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August 2011 Archives

Take a Purposeful Break from Your Project

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Project managers take various breaks throughout the work day: lunch breaks, coffee breaks, meeting breaks, and so on.

Maybe you need a break after reading an intense project plan, or conversely, you need to take a break from working on a project to read the plan.

No matter the break's impetus, it ultimately comes down to having a distraction from what you were doing.  

Consider taking a purposeful break -- one that isn't simply a distraction or escape from a previous activity, but, as the name implies, that has a purpose and therefore achieves a desired result. I find that doing so allows you to be more productive and to re-energize faster.

It's the same approach that we use for effective project meetings. Making sure that we focus on the agenda, follow all the topics and cover the intended elements. What works best in this case is staying focused on the task at hand, remembering the purpose and the planned or expected outcome.

To take a purposeful break, I suggest you do exactly what you want to do. For example, if you need five minutes to unwind after an intense meeting, do nothing else but listen to music. Don't try to figure out something about the project activity you were just involved in or what you are about to do next. Just sit quietly.

By allowing your mind to truly rest and disconnect, I find you are more effective at whatever activity you take on next.  

When we focus on an activity completely, it reduces multitasking, and we are able to complete the activity in less time, at a higher quality and with a sense of accomplishment. It's contagious: the more you get done in less time, the more you feel you can do.

This information may seem like common sense, but taking purposeful breaks regularly is what is going to contribute to one's effectiveness in project execution and time management.

Project Manager as Meeting Facilitator

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A few weeks ago, I was about to start a facilitated workshop with a very good customer. A South African colleague of mine, Michelle Booysen from Pétanque Consultancy, a South African consulting services in the field of project and process management, was invited to the session. We were preparing to start work when I confessed I was terrified. "No matter what, whenever I'm facilitating a session I always get scared."

Michelle is a savvy consultant and has a great deal of experience managing projects and facilitating meetings. She told me: "What a relief -- I am not alone." We both laughed.

That moment reminded me of my mindset when I earned my Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. At that time, I thought having a PMP® was the ultimate achievement in my professional career.

Since then, I have learned that to excel as a project manager, you have to have more than a credential.

One of the skills you need is being able to facilitate. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fourth Edition, chapter 5, mentions facilitated workshops:

"Because of their interactive group nature, well-facilitated sessions can build trust, foster relationships, and improve communication among the participants which can lead to increased stakeholder consensus. Another benefit of this technique is that issues can be discovered and resolved more quickly than in individual sessions."

Being a facilitator is a difficult art that is worth mastering. I have used facilitated workshops to build a project plans, to review mission and vision statements, to map business processes and to review deliverables.

Although it is always a challenge, if you understand how to play that role, you'll be leading (facilitating) the group to success. Prepare ahead of time, visualize yourself doing it and take the time to build an energized environment at the beginning of the session.  

It is said that you don't learn to swim by reading a book. You must dare to try it and learn by doing.

Have you played the role of facilitator as a project manager? What have been the keys to becoming a successful facilitator?

See more on the PMBOK® Guide.
See Jorge's prior posts.  

Managing Your Personal Brand

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In a reply to my previous post about the advantages of an employee adopting the mindset of an independent consultant, commenter Conrad Harrison said:

In terms of going fully independent you have to go beyond the profession. Whilst people are seeking you out on the basis of profession, then anyone in the profession will do and can replace you. They have to be seeking you out: recognizing your uniqueness. That added value that only you can provide.

Your uniqueness, this differentiating characteristic, is perhaps the most important part of your professional reputation, your brand.

And you do have a brand. It might be good or it might be not so good. It might be very crisp or it might be fuzzy. It might be consistent or it might be ambiguous. It might be helping you or it might be hurting you. Whatever it is, your brand tells people what they should expect from you.

Here are a few considerations I view as most important in managing the "Jim De Piante" brand, along with tips for cultivating your own brand:

Little things matter. Every interaction with other people contributes to your brand. Often, it's a seemingly small thing, such as promptly returning a call, that can leave a lasting impression.

Quality matters. As in all things related to reputation, it can take a long time to build a good brand, but you can destroy it very quickly. People talk about you. They talk about your work. You want to be sure they're only saying positive things.

Consistency matters. When people think or talk about you, you want them to remember, think and say you can be counted on to do certain things a certain way.

Whether you're an employee or an independent consultant, the project you're working on is going to end. Then what? Who will seek you out and why?

I'd be interested to hear how you manage your personal brand.

Read more from Jim De Piante.

Generate Action in Project Status Reports

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To keep project activities moving, I've been testing a strategy of having action generate action through status reporting. Here's what I've noticed that works:

As it stands, the current status of a project or task either gives a call to action, which creates further productive activity, or it leaves things as they are.

