Project Tips: Learn to use “No” to keep projects on track

At Project Connections, here is a very practical article for learning and using the word “No”. The common default is that PM want to do it all but that is recipe for failure. In order to boost the success rate of your projects and ensure high payoff results, staying focused and using the hardest word will help you get there. This requires courage to use it and stop saying “yes” to impossible or “yes, but…”  that is misleading to the person hearing it. Read the full post for some practical tips in

The Hardest Word in the Project Management Vocabulary,  by Carl Pritchard, PMP, EVP  at link below


7 Ways to Communicate with Your Stakeholders

The most important element in stakeholder communications is identifying the target audience. Be deliberate and seek out input from all known groups to find the unknown groups. It can be tough when too late in the project a critical person or group is identified that has not received any of the communication through course of project and has valuable links that need to be addressed. So make sure you avoid this scenario and take all the steps early to create a document with all stakeholders you need to manage communication with. Once you have that the ways below can help you keep communication active, frequent and ongoing collaboration so there is strong support for you project.

Formal Methods for Communicating– If they don’t exist already, create them. Make occasions when info should be presented.

1. Meetings – One of the most common ways to communicate. They can vary from only 1 person to thousands based on message and audience appropriate. It is up to you to maximize every minute of the time spent to have dialogue. Make sure it is a dialogue and not a monologue. It is the best way as you have the verbal and non verbal cues that enhance the communication and avoid misinterpretation.

2. Conference Calls– These days this is the most common as it does not require the time and expense of travel. The dialogue can take place though its dependant on voice intonation and clarity of the verbal message. They only require cost of phone call and there are many paid and free services that will facilitate use of a conference call line for many people to dial into. Its also a common way for classes to be recorded and replayed when its convenient for you.

3. Newsletters/ Email/ Posters – This strategy is one way communication and utilizes emailed updates, hard copy brochures, posters, newsletters mailed or emailed. One of the weaknesses is that messages are delivered and you cannot guage if they were read and understood, deleted as sometimes there is no feedback. That immediate feedback is valuable for strengthening your message and making sure impacts and feedback are quickly received.

Informal Methods – It is important to not only rely on formal channels but to utilize informal communication as well. The impromptu channels are often more information rich and critical for relationship building.

4. Hallway Conversations, Bathroom conversations – These meetings are great for one on one communication, but also be clear and do not establish false expectations with casual comments dropped.

5. Lunch Meetings, Drink at the bar after work – These casual environments can be great for connecting, getting feedback, ideas, and work to build support

6. Sporting events – tennis, golf, etc are an easy forum to get the input on what support exists, feedback on ideas, brainstorming to strengthen your communication and build stakeholder support

7. Voice mail – this is often underutilized since email is so common but still shown to be more often listened to than an email will be read. By using voice intonation for excitement, urgency, etc it can be more compelling. This can be a solo voice mail, a voice mail broadcast to large team or you could pursue use of automated calling to get the word out depending on the size of audience

Project Communication Plans

Its not enough to just have a plan. It is critical to seek to understand what your stakeholders desire both spoken and unspoken. The expectations must be carefully managed from beginning to end. Every team and project varies in its rate of change, so pick the most advantageous communication channel, frequency and make sure its effective. Just as having the plan is important, monitoring its effectiveness, adding and canceling supplemental ways of communicating will be required.

Communication is a constant, error on the side of over communicating as there are always people that didn’t hear, understand or make connection when they heard it the first time.

5 Avoidable Problems in your Project

Here are some of the common problems that plague projects that will hopefully bring awareness more quickly when they start to occur so you can put strategies and focus to correct quickly and be back on track to delivering a high payoff project on time.

