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May 2012 Archives

Tailor Your Coaching Style to Project Team Members

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In coaching project team members, project managers may forget that each person is different. Thus, the approach to engage them will be different. It is imperative to remember you are not creating a clone of yourself and that your team members may have a different working style than you.

You must have a game plan when coaching individual team members. It does not need to be written down; you just need to pay attention. Focus on the way your team members prefer to work, listen and learn. Some people like to draw when they talk or explain. Some people write everything down. Others just stare blankly but give good responses when requested to.

When you have an idea of how your team members operate, try these tips to coach them further:

  1. Identify the different ways your team members process information and engage them in that manner, on an individual basis.
  2. When you're presenting to the team, use figures and pictorial depictions on what you want to explain.
  3. Use humor to keep people interested. Dispersed doses of humor get people engaged and paying attention. It's also a great way to get new people on the team to warm up to you as the one who's going to be responsible for the deliverables. "Hey, the project manager jokes! Maybe she's nice to work with!"
  4. Encourage the team to give feedback on how they are coping with the workload and schedule. Most of the time, team members do not voluntarily share the challenges they are facing for fear of looking weak or incapable. The project manager needs to assure the team that it is important to make known the challenges since the success of the project depends on the ability of them completing the tasks.
It is important to understand your team members and then apply different coaching styles to deliver information. Include some laughter and good humor, and you'll probably find yourself with a happier and more cooperative team.

How well do you know your team members? How do you engage their interest in learning new things?

Plan and Facilitate a Requirements Workshop

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Every project manager knows that there is no single best way to collect project requirements. 

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) -- Fourth Edition identifies several tools and approaches for collecting requirements. They include interviews and focus groups, facilitated workshops, group creativity and group decision-making techniques. 

Combining some of these tools and techniques with a requirements workshop can be the most efficient and effective requirements elicitation approach. But only if the workshop is planned and facilitated well.

Planning a requirements workshop is no different than planning any meeting or event. Some simple steps to follow:
1. Define the scope and establish an agenda 
The scope and agenda should make it clear to all participants the reasons why they are attending the workshop. 

2. Invite the right people 
Generally, you want to keep the guest list short, but make sure to invite key stakeholders. These include representatives from teams or user groups that will benefit from the project's outcome, project sponsors, product or system owners, and business and technical consultants. 

3. Plan the logistics 
To facilitate an open and constructive working session, make sure that the workshop's location and environment has sufficient capacity and appropriate equipment for hosting the workshop. 

Now that we have a good plan, how do we facilitate the workshop? 

1. Lay ground rules 
Establish basic ground rules. For example, start on time, stay in scope, and respect and build on other people's ideas. 

2. Gather requirements 
Get everyone involved through questioning and individual interviewing. Apply group creativity techniques, such as brainstorming and mind mapping. And for topics that require in-depth and focused discussions, organize dedicated breakout sessions. 

3. Record the workshop 
Make sure that someone attends the workshop solely to write the protocol during the workshop. He or she should capture all requirements, ideas, assumptions, risks and open items. 

4. Pre-qualify and pre-prioritize requirements 
To facilitate the scoping process at a later stage, try to leave a requirements workshop with pre-qualified and pre-prioritized requirements. 

5. Review the protocol and develop a follow-up plan 
At the end of the workshop, plan sufficient time to review the written protocol and the derived action items. Develop a follow-up plan to address the open items. Identify the owner of each item, and establish deadlines and next-steps. 

Do you hold requirements workshops? If so, how do you plan and facilitate them?

A Project With No Project Charter?

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Also known as the project initiation document, the project charter is a high-level document created at the start of a project and referred to throughout the project's duration. It is the foundation of the project, a basis for how the project can evolve. The charter should state the purpose, main objectives and vision for a project.

Many project professionals may consider the project charter as 'more documentation' or a 'mere formality.' But the truth is that if they start to consider creating a charter as a best practice, many problems or issues can be eliminated.

However, I regularly meet project managers that manage their projects without referring to or even knowing the existence of their project's charter.


