A Case for Lean Project Management


Have you ever heard the phrase, “Death by paperwork,” or “Death by process?” Better yet, have you ever experienced either of these? If you have worked for any reasonable amount of time,  chances are that you have. In this day of red tape  and CYA, paperwork and processes have become the norm and they can really kill your project delivery date. It isn’t always enough to simply schedule  time to complete these tasks. How about you look deep into these processes and determine their actual value and eliminate the ones that may be somewhat superfluous? After all, at some point, the work has to actually get done – and I’m sure you have plenty of it!

For those of you running a PMO with strict process guidance, please hear me out, but give me your thoughts at the end.

Here are a few items to consider: 

  1. Define the project type. It is important to understand what is truly required to complete your project. Software development projects differ greatly from a BYOD initiative or an infrastructure refresh project. Differences may include architecture reviews or design documents that would be appropriate for one project but not another.
  2. Consider the actual size of the project. There are several attributes that must be considered here including number of end-users impacted to size of project team and of course,  project budget and duration. A small project that impacts 100 users and lasts 3 months with a cost of $25,000 should have different document requirements than a multi-million dollar software implementation that takes two years.
  3. Determine actual requirements of the group you are working with. Business facing projects will typically have fewer process requirements than a typical IT project. At the same time, some business entities such as accounting or audit, may require additional processes. If the project doesn’t warrant a process for SOX compliance, for example, why even create a document for it?
  4. Simplify some of the documentation that you will use for every project. Project charters, for example, have a full gamut of length and complexity. In reality, the project charter really should be a simple document that gives a brief description of the project as well as a list of the high level roles and responsibilities that the PM would be accountable for. Anything else really belongs in other standard documentation.
  5. Make some documents standard. Think about a communication plan for a moment. What is defined in the communication plan? Types of communication with definitions of each as well as expectations that each project will have regarding all types of communications. When you think about it, most of these types of communications are the same across every single project. Team status meetings, stakeholder meetings, leadership meetings, status reports, RFPs, etc. will be the same. Sure there is some customization for each one based on the team and requirements, but create a well defined template that irons out each type and basic expectations. Don’t re-write every document every time.

It is time for the project bureaucracy to start swinging the pendulum the other direction a bit. It is possible and smart to cut out some of the formalities for some projects. If it is required, don’t cut it out, but make it a requirement if it has no value. Documents with little to no value that get created are simply expensive time wasters. Resist the urge to require a check box for every little thing. Here are some high level suggestions

Need to define but don’t go overboard:

  • Charter – keep it simple
  • Scope – sometimes a high or medium level scope statement is all you need. Detailed scope statements get very complex and can cause you to get lost in the weeds
  • Schedule – build your schedule so that it is manageable. You don’t need every little detail documented in the schedule. If you aren’t careful, you will spend all of your day trying to keep up with the schedule updates and changes.
  • Status reports – here everyone rolls their eyes. Often times status reports aren’t even read. Keep these simple – and automate some metrics for easy reporting. Hint: use the Unique Task ID in MS Project to export into MS Excel for simple, automated updates. You can also create categories in your financials to report high level metrics as well.

Make some plans standard

  • Communication Plan – meetings are meetings – set expectations here for all projects and stick to it. Remember, sometimes a phone call can take the place of a meeting – meetings are expensive. If you don’t believe me … do the math yourself. I find it very interesting that certain level of employees have limits on the amount of money they can approve on an expenditure but anyone can call a meeting. If you are holding a leadership meeting that runs an hour . . . it can cost thousands of dollars just to have everyone paying attention to you.
  • Change Control – Change processes are important, but are also the same for all projects in an organization. One document for every project will suffice. Simply reference that document in your project management plan
  • Risk and Issue Logs – make a SIMPLE template and follow it for every project. This also helps leadership to see the same type of information across all projects.

Of course, there is much more that can be put here, but I’ll keep it simple myself and wrap this post up. Remember, sometimes, less is more. If you are mired in process, your project is slowly slipping away, or your life outside the office is. Either way, you don’t want that to happen.

Lead lean! Lead smart! Lead on!!

Have a great rest of your day!