For example, a task status might say, "Completed the requirements document." While it's a valid update on the task, it only tells us something that is already in the past. Rewording your updates to generate a vision of current action is more helpful.

Consider if the status update said, "Reviewing the completed requirements document with the business owner." By including the present tense, the status presents the same information, but it adds an action-oriented, current, activity-based standing.

As a result of using present tense, I've noticed that the action of simply reporting on status has generated further action. It actually put me directly into the doing part of action, rather than talking about the action.

Let's say I receive a status update that says, "Kim is getting the screenshots of the system alert message," or, "John is reviewing the requirements document with the business owner." From this, I would know to follow up with Kim on whether she got the screenshot and set a reminder to connect with John and find out how the review went.

Review one of the status updates you've recently done yourself, or one that you received. Did it use the present or past tense? If the latter, what better results do you see possible by using the present tense?
Project managers have notoriously full schedules. As difficult as it can be sometimes, delegating is a must.
 
While more than 80 percent of our time is spent communicating, the other aspects of the job are crammed into the remaining 20 percent. If we focus too heavily on individual tasks, we will crash into our myriad deadlines.

This is where delegating becomes essential to leading successful projects.

Personally, I would rather do everything myself than ask another team member to do things for me. But this attitude can lead to significant catastrophes:

  1. I would miss my deadlines or have to sacrifice my personal time to complete the tasks.
  2. My team members will always be team members that follow instruction. They wouldn't grow in their capacity to eventually manage projects on their own.
When you delegate tasks to a team member, you're indirectly training this person to be more actively involved in the project. You can delegate to one particular team member or involve every team member in the process.

First, tell team members the information that you need and give them a deadline. Prepare a template to make it easier for them and to ensure you get all the necessary information. For good measure, I might remind them of what I need from them 24 hours before the deadline.

Delegation has a few benefits. First, you'll make your deadlines because you'll get the right information from the right sources, on time.

Secondly, team members are exposed to structured work and reporting methods, and will see the significance of the work they contribute to the project. Finally, you'll increase trust within the team because of greater responsibilities, which can enhance self-worth for team members.

What is your take on delegating? What tasks have you delegated to your team members? What positive impacts do you see from delegating tasks to your team members?

Use Project Management Tools in the Right Context

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Recently I came across an ad for a project management technology application. It was a picture of seven robots in a group, which symbolized humans. The slogan read, "If your team looked like this, any PPM solution would work."

It made me wonder how many organizations actually believe that technology applications do the work and produce results -- not humans.

How many organizations and project managers sufficiently analyze their project needs and the compatibility of new technology to their organizations' existing set-up and processes?

Companies often buy expensive project management applications and then force teams to conform and adapt to the application rather than customize the application to the needs of the people and project.

But buying applications because other organizations use them does not by default mean you, too, will become a leader.

Like with best practices, experience has taught me that technology and tools are valuable -- but only if they fill gaps and needs effectively.

Technology is important and can increase efficiency, but in the correct setting and context. Projects are planned and executed by people -- therefore technology must complement and be understood by the humans who use it.

Before investing in new project management applications, you must consider things like training, costs and your team members' willingness to use the tools. Otherwise it could amount to an expensive burden.

What experiences can you share of failing to engage stakeholders before investing in technology?

What factors should be considered before investing in new applications?

Program Managers as Top Chefs

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Given the lack of understanding about the work of program managers, I thought it would be helpful to explain their role by using a restaurant as a metaphor.

Think of the kitchen as the project management office (PMO), menus as the programs and each dish as a project.  

The chef is the program manager. The restaurant owner and manager rely on the chef to create the menu, which has to reflect the restaurant's cuisine, but with a range of affordable (yet profitable) dishes. The chef must then supervise and motivate others to cook the dishes.

Cooks are like project managers. They're responsible for executing the dishes designed by the chef and ordered by the customers. Other kitchen staff members are like the project team, helping create each dish successfully.
 
Restaurant managers are like general managers in a project setting. They coordinate the different arms of the restaurant, supervise the staff, order supplies, take care of the accounts, pay wages and handle customer complaints. However, they rely on the chef to ensure the restaurant is successful.

The restaurant owner, manager and chef meet regularly to discuss business. These discussions are the restaurant equivalent of strategic planning. The chef learns what's required of the menu (or program) and how much money is available to spend on preparing dishes (or projects).

In a lot of companies, the owner, manager and chef are all the same person. Yet many people can't successfully perform all three roles.
 
The restaurant owner and manager may want to be involved in the cooking, but it's far more effective if they have the support of a properly trained chef.

The same is true in the business world. We need to spend time educating CEOs and general managers about the benefits of working alongside a properly trained program manager.

Then we won't just have great restaurants, but great companies.

What do you think? How does having a defined role of a program manager help organizations?

Does Project Management Make You Happy?

