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Give Your Project a Home

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Have you ever been on a project where the team members and the project manager resemble migratory birds? This nomadic existence does not lend itself well to fostering project cohesion and direction. And without a cohesive project team, project performance can suffer. 

In my experience, one of the more effective ways to produce cohesion and focus on a project is to have a central location that serves as its geographic and social home. To create such a home, project managers should build and operate a "project control room." The project control room is a gathering spot for a team to conduct essential project activities with a high level of productive interaction. Having created project control rooms in the past, I can attest they're a great method to increase the overall performance of a project team. 

Here are a few aspects that make for a successful project control room -- and ultimately, a successful project: 

1. Tell the story of the project. The project control room is a great venue to share an at-a-glance view of disposition of a project. This can be done by printing the key artifacts on large-format paper using a plotter and posting them on a wall. These would include, but are not limited to the overall project schedule, current status readouts, risks/issue list, deliverable lists and milestones status. If budget and time permit, project teams can create virtual "printouts" by projecting them on television screens, which also saves a lot of paper each week!

2. Enable collaboration. Design the project control room to foster communication and interaction between people. This can include items such as a group meeting area, private phone rooms, electrical outlets to plug in computers, speakerphones, good lighting, soundproofing and comfortable chairs. In addition, the project manager and at least one member of the project support team should be in the project control room on a recurring basis to support ad-hoc dialogue and meetings. 

3. Offer a visible project destination. Use signage with the project name and objective to make the project control room visible to passers-by. Set the room as the location for regular project meetings. At the start of the project, communicate to project leadership that the project control room is the home for the project and its team members. To reduce expenses and mobilization time, the room could be shared across multiple projects; each team can claim a wall for project artifacts as well as set consistently recurring times to use the room. 

4. Make every detail count. Even the smallest details can contribute to an effective project control room. For example, how many times have you reached for a marker to write thoughts on a board and found the marker empty of ink? Supplying the room with an abundance of office supplies -- such as board markers, notepads, large sheets of paper to capture action lists -- helps reduce administrative distractions. In addition, keep a stockpile of the project team's favorite snacks and drinks on hand. Everyone knows how project activities can consume a lot of energy!  

Creating and operating a project control room goes a long way toward building the cohesion that allows teams to operate at a high level of performance without distractions.

Do you have any good tips for project control rooms? Maybe a recommended type of snack or drink that gets project sponsors to enthusiastically attend project meetings on a regular basis?

A relatively new challenge for many project managers is managing remote project teams. As our capacity to work remotely has increased thanks to greater connectivity and skilled employees who aren't restricted by geography, a new challenge has opened up: How do we effectively manage our remote project teams? Here are three ways that I've found success working with mine:

1. Manage based on outputs. Focus on results -- place an emphasis on what must be delivered, not what activities are taking place. If you find yourself doing the latter, begin the shift simply: The next time someone asks what you need him or her to work on, offer an assignment that is based on a deliverable and that is time-sensitive. That's because activities are not the best metric for measuring team members' participation. Plus, if you are measuring for an end goal, you can often find better and more creative solutions to problems because everyone's on the same page in regard to the goal you are pursuing.

2. Set a clear communication plan. When dealing with a remote project team, it's important to set a clear communication plan -- and to stick to it. If not, the void in communications will be filled by baseless speculation and observations that won't be helpful to your team's success. You can begin to set a clear plan by telling team members exactly when you are going to begin communicating with each member and working with your team to make sure the methods you choose are best for communicating with them. Conversely, you should also work together to create a plan that lays out the most effective ways to reach and communicate with you. Doing so ensures open lines of communication and a proper expectation of what positive, productive communications look like despite the distance.

3. Establish a chain of command. When managing from afar, it's tough for project managers to let go of the desire to manage and control every aspect of the project. But you need to accept that this is nearly impossible, because you're likely to have team members in various countries and time zones. You aren't going to be able to effectively manage every aspect of your projects, so setting a chain of command is vital to project success. This chain of command can be in the form of a work flowchart, for example. The important thing is to have a plan that allows the project to continue to move forward, even if you are half a world away.

If you've never managed a remote team, becoming comfortable with it takes time and testing. But if you start with these three tips, you will find it much easier to take on some of the other challenging aspects of managing remote teams, such as cultural sensitivity, team building, and disconnecting so that you can refresh yourself mentally and physically. 

What are your basic tips for managing remote teams?

The Power of Happiness

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People talk about motivation, work-life balance and developing a productive team. But only a few realize the importance of happiness within this equation. 

Look no further than the recent cricket matches between England and Australia for a very interesting case study of the effect of leadership and morale on sustained team performance.

I'm not going to explain cricket other than to highlight that it's a team game and that each test match takes up to five days, with six hours of playing time each day. It requires sustained concentration, and outcomes are significantly influenced by the collective expectations and attitude within the team. Unlike many sports, a single star cannot make a huge difference without support from his teammates and the playing time resembles that of a normal workweek.

In parts of what was once the British Empire, the game of cricket reigns supreme. One of the sport's major contests is the series of five matches between English and Australian teams every couple of years for "The Ashes." The outcome of each of the five series is of significant national importance -- defeating the "old enemy" makes headline news in both countries. 

Unusually, in the last nine months, there have been two series played: the first in mid-2013 and the second in the current Australian summer. England won the first series 3-0. And after losses in India and England, the Australian team was written off as "the worst ever" by the local press. But then Australia won the second series 5-0, a feat only accomplished twice before in Ashes history, and now they're national heroes. What caused the change?

The difference wasn't in the skills of the players or the support staff (they were basically the same). It was the team's attitude. Prior to the start of the English series, Australia focused on peak performance at all costs. There were rules, curfews and strictly enforced discipline, which led to dissent, internal divisions and disenchantment. 

The Australian Cricket Board decided a change was needed and appointed Daren "Boof" Lehmann as the new team coach just 16 days before the first English test. The change was too late to make much of a difference in the England series, but by the time the Australian series started, Mr. Lehmann's philosophy had made a fundamental -- and enduring  -- change in the Australian team culture. 

With Mr. Lehmann at the helm, every team member is committed to team excellence. And rather than training drills for the sake of drills to drive performance, players want to improve and develop. The drive is intrinsic, not extrinsic. The most often repeated comment among team members is, "Lehmann made it fun again!"

The Australian team members are happy, taking genuine delight in each other's successes as well as providing support and encouragement when things don't go as planned. 

This transformation will undoubtedly be the subject of research in years to come, but my initial impressions of the key skills Mr. Lehmann has used are:

  • Respecting and trusting his players -- garnering responsible behaviors in return
  • Allowing time for life beyond cricket, resulting in a fresh enthusiasm for both the training regime and the game
  • Setting high expectations, but using a supportive style to encourage striving for excellence rather than demanding excellence 
Applying these techniques takes courage (especially under the glare of national publicity). Building a champion team that enjoys its work and challenges is the challenge for any leader, particularly if you want your team to help you push your project through to a successful conclusion. 

How do you make your team's work fun when you need high performance?
As project managers, it's easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of our jobs. For example, if you are in IT, there is always a new bit of code, application or hardware that -- if you invest the time in learning about it -- will make your work easier. 

But I'd like to share the number-one way you can actually improve your project management skills -- and it won't take days of learning a new technology or software. It's by using communication skills you already have in a more focused, conscious manner. 

  1. Build communication into your everyday plan. Project managers tend to get pulled in multiple directions. So instead of being the driving force behind the information flow, you end up reacting to the latest problem or sponsor demand. While you are never going to be free of these things, you can manage them more effectively by creating a communications plan. This can be as simple as having a daily status meeting to cover where everyone is, or as elaborate as a multilayered communications plan that accounts for interactions with sponsors, team members and stakeholders. Either way, start by planning for how you want to manage your daily communication, and your project management will get easier. 
  2. Be specific. We find ourselves dealing with very complex and difficult projects. With this complexity comes the challenge of making clear your directions, instructions, timelines and goals. The best way to overcome that is by being extremely specific. As a project manager, you may not have the industry-specific technical skills needed to understand every aspect of your project, but you should know what goals are driving the project, which means you have the ability to set and understand very specific objectives for your team. This is going to help you not only manage the workflow more efficiently, but your communication with your sponsors, stakeholders and teams will be more efficient because you are going to have more specificity with which to address their questions and concerns.
  3. Show empathy and support. You know what pressure from sponsors, stakeholders and team members feels like. So take a step back and think about how those parties feel as well. After all, you are often at the center of the flow of all information into and out of the project. So to really move your communication and project management skills forward this year, be consciously aware of how the flow of information -- or lack of it -- can make your team and stakeholders feel. Let them know you understand how they feel about being a little behind on the information curve. Express your support for the project and the work that is being done. Often this little step of positive communication can win you big points with stakeholders. 
With these three tips, you can do a better job of managing the aspects of communication that you can handle -- making the aspects you can't always control a little easier to navigate. 

Read PMI's The Essential Role of Communications to learn how effective communication impacts the success of your projects and programs. 

5 Ways to Build Strong Project Teams

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Voices on Project Management guest blogger Dave Wakeman, PMP, is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer and speaker. He works with businesses and organizations to focus on value, efficiency and effectiveness. Past projects include working with the U.S. Census Bureau to improve data reporting for the 2010 Census, and creating the IT infrastructure for an e-commerce site that grew from US$0 to US$4 million in less than 18 months. Find him on the web or on Twitter.

