Archive for the 'Articles' Category

Influencing Project Stakeholders; What we can learn from cigarette adverts

Posted by Peter on Aug 12 2008 | Articles

Smoking is cool

One of the key elements of project stakeholder management is the use of influence (“the ability to affect the actions, beliefs and attitudes of other people”) to ensure that people give their support to our projects.

Advertisements are an obvious example of how people can be influenced, and some of the most effective advertisements seem to be for the tobacco industry. Take a look at the huge hoarding above from the streets of Yogyakarta in Indonesia, with a close-up below.

Smoking is cool

So the image is of a healthy young man sitting at the top of a mountain, bird-of-prey subdued on his hunky shoulder, with a lion guarding him. Ciggy companies tag line “Pria Punya Selera” - with a meaning similar to “A Man’s Taste” in big letters. The only substantial writing at the bottom of the banner says “smoking causes cancer, impotence and birth defects” (or, roughly translated - “smoke these and die”). The ad is, of course, a huge success, with the company now having over 30% market share. The Indonesian government recently revealed plans to start limiting cigarette production to 240 billion sticks by 2010 in a tentative move to curb smoking in the world’s fifth-largest tobacco market, lifting the cap to 260 billion in 2015. That’s still a lot of baccy going up in smoke!

People are becoming more and more aware of the health issues associated with smoking, although they don’t seem to be stubbing out the habit as quickly as you might expect. Around 34% of Indonesia’s 237 million people are smokers, where taxes collected on cigarette production and sales are said to contribute about 10% of state revenues. It seems people are acting on the picture, trying to attain the cool outdoor lifestyle depicted above, and completely ignoring the (rather important) words.

Ciggy ads as far as the eye can see...
Gudang Garam’s arch-rival - LA Lights - stringing banners all over the place

Lesson learned:

  • Pictures and images are extremely important, with people even ignoring words, so we should use more pictures when communicating with our project stakeholders.

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Some Irrational Behaviours of Project Stakeholders

Posted by Peter on Jun 28 2008 | Articles

People

After managing projects for many years, I’ve noticed that people - including myself - can behave in ways that appear to be ‘irrational’. It seems that our personal biases and expectations can influence our decisions, with self-justification getting in the way of clear thinking. Studies have suggested that many of these behaviours are also exhibited in certain circumstances by animals, so it’s likely we inherited them as part of our evolutionary past.

To help all Project Managers, here are some of the strange behaviours you might see during the course of any project endeavour. Knowing about these effects will help us to understand and manage the expectations of our project stakeholders:

People attach a higher value to things they own. This leads to trouble in project contract negotiations, when the negotiator will try to hold on to things that are already agreed, even thought there may be better options available.

People will search for or interpret information in a way that confirms their preconceptions. Don’t expect to be able to change someone’s mind easily, as they will ignore your carefully presented evidence if it falls outside their own biases.

Doing things because others do them. Ever been waiting to cross the road at a ‘red’ pedestrian crossing and then seen 5 other people stride into the road? Seeing other people taking action seems to give us permission to join them, so we irresistibly cross the road with them instead of waiting for the ‘green’ light.

Presenting the same data in different ways leads people to make different conclusions. We also assume other people see things the same way as ourselves.

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Nobody said project stakeholder management was going to be easy! Having some knowledge of human behaviour can help us to use the most appropriate communication strategy, tools and techniques.

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Project Managers and Leadership Skills

Posted by Peter on Jun 02 2008 | Articles

Leadership

We work in a discipline called “Project Management”, which seems to imply that it only takes ‘management’ and processes in order to ensure a positive outcome to our projects. However, it seems that every time I go to the bookstore I see yet another book telling us that Project Managers need to be ‘Leaders’.

Whilst I do believe it is possible to learn some tools and techniques that enable Project Managers to employ leadership skills for team building and project stakeholder interaction, I’m not sure that ‘leadership’ can actually be taught. The books and training courses help us to define what leadership is, and the essential differences between leadership and management, but how do we become leaders?

Here’s a resource to help with the definition of leaders and managers that you can use when asked to define the differences.

I feel that Project Managers must be also be able to lead, motivate and inspire others, coupled with a solid understanding of the processes and mechanics of running projects.

One of the eternal questions about leadership is whether it’s better for leaders to be loved (by using soft-powers based on persuasion and influence) or feared (using coercion and force). I certainly use both hard and soft skills with my kids, so was interested to see a new book that discusses the relationship between power and leadership:

The Powers to Lead, by Joseph S. Nye, Oxford University Press.

