Learn from the past and skill yourself for the future

Project management – especially “old school” PMBOK®* style project management – is often eschewed by younger people for more trendy career choices. But, more project managers (PMs) are needed in South Africa and the industry has a responsibility to make the profession more appealing to new entrants. And, once on board, newbies should be encouraged to lean on the knowledge of those that came before them. That’s according to veteran project manager, Tony McManus, CEO of McManus Consulting.

While McManus is a proponent of PMBOK® and prefers a more structured style of project management, he is quick to acknowledge that there are traits and soft skills that would set PMs apart from their peers.

Dependability tops the list of sought-after PM qualities. Doing what you said you were going to do, when (and how) you said you were going to do it builds trust and allows all stakeholders to feel comforted by the fact that you have got everything under control.

Knowing (and not being afraid to admit) what you don’t know is an important life skill, and particularly so in the project management world. Asking questions and not moving on before you understand exactly what the issue is helps you to resolve problems much quicker and more effectively than bumbling along until you stumble on the answers.

Being hands-on and paying relentless attention to detail is probably the most important thing a PM can do to ensure a project’s success. Attention to detail inevitably translates to fewer errors and better output; and it keeps team members on their toes! But there is a difference between being hands-on and holding on. Good PMs delegate, but don’t lose touch.

Becoming an expert on a particular topic is another key differentiator for PMs. In many aspects, PMs are required to be something of a jack of all trades but having a particular area of expertise will set you apart – and keep you in demand.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.  |  Image created by Freepik.com.

More ways to build, not break, your brand…

In our previous post we talked about the importance of building your personal brand by dressing appropriately at work. Your attire may make that all important first impression but the lasting “brand impression” you make will be formed over time by things like your grooming and behaviour.

When it comes to grooming, the truth of the matter is that even the finest clothes won’t make up for poor grooming like dirty finger nails, garlic breath or unkempt hair. Personal grooming is, rightly or wrongly, equated with self-respect and clients and business associates can easily assume that such “disrespect” of one’s self extends to one’s work ethic and performance too. On the other hand, good grooming will make you stand out and give you an advantage over your peers.

Good business behavior encompasses a wide range of aspects including communication and habits.

Tardiness – in terms of both timekeeping and delivery – is one of the biggest personal brand destroyers. Becoming known as someone who delivers, and arrives, on time, every time is a goal worth pursuing and fosters trust and respect. Your verbal and body language is a major contributor to how people perceive you. Yes, it is 2019 and the odd four-letter word does not raise eyebrows like it it did a few decades ago, but does bad language really fit in with the brand image that you want to create?

Table manners are probably one of the last things that one would consider in terms of employable attributes but, if you’ve ever sat across from someone in the staff canteen (or at a business lunch) who talks with a mouth full of food and manhandles their cutlery, you’ll appreciate that table manners are as important in the work environment as they are at home. And, while we’re talking about eating, can we just agree that loud, lip-smacking gum chewing is a no-no, anywhere, anytime!

Then there’s the minefield of social media…a disclaimer in your bio that your posts reflect your personal views just does not cut it. Your profile is a window into who you are and what makes you tick and, rest assured, clients, employers and colleagues will peek through the window. The list of people who have lost their jobs, and had their lives destroyed, because of social media transgressions is growing. The maxim, don’t say anything on social media that you would not have appear on a billboard along with your name is good advice.

Selling your personal brand to clients and colleagues is especially important when you are a contractor – the client has no contractual obligation to employ you and the individual that comes across best will be the most sought after.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting. | Image created by Freepik.com.

Be sure to build, not break, your brand

In recent years, there has been a definite trend towards “dressing down” in the corporate world, and not only on Casual Friday. It’s becoming rare these days to see men in suits and ties, and women in smart business suits; and many would applaud that, especially given South Africa’s climate. But, while there’s nothing wrong with dressing more comfortably; there’s also no harm in taking stock every now and then of whether you are taking it too far and damaging your own brand by doing so.

The old adage, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” springs to mind when one sees how some translate “casual” into work attire. Call me old fashioned, but holey jeans, flip flops and bare midriffs (no matter how toned) have no place in the business world.