Read his thoughts on how to build project teams below:

One of the core missions of a good project manager is to build teams. You often find, however, that managing and building teams is much easier when described in courses and theory than it is in the practice of managing actual projects. 

But there doesn't need to be a gap. Here are five actionable steps that you can begin implementing today to help your teams become stronger, make you a much better project manager and create an atmosphere that breeds success.

  1. Be an active communicator. A good project manager isn't just the conductor of the project. He or she is also a facilitator for team members' performance and growth. That starts by being an "active communicator," which means you do two things: communicate with your team in a clear and effective manner, and actively listen and turn to your team members for their thoughts and experiences as related to the project. 
  2. Trust your team. You may find yourself in a position where you lack specific technical expertise. In these cases, it is only human to feel stressed, because you may have questions about how you can clearly define the project's success metrics or the performance of your team. But a good project manager turns these situations into an opportunity to build a strong team by not micromanaging and allowing your team members to use their specific job-related expertise.  
  3. Understand your team members' individual motivations. In theory, each member wants to complete the project on time and on budget, and wants to meet the project's goals. In practice, it's much more complex. As a good leader, you must take time to understand your team members' individual motivations. Comprehending their ambitions will help them trust you and will help you better understand how to utilize their unique talents. 
  4. Don't embarrass your team. In sports you hear a lot about "player's coaches." One of the characteristics these coaches share is they never embarrass their players in front of the media. They may take them aside in private and lay into them, but in public, this never happens. You can learn a lot from this. There are stakeholder demands, overruns, limited resources, etc. But no matter what, don't use these things as an excuse to make a scapegoat out of one of your team members. It's a really quick way of destroying a strong project team's morale and cohesiveness.
  5. Be flexible. This is perhaps the most important way to build strong teams. Too often the project plan becomes a rigid document that creates stress, uncommunicative environments and lack of cohesion in a team as a means to protect the project from pitfalls. But inevitably there will be bumps along the project road, so to protect the team from them, you must be adaptable. By focusing on flexibility, you will create strength, which can take many forms -- such as increased trust between team members, momentum to continue despite project troubles, and greater problem-solving abilities and initiative among team members.
What steps have you taken to build successful teams?

Adapting to Cultures, Lessons from my Father

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A few years ago, after I finished a presentation about multigenerational and multicultural teams in Mexico City, Mexico, someone in the audience asked me what kicked off my interest in these topics, which have become a bigger trend in the past decade. The first thing that came to mind was a proverb that my late father used to say to my brother and me: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. He wanted to remind us that we need to adapt to the conditions of our environment.

My father was a member of the Silent Generation. He faced many challenges during his childhood and adolescence, but he was able to adapt to every circumstance and went on to explore opportunities in many fields: factory worker, amateur sportsman, mechanic, and opera and popular music singer. Through his interest in opera, he taught himself foreign languages -- he wanted to know what he was singing so he could add emotion to his act. Later, when he explored popular music, he learned to play guitar and created his own performance style. This is how he adapted to different environments -- by learning constantly and proactively.

Despite being from the Silent Generation, my father was an extrovert in his own way, which led him to be a great relationship builder. During our Sunday strolls in Mexico City, he always looked for tourists who needed directions and took the opportunity to practice the languages he had learned and ask questions about their culture. Adapting is as much pushing yourself to learn on your own as it is learning from others.

And while my father and that good old proverb inspired my interest in these topics, here's one piece of advice I can give you from personal experience: To master multicultural and multigenerational issues, it's pivotal to keep a positive attitude and accept the challenges that different environments offer.

What sparked your interest in multicultural and multigenerational teams? Was it second nature, or did you need to do so for a project?

Cultural Lessons from a Controversial Comedian

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Recently, I re-watched Borat during a long holiday weekend. Though it's a comedy, I think there are important lessons to be learned from its essence, which is an exploration of behavior: how a foreigner's actions — the norm in his or her culture — may seem offensive to another country's native population. In the film, Borat, a fictional journalist from Kazakhstan, travels to the U.S. and makes interviewees uncomfortable with his behavior. You may have had a similar experience when you started working in a multicultural project environment.

The film showed several examples of issues project managers may have experienced in such an environment. From those, I have noticed the following two cause the most discomfort among project team members:


U.S. anthropologist Edward T. Hall invented this term to refer to our personal space. Depending on an individual's culture, the amount of acceptable space around a person varies according to subtle rules. 

In the film, Borat gives a great demonstration of invasion of personal space. He starts greeting New Yorkers on the street with a handshake and a kiss on each cheek. Most of the people react adversely. Some even threaten him. 

Team members in a multicultural project environment may experience similar aversion, particularly during the forming stage. I remember during a kickoff meeting in Argentina with team members from Argentina, Uruguay and the U.S., the Argentine host introduced himself with a handshake and a kiss on the cheek. He started with the Uruguayans, who have a similar greeting. When the host got to the first U.S. team member, he stepped back, extended his arm as far as he could and said, "A handshake is OK for me." In situations like this, warn your team members beforehand that there might be cultural differences, and urge them to be upfront with their preferences while respecting others' norms.


In my experience, stereotyping is the main source of conflicts in a multicultural project environment. In the film, Borat stops at a rodeo dressed as a cowboy to interview a rodeo owner. Because Borat has a large mustache, the owner assumes he's from the Middle East. The owner recommends Borat shave his mustache so he can look "more Italian," which may help him fit in better.

If not managed well, stereotyping may become a barrier and impact the project work. I recently witnessed this during a project that included implementations in Latin America. One of my European colleagues was very vocal about the stereotyped unpunctuality of Latin Americans, recommending strict controls be placed to avoid any schedule slip. I had a private discussion with him to find the source of his concern. It turned out that he had not had previous experience working with a Latin American team, and he was operating on a stereotype. I asked him to give the team members a chance to prove themselves before he set any controls. In the end, his perceptions were unfounded — the team members worked as expected and met schedule requirements without the need for controls.

As projects become more global, project managers need to understand cultural complexities that lie below surface behaviors. I would advise using a holistic approach to find out more about people's cultural values and beliefs. 

Have you learned cultural lessons to apply on your project team from unconventional sources? 

Go for Growth

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One of the key stakeholder management roles fulfilled by project leaders is helping team members grow and improve. Remember, you cannot be successful as a leader unless your team succeeds in achieving its objectives! 

You have four basic ways to develop team members: teaching, coaching, counseling and mentoring. Understanding the differences and selecting the right approach for each situation helps you help your entire team to succeed.


The focus of teaching is to impart knowledge and information through instruction and explanation. The goal for the student is to acquire a skill or pass a test. Learning has a one-way flow, and the relationship between teacher and student is minimal.

Effective for: Simple knowledge transfer. This can be facilitated by external experts delivering focused training sessions or asking a skilled team member to do the teaching. Your job is to make sure the right training gets to the right people at the right time.


Coaching usually focuses on skills development and performance--how to do something better, faster or more effectively. The role of the coach is to give feedback on observed performance, typically in the workplace. The coach is likely to set goals for the student and measure performance periodically as that person develops new skills. Coaching requires a close working relationship between learner and coach.

Effective for: Driving improved performance. Every elite sports team has a committed coach. As a team leader, you need to take this role seriously if you want to lift your team's skills and performance to the elite level!


The counselor uses listening and questioning to build self-awareness and self-confidence in the student. The goal is to help the person deal with something they are finding emotionally difficult. As with teaching, learning in this manner is one-way, and the relationship is minimal.

Effective for: Helping a team member deal with personal difficulties, such as when someone feels he or she has been harassed or victimized. Don't be afraid to bring a skilled external counselor.


Mentoring is a partnership between two people, with an emphasis on mutual learning. Good mentors adapt to the needs of the learner.

The role of the mentor is to build capability and help the learner discover personal wisdom by encouraging him or her to work toward career goals or develop self-reliance. Because the mentoring relationship is focused on the mentee's personal goals it should be kept separate from direct lines of management control; it is very difficult to mentor a direct report. Mentors may draw on a number of approaches (teaching, coaching and counseling) to help mentees achieve the goals they've set for themselves. Because the relationship is mutually beneficial, strong bonds are often forged, which often outlast the mentoring relationship.

Effective for: Building the capability of the learner. Carefully select the people in which to invest the effort and emotion of building a relationship. If it's not right for you, help your team member find the right mentor.

However you choose to develop in your team members, the investment is worthwhile. An empowered, motivated and skilled team is the best underpinning you can have in your quest to be a successful leader.

What combination of methods do you use to help team members grow?

Real Results From a Dinner Joke

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Who said managing projects would be a bed of roses? You have probably experienced the same hardships I have on a few projects, especially if you manage multicultural distributed teams.

Well, the global project I was leading was no exception. We had hit some bumps in the road, but finally found ourselves in an in-person project status meeting in a major city in the United States where the organization was headquartered. 

Brought together were distributed team members from the United States, Latin America and Germany. In the meeting, we all agreed we were in the same boat, but there were still many disagreements and moments of finger pointing. By the end of the day, with no positive outcome in sight, we were tired, frustrated and hungry. The last thing we wanted to do was to see each other that evening, but we still decided to have dinner together for lack of other plans. 

A large circular table held our party of 10. While we read the menus, the server asked us what we would like to drink, and that's when the magic started. 

