Donna Fitzgerald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Donna Fitzgerald
Research Vice President
5 years at Gartner
31 years IT industry

Donna Fitzgerald focuses her research on strategies and approaches for using program and portfolio management as a way to create unique business value. Read Full Bio

Why You Absolutely Need a “Negative Nate” on Your Project Team

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  June 17, 2014  |  1 Comment

I found this quote from Ron Friedman of 99u interesting…

“A study in Psychological Science found that when we work with others to reach a decision, we become overly confident in the accuracy of our collective thinking. The confidence boost we gain from working in teams can feel exhilarating in the short term. But it also clouds our judgment.

My first reaction to the comment was “that’s nonsense” because I’ve never worked on a team where we weren’t always keeping our ears open to the possibility that we got it wrong.  After all, basic risk management tells you that “even if nothing can go wrong something still will” which means the members of any team still need to leave room in their collective mental models for the possibility that the assumption is just dead wrong.

My second reaction to the comment was “oh, maybe some people in the PPM community aren’t a professional paranoid (a skill I learned from working in the company run by the man who wrote Only the Paranoid Survive) and maybe the simple practice of ‘risk management by breathing’ which is conventionally known as continuous risk management isn’t as common as I assume.  After all most people hate focusing on bad news.

And therein lies the secret.  Most people hate focusing on what will go wrong, BUT some people are wired in a manner that their focus is always drawn to the negative.  They are the ones who find problems under every rock and who drive you crazy by always telling you why things won’t work.  They are also the people who keep you honest and the team and project safe if used correctly.  Additionally research from Stanford showed that teams that included what I will now christen a negative Nate were significantly more successful at completely the product of the project than those who lacked someone in this function.

Finding the right negative Nate for you organization takes luck and patience but statistically every organization will have a few to choose from.  Working with them takes patience on everyone’s part and an appreciation of their unique gift but I’ve seen it work on my own teams (I inherited the individual and only needed to be smart enough to not take management’s advice to let him/her go.)  Yes there were times when I said “thank you for sharing – we’re going to take the risk” but just as often I found we all said “thanks for sharing – now how do we insure that this doesn’t go wrong?”

Bottom line: Collaboration works if you don’t drink your own Kool-Aid.  Having the right negative Nate on the team keeps you honest naturally and significantly improves project outcomes with no extra work.

1 Comment »

Category: Agile Organizational Development PMO Program Management Project Management     Tags: ,

Developing the Competent Project Manager: a Sunday workshop at the 2014 Gartner PPM Summit

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  May 28, 2014  |  Comments Off

A common issue for many project management offices (PMOs) is managing the current skill levels of their project and program managers. In general, PMOs consider a small number of their project and program managers as “superstars,” and a larger number of them as being barely able to get by. Knowledge-based certifications are effective as a way to establish a shared language about project and program management, but as a proxy for predicting performance they come up short.

On Sunday, at one of the kick-off sessions for our 2014 US PPM Summit (being held at National Harbor, MD) William Duncan and I will be doing a workshop on Performance based competencies for PPM.

If you are tempted to ask why you should care, my answer is because, performance based competencies, as opposed to behavioral based competencies help you get better project results, develop better project managers and most importantly it’s a fair and equitable approach.

If you aren’t familiar with the difference between a behavior-based competency and a performance-based competency; a behavior-based competency will say that an individual “works well with stakeholders” or “anticipates, identifies and diagnoses problems.” A performance-based competency will ask for evidence of effective performance. For example, let’s consider the competency, “ensure that stakeholder interests are identified and addressed.” This requires that both the project manager and the PMO or staff manager actually identify how the criterion was met (meetings, documents, phone calls and so on), why the method for meeting the criterion was chosen, and the efficacy of the final results (this is intended to avoid the phenomenon known as “going through the motions”).

