Change Your Directions!

What is Your Communication Style? I don’t mean do you talk softly, loudly, often or little. I’m thinking about how effectively you communicate. Is your style good enough? I was talking to a colleague the other day about team communication and realized that we really aren’t very good at it. Sure, there are communication plans for various levels of stakeholders in a project, but how do you communicate directly with the project team? Do you give direction the same way with everyone? Do you find it frustrating when your directions aren’t followed the way you’d like? Do you have team members that are consistently missing the mark?

Sure, the team member might have underlying issues that are effecting their performance and could follow directions better with a little extra effort, but maybe it’s you. There might be an opportunity for improvement on your part which can assist them in better performance.

Think of it like this, we all learn in different ways. Some people can learn by simply hearing (audible), some by reading (visual), and yet others learn by seeing or even being coached with hands-on activities (kinisthetic). More often than not, we hear of these learning styles with children, but do we grow out of this as we get older? I would say, probably not. Sure, as adults, we learn how to cope with changes in learning environments, but is that really efficient at all to simply know your weaknesses?

As a project leader (or any type of leader for that matter) how well do you actually  know your project team? While it is your teams job individually to listen intently and understand the directions they are given, it is YOUR job as a leader to ensure the team has the tools they need to succeed.

I recommend trying an exercise over the next month or so. DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind I’m a project manager, not a phycologist, so the durrations may be inadequate or too much but you get the idea. Give your team directions in different ways, utilizing the three methods, and make mental or even written notes on how the team performs as a whole. Which way is the best way for your team to receive direction? Do you notice a boost in performance?

Take it a step further, talk to your team individually. You can try the same exercise as you did with the whole team, or, you can go even one more step further and actually talk to them. See if they can or will tell you how they learn best. Note: Make sure they understand that you are not trying to give them any criticism, even constructively as they might start to get nervous and shut down, or even quit. Tell them what you are doing and what it is that you are trying to accomplish. I believe they will respond positively and your productivity will increase for the simple fact you actually care about them.

The whole premise here is we sometimes think of ourselves as the absolute authority when it comes to giving or receiving directions. I assure you this type of thinking is a recipe for failure and you are setting yourself and your team up for poor performance. Go the extra mile, pay attention to your team and give them the tools they need to hit a home run!

Do you have a favorite method for delivering directions? Tell us, maybe we can learn a technique we didn’t know before.

Dealing with Risk

What is risk? Risk is defined as an exposure to the chance of injury or loss; hazard or dangerous chance.  There are probably other words to describe it, but this works pretty well.

 I recently went on a cruise to the Caribbean. There were two things instantly working against me mentally: the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia in the Mediterranean Sea and the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Don’t think for a moment that my friends overlooked these two facts prior to my departure. They took every opportunity they could to rib me about it. Add to these the fact I have never been on a cruise before and this was a seven night adventure and the fact I was going to countries known for disliking Americans (Honduras and Mexico). Friends also kept telling me how sickness spreads on these ships quickly. Some might say I was taking a huge risk.

 Do you think it was risky?

Perhaps, but I say no. The reason I think it isn’t is because I practiced risk management techniques to minimize these risks or the affects. One, I did research on current vessels to ensure they are safe, looking up sailing to accident ratios. I wasn’t worried and we were not headed into iceberg infested waters. Two I familiarized myself with the ship’s layout including where life vests were located throughout the ship. I knew where to report to in an emergency and how to report one if I noticed it first. I also participated in the ship’s muster drill to find out how I was to get on the lifeboat if anything did happen. I wore a motion-sickness patch and washed my hands often to minimize other smaller risks. I also took into account that even though I was going into countries that were not necessarily great for Americans, I knew we were not going near hot-spots and would be protected fairly well. The consequences could be dire, but the likelihood was low so these were acceptable risks to take.

What does all of this mean and how does it relate to project management? Risk Management is an often overlooked part of project management. This brings me back to the definition or at least part of it: hazard or dangerous chance. Yes it is dangerous! It is dangerous to overlook such a simple process that doesn’t take much time or effort, but can save you time, money, or even your job if things go really bad. Negative things WILL happen and if you do not prepare for it, it will sink you and your project.

So how do I do it, how do I practice risk management? Follow these simple steps and at least get started. There are tons of resources available for purchase or even free in various places on the Internet. But whatever you do, don’t overlook risk management ever again. Enough with the doomsday talk, let’s get to it.

 Step 1: Brainstorm a list with your team on every negative thing you can think of that might happen. Sure, this list can be long and sometimes seem a bit trivial, but believe me, it is not. By practicing step one, you have gone beyond what most will do in this arena and it has already prepared you somewhat for what might happen simply by thinking about it.

