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April 2012 Archives

Excel as a Project Team

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What makes projects move and people excel? In my opinion, there are three characteristics that are consistently found in great project practitioners:

1.    Urgency
2.    Persistence
3.    Desire

Executing projects with a sense of urgency means you and your team must really apply yourselves. Every day has to be productive. Tools must be properly utilized. The work needs to be completed with quality and according to the requirements.

Don't look at the future as a way to fix the mistakes you might make today. Address items immediately and effectively so that you don't make them again.

Persistence means not giving in or giving up. Nor should we quit when things get tough.  

Don't let it slide when you feel less productive: You and your team should encourage each other to be in motion at all times. After all, we are hired to perform a specific job. The more we stick to being professional and complete in the work we do, the higher level we will reach in our daily execution of project tasks.

Finally, have the desire to be great. That means don't settle for second best or for a "good enough" result. You should want to outdo yourself, to be more effective than in the past. Strive to complete more work through effectiveness and with higher quality than you think you can. It's the only way to improve yourself.  

When the entire team is aligned to such a work ethic and mindset, it no longer is a job for a project manager. It becomes a game and a challenge that everyone on the team takes on and is excited to be part of.

Together aligned we achieve more, have fun, constantly grow and become better at what we do.

What do you do on a project team to add value to the team effort with your own individual effort?

Build a Business Case for Lessons Learned

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If you are not having project reviews and meetings to address lessons learned, it may be that your project sponsors do not count these as valuable activities.

You know better, but how do you make a convincing argument to have project reviews?  

You must take the discussion with your project sponsor to a different level. It's not "we just need to know what happened." It's "we want to take action and get better results the next time around."

The lessons learned meeting could make you aware of changes that may be needed to turn business from being bleak to being more successful. Give your sponsors succinct reasons to pursue assessing projects to make improvements.

Consider these tips to influence your supporters:

Gather statistics and determine what you need to measure.
If your company is concerned about quality, chart examples of projects where quality was lacking. If ROI for projects has not been good, share those examples.

Share success stories.
Bring up achievements that occurred because of the attention on improvement. Discuss the situations that will make a difference to the bottom line.

Make a plan.
As a project manager, you already know that planning is important. Prepare a well thought-out plan for gathering and presenting the lessons learned. Then use the newly acquired knowledge.  

How have you built a business case for lessons learned and project reviews?

Why Getting Mad Can Benefit Your Projects

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"Get mad, then get over it." --Gen. Colin Powell, USA (Ret.)

Generally, people consider anger to be a negative emotion. But it doesn't have to be.

Let's review the positive side of anger:

Anger can benefit relationships.
Many of us are told to hide our anger, but doing so could be detrimental to your relationships.

For example, if you're angry because of a mistake that a project team member has made and you don't speak up, he won't know that he has done something wrong. He will probably keep doing it and enter into a vicious cycle.

On the other hand -- if justifiable and aimed at finding a solution --expressing dissatisfaction can strengthen relationships. Such honest communication can help solve problems among stakeholders and build cohesiveness into your team.

Anger can motivate.
Anger can prove to be a powerful motivation force, helping you "go the extra mile" and keep working despite problems or barriers.
For example, if you're criticized for your work, you may feel further motivated to do better because you are angry and want to prove that you can improve your level of performance.

In project management, if we are able to produce what is called  "positive anger" in our team, they will be more motivated to achieve results. But don't make a team member mad just for the sake of it. Find the right words to push them in the right direction.

Anger can indicate an optimistic personality.
Ironically, happy people have something in common with angry people. Both tend to be optimistic.

Take the study of risk management, for example. Dr. J.S. Lerner, professor of public policy and management at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, found that angry people expressed optimistic risk estimates. Estimates of angry people more closely resemble those of happy people than those of fearful people.
It's okay to get mad, but always behave professionally and treat people respectfully. Don't let wrong behavior undercut a right message.