I value your opinion and would love to hear from you. What do you think about lean project management? Please comment below.

Project Management vs. Project Leadership

Project Leadership vs. Project Management

Being a project manager has been a very rewarding experience for me over the last 15+ years. Whether practicing the science of project management, learning about it, writing about it or talking/tweeting about it, I have truly enjoyed almost every aspect of it.

I see a transformation coming, however, and no, I’m not talking about Agile vs. Waterfall or the newest release of the PMBoK. The transformation I am witnessing is a movement to project leadership.

The science of managing projects is fairly straight forward.  No, I did not say easy, with good reason. Project management requires a specific set of skills and talents to take a project from conception to close within a specific timeframe and budget. Practicing the art project leadership, however, goes much deeper, into the realm of relationships. If you dig in and form solid, working relationships with your team, you will allow them to be rewarded as much as you are.

Consider these attributes:

  • Give all the credit: It is critical to remember that you are the project leader, not the team. Your team is who is doing the work. Your team has the expertise. Give them high praises when they do well. Praise individuals, praise small groups, and praise the entire team, and praise publicly.
  • Take the blame: Troubles are going to happen; it is a given when it comes to projects – regardless of what they are. Budgetary items will come in higher than expected, delays in the schedule are going to occur, and quality may come in sub-par. Don’t throw Bill under the bus for that typo in the code, or Jack for misunderstanding the requirements, or Sally, who forgot to get a quote on a critical piece of infrastructure. When reporting, state the facts – but leave names out of it. When asked, put yourself in as a shield between management and the team. By doing so, you will build and environment of trust, not only with your team, but with management as well.

Don’t get me wrong; if a correction needs to be made, don’t wast the opportunity for a teachable moment.

  • Equip Them: Your team already has a tough job. Each team member was brought in because they have a specific skill-set that is necessary to fulfill the requirements. As a project leader, you need to do everything you can to make sure the team has the tools they need in order to fulfill their duties. We’ve all heard the phrase “the right tool for the right job.” That saying goes beyond building a house or working on a car. Having the proper software, adequate hardware, the right saws, a working micrometer, is all critical to the success of any team. If you fight for your team to make sure they have what they need, they will perform well; not only because they have the proper tools, but because they want to! Even if you can’t get everything they need, they will work harder for you because they know you are on their side.

This is only scratching the surface. What other qualities do you think would be great project leadership traits?

This post was originally posted to my LinkedIn Pulse page. It has been modified and updated for this site.

Are You Malicious?

Are you malicious? I would put good money on your answer being a resounding “NO” if you are reading blogs about leadership and teamwork. You might Look at it a little differently, however, after reading this, and I hope it will change you at least a little bit.

I have recently been a “victim” (for lack of a better word) to piecemealed data. What does that mean? Well, it means that when I ask other resources for data, I get bits and pieces of the data based on the specific question I asked. If I don’t ask the right question, I don’t get the right data. It can be very frustrating, at times, especially when that data is critical. I have also notice this over the years from other colleagues as well that just don’t want to paint the full picture. It is almost like they are wanting to leave things a bit mysterious.

Sure, I understand that management is often times bound by the constraints of “I can’t tell you yet” and I’m not talking about those instances even though they can be very frustrating at times as well. What I am really talking about are the silos of information that exist in corporations all across the world. Silos can be dangerous to a company. Why dangerous? Well, I believe that giving little bits of information can cause other teams to be counterproductive. It can cause them to go down a path of data mining to get the information that someone already has but is not sharing, or it can cause them to spend additional cycles thinking of the “best way” to ask questions so they get the right answers. Within the same company, a full picture should always be painted when the full picture is what is being asked for. Don’t make it sound as if you’re giving all of the information when you aren’t.

So, I ask you again, are you malicious? If you are holding pertinent information back just because it wasn’t specifically asked for, I say, yes you are. If you are not meaning to be so, then you might take a closer look at how you deliver information. If you DO intend to hold on to information for your own power play (remember, knowledge is power) then I urge you to change your ways because you are causing your company more harm than you can really imagine.

