Project Management

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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Recent Posts

Project Site Design For Stakeholders (Part 1)

Keeping Good Workers According to Experience and Research

Help Yourself by Helping Your Team

Countering the Most Difficult Strategy Implementation Obstacles

Resource Problems in Org Change Management (RPA)

Project Site Design For Stakeholders (Part 1)

Categories: Manage People

I pay attention to your comments, believe me. This post, in fact, was driven by comments to an article of mine on ProjectManagement.com. Daniel Moskowitz and Luis Branco requested more information on techniques I wrote about in Improve Stakeholder Relations by Adding a Social Component related to building a project web share site that will be effective for stakeholders. I got started on my response to the comments and it turned into almost two full posts.

The goal, according to the original article, is to have a project share site that not only works for your project team, but also attracts stakeholders and has useful and timely information they need to keep them doing their job in the project, however that is defined. 

These design ideas and communication enhancers are based on sites I have created and also from what I have seen done by others. Always keep your audience in mind. Stakeholders do a lot and your project is just a small part of their work life. They may have just minutes to understand what is happening in your project and be able to respond/participate properly.

What to Place Front & Center

Provide stakeholders with what they need immediately or with just a click. Give them basic context.

  • Put a title and summary at the top to clearly explain that the purpose of the site is more than to house project documents but is in part to meet stakeholder needs.
  • Next, place a brief "What's Happening Now" with text and links to related status files and deliverables. For example, if you are gathering requirements, state that and describe the work sessions and review meetings that are happening (with dates if a calendar is not part of the site) and link to the latest draft requirements document. Put a link to the email of someone who can answer questions and add people to meetings.
  • This is the spot to place the link to the discussion area and specifically the discussion connected to what is happening now. Some applications may allow you to display the last items in the discussion in kind of a snapshot on your project Home page.
  • Be diligent about keeping this section updated. It will be a key landing point for your "push" emails that send stakeholders to the site. More on these later.

To summarize, then, your "front and center" content should include

  • Current activity summary description
  • Link to files that are related to those current activities
  • Link to meetings, activities and team members that are related to those current activities
  • Links to discussions, showing recent posts if possible

Other Content & Where to Place It

The application you use to build your project site typically allows you to format your page with one or two "rails" on the sides for additional content, links, announcements, etc. that are not important or urgent enough to put "front and center". They can contain links to other areas of the site. You can also use the area below the "front and center" section for additional detail that is more static.

  • Links to document repositories for use by project team members who know the organization of the folders
  • Announcement bullets and link to archive of communications from the project.
  • Upcoming events and link to project calendar
  • It may also be useful to include an embedded presentation that summarizes project foundational information, especially when you have new stakeholders added later during the project. This will allow new people to catch up on the basics without involving you or your team in excessive rework.

Avoid These Design Mistakes

It's easy to become excited about what you can do, but a common problem is putting in too much content on the Home page that must be updated. Soon, for various reasons, you will have less time and desire to manage this page. If someone else is updating the page, perhaps there is less of a problem.

Look critically at what you create to see that you have not simply left the design to "default" or "common" without thinking about stakeholders.

  • Unnecessary navigation - Stakeholders do not want to navigate through folder layers that make sense only to the person who organized them. Keep direct links to the latest summary updates, statuses, files, etc. front and center.
  • Lack of background - Stakeholders, especially those who get involved later in the project, need a quick briefing on your project. Make this easily available, but don't let it take up the whole Home page which is commonly seen. Make it available by a link, even if it is a presentation.

In my next post, I will describe more about applications that are used and using "push" and "pull" emails.

Posted on: January 12, 2020 06:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Keeping Good Workers According to Experience and Research

Losing workers during a project is very disruptive. You have to replace that worker or extend the project activity in order to respond properly. But replacing that worker takes a lot of time, including identifying the correct candidate, interviewing candidates, making a decision, waiting for that individual to make a decision and actually begin, then onboarding that new worker. How much time does that take in your organization

It should be worth your time, then, to use tactics to keep workers in place. Sometimes tactics related to keeping workers happy require that the workers report directly to you. Yet there are still plenty of tactics that are effective even if project workers do not report directly to you. James Sudakow made some good points recently regarding manager behaviors and employee burnout. Here I have adapted a couple of his points for you as project manager to avoid workers quitting. After that, I added related guidance built off findings from a study publicized recently.