Step 2: using a scale from 1-10 (or use whatever granularity you wish) rate how big of a deal that risk is. For example, if dealing with a paper cutter at the office, you might rate a paper cut as a 1 (no big deal). Conversely, you might rate losing a finger as a 10 (HUGE deal).

 Step 3: using the same scale as step 2, rate how likely that risk is to occur with 1 being unlikely and 10 being highly likely.

 Step 4: use some sort of math (I add the numbers together) and determine a threshold for what is acceptable and what is not. For example you can have numbers ranging from 2-20. So, you could rate any activity with a total number of 10 or under as minor risks. Likewise, you would consider anything over 11 as more severe risks needing more planning and perhaps scrutiny. Again, create your own thresholds here.

Step 5: Create your action plan. You can:

  • Accept the risk as it is, taking the chance and dealing with whatever consequences might arise (not recommended for risk totals on the higher end of your scale)
  • Avoid the risk altogether, change your plan so that this risk doesn’t even come up on the radar (these are recommended for the risks with totals on the higher end of your scale)
  • Mitigate the risk, how can you make the impact less on your team or project
  • Transfer the risk to another stakeholder or third party to deal with

Step 6: Train your team on the warning signs. Knowing what to look for is another critical part of minimizing the impact from a risk-turned-event. This step is often overlooked as well. Keep in mind, if you don’t train what to look for, the team might miss the risk coming to fruition.

However you decide to put together your plan, the bottom line is do it. I went on my cruise and had a wonderful time. I stuck to the plan, stayed safe, and enjoyed the great vacation with my awesome new bride. We got home safely and brought some amazing memories and photos with us.

 Remember, asking “What if” can help keep you from asking “What do I do now”!

 What do you do on your projects to prepare for risks? Comment below and tell me!

What Does it Take? A Look into Project Leadership

Project leadership and project management go hand in hand, with leadership having perhaps more soft skills than a person who “simply” manages a project by following some sort of process. I have written several posts about the difference between management and leadership so I won’t get into that topic here. I use the term leader rather than manager because I believe it takes both to be truly successful. Of course, only you can define your success but what others think of your success should play into your definition at least a little, especially your boss.

Project leadership can take on many forms and definitions; there are many widely accepted principles and disciplines to keep you up-to-date on the specific ins and outs of your area of expertise. I will not get into these specifics here. Instead, I want to get into the general skills that it takes to keep you into a project leadership role. Obviously this will not be a definitive list, but rather one that is designed to get you to thinking, “Do I have what it takes to get or keep this thing going?”

  • Have integrity: This is a personal favorite of mine because so many people do not, even some so-called leaders. Without integrity, your team will not follow you because they will not trust you.
  • Trust and empower your team members: If you do this, your team will go to the ends of the earth for you and everyone will reap the rewards.
  • Communicate Honestly: Having good communication skills are essential in any leadership position. As a project leader, you must communicate honestly so there are no surprises at the end of the day when the sponsors think everything has been going smoothly, and it hasn’t.
  • Be organized: Keep project files organized on the server (not your local computer unless it is backed up daily). Make sure all stakeholders know where the documents are that affect them.
  • Know how to create and maintain a schedule: Get your team invoved early so you can estimate your man-hours. Once you have buy-in from your team, they will be more likely to work towrards the deadlines rather than resenting it, telling you it is just too aggressive.
  • Know how to create a budget: Estimating is big! At the end of the day, you will need to make every effort to stick to your budget. You got buy-in from the team on the time estimates, so use them to create your budget and include other resources, expenses, and other capital items.
  • Understand Risk Management: Failing to understand this piece will result in failure of some sort. Know what can happen and what measures you will take to avoid it altogether or how you will react if it moves from the risk column to the event column.
  • Learn and follow processes appropriate for your industry: PMI has a set of processes that are general and widely adaptable for all projects. Learning additional skills such as Six Sigma, Agile, or ITIL (among others) is also recommended if it applies.
  • Be Adaptable: One thing I like about being a project leader is the constant changing project environment. It speaks to my A.D.D. and is a constant challenge. One thing is for sure, being a projet leader is never boring! If you are inflexible, chances are you are going to be miserable trying to be a project leader. If you are flexible, not only will you like your job better, but you will have a better chance at success as well.

I saw it written once that being a project leader is “the best job – EVER!” I agree with this and would love to mentor new PMs that are ready to go. As I said before, this post is in no way intended to have a definitive list. It is simply designed to get you thinking critically.

I’d love to hear what else you’d add to it. Please comment below and give feedback.