At the end of the day, we're all human. We all have feelings, one of which is getting mad. Use positive anger when you can. Above all, be able to communicate when you're angry in a way that doesn't undercut your message.

Have you ever used anger in a positive way in your projects?

Read more from Jorge.

Craft "High-Quality" Requirements

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Project requirements derive from concrete business needs or business-use cases and constitute the foundation for the project work. Without requirements, projects cannot exist.

Incomplete and unclear requirements may result in project failure. Moreover a significant part of project rework is attributable to problems with the project requirements.

On the other hand, requirements that are clear, complete and understood by all the parties are of "high quality." They build a solid foundation for the project work.

Collecting high quality requirements can be a challenging endeavor for several reasons:

•    Stakeholders often don't speak the same language (business vs. technical)

•    Stakeholders have different understandings and views of the product

•    Stakeholders have different backgrounds and expertise on the matter

It may not be the project manager's role to collect, qualify and write requirements. But he or she is often the one planning the framework and determining or approving the guidelines by which requirements are elicited, qualified and accepted.

The following guidelines should help in collecting high-quality project requirements:

1. No requirements without a use case
Usually, requirements can be linked to concrete business cases, which are generally task- and user-centric. Use cases help understanding the requirements' context and purpose.

2. Requirements language
Pay attention to the wording. Avoid ambiguous words. Use words and terms consistently.

You might consider using a glossary of terms to ensure common understanding.

Avoid words that have subjective meaning (nice, substantial, safe, simple) and that enforce direction weakly or that undermine commitment (often, always, partially, usually). Use "shall" or "must" instead of "should" or "might."

Remove any room for interpretation. Avoid the usage of "and/or" together or "including but not limited to."

3. Requirements characteristics checklist
Build a checklist of requirements characteristics that are relevant to your project's quality standards. Evaluate each requirement against the checklist.

Here are 10 characteristics that I successfully use to evaluate the quality of requirements:

Atomic: Is this a single requirement or multiple requirements in one?

Complete: Is this comprehensive enough to start working on it?

Traceable: Is this related to a use-case or need?

Logical and Clear: Does it make sense? Does it leave no room for interpretation?

Consistent: Is this consistent with the project objectives and other related requirements?

Measurable: Is this measurable once a solution is delivered?

Compliant: Is this aligned to the current product features, system architecture and legal framework?

Feasible: Is this realistic and doable given the complexity and the project context and constraints?

Necessary: Is this really required given the project objectives and constraints?  Or is it more of a want than a need?

Prioritized: What are its criticality, urgency and priority?

What best practices do you use to ensure that project requirements are of high quality?

Inspire Your Multigenerational Team

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Although the multigenerational team has always existed, project performance can be affected by the project manager's leadership style.
The project manager must inspire the members of different generations while recognizing and reconciling generation gaps to develop a healthy environment within the team.

To do so, you must:

1. Win the team members' trust and loyalty
Successful leaders need people around them who share the same mission and vision, and are enthusiastic about it. As a project manager, you must win the trust of the people you are leading.

Your experience as project manager and confidence in your ability to succeed will inspire and make people believe in your capacities as project manager, regardless of what generation they are part of.

2. Do things differently
Think about new and different ways to approach a project or project tasks. Get feedback from your team members and peers to use different approaches, tools and techniques when addressing project tasks. This will motivate your team members to take a more active role in the project.

3. Thank those who help your project to succeed
Project success depends on how well the project team performs. Great leaders know that showing appreciation is a great way to show people they are valued, which everyone appreciates. Say "thank you" and recognize publicly those who helped the project to succeed.

Define and communicate to the project team a recognition system and, from time to time, let them know how much you value their efforts and how much they mean to your organization.

As a project manager, what are you doing to enhance your leadership skills? How do you lead and inspire multigenerational project team members?
Read more about acknowledgement.

