Episode 157 – The Project Coach – Boost Project Success

Episode #157
Original Air Date: 07.18.2022

33 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Lisa DiTullio

As a project manager, do you have an obligation to support your team members’ development for the duration of your project assignment? In this episode, we’re asking Lisa DiTullio how coaching can be done simply, without compromising successful project delivery. She explains how a project manager can effectively coach team members and still get the work done.

Lisa starts by explaining the changing landscape for projects, and she describes some drawbacks in the way organizations have traditionally approached managing projects. She highlights some techniques to evolve to become a manager/coach and how to empower team members to develop new skills and competencies. Lisa describes how to create a learning, collaborative environment for your team, and she gives practical tips on coaching methods as she highlights the importance of asking the right questions. Lisa says: “It’s not telling our team members what to do and how to do it. It’s challenging our team members on figuring it out on their own.”

Lisa is the principal of Project Chalk Talk, a company dedicated to introducing project management as a business competency. She has over 25 years of experience establishing PMO and Portfolio Management models. Previously, Lisa was VP, Portfolio and Program Management of Foundation Medicine. As past director of the PMO at Boston-based Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Lisa was a core member of the turnaround team for an organization that went from being placed in state-supervised receivership in 1999 to being the “Number One Health Plan in America” in US News & World Report many years in a row.


Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"And if they challenge you, ... “Well, wait a minute, you know this, can’t you just tell me,” you have to be prepared to be able to go back and say, “But when I give you the permission and the opportunity to think about this on your own, you will never forget it.  You will own it.  It is yours.  And then you can build off of that, and you can continue to succeed.”

- Lisa DiTullio

"And the next thing you know you’ve created, not only an opportunity for this coachee to hear different solutions or suggestions from others through experience, but now collectively you’ve created a collaborative power among the team as a whole, and that creates a stronger team."

- Lisa DiTullio

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The podcast by project managers for project managers. As a project manager, do you have an obligation to support your team members’ development for the duration of your project assignment?  In this episode, Lisa DiTullio explains how to effectively coach team members and still get the work done. She describes how to create a learning, collaborative environment for your team, which will benefit each individual and the project delivery.

Table of Contents

02:05 … Meet Lisa
03:26 … Defining Coaching
05:16 … Changing Landscape for Project Managers
07:33 … Traditional Approach to Managing Projects
09:45 … How to Coach and Deliver Successful Projects
12:35 … Coaching Project Fundamentals
16:40 … Asking the Right Questions
18:04 … How to Evolve as a Manager Coach
20:06 … Listen More, Talk Less
21:58 … Coaching Through the Life of a Project
25:01 … Fitting in a New Team Member
29:40 … Keep it Simple to be Successful
30:47 … Get in Touch with Lisa
31:55 … Closing

LISA DITULLIO:  And if they challenge you, like, “Well, wait a minute, you know this, can’t you just tell me,” you have to be prepared to be able to go back and say, “But when I give you the permission and the opportunity to think about this on your own, you will never forget it.  You will own it.  It is yours.  And then you can build off of that, and you can continue to succeed.”

WENDY GROUNDS:  You’re listening to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  This is our bimonthly program, where we like to talk about what matters to you as a professional project manager.  And we’re so glad you’re joining us.  If you like what you hear, please visit us at Velociteach.com and leave us a comment on our website.

I’m Wendy Grounds, and joining me is Bill Yates.  Our guest today is Lisa DiTullio.  Lisa is the principal of Project Chalk Talk.  She has over 25 years experience in establishing PMO and Portfolio Management models. She is also the author of several books and a regular contributor to industry blogs and various podcasts.  As past VP Portfolio and Program Management of Foundation Medicine, Lisa built the PMO from the ground up.  As past director of the PMO at Boston-based Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Lisa was a core member of the turnaround team for an organization that went from being placed in state-supervised receivership in 1999 to being the number one health plan in America in U.S. News & World Report many years in a row.  So we’re going to talk with Lisa about the project coach.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, some of these questions are going to be along the lines of, okay, do project managers also have an obligation or a responsibility to support team members’ development?  We’ve got to deliver successful projects.  What about our team members and their development?  It’s an opportunity to support team members’ development through coaching for the duration of the project assignment.  But again, you’ve got to find that balance of getting things done.  So we’re going to ask Lisa how coaching can be done simply, without getting in the way of successful project delivery.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Hi, Lisa.  Welcome to Manage This.  Thanks for being our guest. 