It Takes Grit!

I was driving to work the other day when I saw a billboard from a local energy company that said, “InteGRITy”. While the billboard was intending to relay the company’s stance on grinding it out for good energy policy, it really got me thinking about another side of that exact same sentiment.

It takes grit to have integrity.

What do I mean by that? Well, it is simple really. Integrity is not something that we should take lightly. It is an ideal that requires constant action. We should be on guard consistently in our daily lives to ensure we don’t slip and make a potentially fatal mistake. The bottom line is that it takes effort to maintain integrity. I will grant you some require more effort than others, but it is worth it.

What are you waiting for? Are you already displaying integrity? Are you the same person, even when you think nobody is looking? Keep fighting the good fight!

I know it is a short post this time, but I just wanted to throw this out there to you. Do you have additional thoughts on the subject? Please share them by commenting.

Another Look at Integrity, and a Plea

I was having an email conversation over the weekend with an ex-colleague. The conversation did not go well and I actually left it somewhat discouraged and even more determined than I was before to put some level of integrity back into the daily lives of everyone I come in contact with.

Q: What do you do when someone gives you “facts” that aren’t?

A: Dispute those “facts” with the evidence to the contrary.

Why? Well, there are several reasons to do this. One is to simply protect yourself from inaccurate facts that can come back to bite you in the future. Two is to let that person know that you are not as dumb as they apparently think you are. Three, that person needs to know that inaccurate facts and outright lies cannot and will not be tolerated.

I ask you another question……who are you in this conversation? Are you the person who is having to defend yourself from inaccurate information? Or, are you the one who is bending facts to support your argument? I hope you are not the one ignoring the truth.

The truth is a magnificent thing; it is always the truth. It does not care if you have a different point of view. It does not care if you have a different agenda. It does not care if you have a fuzzy recollection. In fact, it does not care if you were given inaccurate information which you are now repeating. The truth is always the truth.

Being truthful is a huge part of having integrity. It is actually the largest part. If you wish to be a leader, you must start by having integrity. The first step of that is to start being truthful……ALWAYS!

So, I ask you again…….which side of the coin are you on? Are you heads above the rest or simply telling tales?

I plead with you to start your journey on the path of integrity.

The truth will always be the truth, regardless if you want it to be something else. Telling tales will do nothing but damage your reputation and prolong the inevitable. I also plead with you to call out those who start and spread lies and inaccuracies.

What do you do when someone tries to bend the facts? Please comment below.

Heated Conversations: Do you Engage?

How do you, as a leader handle heated conversations in your team? Are YOU engaging?

Differing opinions are a part of our daily lives. In fact, in leadership roles, they are essential to the survival of the teams we are tasked with leading. By this, I mean that utilizing different opinions or even different world views will allow us to avoid the damaging and often destructive results of groupthink. While we might think that life is great if everyone agrees with us, it all too often means that something is about to go horribly wrong.

The problem is that differing opinions can sometimes create tense moments during a meeting or even just during an otherwise calm part of the day. Let’s face it, there are many people out there passionate about their work and about their opinions. It is our job, as leaders, to keep that passion somewhat controlled and pointed in a positive direction. If the argument gets heated, or worse, the meeting, whether formal or informal, it needs to stop right then with encouraging words that all disputes can and will be resolved amicably. It is critical that all of our team members feel safe coming to work (emotionally or physically).

In the end, it is important for teams to have differing opinions but in a controlled environment. The biggest thing I can leave you with as a leader is to not engage in such heated discussions. If you get into a strong disagreement with a team member, you either need to take it to another, closed-door room or just table the discussion for another time when you both have had a chance to calm down and reset your passions. Keep in mind that it is possible that you DON’T have the best idea, be sure to set your ego aside too.

Different opinions are essential to business. Without them, we would all wear white shirts with blue pants, regardless of gender, age, race, or nationality. All cars would be white 4-door sedans with gray interior and all houses would be white with blue trim. We don’t live in any such society, not even the ones with the harshest of homeowner restrictions. That doesn’t mean we have to box our neighbor’s ears when we want to paint our house a different color.

The most important single ingredient in the forula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” ~T. Roosevelt

What tricks have you used to stop heated debates at the office? Comment below.

Project Communications

Project communications are perhaps the single most important aspect of your project management plan. It is also one of the most overlooked from a planning perspective. This could be because project managers have a tendency to think they know what to communicate to whom and when. The truth is, communication is something that has to be talked about and planned in advance.

