A Case for Lean Project Management

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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.

After the Implosion: Leading your team out of the ashes

As a project leader, you have, undoubtedly, run in to issues with a project that will raise eyebrows in a negative way. You might have even experienced an implosion like I mentioned a couple of posts ago. What do you do now? What do you do AFTER the implosion may just define who you are in the eyes of your team.

In my years of experience, I have seen the good, the bad, and the truly unforgettably ugly that comes with the different types of responses. Some make me clap and shout, some make me sad and shake my head. Others, however, make me angry with a “how dare you” type of reaction. Sure, there are countless styles and things to say, but here are some types of  responses that will help your team look up to you, trust you, and even follow you. If you were my leader and you said any of these to me? I would stand up and shout “WELL DONE, LET’S GO!!”

  1. “I take responsibility.” Here are three words that will immediately take the pressure off of your team and allow them to regroup. Letting them know that you aren’t going to hang the team out to dry is very settling. Even if you were not the cause of the implosion, as the project leader and “face of the project,” you are ultimately responsible so step up to the plate. Of course, if there are personnel issues that need to be addressed, take care of them quickly, but do so privately.
  2. “How can I help?” One thing I always tell my teams is that I am here to place an “umbrella of protection” over them. That means that I try to shield them from outside distractions that can derail a team. If I need to do a better job, then I want to know from the team. Of course, if the team needs anything else, I want to know that too! As a leader, I am simply here to help my team succeed; it isn’t about me. I will even bring them coffee if they need a little pick-me-up!
  3. “We can fix this.” Telling your team that we can fix it gives them the confidence to know that you feel confident in them to be able to steer the ship back into the right direction. It will empower them to dust off their pants and get going.
  4. “Let’s make this thing work, TOGETHER!” Wow, six simple words with enough impact to elicit change like you’ve never seen. I know in my past, I never experienced these words and never felt like I had management’s backing. I was always left to my own devices to figure things out. Always out on an island with nothing more than a stick to draw a plan in the sand. Don’t leave your team to fix things on their own. You have the experience to help them. They look to you to help pick them up. Remember, the project that imploded was a team failure, not THEIR failure. Roll up your sleeves and get in there. You won’t regret it, and they won’t forget it.

These may seem simple, or even common sense, but remember, common sense ain’t so common. If you do any of these, your team will follow you to the ends of the earth!

Happy leading!!

What are some ideas you have for getting your team to dust themselves off? I’d love to hear them.

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

Leadership: Are you Strong Enough?

I was reading a blog this morning on making mistakes, written by the Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell (So You Screwed Up …). The whole post was great as usual, but one point stuck out to me very clearly. Not only did it make perfect sense, but it is also a point within my own leadership that I struggle with.

By the way, if you don’t follow Leadership Freak, I highly recommend you do so. He is a great read and a top blogger. He is looked up to by many, including myself. (Leadershipfreak.wordpress.com)

As I mentioned, I was reading his blog and his first reason for making a mistake slapped me like a cold fish: 1.) [Trying to] please others while ignoring your gut.

Ouch! For a self-professed people pleaser, this is a very pointed bullet item and it was pointed right at me. It is no mystery why he has that item at the top of his list. Of course, it causes my wheels to turn faster trying to find out why I had such an issue with the statement. I can tell you I didn’t have to think very long, I already knew the answer.

People pleasers do not make good leaders!

There, I said it! Now, let me explain what I mean. Mr. Rockwell’s first point is right on the money. As leaders, we have responsibilities to do what is right, not only for our companies but for our teams as well as ourselves. Our educated gut feelings can provide us with amazing discoveries and decisions. Ignoring that “gut feeling” can mean we miss out on a good decision that can keep a project on track or even turn it around.

So, can you be a people pleaser and an effective leader? Yes, but it will probably take some work. You need to analyze each decision to make sure it is being made for the right reason. Keep in mind, you don’t have to make a decision that goes against your people pleasing tendencies with a tone of harshness. You can, and should, communicate that decision with a servant leader’s heart and be sensitive to those that are affected by the decision.

Are you a “people pleaser”? How do you get past that to make better decisions?

Do you agree or disagree with me?

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.

Earned Value Management Part 1

There is a lot more to earned value than what should be described in a single blog, so I am going to break it up over several over the next few days. In the PMBoK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Fourth Edition, Earned Value Management (EVM) would fall under a few of the knowledge areas. Mostly it will fall under: Project Time Management, Project Cost Management,  and Project Communications Management. We can and will dig into these a little deeper, but for now, you’ll just need to know that it covers these three main knowledge areas. Probably the biggest, in my professional opinion, is Project Communications Management.

Why? Simple really . . . the whole reason for EVM is for tracking the actual earned (completed) progress of your project. EVM gives you an in-depth look directly into the heart of your actual progress. The end result, if desired is a graph that you can review for trends or use to report your excellent progress to the project sponsors and other stakeholders. Here is an example of an earned value graph for a project over a year long. As you can see, this project was in trouble from the start but the adjustments that were made will end this project almost perfectly with an SPI of 1.02 and a CPI of well over that (more on those later).

Earned Value

There are a few pieces to earned value which will all be discussed over the next few installments (again, I don’t want to hit you with it all at once). Things that I will discuss are:

  • Planned Value
  • Earned Value
  • Actual Cost
  • Cost Variance
  • Schedule Variance
  • Cost Performance Index (CPI)
  • Schedule Performance Index (SPI)
  • Estimate at Completion (EAC)
  • Estimate to Complete (ETC)
  • Budget at Completion (BAC)
  • And last but not least . . . Variance at Completion (VAC)

Yes, there are a lot of accronyms in there and there are quite a few formulas as well, but don’t let them scare you. The formulas are straight forward and easy to you, especially if you set the up in some sort of tool that you use all the time such as Microsoft Excel. I will give you the formulas and show you when to use them and how to use them. I even have a tool that I’ve setup that I use on a daily basis that I will share with you if you desire. It is somewhat proprietary to my time and cost tracking systems, but we can work together to make it work for you as well.

BTW, back to the numbers that I showed you above, the Microsoft Project plan (not using EVM) shows this project as ahead most of the time. Can you imagine? I would have been telling management that my project was just fine (thinking that the whole time myself) while the project was actually in dire straights from the beginning. Using Earned Value allowed me to make serious adjustments and get this ship back on track. It wasn’t easy though, I assure you, but at least I knew issues existed early on so they could be corrected in time.

More on this topic later . . .