Here are some reasons a charter is left out, based on my experience:

  1. Project management immaturity, lack of project approaches or poor project governance by the sponsor or organization. There's a lack of awareness for the need of a charter or formal authorization process.
  2. At project initiation, there are no clear measurable objectives or reasons for the project. Hence, there is nothing to write.
  3. The charter may have been written, but is filed away or lost within the organization's documentation system. This could be a symptom of high staff turnover or poor information systems.
  4. Requirements and other changes to the project deemed the existing project charter obsolete.
  5. The project has been initiated or is continuing without real executive commitment. 
  6. The project is considered too small or simple to be chartered, so writing a charter is considered a 'waste of time.' 
  7. A charter may exist but contains information that is rigid. Details, budgets and milestones may be unrealistic and unachievable, and therefore not referred to.
  8. Alternatively, the metrics and information contained in the charter may be too broad and ambiguous and therefore not referred to.
However, without a charter, a project is headed for problems including:

Risk of diminished value and importance of a project, if its purpose and strategic benefit are not documented, agreed and formally recognized.

Delayed decision-making. Getting management and sponsors to sign off on things becomes difficult. There is no one to champion for the project and responsibility for it is passed around.

Difficulty managing expectations. Without a collectively agreed to charter, there may be frequent disruptions and disagreements from stakeholders. They will have differing intentions, opinions and understanding of the project's outcomes.

Risk of failure. When there is no clear, recorded statement of a project's goals, it's more prone to fail. The project charter includes the business case and other additions, which serves as a constant reminder of the project's vision, mission and critical success factors.

Lack of authority. The project manager will be plagued with problems from lack of authority to spend the budget, the ability to acquire and assign resources, and a general power needed to make day-to-day decisions and actions. This will also make it harder for the project manager to attract good suppliers, vendors and resources to work on the project. This can create a culture of dissatisfaction and apathy within the existing project team.

Subject to scrutiny, delay and bureaucracy. The project can expect numerous changes and deviations, which increase the risk of not delivering and reaching the projects goal. It could eventually become a financial burden to the organization.

Do you know of any other reasons why a project charter would not be created? How can the lack of a charter plague a project?

Nontraditional Ways to Get Feedback for Lessons Learned

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When capturing lessons learned, feedback can come from anywhere. Don't dismiss comments because of how you receive them.
Consider that you may want to receive feedback from the quality assurance manager who's always on the run. Talking on a mobile phone while he or she is driving from site to site may be illegal, though.

Or consider the database administrator who transitioned off your project in phase one, who no longer has security access to the project, and is now busy on her next project.

So how do you get their feedback?

It isn't easy to reach out and receive the lessons your stakeholders may want or need to share toward improving the next project.
These two unconventional communication methods can be used to help in lessons learned:
  • Try a text or Twitter message. Texts and social media aren't only for the younger generation. But to use them, you must to be concise. You may ask your stakeholders to drop a quick message and provide more detail later when they may have more time. 

  • Host a blog site. Start by setting up categories to receive feedback on particular areas of the project, for instance. Using the categories will allow a better way to coordinate the comments, and give the stakeholders a fast way to respond.
In lieu of attending an in-person project review, receiving lessons learned material by other traditional methods could work as well. Contact a stakeholder by e-mail. Dial the person on the telephone. No matter what, reach out for feedback.
How do you identify stakeholders on your projects and get feedback for lessons learned?

Use Military Ideas to Get Buy-in From Your Project Team

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Carl Phillip Gottfried von Clausewitz, (1780-1831) a Prussian soldier and German military theorist, wrote:

"War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty ... The commander must work in a medium which his eyes cannot see; which his best deductive powers cannot always fathom; and with which, because of constant changes, he can rarely become familiar."  

Projects aren't much different.

Military leaders and project managers both need the active support of their teams to be successful. But support involves more than just following orders. Active supporters work with you to achieve success in difficult circumstances.

Here are a few theories I've adapted from the military that may help project managers running a large project:

The right of one objection
This doctrine says that regardless of the rank of the person giving the command, if you have information that shows the command may be wrong, you are obliged to share that information with the issuer. Once the objection has been properly considered, the objector is expected to comply with the final decision.

Unfortunately, many project team members tend to keep information to themselves rather than risk getting in trouble with authority. To reduce the concern, adopt a policy guaranteeing no sanctions against a team member who raises the one objection. More importantly, information withholders become liable to an equal share of the consequences if they have kept quiet.

Decentralize execution planning to the lowest possible management level. This way, those who must execute the work have the freedom to develop their own plans.
At each level of management, the plan should dictate a subordinate's actions only to the minimum degree necessary. Ideally, rather than dictating a subordinate's actions, a good project plan should create opportunities for the subordinate to act with initiative.

Effective planning should facilitate shaping the conditions of the situation to our advantage while preserving freedom to adapt quickly to changes in the project's circumstances.