LISA DITULLIO:  Thank you so much for having me.  I’m thrilled to be here.

Meet Lisa

WENDY GROUNDS:  We’re excited to talk on this topic.  But before we get there, can you tell us about your current work? What are you doing right now, and how you got into project management?

LISA DITULLIO:  I fell into the profession like many of us have, which is totally by accident.  I never grew up thinking I was going to be a project manager.  Didn’t even know what a project manager was.  And in typical form, most folks who are good at their day job get rewarded by being assigned a project.  And that’s exactly how it happened.  I had no background.  I had no training.  And I just knew that I had to deliver a lot of work within a certain timeline.  And I knew that the pressure was on, and I needed to do a good job.  It was a very small team.  And we were dealing with a momentous project in healthcare, which has been my primary focus throughout my career.  And that’s how it happened.  It was just simply by accident.

I still believe the accidental profession is alive and well for so many different reasons.  And I left my day job again at the end of last year and decided, you know, once you start a business, then you have no fears about doing it again.  And so I’m doing it again.  I’m just having a lot of fun because I’m staying in a very narrow alley which is teaching, coaching, mentoring. And being a little bit of a change maker in this profession.  I think it’s time for us to do so.

Defining Coaching

WENDY GROUNDS:  Can you tell us what coaching is? 

LISA DITULLIO:  Yeah.  There are so many different definitions.  A lot of people think of the traditional definition of coaching as in an athletic coach who oftentimes will give you strong guidance on how to do something to get better, to really focus and work on your talents and your strengths.  The coaching that I’m thinking of and from how we’re going to talk about it today is really about empowering individuals in a completely different manner because most folks that we oversee – and for project managers what’s really interesting about it is whether project managers recognize it or not, for the life of a project, those project team members spend most time with the project manager rather than their functional manager.  And they will rely on that project manager or program manager, especially if they’re good ones, to guide them along the way.

And it could be that guidance can be in a plethora of areas and topics and skills.  The difference, though, for project managers, is it’s not telling our team members what to do and how to do it.  It’s challenging our team members on figuring it out on their own.  But we always offer them a safety net so they will never fail.  But it forces a complete different mindset on a project manager because it’s a whole lot easier.  We’ll just tell them what to do.  In fact, it’s worse than that.  Usually the project manager is, by the time I tell you to do it, I can do it myself. 

So think about what we’re challenging these folks to do, which is, you know, sit on your hands, listen intently, ask a lot of questions, and empower the individuals.  And ultimately, as you do this on your project teams, you are creating a learning collaborative environment on your team, which is the ultimate place to be when you’re delivering really complex stuff.

Changing Landscape for Project Managers

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  That’s a great description. And, yeah, there’s a certain arrogance that I think it’s easy for project managers to fall into because many times we kind of grow, like you said, we kind of grow out of a technical background where it’s like, okay, I reached a level of competency where now, I’m kind of in charge of this part of the project or the entire project team.  That’s a great wakeup call.  I appreciate you talking about that.  I also wanted to talk about that changing landscape that you see for projects and project managers.  How would you describe that landscape today versus what it used to be?

LISA DITULLIO:  Yeah, it’s a great question.  And, well, first of all, as a world, we’ve gone through extraordinary change in the last couple of years, and I don’t think we’re ever going back to what we used to have before on any level.  Yet, when you look at the history of project management, so the PMI was founded in 1969, and Agile became a thing in the early 1990s.  And by the way, I’m a big proponent.  Put your weapons down, stop worrying and fighting over what methodology is the best.  It’s about what’s best for the organization to meet those needs.

We also have an aging profession.  I believe the latest stats on PMPs, that over 50% of our PMP holders right now have less than five years’ experience under their belt.  So now you go back to that coaching mode.  So I believe it’s an aging profession, and I think it’s also equally fueled by the Great Resignation.  But for those who are still with us who have been really well trained, real experienced, and are a full believer of the methodology, which I think is still a great thing. As long as we’ve got some flex to it, they want to tell us what to do.

