A Case for Lean Project Management

lean-scatter-480x240

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.

Navigating Traffic: How your daily commute can help you solve problems

What does your daily drive to and from work look like? Is it very far? How long does it take? Do you go the same route every day?

I ask these questions, because I had an epiphany the other day as I was driving home. The distance was only a few miles, but sometimes, it could take me 30-45 minutes to go those few miles. I was navigating my way through traffic when I noticed that I was making the same adjustments every single time I drove. Those adjustments were saving me time. I knew, when traffic started to back up, that if I switched lanes, I would keep moving forward, even if at a slow pace. I also knew, that if I actually exited the highway and tried to go the back roads, it would take me longer. As I pondered, this epiphany, I started to pay closer attention to my route. I noticed if I made a few additional adjustments, I could save even more time. I was managing a problem to navigate in such a way that I could have the best possible outcome.

Problem management in the office is a lot like navigating rush hour traffic. If you take the time to really think about the issues, you can navigate the problem more smoothly, and efficiently. At the same time, you can work to avoid the knee-jerk reactions that so many people are plagued by. Think o f exiting the highway to avoid the traffic jam only to be plagued by stop lights and the other drivers who thought the same way you did. Swift can have it’s advantages, but only in the short term and only if done smartly. If you take the time to really solve the issue, then that resolution can have long lasting effects. Pay attention to what is going on around you. What are some trends you are seeing, good OR bad? Take the time to think about what little adjustments you can make in your behavior or your team’s behavior to make a positive impact.

I had a problem in that I wanted to spend more time with my family. My kids are only going to be this age a little while and I want to give them as much time as I can. I estimate I saved over 40 hours a year by putting a little extra thought into my route. That is more time with my family … and less time getting upset at the long line of cars that are not paying attention. That, of course, is another topic on its own. Wow, it looks like I solved two problems . . . see what I mean?!?!

What do you think? How do you navigate problems at work or with your projects? Do knee-jerk reactions hurt you organization?

Do You Know What Your people (Are Supposed to) Do?

What kind of people do you have below you that you made decisions on or have influence over? I’m not talking about introverts vs. extroverts, but rather skillsets. This is an age old question. Do you really know what your people do? Sounds like a potentially silly question, but it is very real, and is a problem in Corporate America these days. Think of it this way, you are giving your personnel evaluations for the year (hopefully not for the first time since LAST year) and you have to tell them how they are doing. Sure, you can tell if they’ve accomplished what you told them to accomplish, but … let’s forget the evaluations, let’s take a step further back for just a minute back to goal setting. Let’s paint for just a minute . . . .

If you remember, you sat down a little over a year ago and started to sketch out goals for every one of your employees. You know most of them fairly well but you may only have your own, limited knowledge of what their job descriptions actually mean. You don’t pay much attention, though as you know what your peers say each of the job descriptions mean to them so you go with it. As you map out your team’s goals, you feel confident that they are going to succeed and also be a great contributer to the company’s bottom line.

Fast Forward >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> You are back at your evaluations, and even though your direct reports may have “succeeded” they aren’t truly excited about what you have to say and you, yourself, find something just a bit off. It almost feels like . . . you both actually lost! Time to dig in a little.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< Rewind a little more – even before you did your goal setting, and go back to your hiring process. Let's take a look at what you could have done, perhaps from the very beginning:

As you are working on your staffing plan (you do have a staffing plan, right?) jot down all of the employee types you are going to have under your direction. If you are inheriting a team, you need to do this retroactively. Now that you have your list, go do some research yourself. Don't call your buddy at your last job and ask him what he thinks each function serves – chances are, he's doing it wrong! Do some research yourself and find out what the industry standard is for that position. Look into professional organizations and what they say about the position. Only then, can you do yourself, your company, and your employee a service as you will hire the right person.

So, let's go back to the present. What do you really know about what your people do? Let's look at project managers. This is a title that has many different meanings to many different people. I know what it means to be a PM according to PMI. I have a good understanding of the industry and know what "industry standard" processes are but I am not sure that everyone in my industry does. I once heard someone say "I am a PM, I don't plan things. I get things done, I don't have time to plan." OUCH I wonder how much additional cost was involved in THAT project??? The truth is, that PMs are truly planners, not "doers". If you, as the leader of that PM resource understand that, you are setting that PM up to win and the company to win, and ultimately yourself to win.

I challenge you to do your research before you set your goals for the next go-round. If you find that you've had it all wrong, you are now armed with the right information to help make positive change in your organization. Give your employees their goals utilizing this information . . . if they are willing to accept this challenge, you have a winner on your hands. If not . . . well, I'll let you decide what their new job title should be.

By the way, if you want to know why a PM is a planner and not a "doer" I'll be writing on that very soon.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you have employees that have a "mystery job" that you might need to get in front of?

Thanks for reading and have a productive day!

–Jim

Find Your Purpose Today

Do you have something you’re working for?

I was walking through my office the other day after a hard meeting with a team member in which we were not seeing eye-to-eye. The end of the meeting left me thinking critically about what I can do to make that working relationship better. I was racking my brain for days about how to make it work. The end result of all of that brain racking was that I had a renewed sense of purpose. That new-found purpose actually had me feeling better about my current state of mind. I started walking through the hallways of my office feeling renewed, mentally rejuvenated, seeking answers, paying attention to others, and generally (oddly enough) feeling pretty good about myself. Had I found the answer to my question? Not at that time.

