Eye on the Workforce

Workforce management is a key part of project success, but project managers often find it difficult to get trustworthy information on what really works. From interpersonal interactions to big workforce issues we'll look the latest research and proven techniques to find the most effective solutions for your projects.

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Recent Posts

When Collaboration Makes Things Worse

Job Candidates' Growing Expectations

Back Up Project Resources

Bring on Replacements Faster

Improve Workforce Performance Through Better Task Management Part 2

When Collaboration Makes Things Worse

New research helps us understand how to use collaboration better - and the findings do not mesh with what is currently fashionable.

The guidance we are hearing now promotes collaboration strongly. This story by NPR, for example, explains how workers are being tagged and tracked to determine how they use and move about the workspace. The objective is to design workspaces so that workers interact more efficiently. The article  mentions experimentation using different snacks to find which is better to get people to congregate more in the break room.

What you know now is probably a summary of what has been reported as successful in previous years:  co-locate workers, and if they are geographically separated, use technology to help them feel they are closely connected, and so on. Co-location is a value of the SCRUM methodology as well.

But wait, all this togetherness is not always the best way! Sometimes it is better to separate workers.

We know this from a timely study where researchers had different groups solve problems in different ways. You can read about the details, but the summary for our purposes here is that collaborating close together was better for researching and gathering useful information. There was less redundant work and more got done.

On the other hand, when information was applied to coming up with solutions, togetherness brought about groupthink - too much consistency and reduced creativity. The researchers concluded that the two activities, information-gathering and solutioning, required different methods of using workers. The former was best done with close collaboration. The later was got better results with much less collaboration.

There was a comment in the last part of the NPR story where a workspace designer recommended putting in secluded areas where workers can be alone to avoid group think. It was the study mentioned here that really clarified one activity that required seclusion.

What can you do with this information to help improve performance?

  • Do support people collaborating generally. There really are benefits proven over many years.

  • Look for work that has a component where options must be created and a solution determined. Examples are:

    • Design for new mobile web pages

    • Options for training the project workforce or for business user group that is affected by technology change brought by project

    • Finding vendors and technological solutions

    • Resolving complex project issues

  • When "solution work" is found, try to structure the process into two phases, fact-finding followed by solutioning.

    • Organize participants in the first phase, if needed, to collaborate to divide and conquer the work. For example, they could list training topics needed by the business user group.

    •  For the solutioning phase, organize a small group to work as individuals to come up with the best solution for covering those topics. Continuing with the example, working separately, the project training lead and a couple of senior reps from the user group who are working to be supervisors create separate solutions. Perhaps these could be judged by the manager of the user group to be trained. The point is that the solution is more likely to be innovative and effective if determined in this way.

Try this tactic in a small way in your project. Maybe it will catch on and you will have been a change agent to create a more innovative culture in your organization. Sometimes the project manager role can be very powerful.

Posted on: June 01, 2015 09:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Job Candidates' Growing Expectations

Categories: Manage People, Recruiting

What are you doing to recruit new workers? Is it what you did five or ten years ago? Have you made only incremental improvements? Do you use the same outlets to promote your open positions? Do your recruiters do the same thing they have done for years to promote your open positions?

If you - or your recruiters - are in fact doing essentially the same thing that was done years ago, think about something. When technology is involved, are you doing anything else the same way that you were doing it years ago? A new report out from Ultimate Software should be a kick in the seat of your pants. Candidates and employees have remarkable new expectations of employers and recruiting.

Regarding recruiting:

  • A large proportion of applicants are not willing to spend more than one minute reviewing a job description.

  • 43% of Millennials think they should be able to apply for a job on a tablet. A slightly smaller percentage expects to be able to apply on a smartphone.

Once you hire the best candidate, are you able to build a relationship over time with that new employee and be safe from turnover? According to the report:

  • It takes about a week for a third of workers to know whether they would stay at the company long term. Basically the rest said that they had decided within one month.
    (Would you expect a project worker to be engaged, that is to go "above and beyond" in their job to be successful, if they were soon looking for their next employer?)

