Michael DePrisco of Project Management Institute (PMI): “Start with the end in mind”

Start with the end in mind. When delegating, aligning on a common goal with your team or team member is one of the first steps that must be taken. Having a vision of how a project should be completed not only provides a blueprint, but also may determine who you ask to step in on […]

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Start with the end in mind. When delegating, aligning on a common goal with your team or team member is one of the first steps that must be taken. Having a vision of how a project should be completed not only provides a blueprint, but also may determine who you ask to step in on certain responsibilities.

As part of my series about the “How To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael DePrisco, Vice President, Global Experience & Solutions at Project Management Institute (PMI).

As PMI Vice President, Global Experience & Solutions, Michael (Mike) DePrisco provides executive leadership to the Product, Services, Events & Content organization for a global team that supports more than 900,000 active certification holders, 560,000 members and 300 chapters from over 200 countries. Mike also provides executive leadership for PMI’s Digital Solutions team, as well as the PMI Educational Foundation (PMIEF).

Mike joined PMI in 2013 and has held several roles within the organization including Vice President, Global Membership & Chapters, and Vice President, Academic and Educational Programs.

Prior to PMI, Mike served in executive positions in higher education. There, he executed university strategic plans to ensure integration and alignment of key initiatives and priorities. He provided executive oversight to campus development and growth, including student acquisition and retention, program development, financial management and stakeholder relationships.

He is a graduate of West Chester University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Master’s of Science in Higher Education Administration and Counseling. He holds a Certificate in Company Direction (International) from the Institute of Directors. Mike is active in youth and educational programs in his community.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Much of my backstory revolves around education. As I grew up, I originally wanted to be a high school history teacher, even going as far as earning both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. But, like with most, my plans changed as I finished my graduate work. I found myself working in higher education for years and had the opportunity to serve as president for several art and design colleges in the Mid-Atlantic.

My experience in higher education was incredible, and eventually led to me joining the Project Management Institute (PMI) as its Vice President of Academic and Educational Programs. Over the years since, I have worn many different hats at PMI, moving from academic programs to lead our Global Membership & Chapters and, later, moving to my current role as Vice President of Global Experience & Solutions, where I am much more product-focused than my younger self would have ever expected.

Outside of my work, I love traveling, boating, fishing and spending time with my three kids. One lesser-known fact about me was that I was a drummer in a rock band through high school.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

In my first real management role, I struggled. While I had a team, I did not use them. I was so used to working independently that I didn’t ask for help and I didn’t delegate.

Taking on all this work for myself led to me nearly quitting my role due to being burnt out. However, with a young family at home, walking out simply was not an option. I made the decision to stay with it and work to overcome this challenge, both to keep my job and to grow as a professional.

It was clear — I needed to figure out how to delegate properly. I sought advice from a mentor, my direct manager at the time, who helped me realize that to be successful as a manager I needed to shift my mindset. I needed to leverage the talent of my team and empower them to carry out the vision of the project. In other words, I had to learn to let go and not sweat the small stuff. I needed to let the team do what they were hired to do, and I needed to focus on my role as the guide or coach for the team.

I learned a tough and important lesson from this role, and I’m grateful that I had a mentor who was able to help me “see the light.” From there I adjusted well, and it catapulted me to bigger roles with more responsibility.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

In my time working in higher education, I remember an instance where I placed a great deal of trust in a third-party vendor to deliver a major facility renovation project in time for the start of the upcoming semester. The vendor made promise after promise that the renovation would be complete on time, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Fast forward to the first day of that semester and the project was anything but complete, resulting in disappointment and frustration on the part of my key stakeholders.

While I can’t say I find this to be “funny,” as I look back it certainly wasn’t as serious as I thought it was then. It also helped me learn three very important lessons for my later career:

  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
  • Trust the data. In my case, I ignored some pretty compelling signals that the project would not be completed on time.
  • Don’t underestimate how important it is to manage stakeholder expectations.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Project Management Institute (PMI) is the premier champion and advocate for the project, program and portfolio management community. But beyond that, PMI is committed to not only empowering and serving as a resource for all change-makers in the workplace and companies that employ them, but also honoring these change-makers through our awards and Most Influential Projects lists. We empower employees based on traditional PM skills and encourage teams to develop different “power” skills — including greater communication and more emotional intelligence and empathy. PMI offers Resources for the New Work Ecosystem with a variety of free resources and virtual events to learn new ways of working and deliver the training and professional skills necessary to thrive in this dynamic environment, as well as to help build skills and prepare to advance in a post-COVID-19 world.

