What a Project Manager Wants for Christmas…

christmas_presentsIn lieu of the holiday season, I thought it might be both whimsical and informative to determine what might be on the average project manager’s wish list when it comes to the type of ‘presents’ they would not mind receiving.

Unfortunately, most of the types of things a project manager might wish for probably do not exist in reality. Nonetheless, as a bit of tongue and cheek homage to the holidays, here are some of the things I certainly would not mind receiving for Christmas not only for their ability to make my job easier, but because they would be cool. πŸ™‚

Feel free to add some of your Project Management Wish List ideas in the comments section.

My Top Ten Holiday Wish List

1. Electroshock Through Telephony Device


For those frustrating meetings where someone just refuses to shut up or is being stubborn. How nice would it be to be able to press one button and send them some gentle encouragement regarding their viewpoint. Just be mindful of which button you press lest you accidentally shock the project sponsor. πŸ™‚

2. Scope Creep Magic Eraser


Make that pesky scope creep vanish before your eyes! Let’s face it, there isn’t a project manager on this planet that hasn’t come close to having a stroke every time a team member, stakeholder or sponsor has decided last minute to add that ‘one little thing’. And of course, always ensuring us that the change is ‘minor’ and will have ‘little impact’. Guess our notion of the words ‘minor’ and Β ‘little’ are a tad different from those we often work with.

3. Resource Matter Transporter & Replicator



Actually a combination of two technologies: a replicator, that can create or duplicate objects from a template and a transporter to send objects anywhere. Gone will be the days where resources are a limited concept; instead,Β they can be shifted and moved at a moments notice. Need a resource? Fire up the replicator! Need that resource to be in New York tomorrow? Fire up the transporter! (Note: if I could actually invent either of these devices, I would not be a project manager anymore; I’d be lounging on Richard Branson’s island having margaritas with the Swedish Bikini Team)

4. The TARDIS from Doctor Who


Travel to any time or any place. Imagine being able to take the project stakeholders for a ride into the future to show them the project failing due to scope they just asked to add. Or go back in time to tell yourself that some of your resources will be taken away shortly, so adjust your schedule ahead of time! Mind you, if I had a TARDIS, I would probably just travel back in time and tell my younger self to go to Med School instead. πŸ™‚

5. A Star Trek Phaser


It’s a phaser. Do I really need to say more? And note: this is not a cheesy JJ Abrams pee shooter or a lame Next Gen Dust Buster. I am talking old school, solid beam of vaporizing energy phaser of the Kirk era. Can stun a Klingon at a hundred yards. And also, I am pretty non-violent, so I would only vaporize non-organic things, like a TPS report or the latest HR newsletter. I would have fun with the stun setting though. If someone really gets under your skin, you could zap them all day. πŸ™‚

6. A Crystal Ball

crystalballMoving from the science fiction to the fantasy fiction realms, how handy would it be to just ‘know’ the future? To be able to gaze into the haze of a swirling mass of vapor within a spherical shell and be able to ascertain EXACTLY how elements of your project and its timeline will unfold. To be fair, I have come across many individuals in Northern California who claim they have seen ‘amazing things’ after having partaken into inhaling vapors from some of the local fauna in the area. Not exactly the same thing, I know.

7. Romulan Cloaking Device


The ability to become invisible at a moment’s notice. Comes in handy when you are attempting to get through the day with minimal interruptions. (Note: the cloak from Harry Potter would work here as well, but I wanted something that could make a large area invisible, in case you need to hide more than just yourself)

8. Vice President & Executive Universal Translator


Vice President: “We need to a adopt a more transparent, cloud-based implementation strategy and adjust our technology paradigms to meet the shifting needs of our organically growing customer segments. ”

Translation: “Me and the rest of the VPs heard a bunch of buzz words at the latest tech conference. We have no idea what they mean, but we were hoping you guys could figure it out.”

9. Personal Robotic Assistant


This one is virtually a no-brainer. A robot that never tires and is available at a moments notice to help with those last minute rush operations that come down the pipe-line. Now why did I choose V-I-N-C-E-N-T from the Black Hole instead of the more ubiquitous and well known R2D2? Simple. Vincent has lasers…

10. Luxury Supercar


Ok, I will admit there is little value add here from a project manager perspective. Then again, if I do opt for the James Bond Aston Martin with all its bells and whistles, I am sure there would be one or two gadgets in that vehicle that would be beneficial to a project manager. Plus, it will make date night all the easier. And believe me, as a project manager and self-described ‘nerd’, I need all the help I can get.

Have a GREAT holiday season everyone! See you in 2017….