  1. Lose focus on who the real customer is and what will make them happy. You need to be relentlessly focused on who your customer is and what they demand. In both small and large projects, it is easy to fall into the trap of internal objectives, scope decisions that are not what the customer would do. This is a common mistake of great PM’s. When project success matters, it serves me to focus the team and project relentlessly on what the customer is asking for.
  2. Communication flow in all directions through team, stakeholders, customers, sponsors. For successful communication plans, it is important to collaborate with the project team, customers, end users, sponsors for all impacted groups and type of information that needs to flow. It is not always your job to push communication but bottom line is you are responsible to make sure it happens and its timely and effective. It is proven statistic that it takes multiple times, in multiple methods to get the message across. Error on the side of too much than not enough as it only builds trust and alignment and contributes to gaining successful support along the way.
  3. Jump into execution mode without gaining alignment, common expectations and creating plans. This is often the default for new PM but even the most experienced can fall victim. Take the time to map out the “board” of decision makers, who has influence and what you need to go to gain support. Build relationships and alignment to the project goals so there are common expectations and clear objectives. The next step is to build a plan. Taking the time to plan will reduce time later that results in thrash in implementation activities.
  4. Lack of focus and strategic priorities agreed to. This can lead to trying to do too much at the same time. As the leader of the project it is your job to keep focus of the team on the right areas, remove obstacles and ensure successful payoff at end of project. This takes ruthless prioritization, this means working with the customer to be realistic when you see conflicts, making trade-off decisions and driving clear priorities that are aligned.
  5. Lack of anticipation of change, future needs and the inevitable change that will occur in any project. Every project has changes, but it is easy to get caught up in the great plan that you have developed rather than all the factors that impact it. Take the time to brainstorm, gather feedback from experts on where trouble areas may be, what scenarios could occur, and anticipate what alternatives would be to stay on track. Your customers are depending on it and being prepared with a plan is critical.

What other problems have you encountered along your project journey’s?

Quick Guide to Crafting your Program Marketing Campaign

Are you struggling to understand how to power up your message for you program? Are your customer’s, stakeholders and team informed and cheerleaders for your program? Much like the political campaigns of Clinton, Obama or McCain the foundation for success is market awareness and getting the word out. What lessons can we learn from these famous campaigns and apply locally to your project?

The first key is YOUR MESSAGE. Know it. Refine it. Manage it. And then

STICK TO IT! Repetition and consistency build recognition and familiarity and eventually trust with your audience.

Start early with your message and deliberately plan communication and building support and cheerleaders for your program. Some critical principles to note are:

  • Marketing is not an emergency. It’s a planned, thoughtful exercise that started a long time ago and doesn’t end until you’re done.
  • Making promises and keeping them is a great way to build a program brand you want recognized
  • Marketing begins before the project is delivered
  • Living and breathing an authentic story is the best way to survive in a competitive landscape through your program or project
  • Good marketing encourages the right sort of conversations. Conversations among the team and other organizations happen whether you like it or not.
  • Projects and Products that are remarkable get talked about.
  • People are uninformed and impatient. Start with that and craft your message to be effective then you will be surprised by the outcome.
  • Marketing that works is marketing that people choose to notice.

A practical way to craft this positioning with a well thought out statement. In order to craft this consider, what is main outcome of your project and why it is significant or unique, who is your target audience and what is your call to action that is needed. Take the time to work through this and make it simple and concise, even if your project is complex and technical. The clarity of this core message is worth the time investment to get it simple and clear.

Example Scenario

SITUATION: Launching a new product to market

OBJECTIVE: Increase revenue, build market awareness and sell solutions

OUTCOME: Market will have knowledge of product and build a funnel for x% of sales.

AUDIENCE: Market segment – small businesses, project stakeholders internal to organization that will be ambassadors to customer

MESSAGE: Simplify your marketing with easy to customize collateral

METHOD: Create campaign to target customers through email, web, radio, customer sales visits

INDICATORS of SUCCESS: #sales contacts, Revenue sales dollars, Profit margin

Public relations efforts, like advertising, can help to build project awareness among shareholders, customers, project team and stakeholders. Many small and large businesses consciously utilize PR as a way to obtain free press about their products and services. The key of PR is that it is an effective way to generate valuable word of mouth advertising.