 

Make sure workers know why changes are required

In recent posts I have written about the importance of letting the project workforce know about the strategy behind the project. But there is more to this. Project workers should also know the reason behind project changes. For example, be clear when changes to requirements is driven by better stakeholder understanding of the final solution and will provide better benefits in the end. Or that changes in the schedule are due to a dependent project that will now be in sync and provide a better customer experience.

Avoid getting busy and just quickly organizing the project adjustment without providing a full explanation to connect workers to the big picture. Always provide time to answer worker questions. You must show that you care about team member involvement and to do that you must be responsive to their questions, their concerns, and their feedback.

 

Monitor for poor performance and deal with it

Where have you seen poor performance affecting your project workers? It could have been from stakeholders who are slow to respond to requests. It could be from partners who do not provide information in a timely manner. It could have been from workers on your team who are actually weak links in the chain. When it is project workers, you should act quickly to remedy that poor performance. It is especially important for those on your team to know that you will do something about this if they cannot. You must identify poor performers and facilitate their improvement so that negative impact does not impact the rest of the team. If you have to escalate the deficiency to the individual’s manager, do so.

 

Be wary of stretch goals

You might be under the impression that stretch goals in your project will be an effective way to motivate your team to better productivity. Unfortunately, you would be mistaken.

How do we know? There was a study done within the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, which is doing a lot of research of interest to project managers. This study looked specifically into the effectiveness of stretch goals. To summarize the findings, it was determined that stretch goals are rarely effective, except in the case of certain organizations that accept high risk, in particular, the ability to accept certain financial losses in search of a “winner”. Other organizations did not benefit and even suffered from using stretch goals.

What does this mean to you? It means that you should think twice before planning your schedule with short duration as a motivation tool or to fit in a larger organizational stretch goal. Instead,

  • Calculate practical durations for activities and phases
  • Involve your team and people who are experienced in determining proper durations for activities in your plan
  • Use information from the past that will allow you to incorporate the realities of the work environment and the business culture.

These are proven steps that build success and worker engagement, and do not demotivate workers with unrealistic deadlines.

 

Whether or not you have direct report responsibility, you have a lot of influence over whether your project workers stay in your project or leave it. The simple tactics above, and many other good management practices, are not complicated and will keep you from suffering the fate of those who must replace lost workers midstream in their projects.

 

Don’t forget to check out my articles on this site (two decades worth!) for more tactics to succeed in managing your workforce.

Posted on: December 17, 2019 09:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Help Yourself by Helping Your Team

How many times have you read an article with manager or supervisor techniques and come away disappointed that you could not use them as a project manager? They are meant for entrepreneurs, those with direct reports in operations or just make assumptions that are not true for you.

It's frustrating because no manager could use help more than a project manager with temporary teams, temporary efforts and a rotating list of skeptical stakeholders. Luckily, you are able to use many of the same tactics, certainly those that focus on influencing and motivating rather than those leveraging your authority over salary and career advancement. 

This blog has covered many of these techniques over the years. The techniques below allow you to get the most out of a project team even if it is temporary, and not burn the individuals out or misuse them or abuse them. The best techniques allow you to end up with project team members who would be glad to join your team again.

Help project team members with their personal advancement

You may not be able to promote workers or give them new roles in the organization, but you can help them meet their career development goals.

  • For your project team members, keep a list of the types of things that would help them be able to meet their career advancement goals. Just add a column to your team member register and insert general personal development interests.
  • When you have an opportunity that is a match for their needs, get their assistance. Is it running a meeting? Working with a stakeholder? Completing a report? Do not assume that this will take more of your time. Make it a win-win. Delegate more to save time to spend on your higher priority tasks.

  • Keep a record of your activities for your own career development. You can show in your performance evaluations that you are a developer of talent on the job. That is beneficial in any organization.

Help the changing team work together better

You may know tactics related to helping individuals work better. For example, you may be able to recognize ways to set up an individual for success in their role. What you may not have practiced previously is techniques used to help the entire team work together better. This is more important in projects where workers enter and exit the project work at different times. When new members enter a team, act to minimize the “bond” that the existing team members have.