Each of us has a personal brand and how we dress when we go to work is the personification of that brand. Your clothes, shoes, grooming and accessories tell your employer, colleagues and clients much about you and may even affect their perception of your skills and qualities.

A cursory Google search provides lots of evidence from researchers as to how you dress can actually affect your performance and even your mood.

According to the Reader’s Digest (quoting a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology), dressing in clothing that is associated with intelligence, like doctor’s coats or pilot’s uniforms, may not only make you look smarter but may actually make you act smarter too. Researchers gave doctor’s lab coats to subjects (none of whom were doctors) and then asked them to perform a series of complex tasks. Those in white coats made significantly fewer mistakes than the people in their street clothes. The scientists then repeated the experiment but this time gave lab coats to all the participants. However, they told half the people they were doctor’s coats while the other half were told they were paint smocks. Again, the people in the “doctor’s coats” performed better on the tests, which shows that it’s not just what you wear but also what you think of what you wear that matters.

As a contractor, you are constantly reselling yourself to clients. Make the investment in yourself and take the time to think about your image and what you are telling your clients and colleagues about yourself by the way you dress.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.  |  Image created by Freepik.com.

Open plan doesn’t mean it’s open season on office etiquette!

In recent years, there has been a definite trend away from closed offices to open plan workspaces, even when it comes to senior management. Hot desking is another newish phenomenon, which takes the open plan concept to the next level and involves allocating desks to workers as and when they are required, or on a rota system, instead of giving each worker their own desk.  In the project management world, there are very obvious advantages to having the entire team up close and personal but there are some golden rules that should be followed to ensure that harmony prevails.

There are few things more irritating than trying to work and having co-workers laughing and chatting loudly in the cubicle next door. Keep it down, whether you are on the phone or having a discussion with a colleague; respect your co-workers and, if necessary, take the discussion out of the common area.

Treat your co-workers’ desks as if they were their private offices – don’t borrow their stationery without asking, don’t thumb through their paperwork, don’t help yourself to their snacks and don’t join in their conversations uninvited.

If you are sick, work from home instead of bringing your germs into the office – in open plan spaces there’s no getting away from a coughing, spluttering colleague!

Consider your colleagues’ noses…not everyone will enjoy your strong new cologne or fish and chip lunch as much as you do! Avoid wearing strong smelling perfume and colognes (it could even trigger some colleagues’ allergies); and take your food to the designated eating area – it’s better for you to take short breaks in any event.

Keep your workspace tidy, a messy eyesore will affect the entire team’s mojo; and, if you are hot desking, be sure to leave the desk as you found it. Even if you subscribe to the maxim that a messy desk is a sign of genius, at least tidy your desk before you leave for the day.

Adjust your mobile phone alerts – the entire team doesn’t need to know every time you get a message.

Working in close quarters can build team spirit, foster creativity and enable easy communication but it can also cause a great deal of friction. Get the most out of your open plan space by being a good “neighbour”; learning to read co-workers’ body language (knowing when to brainstorm and when to retreat) and investing in some ear plugs and stream your favourite music if you are easily distracted.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.
© Image created by Freepik.com

Regular legislative and compliance updates are crucial

As part of their risk management responsibilities, project managers (PMs) need to keep abreast of legislation that applies to the company and the industry that it operates in. This is becoming an increasingly challenging prospect, particularly in the financial services sector, which has faced an onslaught of new legislation and compliance regulations in recent years. But, daunting as it may seem, it is vital that PMs keep up to date with, at the very least, key legislation that applies to their project.

It falls to the PM to brief the project team on the legislative and compliance issues that impact on the project and to monitor that no breaches occur either during the execution of the project or once it comes online. And it’s not only external regulations that must be complied with. The project rules must at all times comply with the company’s IT security plan, which itself may be a shifting target, necessitating regular review to ensure compliance.

The PM should protect him or herself by regularly communicating with the team about internal and external regulations and governance requirements. Simply put, if required, you may need to prove due diligence in terms of having disseminated the relevant information. This includes ensuring that the team has been exposed to the relevant company policies on a variety of potentially harmful issues like social media, data security and sexual harassment, to name but a few.

One very important piece of legislation that PMs must keep abreast of (and keep the project team aware of) is the Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) Act in terms of which all South African institutions must behave responsibility when collecting, processing, storing and sharing personal information.