In the workshop we’ll be exploring how you can easily use a performance competency approach with your own team, to improve performance based on the use of the open source standard prepared by the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS). We’ll do an actual “mini” performance assessment and then strategize how you can, if you chose, use this to not only level your PMs in order to better match them to the complexity of the projects that need to be managed, but offer them a clear map of what areas they need to improve to be more successful

For those of you who won’t be able to join us for workshop please check out  For clients who might not be able to attend the workshop, please set up an inquiry.  We promise that this is an approach you do with your people and not to them (fully compliant with David Rock’s SCARF model) and it really does improve results.

Comments Off

Category: Uncategorized     Tags:

The Value Proposition of the PMO (part 3) – An example of a personal concept of value

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  August 22, 2013  |  Comments Off

Since my last posting didn’t generate a lot of feedback – I’ll take the next step by articulating what I believe the value of the PMO was for me.  It was a way to get something important to my company and the people I worked with done.  That is what got me up in the morning, that is what kept me there late at night, and that sense that I could help make a difference to the day to day working environment of the company and to our future strategic success was the fire in my belly.

Now of course I’m an expressive-driver.  I have to have a vision of a future state – this is hard wired into my DNA and I have no more choice about it than eye color.  The driver aspect of a personality is generally developed in childhood and while I can’t prove it I’d say that we “drive” because it makes us feel safer knowing that we are improving things so less can go wrong.

Of course there’s nothing special about my value proposition – it’s no better or worse than anyone else’s but it does condition everything about how a PMO I manage operates, (which is why I’m encouraging everyone to be clear about their own value statements)

So let’s decompose how my motivations would translate into activities

  1. Getting something done
  2. Ensuring that what is done is important
  3. Making life better for my co-workers

“Getting something done” fits very nicely into an approach to project management.  Obviously I don’t have much use for box ticking.  Anyone who ever just fills out paperwork and then blames others for delaying their project doesn’t work for me very long.  I completely understand the impediments that many PMs have placed in their path BUT it was my job to get those impediments removed (which is why I challenge all my clients to improve their approach to project resource management (insert note).  Once a project was resourced correctly and a reasonable deadline was agreed upon (or an unreasonable one was agreed up – -but with authorization to cut scope to the very bone to make sure we made the date) it was up to the PM to fight the day to day battles with Murphy to ensure that things stayed on track.  Needless to say I’m not a big fan of paperwork for the sake of paperwork – somewhere “people over process” is tattooed on my soul – but if anyone who worked for me tried to run a project without a dependency linked schedule, a clear understanding of their scope, risk, budget and the needs of their stakeholders and sponsors – well let’s just say they wouldn’t work for me very long.

Which leads us to doing what is important—this is where we move firmly into the art of PM.  I once worked for a man that said I needed to develop Long earlobes—which to him meant that I truly needed to listen and connect the dots to understand all of what needed to come together to encompass what was important.  I’ve tended to believe that this is a combination of inquiry and listening wrapped around a strong systems thinking ability.  I know I can hire for it because I did or – and no it’s not a common skill but in this labor market it shouldn’t be out of reach for anyone.

The last value statement is “make life better for my co-workers with the output of the project”.  This is also part of the art.  I think this require emotional intelligence and/or empathy which needs to underlie an understanding of the business process and overall business environment.  It also led me to want to understand UI and UX and to do a tour of duty through two firms as a product manager.  Great software is a pleasure – bad software is the bane of everyone’s existence.  It’s the same for business process.  A PM doesn’t need to do these things themselves (after all they have their own work) but ultimate the PM stands proxy for the end user.  This is a sacred mission.   As PM professionals people hand to us their future (because we are going to deliver something that affects their day to day lives) and we need to return the absolutely best product the allocated money and time can buy.

I’ve operated from this value model since I was 26 years old and was running my first global program.  I can articulate it better today than I could then but the underlying concepts haven’t changed.  Obviously there is nothing special about my value statement.  There are many paths to success and what has worked in fast moving high tech companies might not be what will work in other situations but a key point of the leadership challenge is we need to understand what we believe and how we judge success so that we can align our own goals with the needs of our staff and our companies.