And the coaches themselves don’t necessarily see flexibility in the way we deliver projects.  So you have to change your mindset to be flexible in order to coach really well.  Because the younger generation, first of all they were born out of the womb with devices.  They have a different way of thinking and behaving.  And they have some extraordinary thoughts, ideas, and suggestions of how we all could do this better together.  So if we don’t open our mindset, we will never be able to coach them to extraordinary things.  It doesn’t just benefit them as an individual, but benefits the delivery of a project in a program.

Traditional Approach to Managing Projects

WENDY GROUNDS:  Lisa, can you describe how organizations have traditionally approached managing projects?  And what are some drawbacks to this approach?

LISA DITULLIO:  Sure.  And again, I’m going to try to stay out of the debate of what methodology is better.  But for most of us, regardless of the methodology that we rely on, we rely on process.  We’re heavily driven by process and templates.  And the problem with that is we get so intently focused on process and templates, we forget to ask ourselves what does this project really need?  And speed is of the essence for just about everyone.  We are investing millions and millions and millions of dollars on these really important projects everywhere in organizations.

And there’s some belief right now that there’s more money on the table for our projects than there are for operations.  And I think it’s a very compelling argument.  As a result of that, if we don’t take the ability to flex and say maybe we don’t need all these tools. Maybe we should simplify these tools. Maybe we can take some steps off the process. And maybe there’s guidance that we can use that looks different so we can get there faster.

I just had a great conversation with a woman who was just hired to drive the strategy group in a biotech organization.  And she’s also responsible for developing project leadership.  And the conversation was fascinating because her belief is I know we need the methodology.  I don’t really care what that methodology is.  I just know that we need to deliver fast, and we need to deliver well.  It was a stunning conversation for me because I realized the more we speak in project management speak to these new leaders, the more we disengage with them rather than engage with them.

So part of the traditional practice of what we need to do around vernacular interpretation, excitement, engagement, I believe we have to start rethinking it completely.  And so if we were to turn a little bit of our traditional practices on their flipside, imagine the opportunity to coach people to keep them onboard and keep them going through the process and getting to the other side.  That modernizes the way we get things done in order for our investments to be worthy.

How to Coach and Deliver Successful Projects

BILL YATES:  You talk about the challenge that project managers face.  On the one hand, their primary objective is they have a sponsor or a customer saying I want this done.  I want it done fast.  I want it done well, with high quality.  On the other hand, it’s not so much the functional manager now, it is that project manager who is spending most of the time, most of the working day with these cohorts, these team members.  So they have a lot of influence on them.

So it’s like, okay,  I’ve got two things I’ve got to balance here as a project manager.  I need to be a leader of this team to deliver value as fast as possible.  But I also need to be the leader of this team in terms of growing talent and making sure that this work is fulfilling in coaching.  So that is a challenge with a capital C. 

LISA DITULLIO:  It’s an enormous amount of weight on their shoulders.  Now, what you’ve described and what I’m catching, and I’m going to go back and focus on for just a minute, is the sponsor’s telling the project management this, and then this project manager goes and works with the team.  What you’re describing is something that I think needs to change because it’s a traditional practice, which is the project manager will have a conversation, maybe, maybe not, but they will talk to the sponsor.  And they’ll have their conversation, and everyone will shake their heads yes.  And then the project manager will leave that conversation and then go in and decipher that information and filter it to the project team.

The number one challenge we have and what I think, again, simple, but meaningful, bring everyone together at the same time and have the conversation in a unified fashion.  And make sure that the words that you’re using that we traditionally and regularly use all the time mean the same thing.  And I’ll give you an example.  That sponsor is going to use the word “deliverable,” and chances are their reference and their interpretation in their head is deliverable is the results this project will give this business, the value, when it goes live.  But they’ll use that word throughout the conversation.  Project manager is going to use the word “deliverable”. And they’re going to say it’s the word we need to get done in order to build this thing to go live.

All of a sudden I realize we have a real problem with vernacular interpretation of words that we use all the time.  So if we don’t bring everyone together and be very fundamental, say, well, wait just a minute, I’m hearing you use this word “deliverable” in this way, and we’re using it this way.  We’ve got to stop.  We’ve got to use the right words in the right way.  Otherwise we’re all looking for different results and different outcomes.

