Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with - or even disagree with - leave a comment.

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Give Your Project a Home

Categories: Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any good tips for project control rooms? Maybe a recommended type of snack or drink that gets project sponsors to enthusiastically attend project meetings on a regular basis?
Posted by Kevin Korterud on: September 10, 2014 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

3 Tips for Remote Control

Categories: Teams

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

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

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

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

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

What are your basic tips for managing remote teams?
Posted by David Wakeman on: June 11, 2014 05:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Power of Happiness

Categories: Leadership, Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you make your team's work fun when you need high performance?
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: February 25, 2014 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

3 Ways to be a Better Communicator

Categories: Communication, Teams

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

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

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

Read PMI's The Essential Role of Communications to learn how effective communication impacts the success of your projects and programs. 
Posted by David Wakeman on: January 24, 2014 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

5 Ways to Build Strong Project Teams

Categories: Leadership, Teams

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

Read his thoughts on how to build project teams below:

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

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

  1. Be an active communicator. A good project manager isn't just the conductor of the project. He or she is also a facilitator for team members' performance and growth. That starts by being an "active communicator," which means you do two things: communicate with your team in a clear and effective manner, and actively listen and turn to your team members for their thoughts and experiences as related to the project. 
  2. Trust your team. You may find yourself in a position where you lack specific technical expertise. In these cases, it is only human to feel stressed, because you may have questions about how you can clearly define the project's success metrics or the performance of your team. But a good project manager turns these situations into an opportunity to build a strong team by not micromanaging and allowing your team members to use their specific job-related expertise.  
  3. Understand your team members' individual motivations. In theory, each member wants to complete the project on time and on budget, and wants to meet the project's goals. In practice, it's much more complex. As a good leader, you must take time to understand your team members' individual motivations. Comprehending their ambitions will help them trust you and will help you better understand how to utilize their unique talents. 
  4. Don't embarrass your team. In sports you hear a lot about "player's coaches." One of the characteristics these coaches share is they never embarrass their players in front of the media. They may take them aside in private and lay into them, but in public, this never happens. You can learn a lot from this. There are stakeholder demands, overruns, limited resources, etc. But no matter what, don't use these things as an excuse to make a scapegoat out of one of your team members. It's a really quick way of destroying a strong project team's morale and cohesiveness.
  5. Be flexible. This is perhaps the most important way to build strong teams. Too often the project plan becomes a rigid document that creates stress, uncommunicative environments and lack of cohesion in a team as a means to protect the project from pitfalls. But inevitably there will be bumps along the project road, so to protect the team from them, you must be adaptable. By focusing on flexibility, you will create strength, which can take many forms -- such as increased trust between team members, momentum to continue despite project troubles, and greater problem-solving abilities and initiative among team members.
What steps have you taken to build successful teams?
Posted by Voices Team on: December 11, 2013 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)
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