That isn’t what this is about. I’m sorry; I don’t have all the answers to dealing with employees that don’t see the world through our rose colored glasses. I sat down at my desk, realizing what had just happened. I started really thinking about what it was that was making me tick and what makes me tick day in and day out. What motivates me? What is it that drives me day in and day out?

Walking with purpose

All day, I found myself walking through the halls a little taller, my head a little higher, and my pace a little quicker. I wasn’t “puffing my chest” at the employee that disagreed with me, nor was I trying to exude superiority. This type of “roostering” has no place coming from a leader. I just…felt better. I had a mission, a goal, a purpose. That new life had me pushing hard all day long to be more productive, to find answers, and to do the absolute best I could do. It felt incredible, despite the hard conversation that sparked the whole thing.

What is it that makes you tick? Do you have something on your to-do list each day that can give you a sense of purpose?

A challenge

We need to find a reason to push hard each day. I challenge you not just to find something to give you purpose every day, but actually, schedule something. Put something on your to-do list that will cause you to think a little harder. Find something new that you can learn. Think of a problem you need to solve.

What are your thoughts on this post? Do you already have a way to give yourself purpose every day? I’d love to read your comments.

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.

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.

Interesting Article on Leadership

I read an interesting article on Forbes.com today on leadership and the one, single trait, that can make or break a leader. Mike Mayatt, in his article in Forbes Magazine (http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2011/12/19/this-one-leadership-quality-will-make-or-break-you/) makes the point, “Leadership is pursuit — pursuit of excellence, of elegance, of truth, of what’s next, of what if, of change, of value, of results, of relationships, of service, of knowledge, and of something bigger than themselves.” Thought provoking really. I love the almost simplification of this huge quality that an individual can have. When you really think about it and you really boil down to what makes a leader successful, it is indeed pursuit, plain and simple.

What does this mean? Basically, Good leaders intentionally pursue recent and relevant information and ideas. Failure to do so produces mediocrity. Failure to pursue the right things produces obsolescence and a leader who has generally missed the boat. Knowing what to pursue and when to pursue it will give you a jump on your competition.

My favorite quote of the article: “A failure to embrace pursuit is to cede opportunity to others.”

Very interesting thoughts – – – I wonder what I’m pursuing that doesn’t fit my end goal? What are you pursuing?

Another of my favorite thoughts in this article: “Pursue discovery, seek dissenting opinions, develop your ability unlearn by embracing how much you don’t know, and find the kind of vision that truly does see around corners.” I’d sure love to see around corners!

Mike Myatt, Contributor
Leadership advisor to CEOs & Boards, and author of Leadership Matters
This One Leadership Quality Will Make or Break You (Leadership, December 19, 2011)

What is a Leader?

What is a leader? A while back, I wrote about the difference between a leader and a manager. I still firmly believe that there is a difference between the two. I did not, however, actually get into the nuts and bolts of what a leader really is.  First let me share with you a couple of actual definitions:

Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/leader) defines a leader with the following:

  1. a person or thing that leads.
  2. a guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.
  3. Music: a conductor or director, as of an orchestra, band, or chorus.

Merriam Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/leader) breaks it down a little bit differently, but still has the same basic definition in regards to the human aspect: [Note: my quote below is actually definition #2 from Merriam-Webster.com]

Definition #2: a person who leads: as

  1. guide, conductor
  2. (1) : a person who directs a military force or unit (2) : a person who has commanding authority or influence
  3. (1) : the principal officer of a British political party (2) : a party member chosen to manage party activities in a legislative body (3) : such a party member presiding over the whole legislative body when the party constitutes a majority
  4. d (1)  conductor c (2) : a first or principal performer of a group

One definition that caught my eye when starting this entry was a music conductor as in an orchestra, band, or chorus. This is partly because I have always been around music, and also because I love the analogy that comes in to focus.

Have you ever seen a conductor’s score? What an amazingly complicated document. Each page contains the scores for every part played by every instrument. Even the simplest of musical pieces can get complicated very quickly. It is the role of the conductor to ensure that everyone plays their part at the appropriate time, and to make sure everyone is paying attention to the various marks on the page.

It is beautiful to watch a good conductor at work. Such grace. Such concentration. All of the various pieces come together all at once to turn dots on a page into a musical masterpiece. All eyes are on him, trusting him to lead them the right direction. Any false moves, and embarrassment can quickly ensue, ruining the musicality altogether. The key here is trust. Not only are the musicians trusting the conductor, but the audience is trusting him or her as well.

Business leaders must know enough about what they are doing to be trustworthy. In my current business, I have to know what goes into a repair and maintenance manual. My team looks to me to make good decisions which will allow them the best opportunity to succeed. It is my job to make sure my team has the tools to do their job. That is the role of a leader. A leader is a person who inspires people to achieve great heights despite their own limitations. A leader inspires people to want to achieve more and more every time. A leader is a motivator that people look up to. A leader is someone who people come to for direction and feedback. A leader has many followers, people who want to stay, people who want to succeed.

One final note: A good leader puts his or her followers ahead of himself or herself. I don’t believe there is any room in this world for a selfish leader. A selfish leader steps on the toes of those below him in order to make himself look good. What they don’t understand is that by pushing the team down, they are not really leading or motivating. The selfish leader puts undue stress on a team and fails to give credit where credit is due. A selfish leader misses out on the rewards of seeing everyone succeed. This is the most valuable part. A leader should be like a proud parent, wanting to see the accomplishments of their children grow and grow and grow. A good leader should always be training the next generation.

As always, I appreciate you reading this post. I also covet your comments as they help me grow and give me opportunities to make my blog posts even better.

Jim