If I don’t know that as a project or program manager, how can I possibly help coach these individuals that you describe, which is they need help, and they’re with me all the time.  We’ve been assigned this hugely important, ideally strategic initiative where a lot of money and a lot of faith is being put into our skill set and our competencies.  If I can’t get the basics down first, none of us are going to succeed. And I certainly won’t be a good coach for those individuals.

Coaching Project Fundamentals

BILL YATES:  Right.  That’s good.  So speak to those basics.  What are some of the fundamentals that you feel like, okay, as a leader of a project team, I have the opportunity to really coach up those who have less experience that are on the team with some of the project basics.  And these are things that maybe I’m kind of taking for granted, things that I’ve just learned work in project settings.  But what are those things that we should go through?

LISA DITULLIO:  So I’m completely biased on this from the perspective is that I do believe that every staff member who typically is assigned – actually, I think every staff member, period, but I think it’s probably a little bit of a pie-in-the-sky optimistic view – should be trained in project management fundamentals.  And in fact, for those organizations that are spending an extraordinary amount of time and money to uptick their orientation, their onboarding program as new employees because it’s expensive for us to hire them, particularly right now, I think that it should be part of that onboarding program because virtually everyone touches a project at some point in their career, and probably in their tenure at that organization, big, small, or otherwise.

At the very least, the project manager, when they welcome their team members onto their team, and chances are in today’s world they are going to get a number of team members that are inexperienced and perhaps don’t have all the right attributes and skill set.  Why would you not do some fundamentals with them right out of the gate as part of your team onboarding experience?  So it’s the next best thing.

And, you know, again, it’s this misnomer than we don’t have the time to invest in that.  And my response is, well, if you don’t, you will pay in spades for that after the fact.  So you might as well just do it and make sure that you’ve got a solidification of good foundations and understanding and comprehension.  So there’s that.

Teaching, the reference to teaching folks something, teaching is different than coaching.  It’s different than mentoring.  Mentoring is looking at someone like me that’s been in the profession for a really long time and relying on my expertise and my experience to help share with you, to guide you to the next level of where you want to go with your career.  And it’s usually a longer term relationship, and you usually meet on a fairly periodic basis.  Teaching is pretty straightforward because you’re telling them some areas of learning so that they can go and apply it. 

Coaching is really about challenging the individual by asking them questions.  And so how do you think you did?  Would you do it differently?  Oh, what does that look like?  Well, let me ask you then what you’ll do the next time because it’s going to happen again.  When will you do that?  How will you do that?

And it’s so hard to do because I literally sit on my hands when I go through tough coaching conversations because I want to jump in and just tell them, or I want to give them the answer.  And so it’s really hard for me.  So I’ve picked up literally, sit on your hand, it’s my physical alert to not do the things that I would traditionally want to do in order to give them the opportunity to open the door, to get their thinking differently broader, build their confidence, and know that they always are going to have that safety net.  They’re never going to fail.

But I want them to challenge themselves to do it.  So what do you think?  How would you do that differently?  How did you think that went?  There are so many questions that we can ask that are really simple so you don’t need to get into a formal check list process that becomes impersonal.  One of my favorite questions is, if you had a magic wand, what would you do?  Because then I get them to really think broadly.

By the way, don’t ever say “think out of the box” ever again.  Because thinking out of the box suggests that a box has got very clear boundaries, and if we don’t get out of the box, then we’ve failed.  Take the box and throw it away.  And then I like to say, so, no boundaries, no barriers.  If you had the magic wand, what does it look like?  If you just had nothing there to restrict you, what does it look like?  And start something at that point that gives them an open freedom way of doing it.  Now, the reality is the questions I ask them. I can do it in a way that I’m not actually telling them, but I’m guiding them to a destination.

Asking the Right Questions

BILL YATES:  Yes, right.  This is such a good takeaway.  If I think of coaching in terms of questioning, asking questions, my goal is not to, from the top of the mountain, impart all my wisdom below.  No, it’s to help people discover.  To me, that’s the goal; right?  And there’s a vulnerability there that I think is very helpful for the person getting that question to really pause, reflect.  That is such a key for coaching is to ask those questions.  And the beauty is you know what types of questions to ask because you’ve been there, done that; right? 

