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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Stay Confident for Awkward Communications

Leading by Listening (Part 2)

Leading by Listening (Part 1)

Lockdown! Just Like That Everything Changes (Now You Lead)

Project Site Design for Stakeholders (Part 2)

Leading by Listening (Part 2)

Continuing from Part 1, here are more tactics for being a leader without moving a muscle, just listening. This is active, focused listening, though. You are seeking two pieces of information critical in any widespread disruption: useful information about your project status and state of mind of your team members. With these two pieces of information you will be able to manage your project and appropriately show empathy so that each team member will feel more comfortable with the situation, even in chaotic circumstances. 

Focus on Recognition

When there is some type of global event that disrupts your project, it is difficult for your team members to get routine work done in a routine way. As you listen, look for opportunities to increase the positivity of the work environment by making sure you recognize work that has been completed.

  • Explicitly thank the team member for things that you might not normally recognize people for. Be sensitive that even a basic task being completed could have taken heroic efforts on the part of that individual or team.
  • Talk to the team members about what was done to complete a task so that you can get the full story. Then you can relay the story to the rest of the team. This reinforces the fact that you understand that it is difficult to get work done and everyone can enjoy the story and relate to it. It also gives you detailed information you need for monitoring and controlling.
  • Set the tone for continued recognition among members of the team. Recognition might be one of the very few positive areas that people experience in any typical day during a major disruptive event.

Build Confidence

As you ask questions to determine state of mind, you will likely identify opportunities to build the confidence of team member who may be questioning whether they can complete work in such a difficult work environment. You want team members to understand that they can apply their judgment where they have expertise to get work done but may simply need help to manage through the unusual circumstances resulting from the disruption. A couple of examples:

  • Their expertise may be in Design, but their obstacle is that their interactions with the internal client representative has suddenly become uneven, good participation followed by long periods of silence.
  • Their expertise may be in Testing. But an obstacle may have arisen with the behavior of the target application testing environment which is not updated as usual or stable any more.

You can build confidence by explaining that team members do not have to be anxious over the constant new obstacles but can use guidance from you and others to understand the new circumstances creating the obstacles. In turn, team members can better identify and communicate obstacles that are keeping them from progressing. Additional benefit for you:  This will improve the information you get about work progress, risks, and issues even during a major disruption.

Loosen Control

While listening to team members, look for signs that you may need to "loosen the reins" of controls on individuals in project work. That is, if disruption creates more difficulty for teams to get work done, there are more obstacles and less progress. Less progress means less to report in a standard reporting period. Less reporting means less need for routine monitoring.

  • Reduce the rate of meetings. For example, prior to a routine team meeting, you can ask if there are updates. If not, cancel the meeting. This will eliminate the awkward meeting where many participants must report “no progress” which under normal circumstances in bad, but in the case of widespread disruption, is common. This is another way to show empathy. It also leaves you more time to talk to individuals about their state of mind.
  • Ask if it would help to allow team members make more decisions in the field, without necessarily having to coordinate as much with you as usual. If the organization is in flux, team members, being "closer to the obstacle" may know better the specifics of the unique obstacle's causes and be better situated to resolve it.
  • Log obstacles as risks. Does reducing meetings or giving teams leeway sound risky? If so, manage it as a risk. For instance, you can log a risk for the difficulty in completing tasks on time due to the widespread disruption effects on stakeholder participation or test environment stability.

Conclusion & More Help

Being a good listener is being a good leader. In a time of global disruption, a good leader having a firm grasp on his/her project, knowing the state of mind of team members, and showing empathy is rare and needed. With these listening skills you will be able to show yourself as a valuable member of the organization and improve your career prospects. Be sure to document these successes for future positions applications.

Here are articles I have written related to change interactions:

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/295709/Communication-Before-Big-Project-Change--Part-1-

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/297019/Communication-Before-Big-Project-Change--Part-2-

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/263095/Control-Techniques-for-the-Workforce--Dealing-With-The-Unsaid-

 

Posted on: June 29, 2020 04:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Leading by Listening (Part 1)

How are you doing? We are weeks into a wave of global lockdowns. You might be feeling anxious and frustrated while you work – or cannot work. Imagine what your project team is feeling. No, really, imagine what they are feeling. This will help you become a better leader in the most difficult of circumstances you will ever face. Read on to see how.

In an article which will be published on projectmanagement.com soon, I explain how to generate effective conversations with the right questions. (Once published, I will link it here.) In this post, this concept will be taken further - into the conversation itself. When the most difficult and disruptive situations occur, you must be able to interact effectively with project team members. Right now is one of those times. These techniques will allow you to emerge as a better leader in those conversations.

 

Your Two Objectives in a Worst-Case Scenario

You now have two objectives. One is to collect useful information for your project, information like whether a project team member currently has the technology available to complete his/her tasks. The second objective, the one more related to leadership, is to find out their state of mind.