  • Just under 3/4 of hired employees independent of generation want to know why they were selected over other candidates.
    (Not a bad idea. This information would allow them to know what is valued in the job so that can focus on the correct behaviors.)

  • 42% of Millennials want weekly feedback on their performance.

  • 45% of Millennials said they would quit their job if they did not see a career path that they wanted at the company.

Don't lose ground to competitors for talent. Make sure the recruiting process you use to find, hire and onboard your new workers is adapting to the expectations of the candidates. Some of these expectations are associated with Millennials now, but it won't be long until candidates from all generations have similar expectations. For example:

  • Summarize the key points of your position opening in the first few sentences. Be marketing-savvy and make sure you hook the best candidates right off.

  • Include in position descriptions statements that feedback on performance is provided often. It is a good hook for Millennial candidates, but you better make sure it happens.

  • While you are improving position descriptions, add information that the position is part of one or more career paths in the organization, if this is true. This will be another good hook.

  • Longer-term, if you do not have either of the above 2, then you should help make sure it is created or arrange feedback specific for your project.

Posted on: February 22, 2015 09:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Back Up Project Resources

You are checking that a critical task is done, so you call your contact for the quick update. She's out of the office. Not coming back for days. No problem, you check for someone else on her team. But none of them have been briefed on the task nor have they been assigned to work with you. "Can they help you?" you ask.  Unfortunately no, they are not able to assist you.

Now you don't know if the task is completed and whether other related work can continue.

In general, it should not be hard for someone to answer your question, but no one has been assigned as an alternate or backup, so you hit a wall. With your head. Over and over.

Sure resources may be tight all over. But if someone is responsible to complete tasks for a project, then that worker should assign someone as a backup when out of the office for a day or more. The backup does not have to do a lot of work necessarily, just provide basic information to keep the ship on course. And the backup must know in advance and get a briefing of the project work in general.

What can you do if this is not routine in your project environment?

  • Make it a part of regular preparation for someone leaving to be backed up. Tell project workers in advance. Remind team members during the project
  • Make it formal in your resource list by adding a column for backup.
  • If, for some reason, an individual cannot assign a backup, then make sure steps are taken to provide updates to you and any required completed work prior to extended time out of the office.
  • Require reports before resources leave for prolonged periods (whatever is appropriate for your project). These reports can be just an update of the status of the task, but they can also explain what is going to happen and not going to happen while they are out.
  • Understand and account for the effect on the project of certain key unique resources being out.

Key unique Key resources in this case are those who play a major project role that cannot be duplicated over a particular period. When key unique resources are away during this period, then adverse impacts on the schedule are likely and you need to know what they are in advance. This would best be handled in detailed planning before a phase begins.

First, you identify resources with major roles - that cannot be duplicated - during  a specific period. Second, you make sure they are not in Aruba for two to three weeks during that period. If they are, make schedule adjustments for that task/activity to stop until the resource returns.

Key unique resources are not always one person. A specialized work team (design, training, etc.) can be a key unique resource. If a team is scheduled to be out for an off-site annual planning session, you experience the same problem in your project.

  • You can tell people to do this at the beginning of your project and remind them during it. Reminders are especially useful before major holidays and summer vacation time.
  •  When you create your resource list, request backups to be added at that time.
  • Keep team schedules where people can post their outages and you can review months ahead to stay ahead of problems.

When the timeline is tight and resources are thin, you will wage a constant battle with time away. Make it a little easier to manage by improving your documentation and communication. You will benefit and others I your project will benefit. And they will remember you for that.

Posted on: February 08, 2015 10:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Bring on Replacements Faster

Our theme this month is emerging trends and I wrote an article based on economic and demographic trends. It was about retaining employees - avoiding "job switching" to other employers or other projects in the face of more opportunities in the improving economy.