LISA DITULLIO:  Right.  That’s exactly right.  And so that’s the point, and that’s brilliantly stated, which is I know it.  I can tell them.  But instead I’m going to turn it around into questions so that it still becomes theirs.  And in the beginning, some folks are not going to be prepared for the questions rather than: “Can’t you just tell me the answer or tell me what to do”.  So if you’ve got to go into it a little bit slowly and say, “Let’s have a conversation about this.  Let’s just chat about it.” 

And if they challenge you, like. “Well, wait a minute, you know this, can’t you just tell me,” you have to be prepared to be able to go back and say. “But when I give you the permission and the opportunity to think about this on your own, you will never forget it.  You will own it.  It is yours.  And then you can build off of that, and you can continue to succeed”.  So there’s a way that you are creating a vulnerability, but there’s no weakness associated with it.

How to Evolve as a Manager Coach

WENDY GROUNDS:  What are some techniques for a project manager if they want to evolve as a manager coach?  What are some techniques that they could be implementing?

LISA DITULLIO:  So I think again it’s about identifying a short set of questions that become favorites, and just have a short level of repertoire.  The good news about coaching, first of all, it’s a thing out there in business today.  And it’s scary because everyone’s a coach.  Coaches are different kinds and different types.  There is opportunity certainly for project managers to be able to skill up in training that is specifically designed to project managers because they understand the world that they practice in and they live in and what their challenges are.

But if nothing else, there’s a short set of questions that honestly anyone could develop to help break the ice, open it up.  You can start with, “Hey, in that last meeting I had this observation, how do you think it went”?  And get a feel, first of all, because if they’re not self-aware, you’re going to have a hard time coaching them.  And what you want to do is develop an opportunity through strictly conversation.  So that just means, as a project manager, I need to spend some time with my folks.

Now, some may say, well, in today’s world that’s harder because we’re in the virtual space that we all are in.  I say I think it’s easier because one-on-one conversations in a Zoom, there’s undivided attention, typically.  Or they’re in their comfort zone.  They’re in their homes.  They’re in an area where they’re comfortable.  And I have found that people are more revealing in the virtual world than not.  And I didn’t expect that.  It’s been a bit of a surprise for me.  Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten to know folks because you know I’ve met their children, or their pet makes a cameo appearance or something like that. 

So it becomes more personal, even though we’re still getting a whole lot of work done.  And so we can use things like that to our advantage to create and strengthen the relationship in order for us to have these conversations in a safe and quote unquote “vulnerable environment”.

Listen More, Talk Less

BILL YATES:  One of the points that I saw that you’ve written about, it reminds me of the line from “Hamilton”. “Talk less, smile more”.  You talk about “Listen more, talk less”.  This will be a major challenge for some of the listeners.  Certainly it is for me, especially if it’s an area that’s more like something I’m passionate about, or I feel like I know more about.  It’s hard for me to shut up and to, again, go to that essence of coaching which is to ask questions and then shut up and listen.  So what advice do you have for people like me?

LISA DITULLIO:  Well, for me, you know, it’s a lot of “Do as I say, not as I do”.  There’s a favorite exercise that I do in workshops that have to do with listening skills which is apparent and prevalent in almost any workshop that you do.  But it’s this really interesting, very simple exercise where, in a group setting, I tell them we’re going to tell a story. And someone’s going to start the story with a sentence.  And then when they’re done with their sentence. I’m going to point to the next person who’s going to add a sentence in the story.  Doesn’t matter what the story is, as long as they keep it clean.

But the rule of game, if you will, is the next person’s turn, when I point to them, they have to start their sentence with the last letter of the last word that was spoken.  And the stories are hysterical.

But what that does is it forces all of us, we can’t even think about processing what the next sentence is until the punctuation point hits the end of the sentence.  And what it does is it forces us all to realize how often do any of us do that?  And it’s practically never.  I love gaming because I think that there’s a huge power to it on our recall and our ability to take it.  People will say to me, “Oh, my gosh, that’s the best exercise ever because it realizes I never do that”.   It’s self-awareness.  But yeah, listening’s a biggie, and it’s a hard one.