The server said: "I hear different accents. Are you pilots?" To which I responded no, and then jokingly added: "We are Facebook friends from different parts of the world and decided to pick a place to have dinner and meet in person." My colleagues heard the joke and followed along. 

Then, the server asked us where we came from and about our interests. She became our group moderator. Every time she came to the table, she asked questions, which we answered according to our different cultures and life experiences.

We realized we shared many things in common -- and little by little, we became acquaintances on a personal level. This dinner that almost everyone was trying to avoid helped us connect. 

The next day at the office, even though we were facing the same project hardships, our attitudes had changed. We worked together to define an action plan to bring the project back on track. We also agreed to stay on site for the next two weeks to implement the plan. 

And during our free time, we kept bonding by participating in shared interests. For example, those who were runners ran together in the morning, while others who were auto-racing fans visited a go-kart track near our hotel. At night, the wine lovers taught us about vintages over dinner.

How do you foster bonds with distributed multicultural teams? What team-building exercise has yielded good results? 

Share your thoughts below along with your Twitter handle, and Voices on Project Management will publish the best response as a blog post.

10 Commandments of Email Communications

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To yield expected results, a distributed project team must first speak the same language when it comes to communications. 

With that in mind, I developed a basic set of email communications rules called the Project Communication Decalogue. I require everyone on my team to adhere to it when emailing each other, and I introduce it the first time I meet with a new team or member. When everyone is on the same page, it makes for leaner, cleaner communications.

  1. Don't be cute in the subject line. Attract the attention of the recipient using powerful, descriptive language in subject lines. Include a call for action when needed, including statements like: URGENT, FOR YOUR IMMEDIATE ATTENTION or ESCALATION REQUIRED.
  2. Limit the distribution list. Include only the interested parties in the messages. Beware the "Reply All" button.
  3. Start fresh. Remove unnecessary email trails -- for example, when the messages start to deviate from the original topic. Better yet, when possible, create a new message to continue the discussion.
  4. Manage response expectations. Let your team members know the reason for a delay, in the event you are not able to take immediate action on a request or conversation.
  5. Filter and follow the thread. If the number of messages on a topic starts to get out of hand, sort them by subject or conversation. Return to the first of the sequence to find clarity on the issue at hand. Then, scan the rest of the message's trail to determine what requires attention and action.
  6. Do not engage in email battles. Avoid confrontation online. It is just not productive and creates clutter in your inbox. If you spend more than 10 minutes crafting an email, you are better off scheduling a meeting or call with your counterpart to address the problem in an actual conversation.
  7. Turn on auto-reply. As a courtesy to your teammates, enable the "out-of-the-office" feature. Specify your length of absence from the office and who will be covering while you are out. 
  8. Make thorough meeting invitations via email. List the agenda and attach any documents that will be reviewed during a conference call. Do not send documents minutes before the call, expecting that attendees will be online.
  9. Always include the meeting location. In the location box of your calendar invite, include the meeting room data and any pertinent communication information, such as the conference bridge number and PIN. 
  10. Check the availability of meeting participants. As many email clients allow you to check a participant's availability, do not send calendar invitations knowing that one or more participants are unavailable. This will reduce email traffic. 
From experience, the adoption of these rules takes a few weeks. But once you get buy-in from all team members, email communications become a smoother process, freeing up time to focus on much more important project tasks.

What are your basic email communication rules? How do you get your project team to speak the same language via email?

Fostering Cultural Awareness — Right from the Start

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Establishing a connection early on among team members is essential, but it can get complicated when they're from different parts of the world.

One of the elements I consider is what anthropologist Edward T. Hall describes as a person's cultural context level. Higher context cultures -- such as Italian, Latin American, Chinese and Indian -- place great value on interpersonal relationships. Lower context cultures -- such as U.S., British or German -- emphasize directness and logic. For example, non-verbal communication is more important in higher context cultures. In higher context cultures, the contract is a starting point for negotiation. In lower context cultures, the contract is the contract.

By understanding an individual's personal, national and organizational cultures, you can better align the team and gain greater influence.

I didn't just read up on this theory. I lived it. While leading a project in Brazil in 2001, some U.S. team members told me they were uncomfortable with how Latin American team members greeted them with hearty handshakes and kisses on the cheek.  

I knew I had to address the issue early on to set the tone for the rest of the project. So during our next meeting, I eased into the topic by showing clips of people greeting each other in movies or sitcoms, making sure none were from the United States or Latin America. Afterward, I asked team members how they would react if they were in a similar situation. This was a revealing moment as the team became aware of their cultural differences by "seeing" themselves in the video clips. This broke the ice and opened the floor for candid discussions. 

Since then, I've included cultural differences on the agenda for every first team meeting. I use that time as an open forum for us to share and record cultural experiences. I also create a repository with documents and video clips that can be later used to induct new team members.

I've shared this experience with peers, who agree that cultural awareness is a skill that should be developed and mastered. Incorporating a cultural differences exercise establishes respect and empathy for diverse values and behaviors, which in turn creates an open and accepting team environment.

How do you handle cultural differences of your team members at the start of each project? What are you doing to build cultural awareness?

6 Communication Tips for Distributed Agile Teams

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Distributed agile teams have to overcome distance and time to achieve what Alistair Cockburn describes as "osmotic communication" -- tacit knowledge and spontaneous discussion. Speakers at an October 2012 summit on distributed agile teams offered six tips for improving high-bandwidth communication:

1. Make a Time Zone Table. You may know this already, but this tool is a must for finding times for meetings required by your agile process, including daily Scrum meetings, estimating, planning, demos and retrospectives. To create one, use a spreadsheet to list rows of times for potential meetings and corresponding time zones for all members. For example:

PMI Voices Bill Krebs Time Zone Table.pngMind the International Date Line and daylight savings time. Then apply your matrix to a range of dates, before or after daylight savings time changes. For example, a December call between New York and India would be at 7:00 a.m. EST/5:30 p.m. India time -- but in June, it is 4:30 p.m. India time. Online date and time tools are useful when putting together this matrix.

Be aware of each location's typical work hours, and make a separate table or calendar of holidays. 

2. Break language barriers. Even when remote team members speak the same language, don't assume smooth communications. For example, some people have heavier accents than others. Language barriers can particularly impact the efficiency of agile teams, which include daily standup meetings. One solution is to assign a spokesperson with better language skills in the team's common language (English, for example). Also, be mindful of cultural metaphors and idioms that may not make sense in other countries. 

3. Increase visibility. Because agile teams use task boards to show stories and associated work, communications can become complicated for distributed teams. To show the many visual elements used in agile -- from notecards on a wall to task boards -- teams need to think beyond web cameras. Try using online tools, which can range from free task boards to full-service applications with analytics and portfolio management. Or opt for spatial collaboration environments such as Terf©. Terf shows cards for each task on the wall in the context of other charts and team members. Online virtual rooms deliver contextual information and a sense of co-presence, where distributed agile teams experience the collaboration they are accustomed to in a face-to-face environment.

4. Improve sound. Agile teams rely on high-bandwidth communication. And clear audio is essential in the frequent meetings necessary in the agile process. So if you are using voiceover IP, avoid wireless for a more stable connection. Little things go a long way in improving sound quality, too. Use a USB headset or ear buds to avoid feedback and echoes from built-in speakers. Consider investing in a better microphone. Some have digital signal processing to reduce noise, some are excellent for large rooms and some have different patterns to accept or reject sound. Finally, provide text chat for backup communication and questions during a long discussion. 

5. Go on the record. Recording audio from conference calls and screens from slide presentations keep team members informed if they cannot attend in real time. This is especially helpful for informing offshore team members in crucial content meetings, such as agile planning. Just beware that without the interactivity, it is harder for people to remain engaged. So with recordings, try to keep it short.

6. Organize by component, not role. Some teams may be tempted to assign people in one location one role. Yet team members on agile teams are encouraged to share roles. So what's the solution? Cross-functional teams by location, working on a subset of your project. This improves communication between locals, reducing overhead.

What communication challenges and solutions have you experienced for your distributed teams?

Go beyond communication tips -- find out how to apply measures and metrics of agile techniques into your projects. PMI members can dig deeper into the topic, with expert tips on the many facets of agile.

Project Adjournment for Virtual Teams

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While project managers often talk about building a virtual team, they rarely discuss disbanding one. I recently adjourned the virtual team I'd led for the past four years. As a dispersed team, we initially experienced some issues around cultural differences. But we came together eventually and produced the expected results for the organization. When the time came to close the project and disassemble the team, a different kind of challenge arose. 

The first issue I encountered was that some team members didn't want to leave the team. Over the life span of the project, we'd built a strong bond. And there was another layer of complexity as team members' cultural traditions and values informed how they expressed their disappointment.

As I helped the team to reach closure, I discovered the more "face-to-face" time, the better. I tried to reduce the distance that separated us with video conferences. During these meetings, I would explain that team adjournment wasn't a loss, but rather an opportunity to meet new people and take on new tasks. With some team members, an impromptu call before the adjournment meeting worked fine. With others, I scheduled a conference before and after the meeting to ensure they would be okay. 

The second challenge was preparing team members for their next project assignment. During the transition process, it was important to see their reactions, so video conferences were helpful here as well. I also tried to keep the focus on how team members could leverage their experiences in our project for their next assignment. Finally, I introduced some team members to project managers in need of skilled resources. Two of my former team members joined projects this way.