 

The Importance of Being Empathetic

Don't be concerned if being empathetic is not your strong suit. In a massive global event, you and the person you are conversing with are experiencing a similar situation. Certainly there are some geographies, some countries, that are being hit much harder. And it is undeniable that some areas are suffering much more from restrictions forced by the global pandemic. But there is common ground! You will be able to begin conversations which include work situations, family situations and health situations. You will be able to determine what your team members are experiencing in an environment that has never been experienced before. They will feel the need to talk about it.

 

Listening Means Waiting

When you go into these calls, you will have effective questions to elicit conversation. What you do then is listen. One good tip to make sure you're listening properly is to wait at least three to five seconds, perhaps even more, before you say anything. Let the silence extend! Remember, in a case of global disruption, situations can be fraught, desperate, dire. When they are, responses may be slow, but you need to know, so wait.

 

Listen Without Judgement

Even though you believe it, avoid the bad habit of responding with "I know how you feel." You see this conversation play out constantly in movies and on TV. The reaction is generally, "No you don't!", which can happen to you when you make this judgement, so don't ever do it. It is a bad response and unnecessary.

Remember, your objective is to determine their state of mind. You want to get an idea of their frustration, anxiety, fear, whatever. If you can put a word to it, you can understand enough about what they are going through. In any situation that has to do with a global event or a major world disruption, you may have project team members in the depths of despair facing tremendous obstacles or at the heights of elation after surmounting obstacles.

If you are not be good in these difficult, fraught conversations, you can prepare to show you are empathetic by having “framed” responses in your mind. For example:

  • That must have been frustrating
  • You must be anxious at not knowing anything
  • Sounds like you went through a scary time
  • You must be happy to not have that problem any more

Notice how each one of these responses carefully puts a description on what the other person is experiencing. That shows you received the message and is comforting for the team member.

 

Avoid "Action Statements" Generally

Being a good listener does not mean that you have to act on anything. In fact, focusing your response on actions rather than empathy typically takes away from the benefits of empathy and interferes with your ability to determine state of mind.

 

Instead, Suggest Actions Via Questions

Here are some examples of where you would be an effective listener and leader by asking questions related to state of mind:

  • Do you need time off to deal with the health of your child?
  • Do you need time off to calm yourself?
  • Do you need to know when the project will be re-starting or what the business plans are?
  • Do you need help to shift to a different location to work?
  • What do you need now most of all?

These are just examples of where you can make it easier for the project team member while making the individual more comfortable or less anxious. Those are actions of a good leader.

 

In Part 2, more techniques will be described to become a better leader this way along with links to related articles.

Posted on: May 20, 2020 08:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Lockdown! Just Like That Everything Changes (Now You Lead)

Just like that things can change. When you are the project manager you are expected to respond, even if the source driving the change is far from the boundaries of your project. Even if the source is a global pandemic. The right response makes all the difference. The wrong response can be deleterious to the project and to your career. Being a leader means responding appropriately even when you are not sure which direction to go.

The situation is not as fraught as it seems, though. The fact is that you do not have to have all the answers to be a good leader. You can have the same questions as everyone else. To be a leader in a situation like this you have to use a different set of skills, those that are useful in the transition period between discovery of the change and when the response is clear.

What I have for you here, then, are some tips about what is important now and how to do it. After those tips are links to articles I have written previously that should also be useful now. I will continue to add new tips helping you respond to the global pandemic with links to useful articles and posts from the past.

Be a Good Listener

One of the most useful things you can do now is be a good listener.  Make your team members feel valued and listened to. Listen without comment or judgement to complaints, stories, ramblings and so on. Just being able to vent will help workers "process" what is happening and to later focus better on next steps. Showing empathy is a sign of a good leader and will gain support of your team.

Talk to individuals to find out what specific questions they have, what guidance they need. Groups often don't allow individuals to be open with comments. Use the phone to better pick up on verbal queues and respond clearly.

Projectmanagement.com just had a monthly theme of leading-edge trends. Showing empathy is an increasingly desirable trait. There is no better time than now to display your ability in this area. For example:

  • Be calm and forgiving
  • Give plenty of positive feedback
  • Respond to individual personal situations
  • Add plenty of time to handle errors
  • Find answers to questions that your team has and report back to them

More articles of mine that will help you display leadership during this time:

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/265000/The-Virtue-of-Patience

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/268526/Maintaining-Engagement-as-Part-of-Change-Management-

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/263095/Control-Techniques-for-the-Workforce--Dealing-With-The-Unsaid-

Use a Resource Schedule

A resource schedule is a valuable tool when a major event changes availability of resources especially when these changes are drastic. A resource schedule provides you with a list of resources and dates when each are supposed to be working on your project. It is a valuable guide to help you determine the impact of any constraint you have. The more drastic the change or constraints, the more useful it is. It also becomes a source of objective information for you to generate resource-related reports from your project.

You may have a resource schedule which is captured in a spreadsheet or on some type of project management or resource management application. This is a more formal rigorous method and will help you manage changes or manage conflicts due to an extension of your schedule

If you are not managing a project with such rigor and formality, then start one now. List all project team members in a column on the left and, to the right, add columns that show at least week by week. Add details for availability that you know, whether people are available or not.

Everything else is clearly what you don’t know. Do some research to fill in blanks but expect there to be gaps during major change. Maybe you cannot contact an individual or group for whatever reason. All this is important for your analysis and objective reporting of status.