As more organizations are finding themselves working and collaborating in new ways, they are leaning on employees at all levels of the organization to spur change — even while remote. At PMI, we encourage our leaders ensure their teams are active partners in driving positive change — for business and society — and here are some ways to do so:

  • (Business Direction) Have a Definition of Done: Teams should begin with the end in mind. By establishing the big picture vision of the future, with quantifiable and achievable goals, everyone on the team understands what they are working towards.
  • (Implementation) Be Students of Execution: It’s not just about talking about what needs to get done, it’s about taking action. Outline the ways of working and assess what’s working/what’s not working as you go to continue to optimize as you drive forward as a team.
  • (Value) Channel the End Customer: Every project has an end customer, be it a consumer or internal stakeholder. Be sure to put them at the center and constantly integrate their feedback to ensure what you are driving towards creates value for them, your team and business.

But as an organization, at PMI, we have created a culture that proactively navigates change by educating, reskilling and training our workforce with the skills needed to facilitate change to help future-proof our organization from any disruption. And this is where we pride ourselves on being able to help change-makers and their respective organizations to do the same. In fact, organizations that transform quickly are almost 2x as likely to focus on developing internal talent, according to Brightline’s Strategic Transformation Research.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Moving to a full-time remote schedule presented many challenges to individuals across the board. Workloads increased with longer hours and stress levels went up as there were many unknowns with the coronavirus pandemic causing difficulties with ‘powering off’. The lines got blurred of when the workday began and ended since it all took place in your home. Some tips that have helped me through this difficult transition include:

  • Create some separation by working in one part of your home. By creating a designated workspace in my house, it helps to mentally separate home from work.
  • Organize your meeting schedule in way that makes sense for you and allows you to get up from your computer. I try to schedule times throughout the day that don’t require me to participate in a virtual meeting.
  • Take time to decompress throughout the day. I enjoy taking a walk in the middle of the day or have a virtual chat with friends or family.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I credit my wife of 26 years as the person who has provided the most support and encouragement to my career. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am. She gives me the space to do the things I need to do to grow professionally, whether by taking on challenging assignments or taking risks with new opportunities.

Beyond being my biggest supporter, I can absolutely say she is also my personal counselor. She is there to celebrate the wins and keep me grounded when things are hectic.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Delegating effectively is a challenge for many leaders. Let’s put first things first. Can you help articulate to our readers a few reasons why delegating is such an important skill for a leader or a business owner to develop?

Delegation is an important skill for anyone — whether you’re a CEO, a project manager, anything. It’s a vital part of managing a team and deadlines. It became even more vital during the pandemic with greater stress levels in and out of work due to the fear of not knowing the consequences and conclusions arising from COVID-19. Everyone was trying new things and stepping into the unknown. At the same time, the work-life divide was blurred — work was becoming home, and home was work. Professionals had to find that correct balance between delegation and empathy for the rest of your team members. In recent research at PMI, nearly half (49%) of business leaders who said their company successfully navigated the challenges of COVID-19, believe that teamwork and collaboration made them successful. That being said, I think we are all still trying to perfect this process.

The pandemic notwithstanding, delegation is key for maintaining mental health and motivation in the workplace. Not having breaks and being consistently overworked is demotivating, and team members need to delegate to overcome it. I’ve seen many articles discussing how burnout rates have been exponentially higher due to the pandemic, and delegation can be a key response, at least from a work perspective.

Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?

Delegation is a form of change, which can be tough for many people who are used to certain processes or ways of working. The first key acknowledgement that needs to be made when delegating is recognizing that there will be change and others have alternative ways of working. But this is also the beauty of delegation — it introduces fresh thinking and ideas. On a much larger scale, it can lead to professionals challenging the “sacred cows” — those processes that are seemingly immune to criticism or change. On a smaller scale, it can lead to team members finding new ways to streamline projects and deliverables.