Coaching Through the Life of a Project

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Lisa, I want to pivot a little bit.  I want to take this idea of coaching and then think about the life of a project.  Over the life of a project, when you initiate, you kick off the project, you get the new team perhaps, or it could be an intact team.  Maybe there’s some nuances in terms of how they relate to each other and the opportunity to coach throughout the lifecycle of the project.  Talk us through what that might look like from beginning and the middle and towards the end of a project.

LISA DITULLIO:  So at the beginning of a project, as we know, everything is gray and muddy, and there’s not a lot of clarity.  So you may have some people that, particularly if they are new to an assignment, new to a company, just new in general, inexperienced, where they’re going to feel like they don’t know what the heck is going on.  And that’s going to hit their confidence level, quite honestly.  And they’re scared because they’ve been selected by their functional manager to be deployed on this project.  They may be the best candidate, or they simply may be out of resources. And it’s the next best thing they have to put on this program, right, which we all know what that’s like.  The listening is incredibly important.

The other piece of it that’s critical is interpreting body language.  So, and that gets a little more tricky, I do believe, in a group setting in the virtual world.  And this is where we’ve been challenged on the evolution of what we do and how we do it.  Which is really to be understanding, clear.  Are they paying attention?  Do they look like they’re in the game?  Do they look confused?  I mean, there are so many things that we took for granted when we were face to face.  But now we need to figure out how do we make it meaningful with the technology that we have to get the most out of it. 

I’m big on coffee chats, so especially folks that I don’t know, let’s meet for coffee.  In the good old days when I was hiring staff, I would never interview them first.  I’d just say come meet me for coffee at the coffee shop down the street, just to break the ice and to get comfortable. And to understand who they are before any real shop talk is taken.

And I think the same thing needs to happen here.  We need to establish that rapport first.  And then really, once we understand that, and we get familiar and comfortable with that, not only will they open up to you as their coach and the project program manager; but, see, as the coach I can also point them to other individuals on the team that they may value via conversation.  Oh, you know, you should go talk to so-and-so.  They’ve got great experience.  They figured out a whole bunch of stuff. 

Now what I’m doing is setting up an opportunity for peer-to-peer.  And that has enormous value.  Nothing is more complimentary than when I say, “Go ask Jane, she’ll be thrilled to talk to you”.  And Jane is thrilled to talk to you.  The next thing you know you’ve created, not only an opportunity for this coachee to hear different solutions or suggestions from others through experience, but now collectively you’ve created a collaborative power among the team as a whole. And that creates a stronger team.

Fitting in a New Team Member

BILL YATES:  So for the project manager that has a team in place, it feels like, okay, now I’ve got a good rhythm of coaching with these team members.  And then a new person or a new team member or a couple of new team members come onboard.  As the coach, what advice do you have both for that leader and for the other team members in terms of how they’d fit into this new relationship?

LISA DITULLIO:  Sure.  So from a coaching relationship, I’m not a big advocate of coaching the team as a team.  I’m a big advocate of coaching individuals and through that one-on-one experience.  I think that’s really important.  I think what you do at the team level is a little bit different.  You can leverage and draw on the powers that have been established through your individual conversations on a coaching level, and then the collective power of the team you can let that unleash itself, if you will, because people are more open and will share feedback to one another, which is magic, in my view.

Any time a new person comes onto a team, and we know it just takes one person to disrupt the dynamics of that team in a really big way, is really again making sure that I fully understand and appreciate who is this person, what’s their background, what do they bring to the table, what excites them, what’s success for them, how do they work, what’s their working style, all the questions that typically and honestly we don’t, I find, tend to ask anyone.  We just jump into the work.  And we don’t deal with any of those things until they rear their ugly head. Like some people’s style of working is this way, others are that way.  And then it annoys me.  So now I’m so annoyed and distracted that I don’t get the work done, and I don’t work well with them.

So I think that it’s becoming more of an element of humanizing the conversations of what matters and taking the time to plant those seeds well so that as the project gears up and the level of complexity starts to rev up, we have a basis that we know collectively as a team we can take it on, we can deal with it.  It doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be either individual challenges or team challenges.  But I’ve set the seeds, and I’ve invested in those individuals so that I know enough about them, in order for us to have a symphony of success as we go forward.  And it’s fine.  It’s taking notice of the people that we have and knowing they’re people first; they’re workers second. 

