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Interview with a MindManager Customer: “Alignment on project goals is critical,” says Gretta Pecl

Gretta Pecl doesn’t have the words “Project Manager” anywhere in her title, but it’s clear her work is a series of ongoing, complex projects. Sprinkle a little “interdisplinary” and “international” on these same projects and you’ll get an even clearer picture of the kinds of projects Gretta either supervises, manages, or participates in.

Gretta is a specialist in climate change ecology. She is Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow at the University of Tasmania, where she studies what is happening to the species in our oceans as the water warms. To improve the quantity of data being collected, she has enlisted the help of thousands of recreational fishers, SCUBA divers, boaters and naturalists. The ‘citizen science’ model is called Redmap, or the Range Extension Database and Mapping project.

While Gretta’s work is definitely exceptional, she shares a common trait with the work of many of our customers: being able to effectively managing projects is intrinsic to being able to successfully meet their larger goals and aspirations.

Q: Within the context of a project, what does alignment mean to you – and why is it important?

Pecl: Getting everyone on the same page. I work with people from many different academic disciplines, so the same word or phrase, or even a description of a given research approach, can mean totally different things to different people in the room. Alignment means generating or communicating a shared vision.

Q: According to some research Corel and MindManager did, roughly half of all failed projects died because of a lack of alignment. What has your experience been?

Pecl: I could believe that! I honestly can’t think of a project of ours that has ‘failed’ but where some projects have been more difficult than others, I can see in retrospect that what we were struggling with was a lack of alignment.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your work with aligning people around a project’s objectives and direction?

Pecl: Sometimes it’s been related to language, different groups have been very wedded to particular phrases and terms, but have essentially meant the same thing.

Q: What problems can lack of alignment cause during the implementation stage of the project?

Pecl: Sometimes it is a true lack of alignment in the goals. I’ve been involved in projects where the funders, the resource managers and the industry, have all wanted different outcomes from a project (but thought they wanted similar things), and then also the opposite, where because they have used different words to describe the same thing, they thought they wanted something different but when you unpack it – they are actually on the same page!

Q: Do you use MindManager to brainstorm ideas and design projects with your team members? If so, what process do you follow? 

Pecl: Yes! We start off with the absolute key goal or objective in a central box and then add components (in the product, this is the “Brainstorm” template), then we order ideas and concepts in a logical order, then we go back and unpack everything and add detail.

Q: Is it fair to say that getting your team members involved and contributing ideas during the brainstorming and project design stages helps to increase their buy-in, their commitment to the team and the project?

Pecl: Absolutely. Importantly, people can literally “see” where and how you have included their ideas.

Q: Does group brainstorming help team members better understand their role within the context of the overall project?

Pecl: Yes; with lab projects for example, I think it can help junior lab members see that everyone has something to contribute, and it’s not a ‘top down’ follow-a-recipe type approach. Team members can see that everyone’s contribution counts.

Q: If you have strong team alignment at the beginning of a project, what difference does that make during implementation?

Pecl: All the difference! It’s much harder to create alignment and ‘joint ownership’ of a project after you are half way through!

Q: What advice do you have for project managers who are challenged by getting their teams aligned around project objectives and implementations?

Pecl: I’d encourage them to use mindmapping software. I find it useful in so many contexts – me on my own, helping me to clarify my own thought processes (internal alignment, lol?), in pairs where you are working intensively together, or in a big group.

Want to learn more about team alignment? 

You’re in luck! In our recorded webinar with Jeff Kearns, he shares his own experiences with project success (and failure) and the impact of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) on team alignment. You’ll learn exactly what a WBS is, its remarkable effect on a project’s success, what it can lead to, how to transition from the WBS to planning and execution and technology tools that can help you get started. Hear from Jeff by watching to recorded webinar here!

Jeff Kearns - Empower Your Prohects With a WBS Webinar

About the author: Julie Harrison joined Corel this past July as Senior Manager, MindManager Global Marketing. In her role, she’ll be focusing on content and campaigns for regions worldwide, since MindManager is currently in use by millions of people in thousands of global companies. She can be reached at  julie [dot] harrison [at] corel [dot] com.  

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