The "Other-Conscious" in Public Speaking

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In my last post, Contagious Enthusiasm in Public Speaking, I talked about how being overly self-conscious can inhibit your effectiveness as a public speaker. I also know that public speaking is a valuable way to enhance your career growth. I promised to explore the idea of being fully "other-conscious" a little more deeply.

Communication, of course, is what we project managers spend the majority of our time doing. Public speaking is common enough for us.

All communication is about sharing meaning. To be effective, we need to have a good understanding of whom we are talking to and what will influence his or her understanding of the message we are trying to communicate.

The best communicators have a keen ability to be very attuned to the other person. It helps them develop a rapport that makes real understanding happen more readily.

Effective public speakers bring this ability to the group setting. They master the ability to be dialed in, not to the group, but rather, to many individuals simultaneously.

Some people who are extraordinarily good in "one-on-one" situations can be very ineffective as public speakers because they find it so distressing. Much of what people find distressing stems from self-consciousness -- they are overly concerned with how people perceive and react to them.

Forget self-consciousness. Be other-conscious. If everything we do is focused entirely on the listener as an individual, it can help us have the kind of rapport essential for good two-way communication.

The mistake people often make is to view public speaking as addressing an audience -- a nameless, faceless and even a potentially hostile audience. Rather, we should view our listeners as a collection of individuals with whom we need to establish separate relationships in order to effectively communicate with them.

But don't ignore yourself in the process. On the contrary, because of the importance of the speaker's role, visibility, prominence and leveraged influence, the speaker must pay particular attention to him or herself. And that means, with a mind toward the other.

What do you think? Does being self-conscious help you be other-conscious in all communications, not just public speaking?

Read more about speaking in your project management career.
Get more career help.

Project Success: Elements of High Productivity

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I've been in the project management profession for more than a decade. Admittedly, I've had my share of times when I was less productive than I would like to be.

While I haven't figured out an exact formula for having superior productivity at all times, I have noticed what contributes to both success and failure in high productivity, for me. These four elements help me stay on track.

When you are coachable, you can easily adapt. You are willing to learn something new and possibly change something about yourself in terms of how you work, react or approach tasks.

Clarity of the overall goal
When I'm working on a project, I want to be clear on what we are working on, what the ultimate goal is, or final result that is expected. With the clarity of the goal, it's easier to commit.

With clarity, commitment and coachability, you're halfway there. What gets you to the end game is two other elements: discipline and self-control. I'm not perfect at either, but I've noted that when I am most successful, these two elements are present. When I fail or get close to failing, they are lacking.

Discipline allows me to focus on the right activity and to motivate myself to do what needs to be done on a regular basis. While I might be good at "catching up" on what I'm behind on, if I have the self-discipline, most of the time, I'm on task.

Self-control is an act of controlling one's impulses to do something other than the task at hand. I catch myself now getting distracted by some activities, but ultimately, self-control allows me to avoid the wrong ones.

We have to remember that what we do is guided by how we think. Every day, I set a goal to have all of these elements in check for any specific project or task. It opens up actions and the things I need to do right away to either stay on track, get back on track or even outperform what was planned.

How do you stay productive?

Read more from Dmitri.

What Does a Project Sponsor Really Do?

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A recent commenter suggested I write a post to help clarify the project sponsor's role.

Your project sponsor is the key link between the project management team and the organization's executive management. An effective sponsor "owns" the project and has the ultimate responsibility for seeing that the intended benefits are realized to create the value forecast in the business case.

A good project sponsor will not interfere in the day-to-day running of the project -- that's the role of the project manager. But, the sponsor should help the project manager facilitate the necessary organizational support needed to make strategic decisions and create a successful project.