In the end, the team members understood that our strong bond wouldn't end just because the project did. We're always just an e-mail or a phone call away.

As a virtual project manager or team member, what challenges do you face during team adjournment?

Make Your Project Communication Really Sing

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The core purpose of communication is to share information or direct a behavior change. This is particularly true of communication with your project team members.

The challenge of effective communication is keeping a consistent point and changing your presentation and rhythm to avoid becoming boring.

Great communicators use a similar approach to great music. It does not matter if you listen to Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5" or Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." You find consistency and variety in both. Patches of high intensity contrasted with quieter movements create a memorable and complete masterpiece.

The same effect can be achieved in your communication by balancing positive and negative elements of a message or changing the direction of the information flow.

For example, if you want someone to stop an undesirable behavior, point out the problem, but also highlight the benefits of the change you want to occur. Or rather than telling the team they are behind schedule, change the direction of the information flow and ask them for ideas to regain the lost time. The point you are making is consistent, but the variety in presentation leads to engagement.

Another key element is to finish on a high note. Great music does not fade away. It builds to a crescendo!

Great communicators such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Winston Churchill had a consistent, heartfelt message they communicated in a way that would create a strong reaction in their listeners.

Both had different speaking styles, but each had a real sense of rhythm and performance. Their speeches are carefully crafted for effect, but the presentation adds enormous weight to the message.

While you may never need to 'fight on the landing fields' or 'have a dream' to change a nation, taking the time to think through how you will present the information in your communication in a way that is engaging and memorable will help you be more effective in getting your message across to your audience.

Do you spend more time drafting your message or thinking about how you will communicate the message?

Foster Growth for Junior Project Managers

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How can you still use the people you currently have on your team rather than replace them?

One suggestion is to look to your junior project managers, provided that they are sufficiently skilled, to complete the work that needs to be done.

But how do you train the junior project manager quickly and sufficiently?

As project managers, we, especially those with credentials, have a strong belief in this profession and the desire to advance our knowledge and practice. Those of us who are already senior project managers have the responsibility to work with our junior project managers or team members and support them in their growth.  

As a project or program manager, you have the power to give them the tools they need to unleash their power as coordinators and junior project managers. As a project manager, you already know how to manage the project. It's up to you to help the less experienced know what they should be doing, what they shouldn't be doing and what tools they should or shouldn't be using.

For example, I worked with one junior project manager who lacked experience in working with those who were directly involved in the business operation. The solution we found was to involve her directly with the business analyst. The business analyst could help the project manager communicate her needs into "business speak." This allowed the project manager to learn, and adjust her management and communication styles.

Knowledge sharing gives junior project managers more confidence. By providing them with an experience working with you on a project, you are creating an environment that fosters growth and development and is fun and rewarding.

Are you a senior or junior project manager? What has your experience been like? How do you foster growth for junior project managers?

Lessons Learned with External Teams

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Many companies only have internal projects, and therefore conduct lessons learned sessions with the same people. But what if you have an external project and you collaborate with team members outside of your organization?  

Should the project manager of the lead organization invite the outside project team to the closing project's lessons learned session?

Here are three tips project managers can use to incorporate external project teams into their lessons learned:

1. Be discreet about company information, but target improvement. Before working on the project, there was likely some type of agreement with regard to proprietary information. This agreement should still be in effect for the lessons learned session. Before you host the lessons learned meeting, talk openly about the processes with the external team to help ensure your discussions are protected.

2. Stay focused on the project. Even during lessons learned sessions for internal project teams, attendees can veer off topic. Try not to argue about which organization was responsible for the mishaps or which company fell short on delivery. Focus on the issues: How can you better prepare project plans with outside parties? How can you review risk and issue lists together? What different criteria should be included in the scorecard that will bring value to monitoring the project and measuring the vendor relationship?

3. Build camaraderie. The two organizations may want to collaborate on a future project or enhancements to this closing project. Prepare questions that will allow the groups to work as one in the future. For example, how did the quality standards benefit evaluating the finished product? If the project relied heavily on documentation, is there any additional information that could be helpful? What communication methods may need to be revisited for the two companies to reach a decision in a timelier manner?
If the third-party is holding separate post reviews on the same project, chances are valuable lessons from one group or the other are being missed. It is not uncommon for the lead organization to have an exclusive session in addition to a combined session. Having both groups present can be a favorable collaborative effort toward building vendor management best practices or improving the next project, the future vendor relationship or just a similar project situation.

Does your organization include the external team in its lessons learned sessions?

The 5 W's of Successfully Working on a Global Project

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Due to the global nature of projects, nowadays it's quite common for project managers to have project teams that include members of different nationalities and cultures.

Rather than making positive or negative conclusions about a culture, project managers need to build awareness and understand that cultures exist relative to each other. The challenge is to determine the actions that will enable them to successfully manage projects and reconcile the relative differences.

Project managers should consider the five W's to successfully work collaboratively on a global project.

Who: Who is working on the project? Everyone. It is rare to find a stakeholder or team member working on a project that has little or no contact with people from a different culture of their own.

What: What skills do project managers need to develop that will make them credible in another culture's eyes?

A project manager may be fluent in one or more foreign languages, for example. While that will help him or her communicate with others, it will not give the project manager the understanding on how a culture understands deadlines or other aspects of business. Project managers must listen and observe while working in a global setting to learn these things.

Where: Where is there opportunity to learn? Project managers should interact with people of different cultures inside and outside of the business world to navigate through unfamiliar cultures. Next time an intercultural opportunity arises, seize the moment to observe, reflect and learn.
When: When is the best time to collaborate with a multicultural team? Select an activity where all or most of your team members participate, such as a project status meeting. Does every culture respect a set meeting time, for example? In some cultures, there are no written rules of time etiquette, and a single event can be interpreted in a multitude of ways.

Why: Why should you care about multicultural traditions? As a project manager, you will have to manage teams that are partially collocated and across time zones. You should be somewhat comfortable in foreign environments and cognizant of local customs to continue learning and effectively conduct projects.

As a global project manager, how do you apply the five W's?

Managing Multicultural Teams

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In my first post ever, I talked about how the "multi" factor plays an important role in projects and how project managers must be prepared to address team issues related to this phenomenon.

As project managers in a global environment, we are now more often expected to lead multi-regional projects. This adds the element of different cultures -- both national and organizational -- that adds can add complexity to projects.

Perhaps your experience is similar to mine when working with project teams in a global environment. My multicultural project team consists of senior stakeholders, a deployment team and a technical support team. All team members have varying experience in the organization, but also can come from very different cultural backgrounds.

There can be a struggle when starting a project in a culture that you are not familiar with. How do you bring everyone together to share a common vision and commitment on the project delivery? I have learned that I need to develop strong cultural competencies to manage a multicultural project team effectively and to establish connections with the team members.

I like to use three tactics when on-boarding a new team member from a different culture:

1. Explain the purpose and benefits of the project to help establish the bond between the team member and the project objectives. Stress the importance of his or her role and how his or her local experience and knowledge will benefit the project.  

2. Discuss any concerns that the team member may have, such as with language or customs. This can also help break the ice and show that you understand how difficult cross-cultural relationships can be.  

3. Emphasize what is important to you, whether it's work ethic or communication methods, and why it's important. Don't assume that all of your expectations are globally understood.

When I manage a project abroad, one of my preferred ways to build cultural awareness is by spending time visiting popular spots where the locals meet. For example, at restaurants, coffee shops, sporting events and shopping centers, you can observe customs, traditions and behaviors.

Your observations in those settings can help to answer your questions about the culture. But it's just not observation that will help you.  People are very proud of their cultures and customs and are often keen to help you understand them. This supports the need to build a rapport with your team, whilst also building your awareness.

It's also important to understand your own culture's norms and behaviors. That knowledge helps guard against interpreting another culture's behaviors in terms of your own unexamined expectations.

As a global project manager, how do you manage a multicultural team?  

Understand Your Place on the Project Team

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Have you ever been at a meeting where someone tries to tell you what you should be doing and how? Even though you are the project manager -- the one who guides the team and makes decisions -- you still have people offering their two cents. The advice can come from a project team member or a credentialed project manager on a different project.  

I have actually done this myself as a project team member. As someone technical, and who also has project management experience and knowledge, I have tried to impart that wisdom to my project manager.

I clearly remember one project manager I would advise on a number of things. It's in my nature that when there's a gap -- whether in communication, documentation, project planning -- I want to point it out.

The dilemma is that if you impart your knowledge too forcefully, you are possibly invalidating the project manager.

In certain situations, that advice becomes unmanageable and puts more pressure on the project manager, not only to manage the project but also to manage you.

If we feel there's a need to bring something to the table that is going to add value to the project, it needs to be brought up as such. You should not expect that the project manager would just implement it because you said so.

Before you even do that, consider asking yourself why you are thinking a particular way about a situation. Why are you asking for the changes? How does it resolve a specific issue that you are dealing with?

Challenge yourself. See if you can adapt and work with your team, deliver what you are required to deliver and, as appropriate, bring up the items that you feel can add value to the project. Understand the value of your place in the project and fulfill on the expectations others have of you.

How do you handle project team members who forcefully suggest their ideas?

Work to Live or Live to Work?

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Working with multigenerational project teams has taught me that commitment is a common attribute for team members of every generation.

But every team member approaches commitment in a different way. Different generations place different values on pursuing work-life balance.