And I think that’s the one advantage that we have, through post-COVID times or whatever type of COVID phase we’re in these days, to really recognize that the humanity of it is really important.  And I think it’s giving us an opportunity to go back and revisit that in a really valuable and meaningful way.

BILL YATES:  You know, you pointed something out, Lisa, you talked about really this coaching is one-on-one.  This is not me standing up with a PowerPoint presentation in front of my team and saying, hey, this is how we’re going to do a work breakdown structure.  This is what a sprint retrospective should look like.  It’s one-on-one.

To me that, from a standpoint of project leaders, that kind of calms me down.  It takes some of the stress out of me, and I go, oh, okay.  All I’m being asked to do here is to grow as a coach.  That means having more one-on-one conversations with my team, asking appropriate questions.  Every now and then, as I’m having these dialogues, I’m going to go, oh, you know what, I was talking to John yesterday, and then Susie last week, and Juan the week before that.  All three had the same issue with Slack.  Or all three had the same issue with this report we’ve been giving the customer.  Now I’ve got something that I think I should bring into a team meeting and address.

LISA DITULLIO:  Absolutely.  Now, I want to just mention one other thing about this.  So because of our level of complexity in projects and programs, we may have teams that are really large.  And we might have a lot of subprojects associated with that.  So there’s an opportunity for you as the leader of being responsible to ensure that all that work gets delivered is to understand how many subprojects do you have; how many subproject managers are responsible for aspects.  How do we engage them first from a coaching mechanism and allow them to become coach-like in their activities so they spread the wealth down to their team members?  Because you as that individual can’t do it all on your own.  So that’s another way of us saying, how am I effective and efficient on this?  I can’t do it all by myself.  So what’s the next best thing?

These are the things where honestly I feel some days that we get so entrenched in the methodology and the practice that we forget there’s other opportunities that make it a whole lot successful and less onus on us as the program manager responsible for making sure that all of this work is done.

Keep it Simple to be Successful

WENDY GROUNDS:  Before we close out. I have watched some of your webinars, and I’ve seen you use the phrase “Keep it simple to be successful”.  And I can see you feel very strongly about that one.  Can you give us your thoughts on why this is so important?

LISA DITULLIO:  Absolutely.  I think that the purist in us all can spend too much time on the administration of project management rather than getting work done.  I also believe that regardless of what culture organizations have, the simpler we keep our practices, the more often and more frequent we are to just simply practice with simplicity.  It just becomes woven into the fabric of how we get stuff done.  My big adage in my value statement is project management is the work; it’s never extra work. 

And the challenge, of course, is when we stockpile all of our templates and all of our models and all of our tools, we can’t get away from them.  It’s like handcuffs.  They burden us down.  And I think that there’s no time than today to not only coach our folks differently for development, but I believe really take stock at what we have and ask ourselves can we get it done differently with less.

Get in Touch with Lisa

WENDY GROUNDS:  How can our listeners get in touch with you if they want to find out more about your work or just ask you some questions?

LISA DITULLIO:  Sure.  And I would want like that and welcome that at any time.  I have a new company called Project Chalk Talk, primarily focusing on coaching and training.  And there is some mentoring scattered in there because I do believe post-training it’s more about mentor than it is about coaching initially until folks get it down and understand it really well to apply it.  And then also lisad@projectchalktalk is the best way to email me. Send me a smoke signal, and I always will try and respond.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Great.  We’ll put links to that in the transcript so that people can stay in touch.

LISA DITULLIO:  Thanks.  Thanks so much.

BILL YATES:  Lisa, thank you so much.  It’s so fun to talk with you.  You’ve had so much experience cross-industry, and you’ve trained so many different project managers with different perspectives, and you’ve heard their complaints.  You’ve heard what works, what doesn’t work.  And you’ve been in the trenches, and then you’ve led teams.  So thank you so much for sharing your expertise and time with us.

LISA DITULLIO:  Well, thank you so much for inviting me.  I think that we are at the cusp of some really very innovative cool things to make it less burdensome and far more impactful. And I couldn’t be more excited.


WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  Thank you for joining us.  You’ve just earned your free PDUs by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com.  Choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page. Click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

One response to “Episode 157 – The Project Coach – Boost Project Success”

  1. Megan says:

    Great podcast and takeaways for project managers. Asking the thought-provoking questions allows for the development of high-performing teams.

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