With respect to the project, effective sponsors should:

  • Create alignment. The sponsor helps keep the project aligned with business and cultural goals.
  • Communicate on behalf of the project, particularly with other stakeholder groups in senior management. The sponsor also communicates his or her personal commitment to the project's success on multiple occasions.
  • Gain commitment. The sponsor is a key advocate for the project. He or she "walks the talk" and gains commitment from other key stakeholders.
  • Arrange resources. The sponsor ensures the project's benefits are fully realized by arranging the resources necessary to initiate and sustain the change within the organization.
  • Facilitate problem solving. The sponsor ensures issues escalated from the project are solved effectively at the organizational level. This includes decisions on changes, risks, conflicting objectives and any other issue that is outside of the project manager's designated authority.
  • Support the project manager. The sponsor offers mentoring, coaching and leadership when dealing with business and operational matters.
  • Build durability. The sponsor ensures that the project's outputs will be sustained by ensuring that people and processes are in place to maintain it once the project completes its handover.
If you have a good sponsor, look after him or her. If your sponsor does not understand the role or is unwilling to fulfill the role, however, you need to speak up. Carrying on without an effective sponsor raises the probability of project failure and you as the project manager will be held accountable for that failing.

It's important to flag the lack of effective sponsorship as a key risk to the project. It may not make you popular, but you have an ethical responsibility to clearly define risks that need management attention.

Ultimately the organization's executive management is responsible for training and appointing effective sponsors. If this has not happened, as project managers, all we can do is help those sponsors who are willing to be helped and flag a risk or issue for those that are missing or unwilling to support "their project."

Read more about project sponsors. 

Guidelines for Project Clients to Enable Success

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I recently witnessed two projects executed within weeks of each other. Both projects were related to the rollout of major technology solutions for significant, well-established corporations.
What was different about the projects were the dynamics between the client and the project team -- specifically, the way the client engaged and worked with the project team. One project was successful, and the other was not.

In my opinion, the success as well as the failure was largely because of the dynamics between the client and project team.
I am definitely not implying that any project gone awry is the client's fault. In fact, I believe it's the project manager's primary responsibility to facilitate all points below. But unless the client is willing to observe and adhere to these guidelines, the project is already in jeopardy.

Think about it.

Here is a working list of guidelines that can help clients and other stakeholders work with a project team and deliver a successful project:
1. Be transparent. A good project team realizes there are going to be unique variables and circumstances it will need to address. Be upfront and candid with the project team about the challenges or risks in accomplishing the project goals. It is much more productive to get everything on the table upfront versus waiting for it to be discovered while executing the project.

2. Stay engaged and responsive. One school of thought says a good client stays out of the way of a project team and without too much micromanagement. This can be true to some extent.
However, clients must work with the project team to ensure there are open channels of communication. Information or clarification must be provided quickly and concisely, and preferably in writing.
Ideally, one or two people on the client side have the knowledge and authority to speak for the entire client team. This is especially important when providing critical input such as requirements, milestone approvals and strategic guidance. Without this representation, the project team has to chase down information, and there is greater risk of them getting it wrong.

The project manager must facilitate these activities and provide the framework in which they occur, but this is a two-way street. 

As a client, if you cannot make the time and emotional commitment to communicate, then postpone the project until the time is better. Otherwise, we all risk having to do it over again.

3. Be decisive and time sensitive. Recognize that there are going to be hard decisions to be made in terms of requirements, tradeoffs, budget, timing and resources. If a decision cannot be made on the spot, define a window of time in which you will get back to the team with an answer and respect that commitment. As noted above, if it's going to take time to get an answer, let the project team know this ahead of time.

4. The laws of physics still apply. As nice as it would be to bend the laws of physics, project teams are not capable of making three-day tasks in just two. Project managers do sometimes pad their timelines to allow for project creep or addressing other unseen emergencies. But recognize that this is done due to experience from previous projects and is an effort to account for the "unseen" challenges that inevitably crop up in your efforts.
Forcing a team to schedule its project activities in exacting increments for the sake of impressing company executives, for example, introduces a risk that some unforeseen event will cause that project to run late.
What other guidelines would you add to this list?

Read more from Geoff.

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