A strong work ethic is a characteristic of the older members of the project team, part of the silent generation. Members of this generation tend to want to work a reduced number of hours to be able to devote time to personal activities.

Baby boomers, the generation referred to as workaholics, consider work a high priority and greatly value teamwork. In my opinion, they are focused on their achievements and are willing to work long hours to achieve project success.

Generation X is good at controlling their time. This generation has a desire to control and set a career path, personal ambitions and work time.

Generation Y is driven by a strong preference for work-life balance. Many Gen Yers look for jobs that provide them great personal fulfillment.

In my opinion, one of our tasks as project managers is to find ways to shed the stress in our project team members' lives. Part of that is to better understand the work-life balance needs of team members from different generations.

To bring a better work-life balance to any generation, define more accurate project schedules based on flexibility, telecommuting and time off.

Tell us about actions you have adopted to meet project goals and still accommodate team members' work-life balance needs.

Maintain Control in Lessons Learned

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In a traditional lessons learned session that is conducted face-to-face, project managers know each person who is present and his or her role on the project.

But technology today affords us the luxury of being able to do many things online -- such as holding a lessons learned session. We can engage with people across the country or someone who may be sitting right next door. Regardless of where someone is located, we must maintain a cordial and professional manner when we interact online.
When you have dispersed project teams -- and even sometimes otherwise -- getting people to stay focused and not be disrespectful to others in a lessons learned session is a challenge.
To overcome this, set the rules for participating in the session. Make sure participants understand them and agree to them. These rules should include:

  • Respect. Allow someone to make his post without experiencing sarcasm, blame or degradation. Emphasize open, honest and polite communications. Project team members will develop an appreciation for each other, the project manager and their organization.
  • Treat people as if they are right next to you. Use a tone of courtesy that can be recognized in any language. Respect the person's time and keep posts brief. Do not veer off on other conversations -- stick to the discussion.
  • Put a face to a name. Many applications allow photo uploads. When someone responds, everyone can see who is participating in the discussion.  
Setting the right tone in these sessions can lead to so many other opportunities. For example, when good feelings are engendered, it helps to build your team and other business relationships. You can learn more about each person, such as associations they may belong to or networking contacts that you can use for future collaborations and project guidance.
When you maintain control of the meeting and employ general courtesy, it keeps the discussion flowing and ensures everyone gets the information needed about lessons to be learned.
How do you maintain control in lessons learned sessions?

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?

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?

Coach Your Project Teams by Example

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Have you ever thought that as a project or program manager, you indirectly set a precedent on managerial style, behavior, competencies and professionalism. Unconsciously, we are showing our team members how to manage crises, deal with stakeholders and so on.
There are many ways that we can unknowingly coach our team members. When dealing with stakeholders, for example, project managers have the authority to set limits and control the discussion to stay on the subject. To be able to do this, we need to know the business process at both a high level and in terms of the customer's business goals.

In dealing with stakeholders, we indirectly coach our project team members to do the following things:

  1. Exercise a project manager's authority when the situation calls for it
  2. Understand the strategic direction the customer is embarking on
  3. Display at least a little business acumen and subject knowledge
  4. Communicate direction effectively with the objective of getting good results
  5. Control meetings and discussion; ensure objectives are met within the allocated time
As project or program managers, we need to tackle our day-to-day tasks strategically in order to be an effective coach and leader. Our team members observe every communication we make and actions we take.

How have you indirectly coached your team members in your projects? What examples do you set for your team members to follow?

Read more posts on coaching teams.

The Optimistic Team for Project Management Success

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"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." -- Winston Churchill

About 100 years ago, Ernest Shackleton was looking for a crew for a challenging project: to produce a map of the South Pole. It is said that he published an ad in the local newspaper looking for team members with creativity, a good sense of humor and technical skills.

Fast forward to the present day. Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, is the founder of positive psychology, which focuses on the study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character and healthy institutions.

Dr. Seligman theorizes that in order to choose people for success in a challenging job, you need to search for aptitude, motivation and optimism.

This "explanatory style" theory, which indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, can be applied to teams, too, according to Dr. Seligman. He based his hypothesis in three basic predictions:

If everything else remains unchanged, the individual with a more optimistic explanatory style will succeed. This happens because he or she will try harder, particularly under bad circumstances.

The same thing should hold true for teams. If a team can be classified by its level of optimism, the more optimistic team should achieve its goals, and this will be more evident under pressure.

If you can change the style of the team members from pessimistic to optimistic, they will achieve more, particularly under pressure.

The next time you need to pick a project team member, consider their optimism in addition to his or her technical competencies.

How do you choose your team members? What characteristics do you take into account when integrating members to your team?

Read more from Jorge.
Read more about teams.

Make the Most of Your Agile Project Coach

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During your project management career, you may encounter an agile coach -- someone who helps you or your project team adopt and improve agile approaches.

Let's look at four types of coaches and how to best utilize them:

Fly in, fly out

This is usually a consultant who comes for a one-time session. He can provide a fresh perspective from having worked with several organizations.

Be sure the session is long enough for the coach to assess the state of your organization. Let his input be uninfluenced by your existing perceptions. Deploy the coach's suggestions in your own way or get him back for more extended consulting. If the coach's observations seem extreme, don't be surprised -- it may be necessary to get to the issues in a short amount of time. 

Continuous outsider

This "contract coach" typically spends a few months advising a team or an individual. This arrangement offers more continuity, as the coach can observe the flow of the process through all stages and still maintain her independent view. 

To get the most of your contract coach, be sure to include her in most meetings of the teams being helped. Do not think of these coaches as separate from your team just because they are not regular employees.

One insider

Some agile coaches will work alone, as a full-time employee. This situation is advantageous because the coach can set clear direction for an agile team without a potential conflict of interest among his and the proper organizational strategy.

While this arrangement assists in quicker implementation of decisions, it may not allow for as many fresh ideas. It can also be hard to scale the coaching effort to more agile teams as organizational needs grow.

Team of insiders

Some organizations employ an entire team of coaches, which is effective when working with difficult teams because the teams and coaches can support each other. For example, a team may have trouble adopting key practices, but pointers from another coach may help get the team unstuck.   

Multiple agile coaches can also balance the workload of coaching multiple teams so no one is overloaded.

The hazard is that the coaches may splinter into competing ideas on how to execute agile. Establish a process for when the gurus do not agree on which agile practices should be emphasized. Strive for a balance of standards and the ability to evolve as new practices emerge from the profession or successful teams.

In general, make sure there is synergy between your agile coaches, tools team, education people, and corporate governance or process definition body.

How do you best work with an agile coach?

See more posts on agile.
See more posts on teams

Empower Project Team Members

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Project teams are built of people with multiple layers of skills and competencies. A few will be selected as project leads to have less responsibility than a project manager, but more than a team member. Project leads ensure smooth task management and reporting flow, but how many of them are allowed or trusted to make decisions? What level of decisions can they make?

The key to empowering a team member lies in the project manager's ability to get to know the person's strengths and weaknesses. Some people, although highly skilled, are weak at managing customers. Some have the ability to influence but aren't necessarily good at managing time.

In one of my earlier posts, I talked about delegating work to team members as a way to help them succeed. To be able to delegate effectively, project managers simply cannot pick one person and assign him or her a task without carefully considering that person's skills.

When empowering team members, the same rules apply. In some cases, you can only see the true colors of a person through action.

First, select someone with a suitable background and competencies. Then test the person with small decisions or tasks. Check if he or she can communicate effectively by having conversations to gauge his or her ability to think and act proactively.

When you empower team members by giving them greater responsibility, you can significantly improve the way a project is managed. Deadlines that require input or quick decisions can be met promptly, for example. Customer satisfaction can be improved because a team member doesn't have to go through layers of approval. And, those empowered team members may get a confidence boost.

What decisions do you trust your team members to make? Have you experienced any negative impacts by empowering team members? Do you think empowering team members improves project delivery?

"Requirements" for Managing Your Project and Team

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Editor's note: The title of this post was changed on 9 December 2011.

Do you make time to identify your requirements for managing a project? Sure, you plan and manage the project, but as a program or project manager do you also identify your needs for running the project and the team?

It's important to know what we require of our team and stakeholders. When these needs are clearly identified and communicated, it's easier to track and manage the related project tasks and variables.

For example, I recommend that you require your stakeholders to attend meetings and give input during the change management process. You'll need the decision makers to assist you in evaluating the need for change.

When you set and express this participation as a requirement, your stakeholders understand your requirements and their own importance. Further, when a change is requested during the project, it doesn't come as a surprise that you expect stakeholders to be involved in the process.

When it comes to your project team, maybe you require team members to be on time for meetings and to submit progress updates. Communicating this as a need and setting the expectation helps ensure that team members give timely feedback when needed. When team members meet this particular need, you're able to meet your own deadlines with the customer.

Setting and communicating project management requirements are nothing new. For the most part, these needs are automatically expected from everyone involved in the project. But failure to pen down and communicate each need usually leads to more project challenges. For example, team members may start to argue, finger-point or shake off their responsibilities. There's also the possibility of missing a milestone -- and that's something to avoid.

Take time as the project manager to set your requirements for running the project. And do so as a high priority.

What requirements do you establish for managing a project? Do you communicate these to the project team and stakeholders?

Distributed Agile Teams: Beyond the Tools

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Many of today's agile project teams are distributed around the globe. While simple implementations of agile processes assume co-location, in larger enterprises, this is rarely the case. Selecting tools to assist remote communication helps, but it's not enough.

