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Issue # 28 September 2010

SWaynePow'Rful Presentations Newsletter
September 2010 - IT Project Leadership in the trenches
Pow'Rful Presentations is a relatively monthly investigation of ideas, strategies and techniques to assist readers be more present in life, better project managers and make effective presentations (in all senses of the word).
Disclaimer - depending on your background, and my South African origins, you may find some of my spelling and grammar to be "imaginative".
© Wayne Botha 2010
IT Project Leadership in the trenches
The image that comes to mind when you hear the word "Leader" is a military general, CEO or President of the USA. As an IT Project manager you are able to lead projects. You are expected to lead projects, often without formal authority over the team members who are going to deliver the results that you are responsible to deliver. You are also able to demonstrate your leadership skills in various IT project management situations, even if you are not the lead project manager.
This is where I observe a distinguishing factor for IT project managers that I work with in my coaching program. Some IT project managers take the lead when the opportunity arises and others hold back, waiting for permission to proceed. Don't wait for permission - take the lead. You will be rewarded more often than you are punished for taking the lead.
WIIFM? Why should you take a leadership role when the opportunity presents itself?
1. It is sometimes the only way to move your project forward. Nobody wants to be part of failed projects. Take the initiative and the lead when it is obvious a leader is needed.
2. Senior managers, and peers take notice of demonstrable leadership skills and may think of you first when they need a leader in the future.
3. It is easier to look in the mirror when you have taken the lead in a situation than if you chose to be a victim in a leaderless situation.
Here are tips to help you demonstrate your leadership skills in the trenches, without formal authority.
1. When you are on a teleconference all and hear words like "I asked Joe for this information last week and he did not respond", then don't accept it. Ask "What is the hold up? When do you expect to hear back from Joe. What can you do to help Joe get the information to you?"
2. When you hear someone on your  team say "I think Sue will take care of this", then be ready to jump in with "I will swing by Sue's office and confirm the status in case we missed something." Proactively make sure that nothing falls through the cracks, if you could have prevented it.
3. Don't hesitate to find creative ways to reach your goal. As an IT project manager, I have worked more weekends than I care to remember, implementing IT systems while the system users are enjoying the pool or ski slopes, depending on the season . On one weekend I managed a release implementation and needed to contact a key operations support person. He did not respond to any of the phone numbers that we had on record. Rather than allow a delay to the implementation schedule, I found his home phone number for an Internet search and we made contact. Leaders don't wait for permission to find alternative paths to reach the goal.
4. Make sure that you continue learning and understand issues. When you hear that system ABC has trouble with module xyz due to SP3b, find out what these acronyms mean and the impact to your project. If you don't make the effort to understand the issues, then you can't present them to your project sponsors or your managers with any credibility. In researching my next book Beyond the Certification, seasoned IT leaders confirmed over and over again that the ability to understand a problem and get it resolved, is critical for IT project management success.
5. Be polite, and grateful. Say "Thank you" when your team is called in to work a weekend, at short notice. You don't need formal authority to thank someone for helping you and your project. For example, I was once called in at lunchtime on Saturday to support a project that I was only remotely involved in. It wiped out my family's plans for the weekend as I worked until late Saturday night and most of Sunday to resolve issues created by someone else's lack of planning. I felt much better about the situation when the program leader said "I understand that none of us planned to work this issue this weekend and I Thank You for supporting us through this inconvenience." 
6. Learn from others. Take note of leadership actions from project leaders around you that you notice as being effective or ineffective. Are you motivated or demoralized after meeting with your IT Program leader? Why? Is there a lesson that you can learn from this situation? Does your manager choose words that inflame or defuse situations? Observe and adapt your observations to develop your leadership skills.
These simple steps are actions that you can take to demonstrate your leadership skills in the trenches. You don't have to be a victim of poor IT project leadership. You can  and should take the lead when necessary, and contribute to making your projects the projects that you want to work on.   
Humor and projects - Lessons from the gas station. 
I read the sign at the gas pump. "Brand X helps to clean your intake valves." This is good news, because just last night I woke up at 11:47 PM in a cold sweat, wondering if my Honda's intake valves are clean. Will you be able to sleep tonight after reading this story?

I wonder how many drivers and car owners who don't have a mechanical training like myself, have opinions on any of the following topics:

1. What is an intake valve, and why should I care?

2. What about the exhaust valves. Do I need to purchase brand Y of gas to help clean the exhaust valves? Should I do 1/2 brand X for the intake valves and 1/2 a tank of brandy Y for the exhaust valves?

3. What about other components for internal combustion engines? Does brand X clean the intake manifold, fuel injectors, exhaust system as well, or do I need brand Z to cover all of these components?

4. How have I been able to live all these years without knowing the cleanliness of my intake valves? Will I need to see a psychologist to help me work through my oversight and regret?

The list goes on and on - how much can you laugh at a silly sign that draws attention to unimportant speculations in life? 

The bottom line is: Who cares how clean or dirty the intake valves are. As long as my Honda gets me where I want to be I can live with clean or dirty intake valves.

However, the lesson for your IT projects is clear - focus on the important goals. Don't get caught up in irrelevant debates and don't create nonsensical status reports or dashboards. I don't care if you have 127 test scripts to run. Put it in perspective of my project success. Will be on target, or not, and what do you need from me to help you address any issues?  

Do you know an IT project manager who is stuck and not progressing towards a goal? Contact me and I will schedule a sample coaching session to see if we can work together.
Do you need a speaker for your IT or Project Management association chapter meeting? Contact me and lets see if we can work together for a win/win/win outcome.
Get more value on my blog, facebook and   View Wayne Botha's profile on LinkedIn

Email me with any problems or questions that you have about project management or presentations and I will attempt to address them in a future newsletter.

More next time!

Wayne Botha

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