Give Your Project a Home
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?
3 Tips for Remote Control
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?
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:
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?
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.
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.
A few years ago, after I finished a presentation about multigenerational and multicultural teams in Mexico City, Mexico, someone in the audience asked me what kicked off my interest in these topics, which have become a bigger trend in the past decade. The first thing that came to mind was a proverb that my late father used to say to my brother and me: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. He wanted to remind us that we need to adapt to the conditions of our environment.
My father was a member of the Silent Generation. He faced many challenges during his childhood and adolescence, but he was able to adapt to every circumstance and went on to explore opportunities in many fields: factory worker, amateur sportsman, mechanic, and opera and popular music singer. Through his interest in opera, he taught himself foreign languages -- he wanted to know what he was singing so he could add emotion to his act. Later, when he explored popular music, he learned to play guitar and created his own performance style. This is how he adapted to different environments -- by learning constantly and proactively.
Despite being from the Silent Generation, my father was an extrovert in his own way, which led him to be a great relationship builder. During our Sunday strolls in Mexico City, he always looked for tourists who needed directions and took the opportunity to practice the languages he had learned and ask questions about their culture. Adapting is as much pushing yourself to learn on your own as it is learning from others.
And while my father and that good old proverb inspired my interest in these topics, here's one piece of advice I can give you from personal experience: To master multicultural and multigenerational issues, it's pivotal to keep a positive attitude and accept the challenges that different environments offer.
What sparked your interest in multicultural and multigenerational teams? Was it second nature, or did you need to do so for a project?