The PM who has proactively and regularly touched on a wide variety of external and internal regulations and compliance requirements will be in a good position to put up a convincing defence should transgressions occur.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.
Image designed by Freepik.com

The challenges and advantages of being an inside outsider in project management

As a McManus Associate, you will move from project to project, company to company. Essentially, you’re an “inside outsider”. This gives you a unique insight and provides you with experience that your clients value.

Smart consulting PMs will recognise the advantages, avoid the pitfalls, and maximize the opportunities inherent in being an inside outsider.

Consultants are often perceived, by their internal peers, to be overpaid but, with a little insight and effort, you can get them on your side as they come to realise that you bring something to the table that only someone from outside the company can.

As a consulting PM you will have worked in a number of other organisations, often in the same market as the one you are currently in. This means that you will have worked on similar projects, in similar environments, and have the advantage of knowing what worked, what didn’t work and why.

One of the double-edged swords of being a consultant is that you are not privy to internal politics.  On one hand, you are unhampered by allegiance to a particular individual or group; but on the other, there is the danger of blundering into a situation because you are not aware of the sensitivities. Internal politics can be a minefield to navigate but help can come from identifying the relevant influencers and learning from them. A word of advice though: the “influencers” are not only the obvious individuals – having a competent secretary on your side can be invaluable!

Adjusting to different organisations’ project management methodologies and approaches is always a challenge for consultants. Even when the framework is the same, each organisation has its own interpretation. MD of McManus Consulting, Tony McManus, recommends a “flexible but circumspect approach”.

“As a consultant, you can’t be dogmatic and you need to be flexible and accommodating, however, this can never be at the expense of sacrificing best practice. Simply put, if there is a risk you are obliged to point it out, regardless of how unpopular such an action will be,” says Tony.

From the company’s point of view, one of the biggest benefits of having a consulting PM on the team is the consultant’s vested interest in getting the project done on time and in budget. A failed project, or one that is running over time and budget, is far more career limiting for a consultant – whose last project is a defining benchmark – than it is for an employee.

Consultants inevitably have a fresher and objective view of the company and the project. This is especially true when it comes to employees who have been with the company for many years and can no longer see the wood for the trees. But it is those same old timers who can be the hardest to win over. As a consultant, you will be a people manager as much as a project manager. Hone your people skills, sell yourself within the company and try, wherever you can, to foster good team spirit.

The power to shape your own destiny

Being a McManus Associate means that you are the master of your own destiny. You get to determine your own income, when and where you want to work and, best of all, you operate alongside, not inside, the traditional corporate bureaucracy framework. The latter is a seemingly small but important distinction: because when clients are paying by the hour for you to sit at their offices, they are more likely to value your opinion and it’s easier to avoid the pitfalls of office politics, which can so often impact on a project’s execution (and even success).

You also get to work in different industries and gain diverse experience. This not only looks good on your CV but gives you fresh challenges on an ongoing basis, as opposed to the same old, same old experienced by working for the same company year after year.

Essentially, as a McManus Associate you have the best of both worlds: the freedom of self-employment, without the stress of having to find work for yourself.

Our Associates’ rates are calculated based on your requirements and all your benefits should be built into that rate. Prudent financial planning ensures that your employment “freedom” does not impact on your financial wellness. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Set up your business correctly. Registering a sole proprietorship or a propriety limited company allows you to benefit from business tax breaks.
  2. Stick to a budget. Every self-employed person knows the ecstasy and agony of feast or famine, working to a budget eliminates the anguish.
  3. Create an emergency fund. Have an emergency fund of three to six months set aside to tide you over lean times.
  4. Plan your tax payments. If you’re a provisional tax payer, make sure that you put money aside to make your biannual payments.
  5. Save for your retirement. With no corporate pension fund coming your way it’s important to talk to a professional financial planner to ensure that you have enough money to retire comfortably one day.
  6. Insure appropriately. Talk to your insurance broker about income protection and disability insurance cover.
  7. Boost your medical cover. Consider topping up your medical aid cover with gap cover which pays the difference between what your medical aid pays and what a medical specialist charges. Some medical aids offer gap cover as an ancillary offering but there are also stand-alone options available.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.  |  Image created by Freepik.com.