Here are some human factors to consider, beyond the tools, to work successfully with a distributed team:

Cultural differences can become apparent when working with global talent. Some people are uneasy if some social small talk is omitted as part of doing business. Some are uncomfortable if we don't simply get to the point. This affects agile teams as they implement practices such as self-organization, pair programming, and retrospectives. Remember people's assumptions can vary.

Time-zone differences can be helpful by providing longer hours of coverage. But check with your teams on when they begin and end their workday. Different cultures have different laws and traditions on when to go home. Not all people have private transportation, and not all countries use daylight savings time.

Finding teams in compatible time zones can be an advantage with more hours of coverage, if the hours and needs are remembered. Partnering with teams that are north or south of each other makes this easier because the time difference is less extreme.

Communication differences among distributed teams also require forethought. Agile teams will notice a need for engaging and informative tools in their story grooming, estimating, planning and retrospective meetings.

Telephone calls can be awkward because there is no visual cue as to who is speaking and no person to look at. Also, sound varies for each person depending on if they are in the same conference room, on a speakerphone, using a headset or cell phone. Make it a point to include people on the phone if part of the group is face-to-face.

Video conferences or webcams might be a better option. Be aware of the background so it is not distracting. Also be aware of the lighting quality and direction -- illuminating an attendee's face is better than a dark silhouette.

Spatial user interfaces, which extend traditional graphical user Interfaces by using two or three-dimensional renderings, give people someone to look at and allow positional body language and gestures to convey nonverbal information. However, be sure to allow training time for participants so they can make the most of these environments before needing to concentrate on a meeting.

By using the right tool and having the right mindset, agile teams can work together across wide distances.

How do you work successfully with distributed teams?

Timeboxed Meetings Foster Efficiency

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Official project meetings normally take up so much time that most see it as time wasted. How do you ensure you're getting or delivering information that you want without wasting time? How do you train your team members to be more efficient in sharing information you need?

There is one technique in agile scrum that I particularly like and have found very useful. I'm pretty sure this technique has been around for a long time, only now they have a special name for it: the timeboxed meeting.

Timeboxing is typically used when a project schedule is divided into separate time periods -- each period has its own schedule, deliverables and budget.

When you apply timeboxing to a meeting, each team member answers three questions:

  • What was done yesterday?
  • What challenges were faced?
  • What is the plan for today?
Ideally, three minutes is given to each person to answer in a timeboxed meeting. So if five people are giving updates, only 15 minutes is spent in total. Upon finishing, members immediately go back to completing their tasks. If anyone is unable to attend the meeting, an email containing answers to the three questions suffices.

In reality, having team members summarize their last 24 hours into three minutes is challenging. Without focus, and practice, they will undoubtedly fall into the trap of over-elaborating and, worse, finger pointing.

In the beginning, you might want to try five minutes per person, but reduce the number of participants. This means you will have more than one session of timeboxed meetings. As your team gets more comfortable, start reducing the time and adding team members per session.

Remember, the idea is to hold these meetings daily with the objective of sharing updated information quickly. As an added benefit, you're indirectly coaching your team members to be more focused and efficient.

As project managers, we have to determine whether a technique is counterproductive. If the idea of having a daily update meeting seems too taxing, try holding them every other day. If you feel that getting team members together at one time is difficult, improvise and ask them to send text messages or email instead.

Have you used timeboxed meeting techniques? What methods do you use to increase the reporting efficiency within your project team?

Manage The Knowledge Gaps

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To be great in project management, we can't only be familiar with our role as the project manager. We must be educated about other roles in the profession, as well as most, if not all, knowledge areas.

But project managers often do the work they like and are familiar with, rather than work that needs to be done. Even if it's work that contributes to a project's overall success, I find that many of us focus on tasks that we're familiar with or that we already know we're good at.

Regardless of how great I am with some tasks, I know that I must fill in my own knowledge gaps with team members' expertise. Because in addition to being a good project manager, the real trick to getting things done is surrounding myself with a capable, well-trained project team.

Instead of trying to learn everything and being everything to everyone, I accept that I won't always know it all. I ask for input from the team on a regular basis. This makes the team feel needed and appreciated for their contributions and makes the project execution more efficient.

Do you tackle the tasks you're good at rather than those that need to get done? How do you balance your own expertise with that of your team members?

Establishing a Culture of Acknowledgment

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Editor's Note: In response to a recent comment on the "The Power of Acknowledgement," by Judy Umlas, commenter Lina asked, "Would you mind explaining or giving the steps to start implementing the acknowledgment culture in a team?" The following is Judy's response.

Lina, I think you have asked a very important and worthwhile question.

Here are some steps you can take to establish or enhance a culture of acknowledgment (and appreciation) on a team:

1. If you're a project leader for a new team, all the better. At your project kickoff meeting, announce that you have heard about the value of acknowledging team members for their accomplishments, and for who they are and what they bring to the team.
Be clear that people should only acknowledge team members that they truly feel deserve it. Otherwise, the acknowledgment will fall flat and be considered insincere. If the project is already underway, set up some specific time to discuss this at one of your regular project meetings.
2. Make the statement that everyone has a unique talent or gift that they bring to the team. Stress that they are all tasked with finding these gifts and talents.
3. In my book, The Power of Acknowledgment, I discuss 7 principles of acknowledgment, which can be summarized as follows:

  • The world is full of people who deserve to be acknowledged.
  • Acknowledgment builds intimacy and creates powerful interactions.
  • Acknowledgment neutralizes, defuses, deactivates and reduces the effect of jealousy and envy.
  • Recognizing good work leads to high energy, great feelings, high-quality performance and terrific results. Not acknowledging causes the opposite.
  • Truthful, heartfelt and deserved acknowledgment always makes a difference in a person's life and work.
  • Acknowledgment can likely improve the emotional and physical health of both the giver and the receiver.
  • Practice different ways of getting through to the people you want to acknowledge.
Ask people how these principles "show up" for them. Do they recognize that being acknowledged is an innate human need? Without it, people cannot survive, let alone thrive.

4. Share with them Stephen R. Covey's quote from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: "Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is ... to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated."

Keep the conversation about acknowledgment going throughout the life of the project. Then, do a wildly successful job as a team. The culture of acknowledgment and appreciation will allow that to happen.
How do you create a culture of acknowledgment within your project teams?

Coaching Through Process Improvements

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Being involved in process improvements can feel similar to being audited -- not pleasant. So how do you make the period of process improvements more manageable for your team members, especially when they are project managers themselves?
When creating process improvement initiatives, look at it as an opportunity to motivate your team members. Morale is likely low and improvements should be made. Hand-hold your team members during the process. Instead of sitting in front of them like an interviewer would, sit next to them -- be a peer. This will help them see that you're making things better, not making their lives messier.
For example, I'm currently spearheading a process improvement initiative where the objective is to improve the current project management techniques for project implementation. Before I even started this project, I was told that I'd face some adversity. But I have a plan.
I want to make the initiative as painless as possible, so I plan to turn the investigative process into a learning process -- both for my team members and myself. I will take on a student's point of view, rather than as the instructor, because I'm learning, too.

I'll also try to be more open. I want my team to share their plights and success stories with me. I'd like to construct a scenario in which my team members learn new things from their experiences, seeing the areas that can be improved or approached differently for themselves.
It is a common saying:  Things will get worse before they get better. Managing team members during process improvement period is like that. They will dislike you before they like you. Adversity is to be expected, but as the saying goes, impossible odds make achievements more satisfying.

What do you think a project manager should do to garner cooperation from team members during a process improvement initiative? How do you turn process improvement initiatives into a learning process? How do you manage team member resistance to change or idea makeovers?

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.

Answering the Loaded Question in Project Management

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In project management, loaded questions can cause massive problems on project teams.  As the project manager, it's your job to keep things under control.

Loaded questions usually carry some form of presumed fault. Here's an example: "Why didn't so-and-so provide us a project update on time?"

When someone -- project team member, stakeholder or client -- asks you such a question, how do you react? Do you answer it directly or do you try to defend yourself or your team, escalating the situation further?

In my opinion, the fastest and most effective way to respond to a loaded question is to address its underlying concern. When you address the issue rather than what is being asked on the surface, you create a safe environment where a person is understood.

Recently, I was in a situation where my first reaction was to defend myself and completely bash the opposing view. I stepped back and looked for their concern about the incident that occurred rather than jumping into defense mode.

As a result, I was able to see more clearly why in this situation, the project process was defined the way it was, without pushing my own agenda. Instead of seeing holes in the process, I started seeing what actions I needed to take. When I acknowledged this to the person that raised the question, the original concern disappeared for both of us.

The next time someone asks you a loaded question, answer the concern and not the question. The original issue may simply disappear.

Think about a recent encounter with a project team member or stakeholder where you may have gotten a bit defensive. What would be different in that situation if you listened for the concern behind what they were saying?

Read more posts from Dmitri.

Grooming the Apprentice Project Manager

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How many of your project team members aspire to become project managers? Do you see promise in some of them for this role? How can you impart some of your knowledge and skills to help them be successful?

There are elements of project management in everything that we do. It's your responsibility as the team leader or project manager to point this out to your team members and guide them to see the connections.

A programmer might manage her time and communication, while also helping to develop a module, for example. A junior analyst may manage budget and scope while discussing the change request with the client. Show your team members how the tasks they are performing are also project management practices.