  • When one or more new team members enter the work environment, pause and have everyone meet in a “team restart” to learn about each other and their experiences and expertise. This doesn’t have to be of long duration. Speed them up by sending basic info in advance, then getting more personal during the restart.

  • Organize these, for example, prior to phases where resources change.

  • Include a discussion of lessons learned in the project to help new resources get a head start and build a sense of sharing. For example, tips about working with stakeholders or advice on working with partner organizations.

Make sure your employees feel a sense of accomplishment

We often talk about motivating workers by giving them positive reinforcement publicly. But we do not always focus on a related technique of helping them feel a sense of accomplishment. This turns out to be important – especially important in environments where a feeling of accomplishment is more rare. Examples of such environments are those that commonly have long projects, or where resources move quickly from project to project without having a chance to think about their impact.

  • When major milestones are met, especially when the project has been completed, send a note of appreciation and specify the results obtained and the benefits achieved so that the project team members can see what was accomplished.

  • Acknowledge the obstacles they overcame, and the extra time they put in. Be specific so that it is easy for them to capture that sense of accomplishment.

These tactics will not only motivate your project workers, they will help make you stand out as a more sophisticated project manager. When you get results and have a motivated team, you are a valuable resource in any organization.

Posted on: October 20, 2019 11:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Countering the Most Difficult Strategy Implementation Obstacles

In my article this month I discussed tactics to assist you with strategy implementation by maintaining the proper culture. That article did not look at troubleshooting tactics, but I'm rectifying that here with several troubleshooting tactics that will help you take your career to the next level. You might want to check out the article first to make sure you get certain background information.

On to troubleshooting. Recall that in a project or program closely associated with strategy implementation, you as a project manager have a critical role in helping achieve the business strategy. That gives you a certain prestige, power, cache. Don't be afraid to use it. But use it wisely by taking careful steps.

Characterize identified obstacles to escalate properly

Suppose you identify an obstacle to implementing business strategy such low participation by one or more stakeholders. Is the cause simple overallocation or actually resistance to the strategy? Those are two very different situations. If you can, you need to know before you can effectively intervene.

Problems that stakeholders report that are from known competing priorities or reduced resources are common and can be handled through your typical risk and issue management. On the other hand, problems arising from certain "silos" that do not want to participate, require a different tactic.

What would be the cause of resistance to the business strategy? Some individuals, job roles, or departments can be affected negatively by the strategic plan being implemented. Jobs can be lowered in prestige, shifted around the organizational structure or even lost. Implementing business strategy is serious business. And you can represent danger as the project manager. Even if the fear or anxiety is unfounded resistance can still affect your "strategy" project and must be dealt with.

What might you hear from a stakeholder or partner if there is resistance to the business strategy? Hint: You will not hear "I disagree with the business strategy." But listen for phrasing like in these examples:

  • "I have the resources to assign, I just don't see how this department benefits."
  • "This division's focus is really in a different direction."
  • "Your project is not part of what our group supports."
  • "Look, I just can't support this project."

Or you may get a tip off from another stakeholder or sponsor that one or more stakeholders are known to be negatively affected by the strategic changes and then see actual resistance.

Intervene effectively for resistance to the strategy

Suppose that you have followed all these steps and identified and have evidence that a stakeholder Is not participating because of resistance to the strategy itself. In this case you must use a very specific type of intervention that is unlike the regular risk and issue management process you normally follow.

  • Get guidance from the sponsor for the first step. Depending on the specific stakeholder (or group) and situation, you may be asked to intervene with a certain message. Alternately, it may be taken up by higher levels of the organization associated with strategy.
  • If you have the intervention conversation, prepare so you are confident and clear. Remember that you have the prestige of managing a project directly connected with implementing business strategy. The effort requires participation.
  • If you escalate, be prepared for the "organizational" resolution to take some time. Ask the sponsor if it is appropriate to "pause" your project if you cannot push work any further.

Projects implementing business strategy are not given to just any project manager. You have to be able to handle the basics without thinking too much because you are dealing with higher-level risks and stakeholders - and the stakes are greater. Succeed by using your understanding of business relationships and breaking down complex problems into step-by-step solutions.