Planning should be participatory and evolutionary. The main benefit of planning is engaging in the process -- the planning matters more than the plan.

We should view any project plan as merely a common starting point from which to adapt as required -- and not as a script that must be followed. Plan far enough into the future to maintain the initiative and prepare adequately for upcoming phases, but not so far that plans will have little in common with actual developments.

Adapt these ideas to the circumstances of your project, and they should help you make your internal stakeholder management more effective and your projects more successful.

Are you a Technologically Reliant Project Manager?

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In the professional world where technology is omnipresent, we as project and program managers are used to tying our personal and professional lives to technology and gadgets like smart phones, tablets, GPS, etc.
As a result, some organizations are trying a "day without email" on Fridays and/or weekends to encourage more face-to-face and phone contact with customers and colleagues. How do you think this would be received by a multigenerational project team?

For baby boomer and silent generation team members, face-to-face may be a preferred communication method. But for members of Gen Y, not communicating by email may make them feel like a fish out of water because of their preference for virtual communication.
As the "day without email" idea progresses gradually, employees in these organizations are probably realizing that business functions are about human relationships. This is an opportunity to foster a coaching environment in which Gen X and Gen Y will be able to hone their interpersonal skills supported by senior project team members.

For those project team members who use technology frequently, discuss alternatives that will reduce the dependency of email in their daily activities.

How much do you depend on technology for your daily activities? How would your project team survive the "day without email" policy? Would you enjoy having a day free of email?

An Organization's Intangible Process Assets

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On the shores of the Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan stands The Wen-Wan Resort, a luxury hotel. It looks like like an ocean liner and is built extensively of glass.

WenWen.jpgThe resort is licensed as a 'build-operate-transfer' (BOT) project. That means that after a lease of 30 years, the site reverts back to state ownership, regardless if the operators break even or make a profit.

The construction of the Wen-Wan Resort took four years to complete, and was finalized in September 2003. Total construction cost of the 92-room resort amounted to US$67 million. Rooms cost between US$1,000 and US$10,000 per night. Internal ROI will likely be met after about 18 to 20 years, which means that in 2023, the resort's operators could start to make a profit.

Program and project managers tend to focus on these quantifiable and measurable objectives. But it can be hard for them to grasp intangible or abstract ideas.

Yet it is the intangible that usually informs the core values of any successful company. The intangible part is what we tend to ignore: the organizational cultures and styles.

In A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) -- Fourth Edition, an organization's shared vision, values, norms, beliefs and expectation is called "organizational cultures and styles." The PMBOK® Guide also says an organization's direction or objectives are usually defined by its enterprise environmental factors.

Take The Wen-Wan Resort, for example. The resort's sponsor and president, Wen-Wan Tang, has a unique background that led him to found and operate the resort in a way that gives pleasure to guests and gives back to society.

Mr. Tang owns more than 20 organizations. He used the profits from these businesses to fund the construction and development of The Wen-Wan Resort. He believes that if you're successful, you should help improve the society that allows you to enjoy to such success.

Mr. Tang sees the resort as a way to help develop the local economy. It not only creates jobs in constructing the resort but also in staffing the resort. Plus, the resort's visitors support local companies and businesses.

In this way, Mr. Tang has shown "organizational cultures and styles" by helping to develop the local economy.

What are your organizational cultures and styles?

Editor's note: Photo courtesy of The Wen-Wen Resort.

Project Professionals: Don't Let a Little Tiger Get in Your Way

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If anyone could get a room full of project and program managers mimicking a jockey on a horse, it's Jim Lawless.

The closing speaker at the PMI® Global Congress 2012 -- EMEA in Marseille, France, Mr. Lawless holds the United Kingdom's underwater deep-dive record and once became a licensed jockey to win a £1 bet. So when he outlined his 10 rules for taming the tiger within -- the voice inside that makes people afraid to take action -- the audience listened.

Mr. Lawless reminded the group that each person writes his or her own life story. "In the end, you're not going to ask 'Did I have a good story,' but 'Did I write it? Or did the tiger dictate it for me?'" he said.
A project or program manager might have a game-changing idea, for example, but is too afraid to take it to the CEO. The result is regret -- because the person let the tiger write the story.