PR events can leverage the effects of advertising and promotion programs by tying all these marketing elements together. For example, a local on-site PR event for a public product launch could be a tent event that could have featured product, raffles, etc that gain attention and make people stop in. Your target market could be reached through billboards, radio announcements, local clubs, Public relations is an ongoing process and must be worked at every day on every level of your project from the way you deal with your target market. Make it a habit to constantly consider the image you are projecting.

Create an Action Plan

Objective: Implement new software functionality for customer upgrade





What Else?


Scope, Schedule, Resources, Risks

Biweekly email, monthly meeting


New features, schedule, what is not included

Sales training, staff meetingsContinuously as new info committed to


Large customer accounts

Schedule, new capabilities, technical ability

At product checkpoints, through account teams



Support process, training plan, release schedule, impacts

Product checkpoints, per training plan schedule


Project Team

New features, what is excluded, changes to current release in new release, schedule, scope, risks, etc

Weekly meetings

So to recap, what you need to do to build a strong marketing campaign campaign and building cheerleaders and communicators to help get your message out and ensure a high payoff results and successful program is delivered.

1. Identify the situation by defining the problem.

2. Define goals and outcomes.

3. Identify your target audience.

4. Determine your message.

5. Choose a method to get your message across (product and distribution).

6. Determine indicators of success.

7. Develop an action plan.

8. Implement

Secrets to a Finding a Powerful and Savvy Sponsor for your Project

Whether you are the manager, sponsor, stakeholder, project manager there are key questions and roles that you contribute to success of your projects and programs. When I ask other project managers, what is key to effectiveness of delivering projects and ensuring success one of the frequent top items is the sponsor. Developing a good sponsor is not an accident, it is a function of the program or project manager’s relationship behavior. As the project manager, it is key to take control and drive that relationship for the sake of delivering a project with high payoff results

Sponsors often get asked to sponsor a project and think it will be good visibility and underestimate the time commitment it requires. The more communication early with them to establish expectations, working relationships and protocol is important. They may be up for late night calls, weekend consultation, fighting battles with vendor or management to get necessary decisions made. It is so critical to emphasize this and make sure proper time and commitment is there from the sponsor. In my opinion, a project is dead early without an empowered sponsor who is committed to the project and believes in the results outlined. The signs to watch for are that they are respected, champion the project, communicate the sense of urgency and have a strong bias for action. Don’t under estimate this, and if you see the signs have a conversation early on what you and the project need. The sponsor is there to help you as the project manager achieve desired results! Make sure they are committed to the journey.

Here is my list of what I use to sit down with sponsor and explain what will be needed from them and types of subjects I will work with them on. It creates a good list for a constructive conversation. When I have skipped past this thinking my sponsor is behind the team, it comes up later forcing this topic to be addressed so I advise take the time do it early. If you are down the road in your project and struggle with support, take the time to do this anyway and explain the reasons why.

Responsibilities/ Expectations of Project Sponsor:

· Champions the project, provides overall direction and funding, and approves all major milestones.

· Sets the vision, common goals and critical success factors

· Helps project manager understand full business context of environment and project decisions

· Establishes or secures policy

· Attends regular program reviews

· Establishes the authorities of the project team and stakeholders

· Approves the charter and scope of the project including deliverables

· Challenges assumptions, plays devils advocate to develop other alternatives

· Sets priority of the project relative to other projects in her/his area

· Ensures that resources are available to carry the project to its completion

· Removes obstacles or other constraints that are beyond control of PM

· Keeps other managers from interfering with progress, controlling scope and protects the team so results are delivered

· Authorizes changes in scope

· Works with senior management to provide updates or asks for help on issues beyond the control of the sponsor

As a program manager, you are usually driving innovation that drives change. This challenges people in the team and impacted groups in many different ways. The term I often use is “Pain of change” for that transition period. There is that small percentage that are highly adaptable and ready for anything but there are always those that do not want to learn or do anything different. Managing all types of people, managing the cultural change, managing the technical and most importantly delivering the defined project outcomes is what delivers high payoff projects.

