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

http://blog.projectconnections.com/carl_pritchard/2008/05/the-hardest-wor.html

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7 Ways to Evaluate PM Effectiveness

Are you managing a large program? Are you a project manager? Regardless of your role, here are 7 simple ways to evaluate the effectiveness of PM you work with or even yourself. These are some general areas but keep in mind you may need to tweak the question to be more relevant if you manage software projects over construction.

1. How Effective is your Business Strategy to Project objectives defined by PM?

One of the primary functions of project management is to translate the business strategy goals into technical specs, operational goals or specific outcome. If this translation is not clear, stop and ask why and what is the effective translation that would make sense to someone not working on your project. That is how clear you should be able to articulate and will increase the effectiveness of delivering on the goals. The entire effort will be successful only if the business goals are effectively translated.

2. How does PM respond to change in strategy and/ or goals?

Changes in business goals are inescapable, especially in projects that have long timelines. The efficient way to finish a project may be to keep the timeline, however when strategy changes its likely some objectives in project have as well and efficiency will no longer matter if the wrong outcome is achieved. These are critical points in the project to evaluate what can be removed, what is a must have add, how does that impact other projects that are part of the program, what resource and schedule impact are there. If the resource and schedule impacts are not in line and reasonable, you need to review findings with stakeholders and keep adjusting till there is an achievable scope, timeline and budget.

3. How does PM facilitate design and development work?

The eventual success of a project is highly influenced by how well the PM removes obstacles. When time is lost because development team is waiting on scope decision and there is not one, or inspection resource cannot be scheduled for X number of weeks keeping the team on track and able to complete work is critical to high payoff results.

4. How responsive is PM to Stakeholders?

The project manager needs to be responsive to a number of stakeholders, the project team, business sponsors, peers, internal partners such as sales, marketing, human resources and customers. All of these stakeholders may have different priorities, and the project manager has to juggle all of these priorities effectively. Ignoring input and feedback from sponsors and stakeholder is an early warning sign. Watch that concerns are investigated and understood if a response is justified or already covered in planned work. When a stakeholder does not feel concerns were noted, it will escalate later in the project and become more critical.

5. How well does PM work with external vendors, providers that are part of project?

The more organizations that are part of the project, the more complexity there is. The ability to navigate, build strong working relationships is key to collaboration and speed when you need it most.

6. How well does PM Communicate?

Is there proactive communication on the project? When common themes come up, are meetings scheduled, training etc to get the info out to teams that need it? This area is so important and often forgotten in the heat of crisis and managing the minutia in a project, so be diligent in helping PM manage communication frequently and in a timeline manner.

7. How well does the PM solve problems?

Problem resolution skills will be called upon on a frequent if not daily basis in any project. Good project management depends upon proactive and quick resolution of these problems and keep work moving as rapidly as it can. Is the PM persistent? When there looks to be a roadblock to they continue to work to define alternative solutions? Never underestimate what persistence with a bright team can create to keep a project on track.

Project Tips: Leadership through Turbulent Times

Are you experiencing major changes in your business or organization? Well, if you are not now you probably will soon. Working in technology companies, the only guarantee is “Change will happen”. There are some common steps that you can take as a leader to help navigate through the change and help your project and team thrive and survive it. This is not easy, so please don’t think that is intent of the article. I just want to provide some tips to help along the way. You must be committed to make things happen and drive successfully.

– What qualities will it take?
Focus, Tenacity and resources are the key working through massive changes. Cultural changes can be some of the most difficult for organizations and often managers declare victory when the change effort was anything but that. There was slim evidence to support the claims. If a project I am working is held accountable for the success, I sure want to make sure the team is taking the right steps and driving activities to have strong evidence of succes. It is the key to proving the team made it happen.

– Start with accepting the difficulty of the task. Do your homework. You will encounter problems when you stop listening to other team members and stakeholders. There needs to be an overwhelming amount of credible information that visible throughout the changes. Bring in information from external customers as a way to quiet the internal noise or disputes about what reasons are. Internally, you can survey people to get information about where to focus your efforts, how to communicate through changes. It is tough to ignore the voice of the customer.

– Establish a sense of crisis. When people are spending time trying to figure out why change is happening, your communication is not sufficient. There needs to be a compelling case created, use customer examples, industry info, market info, financial info and make sure that there is crystal clarity on why there is a crisis and why things must change. Show that existing success will vanish because of the situation and what objectives will be of the change and what plan is to make sure it happens.

– Create a business strategy with direction info the entire team can translate to business they know. All change should be based on business strategy as that is the hard reality of why chang is happening. It needs to be driven be the marketplace. This is also the quickest way to move a company to change. The art is to build a sustainable future and what are the programs and projects that will be needed to delivery on the strategy rapidly.