Mr. Lawless' 10 rules for taming the tiger are:

  1. Act boldly today -- time is limited. Taking an immediate, bold step interrupts patterns and demonstrates that it's only the tiger stopping project professionals from doing what they want.
  2. Rewrite your rulebook. According to Mr. Lawless, everyone has an internal rulebook that prevents him or her from taking bold steps. Go ahead and change it up.
  3. Head in the direction of where you want to go every day.
  4. It's all in the mind. Mr. Lawless illustrated his fear of riding in a horse race by coercing the entire audience to get out of their chairs to mime the act. But he reminded the audience that fear tends to come at a time of opportunity. Tame that fear, and seize the opportunity.
  5. The tools for taming tigers are all around you.
  6. There is no safety in numbers. Heroes became heroes not because they blend in with the crowd, but because they stand for something.
  7. Do something scary every day.
  8. Understand and control your time to create change. Time is the only scarce resource, and therefore the most important thing to control.
  9. Create disciplines -- do the basics brilliantly. Project professionals must figure out what it's going to take to achieve their goal and then do those disciples every day -- brilliantly and without fear.
  10. Never give up. Commit to your end point, and nothing short of it. When Mr. Lawless pledged to dive to 100 meters (328 feet), he didn't go to 80 meters (462 feet) and see if he could go the rest of the way. He committed right from the start.
With those inspiring words, congress came to a close, with project professionals streaming into the French sunlight to tame their own tigers.

Pay Attention to Your Project Management Career

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Throughout the workday, project professionals are bombarded by an overwhelming number of stimuli. And yet we can only take notice of a very small number of things.

The majority of what we encounter simply has to be ignored. At a subconscious level, our brains constantly sift through all of the inputs, deciding what can be ignored and what warrants consideration at a conscious level. This process is managed by the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

When we learn a new word, for example, the RAS sensitizes the unconscious mind to that word. When we encounter the same word again (which we had ignored in the past), we will immediately take notice.

We can take advantage of this sensitization process to help us advance our project management careers by setting an explicit career goal.

In the same way that the "new" word we learned existed before we learned it, there are things taking place in our lives that could be enormously helpful to us in our careers -- but we are ignoring them. Setting a goal sensitizes the mind such that we will take notice of things that we would previously have ignored and we will assign meaning to things that were previously meaningless.

Simply setting the goal mentally does a lot to sensitize the mind to events that can help us achieve the goal. Articulating the goal in writing sensitizes it even further. Reviewing the goal periodically sensitizes the mind further still.

Know what you want to achieve in your career. Write it down. Review it periodically. These three steps will make you consciously aware of your goal and give new meaning to the same old stuff that has been happening all around you.

This "new" conscious awareness will further sensitize the mind to related and useful things. As you then pursue possibilities with such heightened awareness, the process accelerates. All of the sudden, everything seems to become aligned to your purpose.

It was all along. You just weren't paying attention!

Do you have any examples of how goal setting has heightened your awareness of events that have helped you fulfill your goals?

European Commission Makes Project Management Progress

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The European Commission is looking for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth through technology. And it's using project management to get there.

"Project management is at the heart of our activities," said Francisco García Morán, directorate-general for informatics at the European Commission, the keynote speaker at PMI® Global Congress 2012 -- EMEA in Marseille, France.

The commission's goal is to create a new generation of open, flexible and seamless e-government services, he explained. For example, e-health projects could help address Europe's aging population.

The vision calls for innovative digital services, simplified processes and better alignment between business and IT.

Yet the commission has faced many challenges, including insufficient infrastructure, higher workload and staff cuts -- even as it faces greater pressure to deliver value.

Mr. García Morán also said there's a new generation of workers demanding better technology.  "We have to provide the Facebook generation with the tools they're most familiar with."

To help achieve its vision, the European Commission implemented an information services project management board. It also created its own approach based on good practices from around the world, including A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

"We believe we have raised the project management capabilities in the European Commission," he said.

The greater focus on project management has helped the group achieve a more holistic point of view and strike a better balance between business and project management.

There has been some resistance, however, which has to be managed through communicating the value of project management to the staff. "Change management is essential," he said. "It's an area where we are working harder."

In a later session, Stefan Tostmann, PhD, spoke about some of the other project management work at the commission.

With 27 sovereign states, 500 million stakeholders and 23 languages, it can be difficult to identify common project interests, said Dr. Tostmann, CAPM, resource director (acting) and head of financial services, European Commission.

The type of projects addressed can cover everything from aid delivery to IT. And one of the biggest challenges is ensuring that proposed projects can actually be implemented in the member states.