Another key challenge for those delegating is finding the balance between delegation and empathy for team members, as I said. Many times, professionals will try to delegate everything or nothing at all. Finding the balance is a skill, and one that allows you to manage your and your team’s workloads and morale.

In your opinion, what pivots need to be made, either in perspective or in work habits, to help alleviate some of the challenges you mentioned?

Time management is huge — finding a way to delegate tasks to other team members and talking to them regularly to make sure the workload is spread out can help prevent burnout. Additionally, finding a way to compartmentalize your mind and physical space can be a great asset as well. Splitting your day up into work time and rest time can also help you regenerate. If you live with your family, be empathetic because they are probably not used to seeing you with work stress. And lastly, finding a relaxing hobby not related to work is critical.

Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.

Delegating effectively is different for each professional and each team. I think — like most workplace best practices — the delegation rule book has been rewritten in 2020. These are five thoughts that I keep in mind as I delegate work:

  • Empathize. With work and life becoming more intertwined due to the pandemic, it is important to recognize that some folks may not be coping well with a virtual situation or may be juggling more responsibilities than you realize.
  • Start with the end in mind. When delegating, aligning on a common goal with your team or team member is one of the first steps that must be taken. Having a vision of how a project should be completed not only provides a blueprint, but also may determine who you ask to step in on certain responsibilities.
  • Establish your roles and responsibilities. Especially if you are delegating to a team of professionals, it is important to establish clear roles and responsibilities to show the team how it will collectively reach the final goal.
  • Communicate, communicate and communicate along the way. This is now especially important as we work virtually, but even in a traditional office working environment communication is critical. Helping your team members prioritize deliverables to meet deadlines will save headache later and make the team more efficient.
  • Reward, recognition and acknowledgement is key. At the end of the day, as you delegate tasks to team members, it is equally important to recognize and reward quality work. In many cases, delegating work can see team members rise to an occasion or go above and beyond a project ask — it is important to acknowledge the effort, skill and talent that goes into successful deliverables.

Following these principles will make finding the delegation balance easier. It’s also important to note that delegation practices need to be adapted to the specific team and even the specific team member you are working with at the time. It is critical to have different delegation plans for employees who have differing schedules or ways of working.

One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?

While workloads have increased exponentially in these unprecedented times due to having to navigate the New Work Ecosystem, the need to delegate to a team of project professionals has moved beyond strategic and become indispensable. Collaborative leadership is especially important in today’s world as it helps you work more effectively, with teams engaging more deeply, building stronger trust and truly owning the work. In fact, in our recent Pulse of the Profession survey, Tomorrow’s Teams Today, collaborative leadership was cited as the top skill for building effective teams.

As a result of COVID-19, we will see an expansion in the number of projects and programs as we work to rebuild the economy and those with strong project management skills will become essential to helping organizations turn ideas into a reality. Individuals and organizations alike will need to be proactive in delegating, innovative and nimble to respond to changes whether they come from the market, competitors, economy, etc., in order to achieve success.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Given the current state of the world, people are looking for ways to give back to their community and to those in need. As organizations build their way back from this crisis, they’re going to strive to build a better future with a better understanding of their environment. Corporate social responsibility will have an increased presence to attract talent and create a good brand name. People are more inclined to look at how they value these companies, not just from a monetary perspective, but also from a social perspective. This will help people focus on the commercial bottom-line as well as the company’s values. In response, businesses must find ways to measure their social impact through their projects. In our latest Pulse of the Profession report, Why Social Impact Matters, only 35 percent of respondents reported using methods to measure the social impact of their projects. This will need to be a priority moving forward.

One of the reasons why I joined PMI was because of the social impact that they have on our community through initiatives like last year’s Global Celebration of Service, where PMI chapters pledged to contribute more than 150,000 hours to help the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Feel free to give me a follow on LinkedIn. It’s always great engaging with my network and I love hearing new ideas and experiences. I also encourage you to check out PMI’s Blog. I, along with my colleagues at PMI, are active regularly on the blog sharing our thoughts on some of the most pressing business discussions, including the future of work, AI, no-code and low-code platforms, and much more.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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