This way, team members can appreciate that the work that they are doing is impacting the project as a whole. If team morale is often low, perhaps members don't see the significance of their work. You can help change their perspective by coaching them to view their contributions differently. 

Not all of your team members will appreciate your efforts. Some of them will feel that it's an interruption of their productive time or that you're meddling in the actual work being done. But by showing the team members how their tasks relate to project management, they will see that project management is present in everything that we do.

And who knows? That skeptical team member could become your organization's next high performing project manager -- thanks to you.

What do you think? Are project team members already performing some tasks of a project manager? How do you coach your team members to become good project managers? 

Working with Multigenerational Project Teams

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As a project management professional for 20 years, I've managed IT projects in a variety of industries and regions, including North America, Latin America and Europe. Most of the projects were regional or global, and the project teams included members from different nationalities, cultures and generations.

Although complexity was a common denominator in these projects, it wasn't because of technology. It was because the people had what I call the "multi" factor: multinational, multicultural or multigenerational project teams.

The "multi" factor plays an important role in projects, and project managers must be prepared to address team issues related to this phenomenon. I hope to do that here, starting with multigenerational teams.

The multigenerational work force has created what I call the "21st Century Organizational Ecosystem." Many organizations may find themselves dealing with generational clashes between a 60-something program manager, a 40-something project manager, a 30-something project team leader and a 20-something project team member. This could just be one facet of this ecosystem.

Project managers should understand the generational gaps in their project teams at the outset of a project. Identifying those gaps at the beginning enables the project manager to discern the preferred communication methods, interpretation of hierarchy and authority, as well as the perception of personal and work time.

Leading a multigenerational project team can be like riding a roller coaster or a day at the beach. It depends on how quickly project managers can enhance their multigenerational behaviors and values to creating the synergy required to have a successful project team.

How have you experienced the multigenerational factor in project teams? How has working with different generations affected your projects?

See more posts about teams.

Avoiding Friction through Project Management

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It can be an obstacle when project teams encounter friction among members, as it impacts their ability to work together and finish a project successfully. Often, that friction can come from a team member's experience in project management -- or lack thereof.

In my opinion, a great deal of control over the project and its outcome depends on how well a project manager or team member is trained in a well-structured project management environment, whether through formal or on-the-job training.

Truly understanding project management practices and how all the components of it can work and integrate together can save a lot of grief and reduce or avoid friction among the team members. It provides the tools for "winning the game."

Project management provides a pathway to successfully managing a project and its components toward its completion. Any given practice of it is regularly fine-tuned and updated based on the experiences of various project managers and their teams.

Equipped with that understanding, project managers must pay attention when there's friction among team members. Project managers can get team members back on track with the project management practice they use, while allowing the team members to focus on the goal: to deliver results in the area for which they are responsible.

Do you think project management training can impact friction among team members? Why or why not?

See more posts from Dmitri.
See more about professional development.

The Value of Project Team Rituals

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A couple of small projects happening in my neighborhood of South Melbourne, Australia have me wondering about the value of many of the trappings and rituals we use in our projects. Do they contribute value to the stakeholder community or not?

One project involved resurfacing a small section of road. The crew turned up with their trucks and road-making equipment, finished the job and left. For the two days needed to complete the job, the workers brought their own lunches or went to a local café.

On the next corner, a production company was doing a shoot for a segment of a TV cop show. They spent a day setting up tents, canteens and support vehicles. They brought a cast of hundreds, including security and canteen staff. Over two days, the cast and crew rehearsed and shot the segment.

The difference between the two worksites had far more to do with ritual-based traditions and stakeholder expectations than actual needs. The facilities provided for road crew were lean. By comparison, the facilities provided for the TV crew were luxurious but possibly necessary to attract the right "talent."

Rituals can certainly be very powerful ways to build identity and cohesiveness in a team. Many rituals, however, may have simply become time-consuming habits.

A good example is the monthly executive review of all projects that has never resulted in a single canceled a project. Another is the Thursday morning team meeting that is called for no other reason than because it's Thursday.

Take a look at the rituals associated with your projects and ask how many of the meetings and processes add real value to the stakeholders involved.

How many should be refined, redefined or altogether abandoned?

What are the most valuable rituals for you and your stakeholders?

See more posts from Lynda Bourne.

See more posts on project teams.

Project Off Track? Regroup, Reengage, Reset

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Elements of the project are falling apart, whether with the team, with the supplier or in your project management domain. Now is the time to regroup, reengage and reset everyone back in the direction of the project goal -- before it's too late.

To regroup, conduct a structured session with the core project team to capture the status of everyone's tasks. The regroup can be in the form of a meeting, brainstorming session or workshop. This way, no one on the team is invalidated for elements that went wrong, and you can show your appreciation for everyone's input. Allow for a discussion of their concerns.

To reengage, work with the team to align with the original goal, requirements and project deliverables.

Then, reset the expectations of each team member, as well as your responsibilities as the project manager. Finally, implement any changes required for the successful delivery of the project.

Separate failure to perform from a lack of teamwork within the group. This action allows you to focus on how to achieve the expected results of the project, with buy-in from the entire team.

What do you when your projects are off track?

Creating the Right Atmosphere for Teams to Succeed

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Whether I'm the project manager or a team member, I am completely in control of the way in which I interact with people on my team.

I regard my team members as powerful individuals, regardless of their knowledge, experience or personality. With this as the context for my interactions, they can achieve results, complete work on time, support their teammates and share their knowledge.

To foster this kind of environment, I ground myself in the project goal. I determine what's required to achieve results efficiently and with great collaborative effort. Then I translate that to find a way I can help the team by being supportive, open, connected, appreciative, or being someone who consistently celebrates the success of others.

Have you worked with someone closely and over time, and found you could support each other and contribute to each other's work, without doubts, worries or concerns? That's what happens when I create an environment that allows me to be with people that way right from the start.  

How do you elevate your team to the next level of performance?

Finding the Shortest Path to Project Success

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What's the shortest possible path from project initiation to completion?

You might say it depends on the size of the project or the work involved. But there's always a shorter path than the one you have in mind -- even for larger projects.

There's always a solution that makes better use of resources while providing faster delivery times. It's like when you play Scrabble® and come up with a word combination that uses the fewest letters and still gives you the highest point value.

Say you walked into a job interview, for example, and you were hired on the spot. Although it seems impossible to get hired just by walking into the room, it's the ability to recognize the possibility that allows you to open yourself up to ideas that you'd otherwise discount.

So what's wrong with the way you currently manage a project from initiation to completion? Maybe nothing. But what if you could get there faster?

Try asking these questions to help you create the space in which actions towards the shortest path will arise:

  • What am I assuming about the project, team or requirements?

  • What am I considering as a roadblock? 

  • What decisions had I already made about the project before it started or before I took it on?

  • What are the actual project requirements?

  • What limitations did I already impose on my team, the organization and myself?
Consider this not as an insight, but as an exercise to get to the shortest path. What do you now see possible?

An Agile Team's Recipe for Success

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In my experience coaching teams, I've found that some stand out in terms of productivity.

Cathy Baker, PMP, is the certified ScrumMaster for one of my favorite agile teams. She has managed projects for 11 years, currently in the healthcare industry. Her team is a good example of a group that has learned from practical experience.

I interviewed Ms. Baker to get her take on how her team improved efficiency and quality.

Your team seems to really 'get' agile. What do you feel are the key success factors for your team?  

Ms. Baker: Strict adherence was certainly one. Rather than trying to bend the rules we were learning, we followed the practices by the book at first. We are gatekeepers of the process with each other. It is not me, the ScrumMaster, doing it. The whole team monitors the process. They challenge each other with questions like, "Is that what we should be doing?"

So you didn't stray from the agile books?

Ms. Baker: After we became fluent in agile, we changed our stand-up meeting to go task by task instead of person by person. Good retrospectives were also a key factor. Creative ideas helped us take agile beyond where we started and made it a custom fit for our team.

So your team didn't start out as agile experts?
Ms. Baker: Oh, no. They weren't born that way. They were tried and true waterfall folks. They were used to heavy plans that left little flexibility for change. Most of them had 15-plus years experience each using waterfall methodologies.

What prompted you to go agile?
Ms. Baker: Management wanted development to go faster and to produce more in less time.

Was there resistance to agile at first?

Ms. Baker: Yes. We heard "This is not going to work," "We'll be back to waterfall in six months," "Why are they making us do this?" "This is just a fad that's going to pass."

What benefits do you find using agile?

Ms. Baker: Agile is definitely more fun because we are so self-organized. We are more efficient and have moderately increased our quality of projects. We have such high buy-in among the team now; people get more and more out of the process as time goes on.

I notice you use a physical taskboard to track tasks?
Ms. Baker: It works. It's clear. 'If it isn't broke, don't fix it.' Of course, the taskboard has been a handicap with the one team member who meets with us by phone, but she can see a related spreadsheet.
I do feel like one of our reasons for success is because all but one of us are located in the same place. Most members have worked on the same team together and average eight years of experience. There is a lot of respect.

Thanks, Cathy for sharing your recipes for success: adherence, retrospectives, taskboards and self-organization.

Successful Project Review Meetings

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I recently attended one of the most focused and efficient project review meetings I've ever been to. It was conducted as a workshop to review the project recommendations proposed to the team. I wanted to share why I thought it worked so well.