The author concludes that a combination of hard and soft power is the best approach to leadership - a combination he calls ’smart power’. Apparently, different sorts of leaders are required in different circumstances, and leaders who succeed in one particular environment might struggle in another.

There are no clear answers to the questions about leadership and management but I’m glad to see that there are now many resources available to help us. Lessons learned for project stakeholder management:

  1. Learn both management and leadership skills.
  2. Balance the use of soft leadership using persuasion and influence, with the hard skills of coercion and force.
  3. Be aware that you will need to change your approach based on the circumstances.

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How To Succeed with Project Stakeholder Negotiations

Posted by Peter on May 12 2008 | Articles

Negotiators

Good Project managers need the ability to succeed with project stakeholder negotiations, to help with effective decision-making.

A recent article in Psychological Science offers the latest research and some good advice that we can use in our negotiations.

Psychologist Adam Galinsky from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University of Illinois and his colleagues examined two related approaches to understanding one’s opponent in negotiations: perspective-taking and empathy. Perspective-taking is described as the cognitive power to consider issues from somebody else’s viewpoint (also known as ‘re-framing’), whereas empathy is the power to connect emotionally with people.

They conducted a series of experiments to test whether perspective-taking or empathy was the more useful technique, by enlisting the help of MBA students. The researchers first performed personality tests to assess the whether the students were more likely to be capable of perspective-taking, or having the ability to act with empathy.

Next they asked the students to play the part of buyer and seller to reach a deal in the buying and selling of a petrol station (or ‘gas station’). The twist is that the buyer’s maximum price was set below the seller’s reserve price, so the only way to get a deal would be to understand and investigate other options. The creative deal involved understanding that the seller needed the money to finance a sailing trip but would need a job on his return, whilst the buyer needed staff to run the petrol station.

Students who were ranked as ‘perspective-taking’ were more likely to successfully reach a deal. In contrast, higher scores on empathy tended to result in being less successful at reaching a creative deal.

Negotiators give themselves an advantage by thinking about what is motivating the other party, by getting inside their head” Galinsky said. “Perspective-taking gives you insights into how to structure a deal that can benefit both parties. But unfortunately in negotiations, empathising makes you more concerned about making the other party happy, which can sometimes come at your own expense.

This is very interesting, so how do we apply the lessons to project stakeholder negotiations? A useful place to look for tips would be in the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), using a technique known as ‘reframing’.

Reframing

Reframing describes changing the context or representation of a problem. For example if you are lying in bed and hear the bedroom door open, your reaction depends upon the frame of reference; are you expecting the kids to wander in, or could it be a burglar? Is that gunman a ‘terrorist’ or ‘freedom fighter’? Once you understand that everyone might have a different understanding of the same event, then you can take steps to increase your awareness and ability to take a perspective.

So if you want to succeed with project stakeholder negotiations, just don’t get emotionally involved with your opponent as this leads to the worst outcome.

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RFID Tags and Stakeholder Management

Posted by Peter on May 05 2008 | Articles

RFID Tag

RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) tags are now being used in many places around the world, although an article in Telecom Asia magazine about how to ‘kill’ your RFID tag made me think about how to communicate the benefits of this technology to the public.

RFID consists of an inexpensive wireless chip and antenna that can be read up to several metres away. The technology is typically used to track packages in transit or in factory production systems, cutting costs for manufacturers and retailers.

Since 1998, the National Library Board (NLB) in Singapore has been using RFID to tag all its books and automate the borrowing and returning process. More recently, the NLB has installed RFID readers in bookshelves of the library, enabling an operator to find out exactly which books are on the shelves.

ERP

The Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system in Singapore also uses ‘active’ RFID technology for the toll system to communicate with vehicles, whilst bus travellers use ‘passive’ RFID tags inside EZ-Link contactless smart cards to pay for their travel.

While the technology does offer some remarkable opportunities, it also raises some concerns with regard to individual privacy and possible espionage. These issues are discussed in more detail in the RFID Gazette, and is particularly relevant now that many countries have already adopted RFID tags into passports.

Telecom Asia makes the point that some consumers do not seem to have learned very much - or don’t like what they are hearing - about the benefits of the RFID technology, even though it has been around for a long time.

In Singapore the benefits of the EZ-Link card are quite obvious to all travelers, as they quickly get on and off the buses and trains but I wonder how the benefits of remotely-readable tagged passports will be communicated to the public?

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