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Project management workshop for Life Science Zurich Young Scientist Network

  Ka Yi Hui

 

 

 

Author: Ka Yi Hui, PMP

On Saturday 27th April 2019, despite the wind and rain, more than 20 PhD students and post-docs from the Life Science Zurich Young Scientist Network(LSZYSN) participated in a 5-hour project management workshop organized by the PMI-Switzerland chapter social good team (Agata Czopek, Ph.D., PMP; Ana Zelaia, MBA, PMP, Ka Yi Hui, Ph.D., PMP and Veronika Galic) at ETH, Zurich.

Life Science Zurich Young Scientist Network(LSZYSN) is a non-profit organization created and run by a group of graduate students & post-docs of the University and the ETH Zurich. They aim to contribute to the local and global life science community by bridging the gap between academic research and industry. They host events like Zurich Life Science Day, Career chats, Company visits, and Life Science Week to allow young scientists to learn more about the biotechnology and pharma industry.

Managing their scientific research projects and the events at LSZYSN, they face numerous challenges in project management, such as leading the team, holding productive meetings, and giving feedback. Our workshop aims to equip the students with the essential tools and techniques for making their projects successful.

We first explained some key concepts in project management and then we focus in-depth on leadership and communication.

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After we discussed the theory, the students had the chance to practice what they learned by doing some hand on exercises. One of the most striking activities is "Find the ball", where the students need to find a hidden ball according to different feedback styles, for example, the silence feedback, the only positive, the only negative and specific feedback. The feedback givers got to experience the effect they have upon the receiver. The take-home message was clear: only the student receiving specific feedback was successful in finding the hidden ball.  This powerful illustration also showed the students, how feedback could affect performance and to never be shy to ask questions when they are at the receiving end.

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Moving on, we have covered more on team dynamics, including personality, cultural influences and conflict resolutions. Finally, the students put into practice what they have learned by competing in the tower game (freely available on PMIEF website, pmief.org).  We are always amazed by the creativity of students with simple materials like plastic cups, bamboo sticks. To conclude the day, we reflected on their ah-ha moments and things they would start implementing in their projects.

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Japanese Culture and Project Management

 

Suchitra Chaudhary
Author: Suchitra Chaudhary, PMP

“When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become a wiser, more inclusive, and better organization” – Pat Wadors, Chief Talent Officer at Linkedin

I was roaming around a store in Japan, when I saw a child crying profusely. He seemed to have lost his mother in the store. I stopped and was about to ask him his mother’s name when I saw a woman rushing my way. With her half-terrified half-relieved looks, it didn’t take me much time to realise that she was the child’s mother. Holding her child’s hand, she bowed deeply and said, “Sorry. I am really sorry for all this!" I was somewhat taken aback, because “Sorry” was the last thing I had expected. Generally, in such a scenario, we expect a person to say “Thank you”.

After working in Japan for a long time, I gradually came to learn that it is implicit of their culture. In the above scenario, the woman was blaming herself for her carelessness and causing inconvenience to me and others, who were affected by the crying of her child. Therefore, out of embarrassment, she bowed several times and apologized.

I am of the belief that only those who understand culture of their customers, can forge a better path towards achieving higher customer satisfaction, which in turn translates into better business.

If you have Japanese people working in your team or you are working with a Japanese customer/vendor, then this article is for you!

Given below are two highly prominent cultural foundations observed in Japan, which are very different from the ones followed by those in Germany. Many other cultural aspects such as Honne and Tatemae (True feeling Vs Face displayed in public), Loyalty and Trust, Reluctance to say No, Concept of Wa (Harmony), Time-consuming decision-making, Non-verbal communication, are derived from these major cultural foundations.

  1. Group-oriented culture (Collectivism)

Japanese drive their identity from group affiliations. A ‘Group’ implies the family a person belongs to, his school, college and the working space. They respect the groups they are associated with, its opinions and decisions. The biggest example of this is, whenever a Japanese person introduces himself for the first time, he takes his company’s name first and then his family name. For example, if a person’s name is Shio Tanaka and he is working for Sony, then he will say, I am Sony’s Tanaka. Further, when a Japanese person hands over his business card to you, make sure to show respect to the business card by not keeping it in the back pocket of your trouser. Always keep them in the pocket of your shirt or if you are attending a meeting with him, then keep it in front of you on the table.

This is also one of the reasons Japanese people are so attached to their companies, that they spend their entire lifetime with one company and rarely switch jobs. Though, this trend is seeing a change of late.