Here are a couple of things you can try:

  1. Ask questions to make sure you fully understand what is being asked of you.
  2. Be more open with the information that you have. Remember, good leaders help build others.
  3. If you do not have time to tell the whole story, give an overview and tell the person that you are only giving them a small piece of the puzzle they are asking for and schedule some time to give them the whole picture.

Thank you for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you been a “victim” of of someone holding on to knowledge that cause you do go down the wrong path?

Have a great day!!  ~Jim

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.

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.

Leadership vs. Management: Part 3 – Integrity

In keeping with my current topic, I’ll discuss integrity as a trait of a good leader.

I appreciate everyone checking in and reading my articles and commenting. While I do not necessarily agree with everyone’s comments, I will post them on here anyway as my articles are my opinion based on my own experiences and reading. Dissenting opinions are what keeps this world turning in the right direction. If everyone agreed on everything, group-think would prevail and nothing would ever get accomplished.

in·teg·ri·ty [in-teg-ri-tee]–noun  (from Dictionary.com)
1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty

Integrity is a word that seems to have diminishing value these days. It used to be of the utmost importance to everyone, but now, our society seems to let more and more things slide on by as we become more and more desensitized. This is really a sad state of affairs for our countries and workplaces.

What does it actually mean to have integrity? The above definition is accurate, but simple. Reading it requires little to no additional thought. Ok, so if I adhere to a moral and ethical “principle” I will have soundness of moral “character” and honesty. Great, I can live with that. When I go to work, I expect my employees to work. In turn, I give them an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. I treat them fairly and even make an attempt to understand their individual needs. I “clock in” on time and leave “on time” and never bill hours that I didn’t actually work. I tell the truth about my project’s progress and the status of the budget, even if the news is bad. I have integrity, right?


As Lee Corso, from ESPN Game Day would say, “Not so fast my friend!”

To complete my illustration, suppose I finish my day’s work, get in my car and toss an old empty cup on the ground because it’s just cluttering up my floor? Then suppose, I take my car and race a “break-neck” speeds well above the speed limit to get to my next destination. What if my next destination is to the arms of a woman that is not my wife? Where is my integrity in all of these actions? Sure, I make good decisions at work, but what about the rest of the time. What do I do when no one is actually watching me, or at least when I think no one is watching?

Integrity is who we are when nobody is watching us!

Ladies and gentlemen, I say integrity goes beyond the simple definition as provided by www.dictionary.com. Integrity is who we are when nobody is watching us! Integrity defines who we are in the eyes of other people. If someone sees me dumping trash, they might be offended and discusted. As I’m speeding down the highway, I’m breaking the law which is set for my safety and the safety of other drivers. I do not have the right to put anyone else in harm’s way, but that’s exactly what I’d be doing. And what about the other woman? Don’t you think my wife might have something to say about my integrity then?  Our families should be the first to be able to trust us. If they cannot trust us, how should we expect others to? Do you want your employees to trust you and listen to you?

I call each of you out, right now, to investigate your own integrity. What do you do when you think no one is looking or paying attention. If there are items in your life that need to change, CHANGE THEM. Get over yourself and think of what others might perseve you are doing. Establish integrity at home, within your friendship circles, and at work. This is an important step anybody can take to move themself from a simple manager to an effective leader. A good leader, with unquestioning integrity, will take a team to great hights, not to mention, the teamwork that builds upon that integrity and adopts it as its own.

Project managers have to take this integrity to an even higher level. As being typically “temporary,” project managers have a reputation that typically precedes them in any business opportunity. I once knew a project manager at a firm in Tulsa, OK. He seemed to know what he was doing, but one day, I found an instant messaging client on his computer that he left on while we chatted about server upgrades. While we were talking, chime after chime after chime came in as his IM client lit up with girls wanting to chat. He was all too happy to oblige, and make no bones about it. It was his “smoke break.” There are two problems here, one is that he’s at work, using company resouces, and company time to fool around with girls of unknown age on the Internet. Secondly, and most importantly, HE WAS MARRIED. Once I found this out, his integrity was shot and so was his credibility.

Well, that’s all for this edition. I hope you’ll come back for part 4 – Accountability

Have a great rest-of-the-week and a safe week-end.



integrity. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved September 17, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/integrity