Comments Off

Category: PMO Program Management Project Management     Tags: , , , ,

The Value Proposition of the PMO (part 2) – How YOU define the value is important

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  July 31, 2013  |  1 Comment

If we want to make changes we first have to be willing to lead the change and to lead the change we need to understand where we want to go.  Let’s begin with the question

“What is the value of the PMO to you personally?”

The answer I’m asking you to find is the one that gets you up in the morning; the one that makes you feel that you are making a contribution to everyone whose life you touch either through the project you oversee directly or through the results the projects deliver.

None of us can find that particular flavor of answer for anyone other than ourselves, but finding it and articulating it (at least to yourself) is important.  Why?  Because when it comes to leadership Emerson had the right of it when he wrote “who you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say.”

By now most of us have probably proven the wisdom of this to ourselves.  Our real beliefs, values and interests are exposed for the world to see every day by where we spend our time, how we prioritize work for our staff and just in our word choices in casual conversation.

I remember a discussion with a client who was very interested in improving her PMO.  We talked through the advantages of de-emphasizing methods and process and putting much more emphasis on the PM’s learning to guide the project to a successful conclusion where success is defined as the right product, at the right price to a happy customer.  In the call, despite her best efforts she kept using words like checking documentation, ensuring that all the paperwork was completed correct and auditing the paperwork.  She really did want to change but what be increasingly clear was that SHE didn’t really see the “new future” so she kept coming back to the day to day practices she did understand.

So again, what is the value of the PMO to you personally?  How do you want others to talk about your PMO?  What would you consider high praise?  Once you’ve defined the list – go back and ask yourself if you really see the senior managers you support using those words?  If you find yourself hedging a bit and saying “well they would if they just understood project management” then stop and rethink your value. Remember, No one needs to understand YOUR back office process.  Your value is in the help you and your staff, offer to your customers and stakeholders and it is a value that they can instinctively understand and recognize because it ultimately makes their life easier.

For some of you this exercise will be easy.  For other’s there may be (like the PMO manager I described above) some surprising cognitive dissonance.  Again, there is no one right answer because every situation is unique.  The only important this is that you can consciously articulate the value YOU desire to see created with your PMO.

If the concepts in this blog interest you, and you are interested in improving how you manage your PM then join the LinkedIn Group the PMO Leaders Challenge and become part of the New PMO movement.

1 Comment »

Category: Organizational Development PMO Uncategorized     Tags: ,

The Value Proposition of the PMO – Is it changing? (part one)

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  July 30, 2013  |  2 Comments

I’ve recently been spending a lot of time thinking about what our clients really need to know to be successful in running a PMO.  This is a little more difficult than it might appear because the first thing we need to convince people of is that what they think they should be doing according to all of their PMI oriented best practices and what they actually need to be doing are very different things.

For the moment I’ll spare you all a long rant on why this is true and just cut to the meat of my proposition.  The first is that consistency of process (if it ever had a value) is no longer enough to make the grade in the new normal.  Delivering the product of the project (i.e. what the customer really needed in the time frame it was needed by and at a price they can afford) is what is required.  Based on hundreds of calls with clients I feel it’s safe to say that most PMOs are coming up short in this area.

Before anyone starts getting defensive – I understand that it isn’t your fault.  That you don’t have resources to staff your projects, that the business doesn’t engage the way they should, that you don’t have good quality PMs, and the list goes on; but here’s the bad news – Management doesn’t careFixing it—whatever it is—is what you get paid to do.

How you react to the above sentence is the first challenge.  My view is that since most of you came up the ranks as working PMs you cut your teeth on the mantra “the difficult we do immediately – the impossible just takes a little longer.”  After all, managing a real project is not work for wimps.  The hours are long, the pressure is significant and the risk of catastrophic failure is ever present.  So the one thing I generally feel confident about is that an experienced and talented project manager, whatever else his or her shortcoming maybe is always up for taking on a difficult piece of work.