– Align people and support systems. This is when the message becomes real. When you can look around or talk to people and observe behavior and hear the impacts, questions, doubts. People are going to have to do things in a different way than before. As the leader, your challenge is to overcome inertia of watching what happens. You want to discourage the business as usual way and encourage working in the new model. Encourage contribution and the new opportunities that will be driven to meet the market needs.

– Keep everyone informed and involved. This is a constant cycle every day, week to focus on through every change. Bringing people in for personal involvement will give them feeling of ownership of the change. Working behind closed doors and bringing out the end result is a sure way to surprise and cause a tough battle to overcome inertia. Look for people who play a role as key centers influence within organization.

How you manage through change does greatly influence the success or failure. You must be resilient and maintain candor as you will see and say many things. People will be looking to you for direction, communication and leadership. Be an enthusiastic evangelist of the future, your optimism and hope is important to show so people can see a glimpse of where we will get to. At the end, the ultimate payoff for high performancea and delivering success are exceptional financial results and more stakeholder value. Just remember when you are in uncharted territory, that it will require big thinking, learning from others, and staying agile during turbulent times. Its not always easy, but each time you look back you realize that leaps were made and it is well worth the journey. Make it Happen!

Is Your Project on Fire? Tips to Navigate the Urgent Crisis in Your Project

Project and fire are not the terms I like to hear together. So you may be thinking what do they have to do with each other? Well, participate and lead a few projects and you will find the inevitable “fire” to happen. Some of the common causes of the fire are a major issue found not planned for, crisis found in testing, something unexpected breaks, management comes in with a demand to meet that there is not time, resources much chance in delivering on. Sound familiar?

Urgent is a word used frequently in personal and professional life as trying to get work done through other people creates so many reasons that we must impart the criticality, importance, timing for our requests to be completed. Is this constant drive to solve the crisis needed? Some theories are projects that are well run avoid crisis and other managers believe it is there job to sustain this type of urgent work environment as more productive to complete projects. I believe there is a time and place for urgent culture but not sustainable continuously.

Dictionary.com defines “Urgent” as a

1.

Compelling or requiring immediate action or attention; imperative; pressing: an urgent matter.

2.

Insistent or earnest in solicitation; importunate, as a person: an urgent pleader.

3.

Expressed with insistence, as requests or appeals: an urgent tone of voice.

Taking the meaning of urgent and thinking of typical situations at home, provides a few examples that can be applied in workplace. You can have grand ideas for remodeling your house or getting in shape, but if you have a storm that damages your house you drop everything and put it out. What choice do you have? Naturally, the crisis moves to the top of the list despite you may have had plans to take the kids somewhere, travel for business, and make an important family function. Naturally, this is the best choice as the problem has to be solved or it will get worse so your immediate attention is required. The problem is most businesses and project managers act as if the organizations are on fire, most of the time. If you allow the problems to continue with fire fighting, they add up and your contribution is firefighting that defines your accomplishments and skill at managing a project. A career putting out fires never leads to the goal you had in mind all along. It is living reactively not proactively. If you are not working your plan you are falling into someone else’s plan and the result will not be what you wanted. Taking control and leadership as the project manager requires that you take control, put out the fire and proactively lay the right ground work to prevent a fire from burning out of control. The key to “Making Things Happen” is to be in control and know how to lead through the fire and normalcy can resume executing the program.

How to put out some common “fire” situations:

A manager who creates continual crisis

This is an opportunity that you need to learn what high level objectives are. Are they changing their mind, are they being influenced by customer, investors, is it lack of clarity for what they want done? A strategy to manage this is to get a view of the external and internal environment. Look forward and develop a plan to anticipate some of the twists, manager concerns so you can agree on strategy and how you will communicate with the individual. Map out what this looks like, where change points are, what impacts are and get on the same page with manager so impacts are understood of their requests on project.

Something breaks, fails to pass required check

Whether you are working on a construction project and something is found in digging the foundation that halts progress or you are developing a new product and regulatory doesn’t pass, in your industry you have a similar gotcha that grinds work to a halt. This a good chance to gather the team in area impacted and determine can it be fixed, at what cost, how much time will it take, what is chance at measure fixing problem, what other alternatives are there. This is critical crisis problem solving. It will vary issue if there is a quick fix or in some cases minimum time must pass to have another inspection, qualification. Either way, there is a cost impact to your business so how effectively you manage quick action plan will make the difference in making it happen and get work done successfully.

If you work in an urgent-only culture, the only solution is to make the right things urgent so you can survive and ensure that team is working to higher level goals. As a leader, your sanity and the endurance of your team will require tough decisions, learning to say no, manage the deliverable and stay on track. It is easy to be derailed but the difference between surviving and thriving will be your response to the fires and laying the groundwork to prevent the fire at all. What other strategies do you use?

Project Quote


“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

– Mark Twain