Keep Learning as You Work

I’m sure you need many options for guidance now. I did some research on my previous articles that may be relevant to your particular situation in this global rolling event.

These are articles related to managing virtual teams better:

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/426745/Celebrate-More-with-Virtual-Teams

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/378912/Tactics-for-a-PMs-Consultative-Approach

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/305586/Three-Tactics-to-Improve-Performance-Through-Influence

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/282737/Build-a-Virtual-Team-Work-Infrastructure-to-Avoid-Collaboration-Misfires

You will have to have productive and constructive conversations with your sponsor and stakeholders during this period, so here are articles related to doing that better:

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/286674/Tips-for-Better-Sponsor-Interactions

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/295709/Communication-Before-Big-Project-Change--Part-1-

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/297019/Communication-Before-Big-Project-Change--Part-2-

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/288977/Your-New-Priority--Retaining-Project-Workers

Here are two articles connected to problem solving better. You can imagine that there will be a few problems to solve.

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/613499/Promote-Creativity-for-Better-Team-Problem-Solving

https://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/284673/Four-Steps-to-Solving-Problems---Despite-Being-an-Outsider

Last but not least, see posts on this blog after you filter on Change Management.

Stay safe!

 

Posted on: April 09, 2020 07:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Project Site Design for Stakeholders (Part 2)

In the previous post and an article, Improve Stakeholder Relations by Adding a Social Component, we have been exploring how a web share site for stakeholders is a good way to keep them in communication and involved, but you have to use the correct tactics to make it all work. There were a couple of topics requested from readers that were left to cover: building the site itself and using a push email to make it easier for stakeholders to get involved.

Building the Site

Just how to build such a site depends on the applications and tools you have at your disposal. Some of these are listed at the bottom of this post. If you have an enterprise platform to build a cover page and link to files and a discussion area, that is all you need.  If you are not sure at all how to proceed, try these steps:

  • Find the individual who manages the shared space, or at least controls access.
  • Request permission to build your project site or edit a basic one created for you. Feel free to use a page within an existing site.
  • If you cannot figure out how to place content on the page, identify someone who can coach you or even build the site for you. Plan to spend less than an hour to get your new design functional.

As stated in the article and previous post, the cover page is the most important. The first page can be and probably should be your only developed page in most situations. Why? Because any additional pages will take more time to administer and update over time. If you have a project coordinator or other person who can make updates to the site in a timely fashion, then feel free to build out additional pages within reason.

Beyond your initial page, additional pages might do the following:

  • Describe the project in detail for individuals who are added on later to the project and to whom you do not want to have additional meetings to get them up to speed on basic information. This would need to include impact statements for each stakeholder area.
  • Describe in detail risks and issues for stakeholders. Where risks and issues are complex or need to be highlighted on a special page that can be linked from the main page, a new focused page on any urgent or important risks and issues can be very useful. A focus on risks and issues may not be appropriate for the main page where you want to keep content simple and immediate. If risks and issues are going to take more time to describe that is more space and more wording to describe, then you want to have a focus page with diagrams or other explanatory text targeted to stakeholders. Finally, this page can motivate stakeholders to join related online discussions.

Combining the "Push" Email Effectively with Project Site and Discussion Area

The push email is the email sent out with the intent to provide info and draw stakeholders to the discussion area. Here's an example.

The situation is that a complex issue has arisen that may affect the scope and schedule of the project. You, as project manager, plan to send out an ad hoc push email to summarize the issue and connect stakeholders to additional details and to a related online discussion to answer stakeholder's initial questions prior to a decision meeting that must be scheduled two to three weeks out.

In this case, you do not want to overwhelm stakeholders with a complex email. You would rather send them to a space where you can start gathering their input prior to the future decision meeting and avoid inadequate communication or miscommunication.

  • Content paragraph - with header stating that it describes the issue that is causing the project to be red. After the header is a summary, very brief, of the issue and its impact on the project and what is being done. This paragraph must include the "action requested", an appeal to stakeholders that discusses the benefits of their going to the links provided.
  • Links area - Under the content paragraph are direct links, for instance, to the page, file or content that describes the issue in detail. Another link can go directly to the discussion area where you are seeking input and answering questions. These two areas should link to each other as well. Another link can be to the latest status report.

With building the site and the push email covered, questions from readers have now been answered. Thanks for reading my articles, posts and for your active involvement in projectmanagement.com!

 

A Variety of Possible Tools

Here are examples of platforms or applications that are designed to provide information and interaction that can be used in a project environment. You want the ability to create a customized page for your project, to post project files and to create a discussion area.

  • MS SharePoint
  • Microsoft OneNote
  • Dropbox business
  • Google Drive
  • Smart Sheet
  • Open Text ECM
  • Word press
  • Box
  • Evernote
  • Asana
  • Trello
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Jabber
  • Confluence
  • base camp
  • Workplace by Facebook
  • Podio

In a pinch, just a shared drive can be manipulated to meet the design objectives, the "Home" page being a single file.

Posted on: February 17, 2020 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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)
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