So here’s my challenge– if you are head of a PMO today there is a distinct probability that you may not be in that job in 3 years either because the job won’t exist or because you’ve been asked to find a new position elsewhere in the company (we are putting the odds at 50%).  What I’d like to do in this series of blogs is explore how you can take that probability down significantly.  There will definitely be work involved and you will have to be brave enough to do things other PMO managers probably aren’t doing, but the mark of a leader is a willingness to break free of the herd and lead into potentially uncharted territory.  The only thing you have to do now is decide if you are up for the challenge.  If you are then come join the LinkedIn Group and become part of the PMO Leaders Challenge.


Category: New Normal PMO     Tags: , ,

Collaboration, Team Learning and Who Makes the Decision

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  July 1, 2013  |  Comments Off

How much collaboration do you need on a project team?  Does everything need to be collaborative?  XP would imply it does when it comes to coding.  The core view here is that two heads are always better than one.  But what about with the day to day aspects of a project?  When someone escalates a question or a problem should you always call the team together to decide?  With the operative word being always my answer is no.  But like everything else in this world there are nuances.  The first question to always ask is why is the person doing the escalating NOT solving the problem themselves.

If the answer is they don’t want to accept the responsibility for making the decision — boot them out of your office and remind them they get paid to do their job.  Of course this means that YOU are fully prepared to cover their back if the decision turns out to be wrong.  This isn’t a big deal in my book because we, the most senior people in whatever role we are playing get paid to do our job and that is fundamentally to be the person who is responsible.

If they really don’t know the answer then the default is to call the team together and discuss what the right course of action should be.  Even if I personally think I know what to do, I still generally call the team together.  One of our responsibilities as PPM Leaders is constantly be helping our teams learn.  If I make the decision the only thing my team member has learned is that I’ll make a decision.  If the team discusses the problem and jointly arrives at a conclusion then all the team members learn the what and the why behind that type of decision.  Hopefully they will also learn that they are empowered to call people together to discuss issues themselves without you even needing to be present.

What happens if the team comes up with a solution you the leader don’t really like?  I recommend putting it through a simple 3 step process as shown in the chart below


The first question is “What is the risk if this is the wrong approach?” Followed by the question “how sure are you that you are right?”  To be honest I’ve very rarely seen a situation where I had to do a risk based override.  If I couldn’t convince the team a course of action was too risky then odds are good I’m just being a nervous Nellie.  Of course if I really believed that something was wrong — I’d feel free to exercise my 1% override.  To be honest this is a litmus test of a good team.  I would have no problem saying to my team –“ I really need it to be done this way.  If I’m wrong I promise every one of you can both tell me “I told you so” and hold my incorrect decision over my head in the future.

The second question is will this decision slow down the project.  This is a nuanced approach that is directly related to the culture of the organization.  In IT there is a common bias toward doing things “right” even it means slowing things down.  This is a much more common reason to have to intervene to keep a project on track.  Rightness can be expensive and it is often completely unjustified in the cosmic scheme of things.  From my perspective making a decision to reject “rightness” is often appropriate and can move the discussion up the tree toward team learning

Team Learning is the best reason to accept any decision the team makes.  If the decision is wrong the team learns.  If it is right the team learns.  If you would have made another decision and you were wrong – you learn (and stay humble).

Comments Off

Category: Program Management Project Management Uncategorized     Tags: , , , ,

Rethinking how to improve Project Performance by building business consulting skills and domain expertise

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  June 28, 2013  |  1 Comment

After almost a year hiatus I thought I’d start blogging again – and is my wont I’ve decided to pick a topic that should  generate some strong reactions and offer lots for us to discuss.

As should be no surprise, I’ve recently spent a lot of time asking myself how to improve the actual performance of a project.  The chart below is a completely subjective view of the levers I’d turn to improve the situation as I see it today (which might not be how I see it tomorrow).


Fixing the problemv4

According to me the biggest issue is that most PMs (in IT) are placed in an absolutely impossible circumstance, cause by what I consider by a flawed approach to resource management in their organization.  This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that most organization have a fairly immature approach to portfolio management (if in fact they have any approach at all.)   These too factors combine to say that everyone is trying to do more than is humanly possible with no real teams and poorly defined goals.