  1. Vertical Society

Japan is a hierarchical-driven society. Hierarchy is driven by ranking, ranking is based on seniority, and seniority is decided based on one’s age. There are very strict rules that a Japanese person needs to follow to show respect to his senior, the foremost being using polite words.

If a consortium of Japanese comes to visit your office and you are confused which one is the senior most person, then you can take cues from the following:

  1. Senior most person sits farthest from the door of a meeting room
  2. He will hand over his business card first
  3. He drinks his tea first
  4. He speaks at the end of the meeting and speaks less
  5. It is fine if he snoozes in the middle of a meeting

So, Group Work and Respect for Seniority are the two most important aspects that drive the whole of Japan. But, this is not all. If you are really interested in doing brisk business with Japanese customer, you need to go out and make efforts to understand and learn a lot more about various aspects of the Land of Rising Sun that makes it so unique from other GEOs.

Demystifying Burnout: Identifying burnout and how to counteract its effects

PMI Basel Event on 9th May 2019 on "Identifying burnout and how to counteract its effects" presented by speaker Dina Blanco-Ioannou

 
PierreAichinger
 
Author: Pierre Aichinger, PMP

Attracted by the prominent topic, we listened attentively to our speaker Dina Blanco-Ioannou - and received a truly passionate, dynamic and inspiring talk loaded with highly interesting and valuable insight. The interactive presentation was blended with exercises, in which we were invited to experiment and experience at various points.

Dina took us through the subject out of her own intense experience, having used burnout as an opportunity to re-evaluate, re-vision and re-ignite her life through ‘Lessons-in-Self’ her Education for Life programmes, which includes ‘Burnout to Brilliance’.

Dina started by providing information on burnout for context, then shortly outlined key concepts with a new theory of well-being from Positive Psychology which supported and linked to the last part focusing on practical applications: interactively sharing five strategies with tools that Dina implemented and is still using in her life.

Burnout, with various definitions presented, can be seen essentially as a state of exhaustion and can be heard as ‘that voice finally telling us what we are doing or being is no longer serving us – whether this is within our professional or personal life. It’s telling us to stop, to rethink and find a new way forward’. Nearly everyone can be affected, with those likely to be most prone to burnout who are driven to evolve, perform and achieve the most - and might expect and see it coming least.

It happens for a reason, with this reason lying (and hiding) within ourselves, and not seldomly it is about our beliefs, self-esteem and self-worth - with work as a coping strategy, an escape from our self. It does not happen overnight but develops over time, as illustrated by the 12 stages of burnout after H.J. Freudenberg (with the stages not necessarily happening sequentially and to the same extent, depending on the person):

Stage 1 - A compulsion to prove oneself (to others and oneself, doing whatever is needed to be acknowledged).

Stage 2 - Working harder (having high expectations of oneself, taking on more than one can do).

Stage 3 - Neglecting one’s needs (work comes first, own needs come second or are ‘non-existent’).

Stage 4 - Displacement of conflicts (something not right, but not listening to it, ignoring the signs).

Stage 5 - Revision of values (dismissing important things, self-worth determined by work only).

Stage 6 - Denial of emerging problems (viewing others as incapable, becoming intolerant, losing one’s temper easily, becoming quite cynical).

Stage 7 - Withdrawal (reducing social contact, personal relationships becoming a strain; escapism).

Stage 8 - Obvious behavioural changes (others noticing the change in one’s person, no longer being the person one once was).

Stage 9 - Depersonalization (losing contact with oneself, valuing oneself less and less).

Stage 10 - Inner emptiness (seeking other ways of filling the void that one feels, or rather ways to ignore the signs that one needs to stop and listen).

Stage 11 - Depression (becoming overwhelmed; becoming indifferent, hopeless and exhausted, not daring to think about the future; life loses meaning).

Stage 12 - Burnout syndrome (‘Almost all burnout victims now have suicidal thoughts to escape their situation. A few actually carry them out. Ultimately, they suffer total mental and physical collapse. Patients in this phase need immediate medical attention.’).