Managing Managers – From the Program Manager’s Perspective

Throughout a working program manager’s lifetime, the majority of time spent will be managing team members that would be considered ‘individual contributors’. These resources are generally on loan from functional managers within the corporate structure that are providing the resource for whatever reason. They may be part of a core deliverable that plays a role in the functional manager’s own product line or they may be working on some internal agenda such as a process initiative or a new design concept.

During one’s early tenure in the realm of project management, the project’s themselves will likely be smaller in nature, with perhaps only a handful of individuals assigned to the project at any given time. But as the project manager becomes more experienced and eventually transitions into the role of a program manager, the actual projects that are under their management will likely be part of a broader ‘program’, encompassing multiple delivers and simultaneous releases that require input and support from a large number of individuals. When this transition occurs, the newly minted ‘program manager’ will likely have not only individual contributors to contend with, but will almost invariably have other managers under their ‘control’. These could be functional managers that are part of the broader program, product managers or product marketing managers assigned to the program or even other project managers that may or may not be direct reports. In any sense, the reach and scope of the program manager’s influence is obviously much higher.

With that being said, how different is it for the program manager to actually manage ‘managers’? How different is it from managing individual contributors?

Key Factors:

Relying on Trust

While trust is one of the most paramount attributes of a project manager when dealing with a team, it becomes even more relevant when coordinating with other managers. While the project manager has more direct access to information from a given team member, the program manager is often relying on information provided by other managers, whether they be functional managers, product managers or other project managers. There will be many cogs to keep track of and its important to foster an environment where a good report exists between the program manager leading the effort and all the resident managers that are participating.

Discussions will Involve Strategy

While in a project management setting, many of the discussions with the team will be inherent to the deliverable itself, specific technical and design issues or various mentions of the schedule. Once you are moving up the ladder and interacting with other managers, the talk shifts towards more of a strategic type of discussion. Which projects are being worked on, what is aligning with mega trends, how do we want to position ourselves, and so forth. As the program manager, being cognizant of high level portfolio matters will become quite important. Risk assessment discussions and high level budget discussions will also be up for review.

Communication is Key

It is often said that project management is all about communication. This becomes even more apparent when moving into the program management space. Just maintaining good communication channels is not enough. The program manager needs to become skilled in the manner and methods of disseminating information in effective and cogent ways. As you are interacting with higher level managers and senior leaders, the discussions will become less technical and far more strategic, as noted earlier. As such, knowing what type of information to convey and how to convey it will become extremely important.

Management Techniques may Need to be ‘Tweaked’

While certain management styles may work with the individual contributors, those techniques don’t always translate well when dealing with other managers. For the most part, as you move up the management chain, the technical expertise of the individuals will become smaller. Additionally, what works to motivate the younger, more eager team members is not always a method that works well with a more experienced and older audience. Oftentimes, managers and more seasoned individuals will respond better to more strategic discussions that give them incentive from the standpoint of being beneficial to their particular areas.

Primary Responsibilities:

Set a Clear Vision

In any project, its important to set some type of primary goals or milestones. At the program level, the milestones and goals become more aligned with the overall vision or strategy being set at the corporate level. Often times, concepts like ‘Victory Plans’ become the primary frame of reference when attempting to align the overall program with the company’s main vision and portfolio set.

Use Effective Networking

As always, networking is a very important and staple attribute of the project manager’s primary duties. This becomes even more important when dealing with upper and senior leaders in an organization. Knowing who to talk to when it comes to getting resources and finding kindred spirits when fostering a new idea is imperative. Senior leaders will often have clout and can become important allies when it comes to getting assistance for various facets of the program as a whole.

Make Objectives Clear

In conjunction with a clear vision, clear objectives need to be obvious to those managers involved in the program. Often times, many managers will have pre-conceived notions of what they think will be yielded from the program. Which usually stems from a personal bias based on their area of expertise and responsibility. So making sure that the overall objectives and high level milestones for the program are accurately conveyed is important to the over-arching success of the program itself.

Lead by Example

This is by no means unique to program management. The project manager must also lead by example. The major difference in this case is that your leadership skills are being scrutinized by not just individual contributors, but other leaders as well. Afterall, they are not un-seasoned leaders themselves and will be able to spot character or leadership flaws more readily. So ensure that you foster a leadership style that is both positive and humble when dealing with other leaders. And even if you are the defacto ‘leader’ of the program, try to operate in a fashion where you consider the other managers as peers as opposed to subordinates.

Use Collaborative Problem Solving Techniques

When you are in a situation where you are dealing with other managers, one of the best techniques to utilize is collaborative problem solving. If issues arise, make sure they are discussed in a forum setting where everyone’s opinion carries equivalent weight. Try to avoid making unilateral decisions. If other managers feel as though they are part of the overall decision making process, they will be much more receptive to your leadership position.