In some cases, you may just be starting a program and asking how do I find a sponsor and build this partnership for success. Even if you embarked on your project without finding a sponsor, it is never to late to make this change and it will always help to have that advocate. Here are some questions that can help you navigate finding the right person to be the sponsor.

· Who has the financial backing to be a sponsor for this project?

· Who has the political influence in the organization to be a sponsor?

· Who has a history of having their initiatives implemented?

· Will the person defend the project should it run into problems or begin to lose organizational support?

· As the project manager, with whom would you have a good working relationship?

· Who will provide the project direction and focus but at the same time, ensure the project is being accomplished according to the plan?

· Who it the end result will take ownership in the resulting product of your work and would therefore have a vested interest in its successful operation?

Once you find that sponsor start immediately to build that relationship. Make sure lines of communication are open and timely with any information. Investing your time managing relationship with your sponsor is critical for your personal effectiveness and for the team success. These crucial conversations must be driven so take responsibility to make it happen. Good luck!

The Easy How To Guide for Planning a Powerful Project Kickoff

This is your chance to get your project started on an extraordinary path forward for success. Don’t underestimate how critical it is to invest time and get started on the right track. Projects are temporary organizations to deliver a service, product or result. People come together on projects as strangers that meet and quickly become like a family since you hare interacting and highly dependant on each other for success. That is not likely to change. What we as project leaders can do is make sure people share a context and are on the same page, have alignment for action, and have a relationship that allows them to successfully coordinate action together rapidly.

Get Ready

Before you start running down the road to the kickoff, some preparation questions to ask are:

  • Do you know what the project objective is?
  • Is value to customer clearly defined?
  • Is there a clear project sponsor?
  • Have you mapped out the key talent and skills you need on the project?
  • Do you know what the budget is?
  • Do you know the challenges?

The key is to plan ahead and organize. Show the team that you are on top of it, organized and ready to work together to deliver a successful project.

The Project Startup Meeting

Take immediate charge of the meeting. Introduce yourself. Have others introduce themselves, what value they bring to the team and some little known info.

Start with background on project and answer the “Why we are here?” and “Why it is critical?” question that is at the forefront of people’s mind. You want to create value quickly. Review the agenda and what outcomes for the meeting are.

The kickoff is intended to bring everyone up to speed, not to discuss every item in detail.

Now that you have laid the groundwork and set the tone for the meeting, move on to

· Project sponsors and what they are looking for

· Review the promise to the customer

· Project assumptions

· Team operating guidelines

· Team member expectations and commitment

· Empower the team – Value of each member/ role definition

· Scope that is known

· High Level Milestones

· Review Calendar – when meetings will be held

· Communication plan

· Key success factors

The time to plan for your kickoff will depend on a few different factors such as size of the team, scope of the project, is it face to face or virtual so walk through each of the areas listed above and determine how much time is adequately needed to cover and add time for Q&A. It will allow buffer time so that everything can be completed in your scheduled time.

During the Meeting, be sure to keep the meeting flowing and avoid wasting time. Be the leader and end a topic, and move on.

Be personable and have fun so that everyone will enjoy participating more. I bring soft toys that can be found at the toy store to set the tone of fun. In a virtual environment be creative and put a cartoon on file sharing program, share a story. Everyone will be more focused and enjoy the meeting more if you take this approach.

Wrap Up

Now after you have covered all these topics you should have a pretty good list of input to go back and update your info with. There should be a list of questions that could not be answered but will be over time and action items that team members can go back and work on.

Make sure everyone has blocked calendar at the time of team meetings and will make it a priority to attend.

Ask for feedback on the meeting, process and what should be common practice going forward. End the day with a big thank you to the team and an encouraging speech that creates the end vision for everyone to work towards.