 

To counteract and prevent burnout in daily life, Dina presented the following strategies and tools as bringing numerous benefits and positive effects:

  1. Mindfulness meditation: being aware of the present moment, present, mindful. We tried ‘the three minutes breathing space meditation’ as an exercise.
  2. Obstacles to well-being: taking full responsibility for our life, making choices. With the visualization technique tried in an exercise, and the use of responsibility stem sentences (for taking small steps to gradually remove the obstacles to well-being) and the focus on the good things in life presented as tools.
  3. Believing in yourself: with the power pose as a tool, which we tried out in an exercise, whereby you stand up and assume the wonder woman/superman pose (with 60 seconds generally already being effective in increasing confidence and making one feel stronger).
  4. Acknowledging yourself: with acknowledging our strengths and successes as another tool. We did the pairwise exercise of having one person describe a success and the listening partner note the strengths applied for ensuing feedback.
  5. Gratitude: capitalizing on the power of acknowledging the good things that happened, which needs to be done consistently to get the positive effects. For instance, every evening when going to bed, focusing on three good things that happened or went well during the day and reflecting on why we are grateful for these.

 

At the beginning, Dina had highlighted burnout as being an opportunity. In the end, she also said that we do not need to burn out before doing small changes. For projects, it is recommended best practice to consider existing lessons learned. How about our own lives?

Video of the session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYf2cA8cBEk&feature=youtu.be

 

With a big and cordial thank you to Dina – you can contact her at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and please consult her website (and her blogs posted thereon) for reference: https://lessons-in-self.com/

Critical Conversations

Gabriele Filieri
 
Author: Gabriele Filieri, PMP 

Project Managers spend 90 percent of their time communicating based on what many books state and based on the everyday experience. They communicate with many stakeholders such as the sponsor, project team members, business and procurement departments. In many cases conversations are easy and pleasant, working for the same goal is exciting and fulfilling. However, sometimes they might be challenging and risky, especially when things do not go as planned and the budget is running short, or the scope starts expanding.

I would like to offer some tips I've gleaned from the book Crucial Conversations on how to handle critical conversations. The most dangerous risk is to avoid them, in one way or another troubles will come and find us unprepared! That’s what I used to experience when I was at the beginning of my career. Another option is to face them and try to handle them well.

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Source: http://www.lasplash.com

When approaching a critical conversation, the first thing to do is to appreciate the value of dialogue and think of it as an opportunity to get as much information as possible to make good decisions. It is the starting point to elaborate and analyze options to come up with the solution. Useful takeaway for project managers is to always step in to facilitate meetings to gather any kind of information, especially when the situation is not clear.

The second aspect is to focus on the real problem, instead of focusing on fixing other people. How many times do we deal with colleagues or clients that are so different from us? Sometimes we have the impression that they manipulate us or they behave in a selfish way. Consequently, during the conversation our effort is mainly concentrated to protect ourselves from them, instead of solving the real problem. During critical conversations let’s not slip away from the goals we have set but, instead, let’s stick with them and focus honestly on what we really want for ourselves, for the other person and for the project.

Another important aspect is to look for signs showing us that the dialogue’s safety is at risk. When stakes are high and emotions become strong, it is easy to lose focus on the main topic of the conversation. Silence and the raising of one’s voice are evidence that emotions are taking over and they might go down an unsafe path. In essence, we cannot control others but we can control ourselves.

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Source: http://www.lasplash.com

As a consequence of the previous point, it is recommended to keep the conversation safe. When at risk we should step back and bring the conversation back to a healthy dialogue. Understanding and acknowledging the other person’s feelings might help in delivering delicate messages. In a safe conversation there are two fundamental conditions: mutual purpose and mutual respect. The first one allows the two parties to perceive that the conversation brings them to common ground. Otherwise, when there is a lack of respect in the conversation, the two parties are more interested in defending their dignity than resolving the conflict.

During conversations, we should pay attention to what happens between the moment we feel something, because of the other person’s action, and the moment we react. What do we feel? And what do we do next? Between the two actions we should be careful on how we interpret the situation, we tell ourselves a story that sometimes does not correspond to reality. For example, during the project status meeting, the boss steps in and makes decisions on a particular issue. Is that because he or she does not trust us or is that because the issue has become so important that it has to be escalated to sort things out?

Now we are probably at the most important part of the article. Dialogue is a useful process to get as much information as we can but, at the end of the day, we have to make a decision, otherwise the conversation will end up fruitless. There are four common ways to make a decision: command, consult, vote and consensus. The decision on which method to choose has to be made based on who wants to be involved, who has the expertise on that specific topic, who has the influence to decide (and therefore may be better to involve) and the number of people that should be involved. And finally, after the decision is made, good project managers make sure that tasks have been identified and they have been assigned with due dates.

In the end, project managers must appreciate the value of dialogue, as it provides useful information to make a decision. They have to safeguard the conversation when the risk of slipping away from the main goal arises, being able to make a final decision and put it in action.

Bibliography

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, Crucial Conversations, McGraw-Hill, 2012.