So if 60% of the problem is one that even the best PM in the world would struggle with why am I saying that 40% of the problem still belongs to the PM?  Because despite (or possibly because of the emphasis on certification) PM performance has degraded over time.  When I initially drew the chart above I was trying to quantify how big a problem I thought lack of knowledge of PPM principles actually was in project failure.  By the time I had identified the issues (resource management, portfolio management, domain expertise, and leadership) you can see that I was left having concluded that it was only 5%.

So if it’s not PPM knowledge what is it?  My answer is lack of what I consider to be “business consulting/domain expertise”.  So the next logical question is why am I focused on this instead of something else and the answer lies in one of those aha moments that happened at last month’s PPM Summit.

While I was there I had the opportunity to listen to conference attendee make the indirect assertion that even though her job was that of a PM, she considered herself first and foremost to be an IT staff member.  Now this probably doesn’t surprise anyone but me but here is my issue…

A project manager during the time she is running a project represents the interest of the sponsor and the stakeholders, first, foremost and always (as long as those interests are not at odds with those of the enterprise that ultimately pays her salary).

So, in this case, IT is just one more interested stakeholder.  No more and no less.  And it is here that we start to build the case for solid domain expertise.  If the PM is going to represent the Sponsor, the PM needs to understand and internalize the reason why the sponsor is interested in the capabilities the project is supposed to produce.  Is it a web site that customers will find attractive and easy to use?  Is it new lead tracking approach that will increase revenue?  The litmus test is can the PM carry the message of the why of the project clearly enough to show some level of domain expertise.

How much domain expertise is actually necessary and how much IT experience is necessary is a discussion I’d like to defer for another blog – but what I’d like to do here is start a discussion on any one of three aspects

1)      Is it every acceptable for a PM to actually represent IT’s interests first even if they negatively impact the outcome of the project?

2)      Can a project manager ever really be successful if all they know is the PMBoK?

3)      How do you define domain expertise and how much of it do you need to know to be truly success in today’s environment?

1 Comment »

Category: Organizational Development Program Management Project Management Project Portfolio Managemnet Resource Management     Tags: , ,

Mental Models, Personal Quirks and Successful Projects

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  July 17, 2012  |  5 Comments

Tom Peters (our keynote speaker at the 2011 PPM Summit) wrote a testimonial about Stephen Covey for the Washington Post yesterday (  For those of you who follow Tom Peters, it was classic Peters and was quite heartfelt, in my opinion.  Never having been a Covey acolyte, my reaction was at first just the common one of “oh my good I’m getting old”.  People who have populated the landscape in the world I have grown up in and lived in are passing away.  None of this is of particular note in and of itself – what is significant and highly disturbing are the comments down below Peters’ column.  Nasty, petty and narrow minded.  Nasty and petty is just bad human nature but the narrow mindedness is scary.  Peters is of an age with Covey.  They are both contemporaries and peers.  No matter what any of us thought of Covey or think of Peters the article was an insight into their “world”.

I’ve recently been thinking about what is coming next in this unfolding saga of the new normal.  In many ways this small blip on the radar of life (the article above) is a challenging proposition.  Why does it matter if Peters is ego centric?  Anyone who is over the age of 25 who hasn’t figured out that ego centricity comes with the territory for many thought leaders is simply missing a core insight about human nature.  And if they are missing that – what else are they missing?

Add this to a call I had the other day where a client had built a mental wall around what they thought they were responsible for and what the “business” was responsible for and you have some possible indications of a disturbing trend.  I’m not saying this is new.  I’m just kicking the tires on the possibility that mental models are becoming more rigid in the new normal.  I hope not.  Now, more than ever, we need collaborative and innovative thinking.  And that thinking starts by creating room for all sorts of human flaws.

I can go down the list of projects and programs I’ve run and time after time, it has been the fact that I am willing to accept people others class as difficult and ego centric as valued team members that has gotten us to a successful conclusion.  Some of them have been so difficult I’ve had to find an office on another floor or in another building to preserve team harmony but in every case these same people pulled the rabbit out of their hats when we needed it the most.