But there is more to tell on how to adapt to these current economic changes. Namely, what do you do if, despite your efforts to retain workers, you have to replace a worker? Job switching is more of an issue now and will increase in the future. Recruiters are using LinkedIn and other sophisticated methods to find those who are unsatisfied with their current positions. Replacement is time consuming and expensive, so you want to do whatever you can to reduce these adverse impacts.

These ideas should help get you started.

Position your position and culture as desirable . . . Workers in all demographic groups want  flexibility, manageable deadlines and management who cares. To the extent your project and organization can meet these needs, promote that in your job opening descriptions to differentiate your position from competitors.

For positions or temporary assignments that need less experience, perhaps those desirable to Millennial generation candidates, promote what you do to focus on their developmental needs. Describe how you enable growth and development while on the job.

Help your own recruiters sell you position in a sophisticated manner. Your recruiters may not know how appealing your project is, but you do. Give them the information they need to sell it.

Understand the recruiting process early . . . Meet with your recruiters to see what the process entails. Review it to determine what you will have to do to move quickly if necessary. What are the lead times? Is there anything for which you need clarification before you have to actually follow the process?

Prepare in advance for worst case scenario . . . Reduce risk by identifying the key resources - the ones that will cause issues immediately if they  leave. Have a contingency plan ready. It may be that you just immediately look for a quick replacement and, if there is not one, then you communicate a project issue related to the activity. You may have to put the activity on pause until a replacement found. This is the kind of thing you need to know in advance.

Get your other workers involved .. . Others in your project and workplace know people who may make great candidates. Use them. You may already have some kind of recruitment program where your own employees can be rewarded for finding successful candidates. If so, promote this program when a resource gap opens. If you have no such program, then ask your team for help. They have connections and will want to get the right person in place.

Don't be caught short as job switching increases. Do some basic planning so that you are ready to act quickly to replace resources who are lost. It's an important way to ensure your project is delivered successfully.

Posted on: December 20, 2014 05:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Improve Workforce Performance Through Better Task Management Part 2

My last post was about improving the basics of documenting action items. But is that all you want to do? Are you just a good project manager? Don't you want to excel in multiple areas? Sure you do and high productivity in task management is key to improving project team performance,

To get the maximum amount of productivity, especially in larger projects, you should maintain additional columns of information. This will require a spreadsheet or similar function on a web share. It will allow you to filter and sort a large number of action items for efficient management.

Here are a couple more columns to use.

Status . . . The purpose of this column is to display progress on the action. Immediately, you will see that two statuses are basic: In Progress and Closed. You want to be able to filter out all items that have been closed without losing a record that they were worked and completed.

But also consider using Entered. You want to distinguish items just entered at a meeting from those that have been formally delegated. Imagine the situation where someone is delegated as Responsible for an action item in a meeting where that person does not attend. You can't call that In Progress. Your job as project manager will be to ensure these items are properly delegated. It's much easier when you can filter a list to get all those with status Entered.

Maybe improvements can be made in how fast items delegated to those not in meeting.

Target or Solution Source . . . This is the place where you list the person, group or organization that will be where you go for resolution of the action. It may be a vendor, a group in Technology, the business sponsor, a SME, or some other group.

How does this add productivity? Imagine having a very long action item list created over many days from many meetings and individuals and also wanting to be as efficient as possible in knocking these action items out. You have a meeting with the vendor and know that you have many action items connected to that vendor. Not having the Target column, you would have to look through details of all the action items to derive what the target is. With this column, you can quickly filter to get a list of items just for the vendor. Neat. Sweet.

Another example:  If you are getting ready for a meeting with the business sponsor, as part of your preparation, you simply filter this list to find all items listed for sponsor. Now you have time to actually get the sponsor's attention!

To get the most benefit, use the same spreadsheet, shared datasheet or web share list for documenting actions and questions from all meetings. You just have to have the ability to sort and filter.

I'll provide more ideas in the future. In the meantime, let me know: What has worked for you?

Posted on: December 16, 2014 07:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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