The PMBoK Guide – Fourth Edition (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge) breaks communications management down into five sub categories:

  1. Identify Stakeholders: Identify all people and organinzations that will be impacted by the project as well as their specific involvement and impact on project success
  2. Plan Communications: Determine what each person or group actually needs to be made aware of and in what form. For example, you will perhaps send daily detailed communications to the project team via electronic communciations, but only a weekly wrap up via staff meeting to a project sponsor or executives
  3. Distribute Information: This means that you actually do what you said you were going to do in the previous item.
  4. Manage Stakeholder Expectations: Pay attention to your stakeholder’s needs. You don’t want to give them too much or too little information. Give them only what they need which may mean removing or even add to the information identified in step 2.
  5. Report Performance: Periodic analysis of baselines versus actuals during the project. This includes analysis of performace, risks and issues, work completed, upcoming tasks, summary of the approved changes, and others.

Communication is a critical piece of the project health. We are always communicating with our teams and other stakeholders. If we neglect to plan the communciations up front, it is almost guaranteed that something will get missed. When things get missed, we lose out on opportunities to make vital corrections, learn of a new direction, or even a pat on the back every now and then.

I know I have simplified things a bit, especially as they relate to the PMP exam, but for daily business, these are the basics. Sometimes, the projects are small and greatly simplified. This doesn’t mean that these steps should be overlooked. It merely means that the steps are that much easier to follow.

Happy Communicating!

The Project is Done . . . Now What?

It has been 18 long months since this project started, and now it is done with just a few small details waiting to close out. There is only one remaining question, now what?

There is one thing that I’d like to focus on for this post, the closing meeting.

After so many days and weeks and months on this project, it seemed anti-climatic to just end the project by simply stopping work. Besides, I would not be doing my part to really wrap it up the right way. So, I invited all 25 team members and other stakeholders to a long, but not grueling, meeting to finish things up. The agenda looked like this:

  1. Welcome
  2. Project Overview (we also had a pot-luck to break it up a little during this time)
  3. Accomplishments (including value adds)
  4. Lessons Learned
  5. Awards
  6. Final Thanks

Now this meeting lasted all morning, but after 18 months, 3 more hours was not going to hurt anyone and produced a GREAT pay-off. One important note is that I ended the meeting on-time. What was so great about it? Well, for one, everyone got to see what the team accomplished in a relatively short amount of time for the work that we did. Also, they got to see what their “extra” efforts did to produce values added that were unexpected. Lastly, and almost most importantly, was the lessons learned portion of the meeting. Beforehand, I had asked everyone to brainstorm lessons learned, including the good along with the bad. What we found out were some things done very well, and some things that will actually result in some departmental changes.

Lastly, I took a little time and fewer than $30.00 US and created a little momento of my own appreciation to each and every team member for their individual contribution. It was small, but the entire team walked out with their heads held high and a small token to remind them of what they accomplished.

It is important to hold a project closure meeting with the entire team. It is important to recognize the projects celebrations as well as what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. Most importantly, it is critical that you show your team appreciation for what they’ve accomplished. Your people are the ones who make you and your projects successful. I spent just over a dollar a person and it made them smile. It doesn’t take much, just some thought and a little time.

Congratulations on finishing your project on-time and under budget!! Now go wrap it up and put some closure on it!!

Are you Trustworthy?

Are you trustworthy?

Sounds like a simple question to answer doesn’t it? For some, it is simply a matter of whether or not they can go into a convenience store and not swipe a piece of gum or a candy bar. Trustworthiness goes far beyond of being mature enough not to steal.

Trustworthiness is sometimes called by other names, but it really boils down to one word as the root: TRUST.

Trust encompasses reliability, accountability, integrity, and others. Basically, what it boils down to is:

  • Are you going to do what you said you are going to do?
  • Did you do what you told me you did?
  • Are you reporting accurate numbers?
  • Are you doing what you’re supposed to be doing?
  • Are you the same person outside of the office as you are at the office?
  • Do you own up to your own mistakes?
  • Do you correct those mistakes?
  • Do you show up to work on-time or early?
  • Do you expect the same for yourself as you do for your team?
  • Do you bill your clients accurately?

So, I ask you again, are YOU trustworthy? It isn’t too late to make a change and correct anything you are doing wrong. Fix it now and become the leader you and others want you to be. You will be amazed at the change in your team’s attitudes!

I’m proud of you for making a difference!!!

What Do You Look For?

Selecting a Project Leader can sometimes be a daunting task. Sure, their resume looks great and they interviewed well, but what are you looking for most when hiring a new project leader?

Please take a moment to answer the poll below. Pick what you look for most when selecting a new leader and comment with any discussion.

[polldaddy poll=5861511]