 

Posted on: August 07, 2019 09:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Resource Problems in Org Change Management (RPA)

This is the fourth post in a series related to Robotic Process Automation*, begun in association with PMI's Information Systems and Technology Symposium, June 14, 2017, where I presented Becoming an RPA-Ready Project Manager. You can filter posts in this blog to find all related to "RPA". You can also watch that presentation for PDU credit.

Without the right prepared resources during organizational change, frustration will be the order of the day. Deadlines will cause conflict. The much-touted vision will ring hollow. Success will be difficult.

In an initiative where organizational change is brought about by automation, including rolling RPA projects, resources have to be available at certain times to complete specific work. If they are not available, then the frustration spiral takes over. Examples below from such a hypothetical organizational change show how to identify and deal with resource problems and how to avoid errors managing resources over which you have control.

 

Organizational Change Effort Role: RPA Project Team Business Process Specialists

Potential Problem: You lead an RPA project that will be completed within a couple of months and representatives from the business that know the process to be automated are not available or not assigned near the point at which you are to start. This could be due to:

  • Group’s lack of knowledge of the commitment required in such a project. The work is rapid and agile-like if not agile, and the significant time involved for many days is not familiar to some.
  • Group does not have firm acceptance of the vision of the organizational change.

…or other reasons

 

What You Can Do as Project Manager:  No matter what the reason that caused the problem,

  • Ask advice on how to proceed from your peers in the organizational change effort. Nuance is critical for your success.
  • Attempt to contact the individual in charge of assignments to understand what the situation is and resolve it quickly.
  • Log a risk or issue if you don't have name(s) on time.
  • Talk directly to assigned specialists and explain what specific time commitments are required. Identify any lack of availability during project.
  • Communicate to stakeholders any availability problems. Again, log a risk or issue to manage this formally. In a short project, any small delay hurts.

Organizational Change Effort Role: Change Specialists

Potential Problem:  Your project is dependent on a separate effort to communicate about the change in advance and to get general agreement with the vision but evidence you see does not indicate that the communication has occurred, or the vision has been accepted. This could be caused by:

  • Too few change specialists
  • Badly managed change communications
  • Change specialist (or change manager) role given to some who did not have time or ability to do it correctly

…among other reasons.

The result is that certain project team members, partners, stakeholders are not hurrying to work with you. They do not know what your project is. Or they are avoiding your project.

What You Can Do as Project Manager:  No matter what the reason that caused the bad communications, you must act when the environment is not conducive to success. In any organizational change effort,

  • Attempt to contact change specialists who can remediate the problems with communication/training. Be positive, but don't hold your breath waiting.
  • Raise a risk if there is a pattern of non-participation or obstacles related to lack of communication. Be specific about who has not committed as expected by a certain date and what the consequences are to the project. Do not exaggerate. Clarity on your part minimizes ugly drama that can be involved in resolution.
  • Look for change-related communications sent (or that should have been sent) by change specialists, explaining what the organization is doing for automation and the benefits being sought. They may also include success stories from elsewhere in the organization. Integrate key principles and points in your communications for your specific project for continuity of message.

 

There are many other roles in an RPA project, but the example of business process specialists is good to address because success of the project is mostly dependent on their availability.  Likewise, there are many roles in a large organizational change effort, even one that is solely built around continuous automations. Change specialists are key to setting up a positive environment for you to manage your project. Unfortunately, you as a project manager have less authority to manage problems associated with roles outside the scope of your project. Still, your usual tactics of (a) direct communications with constructive problem-solving and (b) risk management are useful there as well. Using those tactics will make you a positive force against frustration in organizational change.

(If you are thinking that Resources needs certain skills for automation projects and organizational change then you are correct, but we will deal with the issue of skills in a future post.)

  

* Robotic Process Automation:  Configuring a software robot, using one of the relatively new tools available, to complete a certain part of a work process formerly completed by FTEs. RPA is not Artificial Intelligence, but simply a way of automating the execution of well-defined business rules. Projects are short and bring quick benefits to the organization.

Posted on: June 21, 2019 01:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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Very funny, Scotty. Now beam down my clothes.

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