Eye on the Workforce

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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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Job Candidates' Growing Expectations

Back Up Project Resources

Bring on Replacements Faster

Improve Workforce Performance Through Better Task Management Part 2

Improve Workforce Performance Through Better Task Management

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 (1)

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 (1)

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)

Improve Workforce Performance Through Better Task Management

Have you seen action items that look like this in meeting notes or on formal action item lists?

  • Need planning info from ops team
  • Tell architecture about issue
  • Change date to match sponsor's

During discussions, all of these made sense. But later, will people remember what each meant? It's the documentation that is lacking. This inadequate quality appears in hastily written or typed notes or just through bad habits. Unfortunately, written action items like these may lead to tasks that are not completed on time because workers did not know

  • who was to complete the task
  • exactly what to do
  • when the deadline was to complete the task.

You are a project manager who wants to ensure a high-performing workforce, so don't allow bad task documentation to get in the way. You have a lot of control over this, especially if you maintain a single compiled list of action items from all meetinhgs and discussions that many in the project contribute to.

Your objective is to enable someone to complete the task easily from the information documented.

First, make sure you get the basics documented every time. Everyone should make this a habit. Obtain these components:

Description . . . A clear, full statement of the task/goal. The trick here is to specify when it is truly done. That is, what exactly is the result desired. The three examples at the beginning do not do this well. Capture details here or expect problems.

Task Owner . . . The individual (not a team or group or role name!) that will ensure the task is completed. This person can delegate or get help, but is still responsible for getting the task done. The owner does not have to be at the meeting, so the clear, complete description is then even more important.

Date Started . . . You need this to track those items that are taking too long to complete and to have a record for future audits or lessons learned. There is another advantage that will be covered in the next post.

Due Date . . . This is important to create a sense of urgency in the owner. In addition, you can sort on due dates to bring attention to those that are due soonest. Sometimes Due Date is avoided because it is not clear at the moment what the due date is. The date can be so far in the future the date is not able to be specified. In these cases, would you put something like "N/S" or "TBD"? Don't do that. You need something to help manage your list of action items better. Instead of a particular date, you can put something like

  • "Prior to Build Phase"
  • "Before requirements document is complete"
  • "Before scheduling onsite visit"
  • "During close out activities"

These date alternatives provide a better tickler system when managing a longish list of action items. 

It is difficult to be complete and accurate on action items if you wait for the end of a meeting and have to cram everything in, so define the action items clearly as they arise in discussion and think of what the task owner has to know. Get everyone in the habit.

If your project team reviews action items every week, you should maintain this kind of rigor. You as the project manager, or your project coordinator, can review the action item list proactively to find basic documentation gaps that should be filled before or during the next task management meeting. Sort on due dates to see which items to discuss first. I recommend this approach over reviewing by the order in which they were created. 

Even with these tips you still have more productivity to gain. I'll provide more tips in my next post. Count on it - it's on my action item list.  

Posted on: November 19, 2014 11:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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