Picture this: There was a workshop organizer, who facilitated the meeting. We sat in a large room that could seat about 10-12 people. There were representatives from various suppliers. It was quiet and we were the only ones generating conversations in that space. No cell phones were allowed.

The rules for the review, which were developed and distributed beforehand by the organizer, outlined how we would share our ideas, record decisions and deal with issues that arose outside of the agenda. All participants were reminded that on-the-spot decision-making was required.

The purpose and the goal of the review were clarified. All participants had to either agree or disagree with each decision. If there was a disagreement, a discussion took place to clarify the requirements and bridge the gap to reach a final decision.

Having senior decision-makers present allowed us to get through all the points with velocity. We were able to not only review the proposed changes, but also make policy decisions on the spot and discuss relevant details without doubts or assumptions. We recorded anything that needed further work, like the identified gaps, as actions.

Project teams spend many hours in project meetings, especially when teams are not well connected in purpose, goals and operating as a group. As a result, these teams end up having multiple meetings before generating decisions. When sub teams within a project have their own meetings to work out their portion of a solution in a vacuum, for example, it's easy to spend a portion of a project time unproductively, without reaching important decisions.

In general, I find that many meetings are often not as productive as they could ultimately be. They take place more frequently than this type of a focused workshop. What can you take away from this? Before the meeting or workshop consider setting expectations, be clear on the rules and format, and have each participant agree on how the meeting or workshop is going to be structured and what is expected from each and every one of the participants.

What do you think is essential for a successful project solution or review meeting?

Editor's Note: Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy, Daniel Poneman, also discusses a successful approach to project review meetings in the final portion of his February 2011 podcast for PM Network® magazine.

What Elevators Can Teach Us About Project Management

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People in elevators fall into two broad groups: One group walks into the car, pushes the button and waits for the control system to do its job. The second group has what I call Advanced Button Pushing Syndrome (ABPS). They believe that the more they push the buttons, the faster the elevator will move.

Of course, second and subsequent button pushes add no value at all, but when an elevator arrives after someone pushed the button six times, they truly believe it made a difference. Some people need to feel in control, even if they aren't.

ABPS can be found in the workplace, too.

When a project is running behind schedule or over budget, it's the equivalent of a slow responding elevator.

Project managers with ABPS may demand additional meetings or more frequent reports from the project team. Time and money could be better spent working on the project deliverables, but these resources are diverted to placate the manager's need for control --to the detriment of the project.  

Unfortunately, when the project is eventually delivered, the project manager believes all of the extra reports and meetings helped achieve the outcome. But correlation is not the same as causation. Unfortunately, there is no easy way of measuring how much sooner the project would have finished if the resources had not been diverted by the manager's ABPS.

This isn't a clear-cut situation. It's easy to go from requesting useful information that will help inform decisions to a situation where the requested reports and meetings are actually counterproductive.

The next time you are considering requesting more reports or extra meetings, think about ABPS. Will the diversion from the project's work be constructive or detrimental?

Do you know of project managers who suffer from ABPS in the workplace? How did it affect the project outcome?

Know Your Project Team Members

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One of the first steps you should take as a new project manager is team reconnaissance. And the most valuable information you can get at this stage is how your team members feel about their projects and the process of project management. 

Once you get past the pleasantries, ask each team member what they think of the current project slate. Are there too many projects or not enough? Which projects do they find interesting? Which ones do they feel are wastes of time? 

Take the time to find out how well your team thinks projects have been run in the past. You'll get your best information from the people who actually did the work. Find out what did and did not work.

Find out if your team members understand why some projects were championed and others canceled. This inquiry will show if they understand the sponsor's decision-making process. You'll also learn how far removed team members are from project sponsors (or decision makers).

Dig to see if members "get" what their role is in the implementation of projects. This shows whether they understand how they fit into the project management process and how important they are to the completion of successful projects. 

These meetings don't have to be interrogations. Grilling team members with too many questions at once may put them off. Slowly uncovering your team members' perceptions puts you in a better position to refine your approach. You can also gain buy-in for your approach, especially if you've sensed some reluctance to accepting a standardized project management procedure.

When you find out how far removed your team members feel from projects and processes, you'll be able to make an impact right away. By serving as the connection between the project team and the sponsors, you not only position yourself as the "go-to" person for information -- you also become the voice of the project. You can filter information from the sponsors to team members and take team members' feedback to the sponsors.

By doing a little investigating, you may find that it's the first time anyone has listened to the opinions of the team.

And as a new project manager, showing the team that you've heard them will take you a long way.

How have you gotten to know your new team?

Instill Acknowledgment Into the Corporate Culture

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Normally, I encourage and promote the use of heartfelt and spontaneous acknowledgments. Now I want to talk about the possibility of instituting and practicing a more formal process of recognition simultaneously.

I recently held a webinar with about 60 project managers from Finland. I had been told before the webinar that they didn't believe acknowledgement even existed in their culture. Shortly after this webinar, though, I received an enthusiastic e-mail from Dean Pattrick, PMP, telling me about an internal program introduced at Nokia in Finland. It's called the Peer-to-Peer Recognition Award.

Below is a copy of the certificate he and the company's human resources department put together to recognize achievement in one of the company's four core values, Achieving Together.

Nokia.jpg"So I filled in this certificate for eight people and the response I got from each of them was jaw-dropping," Mr. Pattrick wrote.

Remember, acknowledgment supposedly doesn't even exist in Mr. Pattrick's culture. Yet people were thrilled and delighted with the recognition certificates and the heartfelt comments.

He achieved these results because acknowledgment is a human need, especially at work.

Many companies are starting to institute formal practices like Nokia's and I wholeheartedly applaud them. I also acknowledge Mr. Pattrick for putting this practice into action.

Does your organization have a formal process for recognizing its employees? If so, please share it with us and let us know how you think it is working.

Photo copyright of Nokia and was published with permission.

Implementing Difficult Decisions

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In my last post, I asked what you would do as a project manager if, hypothetically, two key team members could no longer work together after ending their romantic relationship.

Some suggested avoiding the issue, but while that may buy you some time, it doesn't get to the root cause.

Others suggested confronting the problem. Using a proactive problem-solving approach reframes the issues, engages others in the solution and creates opportunities for an all-around positive outcome. Yet unfortunately some conflicts are virtually unsolvable and an important part of a problem solver's role is to recognize this.

I can't tell you what to do, but I can suggest how to handle this. Most dilemmas involve deciding which is the least damaging of the alternatives. But the nasty thing with dilemmas is that making no decision is almost always worse than the most terrible outcome from any of the other options. You have to decide something to minimize the overall damage.

So first, make a call and then seek support of your decision from your senior managers. When you're "advising upward," you must succinctly lay out the facts, your interpretation of the facts and the steps leading to the decision. Then your managers can make an informed decision to support you or to suggest alternatives.

After gaining the necessary support, you have to implement the decision. It will be unpleasant and stressful, but such is the nature of the situation. As an ethical leader, you need to take responsibility for the bad and the good in your project.  

If you handle a situation like this decisively, but also with empathy and consideration for others, you'll find your team's respect and support for you as a leader will be enhanced.

Power Without Authority

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As a new project manager, you're probably not the boss of anyone.

But even though you don't have traditional authority over a team, that doesn't mean you can't get a team to follow you.

You've heard of the person who comes in with the official title, but crashes and burns when working with teams. You've heard of the person with no organizational status who flourishes in working with even the most difficult of team members. What's the difference between the two? The recognition of real power and its source.

Real power doesn't come from organizational charts, barking orders or threatening teams into obedience. Real power does come from giving and earning personal commitment.

In giving personal commitment, you must risk at least as much as do your project team members. It's up to you to be the first to show why the project is important. When team members see that you're sincerely committed to the project and processes, they're naturally more inclined to do the same.

The surest way to earn personal commitment is to include all team members in the project planning process. Your team is probably smarter than you when it comes to a few things. Recognize this and embrace it. Let team members own their areas of expertise and tell you what needs to happen, how and when.

Ownership quickly becomes an investment into the process. Use your influence as well as your leadership and negotiating skills to clear roadblocks, define requirements and refine expectations.

These back-and-forth conversations will ensure that team member investment becomes personal commitment and that projects get completed successfully -- whether you're the boss or not.

Managing Projects and Teams with Velocity

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Velocity measures the rate of motion. In the context of projects, velocity is about teams accomplishing work faster, with less resources, better quality and greater satisfaction.

As project teams get used to each other and adjust to the organization's processes, culture and communication methodology, team members' potential for contribution increases. As team engagement increases and members align themselves toward the goals and objectives of the project, overall performance increases.

Velocity is achieved when team interactions are completely in sync with the project goals, the rationality behind the target dates and the planning it takes to meet those dates.

In a project environment conducive to velocity:

•    There's a clear direction, everyone's roles are clarified and there's flexibility for team members to contribute in other parts as appropriate.

•    Members manage their own time, guided by their mandates or objectives.

•    Teams choose their own method of communication. It could be acquired from other similar projects or specifically designed for the given team.

•    Team interactions -- phone calls, meetings, workshops, etc.-- are managed as the needs arise, rather than "boxing" teams into preset parameters.

On a project with velocity, the force behind the team executing the work gets to be so powerful that it's not the project manager who ends up giving the power to the team. The team itself generates that power and project execution moves with subsequent velocity.

Are you managing with velocity?

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