and listen to your intuition (some people call it their “gut”). Let it talk to you freely, without you censoring it…then go look at your project again to see if your intuition is on target or not. This is another part of me that was trying desperately to get my attention but I was too busy managing the project to notice. Once I did listen to my intuition, I realized that my head had been denying what my gut already knew…that the project I was leading was never going to be completed successfully and needed to be stopped.

Your Feelings

Yes, I’m saying include your feelings in your project! Your feelings give you information you may not be able to get in any other way. How are you feeling about your project at this moment in time? If you are feeling frustrated, afraid, angry, nervous, or depressed, ask yourself if there is a deeper issue going on than the problems you’ve already identified and addressed. It’s very important that once you recognize the feedback you’re getting from your feelings, check it out with others and with the project data to see if there is evidence to support your personal feedback. If you are feeling happy and satisfied, acknowledge the project is going well, after you verify that it really is.

Your Head

For some of us, this is typically the only part of ourselves that we use to manage our projects. We may even think that this is the only part of us that anyone values and wants us to use. It may be the only part of us that we ourselves value! But your mind is capable of so much more. Using your mind also involves making sense of what’s really happening so that you can develop actions to address appropriately the deeper problems, not just symptoms. When you are hearing and seeing conflicting data about your project, think harder and dig deeper to figure out what is really be going on. Being able to keep your head on straight when others are losing theirs and blaming you is an invaluable skill!

Your Ability to Decide

You have the ability to decide, to choose the way you respond to project situations. Hopefully you were not made project manager just to be an order taker or a “yes” person, but because you are able to make logical, rational, sound decisions in the best interest of your project and your client; because you are willing to stand up and demonstrate accountability for not only success but also for problems. Use your free will and your courage to make tough decisions and take the necessary actions, even when you’re so scared you want to run away and hide. When I paid attention to my body and my intuition and realized I needed to stop a project I was leading.  I was very scared. But I also knew it was the right thing to do. So, I found my courage, stood up in front of my client and the company’s board and delivered this news. Much to my surprise and delight, the client stood up with me. When you do this, you keep your self-respect and your integrity – two things that are hard to get back, once lost. And more often than not, others will respect you for it. This is one of the characteristics that distinguishes a project leader from a project manager.

Learning to Put Your Whole Self  into Your Project

Are you wondering where and how you can develop your ability and skill to use your whole self on your project. There are numerous certification avenues available to develop your project management and leadership skills. These avenues are valuable and useful in learning the numerous skills needed to manage projects well. The certifications you earn clearly help your career in terms of credibility, project opportunities and compensation. And I suggest they are not designed to help you develop the most valuable abilities and skills you need for a successful career in project management.

Personally developing yourself takes a willingness and commitment on your part to learn more about yourself. This isn’t easy to do because we don’t always see ourselves fully and objectively.  Having a good coach can help you explore and discover your abilities and develop your skill in using them.

Wayne, Marie and I coach people to develop in these ways. We assume you are an intelligent person who wants to do the best job you can for your project, your client and yourself. We treat you with respect and dignity and we don’t take over your project. We help you figure out how to use your abilities and skills to move your project forward.

If you are interested in learning more about how we can help you, send us an email or schedule a call with us at no charge.

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