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Alfred Lord Tennyson once said, "The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions."

I think this directly correlates with project management. To me, part of the secret to happiness is being able to connect how you approach life with what you do for a living. Then your passion will come out naturally.

Let me explain: I tend to classify people in three groups. Each group finds joy in what they do in life and that is related to their approach to project management.

Searchers are always looking for the next thing. If they don't like what they are doing, they simply change their direction. They like freedom and avoid tight schedules. They approach life from a "big picture" perspective.

Searchers are better at the beginning of a project. They are passionate about thinking how to approach the project to achieve the best results. That's what makes them happy.

Wrestlers have clear, defined objectives. They don't give up until they achieve their goals. From a project perspective, they are very passionate about doing the job until they get results. That is what makes them feel fulfilled.

Balanced people are equal parts searcher and wrestler. Life has taught them that both traits are needed to get results. I tend to think that seasoned project managers are balanced.

They find satisfaction in the ability to propose the big picture -- like a searcher -- and then pursue it until they get there -- like a wrestler. They are happy because they know they are contributing to build a better world.

If you are lucky enough to find and establish the connection between what you enjoy most in life and how you approach a project, you will enjoy every second of your profession.

Perhaps it will happen to you as it happens to me: You won't care whether you get paid for your work on a project because you've enjoyed the process so much.

The only thing that you'll seek is personal and professional satisfaction with your daily duties. It makes you happy and will bring out the spark you need to stand out of the crowd.  

If you don't feel happy with your current job in project management, perhaps you should try to answer these three questions:

What are you looking for in a career?
What kind of person are you?
What are you willing to do, even if you are not going to be paid?

Influencing Senior Project Managers

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How do you change a stubborn senior manager's mind? For example, he or she might claim your project only needs six weeks to complete, even though you have a carefully researched and resource-loaded schedule that proves 10 weeks is needed.

Arguing won't work. In fact, given the power structure, arguing will simply put you in a worse position. Doing nothing simply delays the problem and you will eventually be held accountable for your perceived failure to meet the stakeholder's unrealistic expectations.

To change a senior manager's mind, you need to change the manager's expectations. Though you may battle a heavy overlay of skepticism, use of effective communication and a planned strategy should do the trick.

Effective communication requires that at least two of the following three elements be present:

•    You're known as a technical expert.
•    You're credible: People know you provide reliable and accurate information.
•    The information you're communicating is relevant to the receiver.

Influencing a skeptical senior manager requires you to boost all three facets. You cannot do this alone. Some options to consider include:

Co-present your case with a trusted source. You increase your chances of success by sharing the stage with someone the executive trusts. Build the value of your ideas on the credibility the co-presenter has established with the executive.

Demonstrate endorsements to build power. Ask others in positions of power to let the executive know they support your idea.

Stroke egos and use the executive's credibility. Authentically move ownership of "the" idea -- not "your" idea -- into his space. You can do this by using phrases such as "You've probably seen this data already," or "I'm sure your analysis has shown similar results."

These approaches need organizing and take time but are essential if you are going to effectively advise upward.  

How do you influence your senior managers?

Read more on stakeholder management.

The Silent Generation on Project Teams

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As projects teams have become more dispersed around the world during the last two decades, the multigenerational project team inadvertently came into existence. Since then, I've dealt with diversity, virtual teams and multicultural issues.

As a project manager of multigenerational teams, my main objective is to figure out how to reconcile generational differences. These differences occur in everything from values and characteristics to priorities and motivation to feelings toward technology and management styles.

In order to more effectively manage multigenerational project teams, I not only need to focus on a team member's visible characteristic actions and behaviors, I have to find out more about his or her generation's beliefs and attitudes. From here, I can tailor my management style.

Take the Silent Generation, for example. Members of this generation were born pre-World War II. In the United States, this generation grew up in a time of economic turmoil and world conflicts. They set their values on discipline, respect and self-sacrifice.

For me, it's very important to understand that discipline, loyalty and working within the system are among the values that members of the Silent Generation will bring to my project team. I have to appreciate that those members have a vast knowledge to share and high standards on work ethic.

In communicating with members of the Silent Generation, I've found that face-to-face meetings are more effective than using e-mail or conference calls when discussing project matters.

Team members who belong to the Silent Generation have a clear understanding of authority, regardless of how old the project managers they work for are. This, along with respect for authority, was prevalent in their early years as they grew up in homes where the mother typically stayed at home and the father went to work.

Members of the Silent Generation bring experience and balance to the project team environment. Their views are based more on common sense than on technology -- as is the case with some in younger generations.

Do you have members of the Silent Generation on your team? What challenges have you faced with them? How do you deal with those challenges?

Read more from Conrado.

Read more on teams.

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with — or even disagree with — leave a comment.

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