In the new normal, as I see it, just following the rules won’t help your business.  Checking the boxes off on a requirements document won’t produce good and valuable software.  We need to do less to create and create more value and sometimes the only ones who can really see the end state are the ones whose ego is strong enough to think outside of the box.

Bottom Line– I’ll take an ego centric, bad tempered, brilliant human being who cares passionately about creating something of value on my team any day to a nice person who will do what they are asked to do, when they are asked to do it.


Category: New Normal PPM Summit     Tags:

Machiavelli, Sociopaths and the Difference Between What’s Right and What’s Correct

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  August 31, 2011  |  Comments Off


“Appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.”


I found this quote from Machiavelli in something I was reading this morning.  I generally like to focus on positive management behaviors but this one hit too close to home.  Many years ago I worked for a man who I later found out used The Prince as his personal management bible. 

When I first met this gentleman I reacted the way everyone did when they met him.  I was captivated and delighted that I would be privileged to work for such a terrific individual.  He was brilliant, he was funny, he knew everyone in the company and he was a master glad-hander.  He also promised me that I could go out and do my job with the complete understanding that his job was to have me back and that he wouldn’t let me down. 

Two years later I had finally figured out that everything he said wasn’t even close to the truth. If you are tempted to laugh at my naiveté – let me ask you to hold those guffaws.  I am not, nor have I ever been politically unsophisticated.  I never trust easily and I can spot a liar a mile a way.  What I couldn’t spot was a sociopath.  And make no mistake what Machiavelli is advocating in his quote above is sociopathic behavior. 

I admit that I was warned.  A few people in the company came up to me and said “Watch your back – you really can’t trust him” .  Being prudent by nature I promptly began quietly asking the opinion of others who knew my sponsor.  When I got back nothing but praise I decided that the warnings were a result of unique circumstances and wouldn’t pertain to me.  Was I wrong. 

Over the next year and half little things happened that seemed strange (randomly finding that I’d been knifed in the back over small things) and then one day the mask slipped.  I was facilitating an offsite meeting and 20 people had flown in from all corners of the globe to work out some issues we had.  Essentially no one in the field was happy with the way corporate was doing things and this was the meeting were we hoped to work out a plan to resolve the issues.  I was running the meeting because in theory I was the one person who both sides (the field and corporate) trusted. 

As meetings sometimes do – this one quickly started to go downhill with the corporate senior VP basically telling everyone he didn’t give a d*** what they wanted – he was in charge and everyone could live with the service he chose to provide.  Just before the meeting reached the boiling point my sponsor stepped in and pulled rank on the corporate VP.  He told the field that he had heard and appreciated their difficulties and that he would personally work with the corporate VP to make sure that the changes that needed to happen happened.  The tension level dissipated and the buzz in the room immediately became how lucky everyone was that they worked with a man of the stature of my sponsor.  Except….

Five minutes later I was in the hall (away from the meeting) with my sponsor and the Corporate VP when my sponsor turned to the corporate VP and said “Do whatever you want.  I’ve got them calmed down and as soon as we get them on their airplanes and away from here it won’t matter what you do.”

I admit I was shocked.  He had just assured 20 people that he would make things right and five minutes later he had effectively sold them all down the river, while leaving them singing his praises.  I transferred from that project three weeks later and six months later was working in another division (as far away from my former sponsor as possible). 

What’s the moral of this story?  A lesson that it took me years to learn.  There are sociopaths working in organizations.  As PMs our job is to identify them early and avoid them as much as possible, even if it means that we have to deliberately chose to de-scope part of the project.  Even writing these words makes me crazy.  In my heart of hearts I still think I was doing the right thing and on the surface it worked exactly as planned (if you weren’t privy to the hallway conversation) but doing the right thing only lead to a pyric victory. 

Running projects and programs is some of the most difficult work I’ve ever done in my life and doing it perfectly requires almost prescient judgment and a deep understanding of the difference between what is right and what is correct.  The right things to do was have the meeting.  The correct thing to do was to avoid the confrontation especially since 8 months later the organization was dissolved and the corporate VP retired.