Despite progress, there remains a lingering misconception that project management is exclusive to the IT realm, where project management first took hold at the group.

"There's not a project management culture in the European Commission yet," he said.

Echoing Mr. García Morán's comments, Dr. Tostmann said the commission is facing increasing pressure to prove its own value. "Stakeholders want to know what they're getting out of it."

That means the commission must become more efficient, he says, and like Mr. García Morán, he says project management can help in that process.

Read more about change management.

Top-Down Leadership Doesn't Always Work in Today's Complex World

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There's no single definition of leadership. Whether they opt to emulate Sun Tzu or Steve Jobs, project professionals should assess their teams and organizations to carve out their own leadership strategies, plenary speaker Andy Craggs told project professionals at the PMI® Global Congress 2012 -- EMEA in Marseille, France.

Mr. Craggs, a global business consultant at The Learning Partnership, dubbed today's business world as VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

As a result, the top-down, individual-driven leadership style prevalent 10 years ago is no longer as effective. Instead, leadership must happen at four levels: society, organization, group and individual.
That means leaders must cross boundaries to encourage interdependence, collaboration and innovation among three types of people:

  • Conservers tend to be reliable, promoting the organization's underlying system and values while striving for constant improvement.

  • Pragmatists build cooperation and gather input from as many sources as possible to seek common ground.

  • Originators have long-range vision and seek to lead via new approaches and systems.
Mr. Craggs emphasized to the attendees that they must tailor their message to their audience, as each of the three groups will react differently.

Drawing on his time working with Disney and Apple, Mr. Craggs demonstrated how different leadership styles can be effective in the proper context.
At Disney, the bulk of activity takes place in the operations sector, with the focus on protecting intellectual property and the brand. In the modern VUCA world, though, Disney's top-down leadership doesn't always work. Although the company did enjoy a record box office debut for its movie The Avengers, it has struggled to compete in the application and video game development fields.
Apple takes the opposite approach. The organization's leadership, being more agile and connected across the organization, is more responsive to market changes -- which has allowed it to thrive.
Mr. Cragg concluded his presentation by identifying three types of organizational leadership cultures:

  • Dependent: A top-down, hierarchical structure that can be effective in very large, siloed organizations, like Disney 

  • Independent: Characteristic of organizations with specialized but not necessarily connected functions, such as Apple

  • Interdependent: Typically function with agile, interconnected networks within the organization, a style common at companies like Twitter
By knowing the characteristics of themselves, those around them and their organizations, project professionals can tailor their leadership approach to maximize their chances of success.

Improve Burndown Charts for Your Projects

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Agile teams use burndown charts to show the amount of work completed over time to monitor their progress.

There are three common patterns to look for in a burndown chart. When progress stalls, the line becomes flat. When work is added, the line shoots up.  And sometimes, the rate of work slows and floats above an ideal trend line.

Let's look at some baseline data, reflect on the meaning revealed by the charts and see where teams can improve.

The following burndown charts show how many task hours are left for the team. The goal is to drive the remaining work down to zero by the end of the time-box.
We'll start with a graph of three iterations completed by one team in two weeks. Sprint three is still underway, which you can tell because the line for it is unfinished. But what happened in these other iterations? Sprints1.jpg 

In sprint one, there is a catch-up pattern. The team stalled in its progress from days 8 to 11, and then made a push to finish.  As a result, the team signed up for fewer hours in sprint two. This is common, as teams plan for more work than they can get done at first to help them plan for the next sprint.

In sprint two, the team faced a different problem. A bubble of work formed at the beginning because the team didn't plan the sprint process correctly and had to add work.
Both of those issues in the normal rate of work can confuse efforts to forecast the rate of progress based on the first few data points, allowing for improvements down the line. Instead of looking at the trend from the first day's allocated work, for example, take the maximum amount of work anticipated and plot that from day one.

Ideally, the maximum amount of work will be accomplished on the first day. But in the case of "bubble" sprints where work is added mid-course, drawing a line from the sprint's maximum workload as though it were known on day one will give a better presentation of the ideal trend line.

The next problem is a plateau every few days. The graph originally provided data for 14 days including weekends, not just the 10 working days in the sprint. It looks like the team is unproductive every few days, but it is simply a reflection that they took the weekend off.  Adjust the burndown chart, as I've done below, by accounting for added work and masking non-workdays and your team will have a clearer picture of its iteration's progress.

What adjustments do you make to burndown charts to ensure an accurate depiction?

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