In Step with Projects

In Pace with Progress

Alfonso Bucero: Improving Virtual Skills Will Be Necessary in the Future


Journalist: Yu Yanjuan (English name: Spring)  |  Source: PMR  |  Updated:2020.12.30

Introduction to the interviewee:

Alfonso Bucero, PMP, RMP, PfMP, is now an experienced, team-oriented business executive with a highly successful track record with start-up and turnaround situations. He has over 30 years’ experience in all phases of project management with particular strength in implementing PMOs, Project Management methodologies in organizations and managing IT and Change management projects, and helping Senior Executives to implement the Sponsor Role. He is recognized for exceptional organization building skills as well as the ability to motivate others on all levels in the achievement of end goals.

He is also the author or contributor of many books such as The Complete Project Manager Toolkit (which has been translated into Chinese), The Influential Project Manager, Passion, Persistence and Patience.

Due to his efforts, he has won a number of professional awards such as PMI Distinguished Contribution Award (2010), PMI Fellow Award (2011), PMI Eric Jennet Excellence Award (2017).

Part Ⅰ Project management is fundamentally about people management
Q1. Project management is fundamentally about people management. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Alfonso Bucero: Yes, of course, I fully agree. Projects are not possible without managing and leading people. Project managers need to listen to people, set directions, and giving their people the benefit of the doubt. I mean valuing their people, motivating, coaching, and facilitating their work to achieve project success together.

Q2. In your opinion, what qualities/competencies should project managers develop to face the challenges of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity)?
Alfonso Bucero: I believe that listening is the first competence any project manager needs to develop to face the challenges of VUCA. Secondly, the project manager needs to learn how to ask the appropriate questions to understand all project stakeholders better to satisfy their needs. Thirdly, the project manager needs to understand the context he/she is working in, knowing better their organization, resources availability, knowledge and processes. Besides, the project manager needs to work better and better with his/her sponsor by talking the language the management can understand. The project manager needs to spend time with their executives and understand their goals and objectives to be better aligned when they are managing projects.

Q3. Talking about soft skills, would you please offer some tips for project managers to develop influence skills for project success?
Alfonso Bucero: The most useful skill for a professional is to help other people achieve his/her objectives. I believe it is the main one. I used it with my sponsors, and it worked well, strengthening my professional relationship with my sponsor. Another small tip is just seeing you wearing a crown, then you will behave like a successful leader, and you'll generate awareness of the situation. You can inspire people by your actions, how you are starting a meeting, or using the little-used phrase "THANK YOU”. It moves mountains, and it costs zero dollars.

Be honest when you talk. Be authentic, say what you believe, and practice integrity, act on what you say. People will follow you.

PartⅡ Attitude defines your professional altitude
Q4. Attitude is everything. Would you please explain the importance of attitude in project management?
Alfonso Bucero: I believe that a positive attitude is crucial for project success in organizations. A positive attitude will inspire your team members and other project stakeholders. It opens the window for better communication. Attitude is making a difference in working better and better with others and encouraging them to succeed. In fact, you can choose a positive or negative attitude. It's up to you, but your people will feel alive and encouraged when you always have a big smile for them from time to time. People will perceive your positive attitude when they need some help. Your executives will sense the positive atmosphere that you can create through a positive attitude. I believe that your attitude defines your professional altitude. 

Q5. In the book The Complete Project Manager's Toolkit, you mentioned the importance of EQ (Emotional Quotient). What is a project manager with a high EQ like? Please describe their typical behaviors.
Alfonso Bucero: In my practical experience, the typical behaviors of a project manager with a high EQ should be characterized by:
• Self-awareness (being able to identify one’s own emotions as they happen, and then knowing better himself/herself); 
• Self-management (always looking at positive outcomes though sometimes the fog does not allow us to see the horizon; 
• Social-awareness (exploring himself/herself through interactions with others, observing your behavior, and learning)
• Relationship-management (managing relations positively with others). 
A positive attitude also affects emotions, so if you cultivate a positive attitude, I am convinced that you'll improve your feelings.

Part Ⅲ Humor is crucial to keep the project team's vitality
Q6. What role does a sense of humor play in project management?
Alfonso Bucero: Some people say that a project is a very serious joke. Humor needs to be there when we are managing a project. My point is to use a different framework to see every issue or problem in a project; a different perspective may help. Telling a joke or story when you are meeting people is healthy. To laugh a little bit more every day may relax your mind and allow you to see the positive side of the issue you are facing. If you are training project managers, you need to offer them an opportunity to get fun from time to time. Humor is crucial to keep the project team's vitality.

Part Ⅳ The working relationship between the sponsor and the project manager is binomial
Q7. How can project managers gain the support of senior executives such as sponsors? 
Alfonso Bucero: The project manager needs to talk frequently with his/her sponsor about the particular project he/she is managing. The sponsor needs to be informed about the progress, but the sponsor usually has some strategic, political, and organizational information that the project manager doesn’t have. For me, the working relationship between the sponsor and the project manager is binomial. Both need to work together for the project's success. Communication, transparency, trust, authenticity, and integrity are vital skills that both need to practice. The project manager needs to be positively infectious with the sponsor by convincing his/her about the characteristics, benefits, and advantages for him/her working on that project.

Part ⅤMaintaining team communication alive is key
Q8. What is the impact of COVID-19 on your life, work, and the PM profession? Faced with disruptive changes, what have you done to deal with the challenges?  
Alfonso Bucero: As a project manager, I must be prepared for challenges by facing difficult situations, risks, and changes. The COVID-19 has impacted my life both professionally and personally (one of my sisters-in-law passed away). But I needed to move forward and be adapted to the new situation. As a god believer, I say thanks every day to be alive and have the strength to continue managing projects and dealing with people. I also do some physical exercise every day (sometimes with the mask on my face), but I try to charge my batteries every day.

As a project manager, I need to keep in touch with my peers, colleagues, team members, and now it needs to be done virtually. All project managers need to acquire better and better skills to operate virtually. As project managers, we need to communicate proactively and frequently to maintain our PM spirit alive. Society needs to manage many projects, and we need to find ways to make it happen even through difficult times.

Q9. Virtual work is becoming a trend. What's your suggested toolkit for project managers to lead virtual teams? Any advice on virtual teambuilding? 
Alfonso Bucero: As PM practitioners, we should understand that team's spirit needs to be alive. So, I suggest contacting your team members from time to time and talking to them for a while individually (if you do not have a significant number of them). But organizing teleconferences, zoom meetings, skyping with them is strongly recommended. Depending on the generation you and your team are in, you may use Whatsup or LinkedIn, Instagram, or whatever. The key thing is maintaining your team communication alive and generating the awareness that you, as a PM, are there.

PartⅥ Improving virtual skills will be necessary in the future
Q10. Having been in project management for over three decades, how do you see the future of the project management profession?
Alfonso Bucero: Uncertainty, changes, and complexity are growing up, and they will be there in the future. I guess technology will help project managers, and now they are doing it, by helping communicate and operate as a project team. Organizations understand more and more that projects need to be dealt with like businesses. So, I see the project manager as a businessman, learning more about business needs and interacting much more with executives. However, I see a significant need to improve soft skills, virtual tools, and international relationships. Already now, but more and more in the future, we will manage virtual teams and virtual projects. We, as human beings, need physical interaction, but improving our virtual skills will be necessary. We, as project managers, need to engage people in our teams to succeed. I believe that project managers will need to make an effort to establish clear guidelines, rules, and procedures to be used by team members. It will require extra effort from both parts, but I guess it will be the way.

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