Sharing stories of lessons learned – especially the painful ones is risky for the teller of the tale, but I wish someone had been honest with me about this subject earlier in my career. Whether acknowledged or not there are people in corporations who behave exactly as Machiavelli suggested.  Your job as a PPM professional, if you chose to accept it, is to identify them and work around them with craft and guile equal to their own.  It won’t be easier and it won’t be comfortable but you can do it and still preserve your own integrity if you are smart.

Comments Off

Category: PMO Program Management Project Management     Tags: , , ,

Advice for Young Women Entering Project Management

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  August 28, 2011  |  5 Comments


I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal purporting to offer leadership advice to young women at the beginning of their career ( .  The only kind thing I can say about the article is that it serves as a very good example of what not to do.

Let’s go through the points one by one:

1) The article says that If  young women “assert themselves forcefully, people may perceive them as not acting feminine enough, triggering a backlash”.  There is so very much wrong with this statement that I barely know where to start.  Project managers are NOT suppose to be feminine or masculine.  They are suppose to themselves and be able to lead and make decisions.  The classic sexual descriptions should never pertain.  The goal here is to be accepted.  A long time ago in a world far away, I worked with Carol Bartz (the CEO of Yahoo)  I loved watching her work because she was great at being a woman who was one of the boys.  In Jungian parlance, Carol was the quintessential amazon.  She was respected, fun and clearly smart and talented.  I have to admit that I was a bit envious of her but I knew her style would never work for me.  I aimed for being the sister everyone trusted.  And now people have told me that I’ve become the Aunt you trust completely (oh the tyrony of time).  Feminine and masculine are terms that have to do with finding someone to date—not to someone you’ll trust the success of your project with. 

2)The article says “One major problem is a shortage of female role models. People often learn leadership styles by observing others; but there are often few female executives to observe.”  Not sure what planet the author is living on but if you think this is true you are living under a rock.  There are women C.I.O. and women who run PMOs and manage major programs.  I know I’ve been in those positions (though it was C.F.O in my case).  Even when I started there were plenty of women there to help.  Another woman I worked with back in the day was Carlene Ellis ( who later became Intel’s first woman C.I.O.  So if there were women role models when I was starting my career there are even more today.  DO NOT believe that a role model has to be in a C level position to inspire or to be someone to learn from.  The best role models are successful at their jobs and are willing to talk to you.  The higher up the management food-chain someone rises the less time they have to help young women starting out.  Aim just a couple levels above your current position – that’s where you’ll get the best advice.

3)The article says “In theory, these mentors could be either men or women, but young women should realize that male mentors may not be as aware of the unique challenges young women face in asserting leadership.”  I have one answer to this B* S*.  If you believe this for even one second they you will FAIL.  You do not have a unique challenge.  The kind of sex discrimination women faced when I started my career simply doesn’t exist today.  Yes, there are still pockets of it but there WILL ALWAYS BE CHALLENGES.  No one regardless of sex gets a free pass into upper management.  You always have to work for it and earn it. 

4) The article says “It’s also important for young female managers to ask superiors to back them up when others second-guess them.”  Like the rest of the advice this is terrible.  If you have to ask for the support you have already failed.  First off, always be willing to fight your own battles.  If a senior level stakeholder disagrees with you then you need to go to them directly and explain why you made the decision you made and ask why they disagree.  You might have missed a nuance that you could actually accommodate and change a potential adversary into a supporter.  Every once in a while there is a major confrontation.  At this point what should kick in is the normal relationship between a project manager and a sponsor. 

The wonderful thing about being a PM is that it’s absolutely equal opportunity work.  The only thing a young woman or a young man needs to focus on is what its going to take to get the team going in the same direction and to deliver the results the sponsor and the stakeholders want.  Believe it or not if you focus on your job and then stay open to feedback and constantly learn from your successes and your failures – you’ll not only do fine—you’ll do great.


Category: Project Management     Tags: