Project Management

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.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Keep Workers from Quitting

RPA, Organizational Change and Managing the Skills Gap

Leading Questions with Focus on Project Team

Stay Confident for Awkward Communications

Leading by Listening (Part 2)

Keep Workers from Quitting

You may have seen somewhere reports that workers across industries are quitting their jobs,  to seek better options that align with improved quality of life. One key stimulus for this is that they feel their current job is just not meaningful enough. Pandemics seem to add a new perspective the old job.

How would your project be affected if one or more team members simply resigned? At the very least, there would a disruptive period where the replacement process would have to play out. In a more difficult situation, you would face significant delays. You should want to avoid this situation, but what do you know about making work meaningful? What are you, a psychologist?

Well, maybe you do have a few tricks up your sleeve to make the situation better. And don't think it is all that difficult. You do not have to have an advanced degree in psychology to make work more meaningful. Sometimes all you need to do is show you care. Consider the following to adjust to the "new" new normal.

Remain aware of the key reasons people are giving for leaving (according to a Microsoft survey, at least, which also concludes that there are millions more ready to quit - yikes!).

  • Stagnating career
  • Sameness of their lives
  • Lack of fair treatment
  • Unnecessary income
  • unsafe workplace
  • Not engaged in workplace - disconnected from others

Some of these you will have little power to change, but others, such as not being engaged or stagnating career, you can help with.

Be aware also that Generations are being affected differently and it is clear that leaders are disconnected from their employees. According this report, younger workers are experiencing more negative affects than older workers. If you are not sure where to start, check with younger workers first.

Here's a quick example to show how simple a solution can be. Do you know anyone who is not satisfied with their current situation? This person may have already expressed their discontent or dissatisfaction with their job or the work environment.

  • Respond to this person by determining more detail about the situation. Do they desire more flexible work hours so that they can pursue charitable work or a meaningful hobby? You may have the power to approve adjustments that make all the difference.

Not all your interventions will be easy, of course. My article on the recent site topic of Inclusion leads to an important response consideration during the Great Resignation, as this situation has been called.  If you request feedback related to job satisfaction, be ready to handle this feedback appropriately.

  • Be ready to respond to someone whose comments make you uncomfortable. Someone may contradict you, or just not agree with your assessment of the situation, perhaps involving workplace fairness. Someone may have an unusual suggestion. It is important to remain open to these ideas, not to shut them down or minimize them. Remain calm.
  • Keep disagreement from becoming conflict by respecting opposing views. Seek to understand more about these ideas. Set up a follow-up if needed, but show that you are interested in resolving any problem connected with the workplace.
  • Act quickly on this feedback, however is appropriate for your project. If an action item is needed to improve the morale or to add meaning to worker's efforts, get started on that action item. The firs one you do will reflect on your commitment to more. First impression

Think about how the work environment affects your project team. Does it treat people as nameless resources who are required to get work done on time even if sacrifices must be made? Or does the work environment treat everyone with respect as individuals? To fix a bad work environment is complex. Your actions to improve the situation in your project does not have to be.

Start by asking project team members what would make work more meaningful to them. It may be more work that builds new skills so they can improve their career. Or maybe you need to actively assist someone to be more involved in the decisions of the team. Or someone may need time away from work to do something personally unique and exciting. Or it may be that you need to arrange a fun, non-work activity for your team where they can interact and rebuild rapport.

If the problem turns out to be similar to situations like these, you very likely have the power and influence necessary to be mount a successful intervention and to help give more meaning to worker's lives.  

Consider also this comment recently on a related article that I wrote.

BEVERELEY JAMES commented on How to Stay Empathetic During Complex Projects.

"A PM or Leader should strive for a culture that allows authentic and constructive concerns to surface so that empathetic responses can be given to address them. This type of environment does not always exist. An article on how to encourage/create that type of environment would be very helpful as well."

 This post partly fulfills your request Bevereley. I know I wrote a series on this topic and I will find that (those) ad post on this blog next time.

Posted on: September 19, 2021 07:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Leading Questions with Focus on Project Team

What  is the difference between management and leadership? Alert reader Luis Branco suggested this question in a comment to an article I wrote and it is a good question to ponder. In my experience there is less a binary definition than a continuum. On one extreme there is being a beacon for people to follow as they struggle through a dark,  uncertain period to get to a brighter future. On the other extreme is driving efficient task management.

In this post and my previous article  on "leading questions", I focus more on the leadership side for common situations in the PM world where skills should be built up. It may be a while before you are able to be an executive communicator, but you do have opportunities now to rise above common project management task wrangling and do leadership-side preparation and communications. If you are a newer project manager, this type of leadership skill can help you move into more complex projects and be recognized as a more advanced project manager. Many of us have done the same. If you have more experience, but need more focus to improve, there are tactics below to help.

Know Your Targets:  Project Team

For your leadership-side communications to your project team members,  you need to help them prepare for the future (medium-term to long-term), to understand the environment in which they work, and to see the larger context of their efforts. This context is beyond managing to a task list, no matter how sophisticated it is. Note also how this communication is parallel to an executive providing the context of the marketplace and "direction" for the organization.

Ask yourself these "leading questions". Add more questions for your situation. Not all questions are relevant to all situations, but you should have at the ready a broad list to make sure you  to stay ahead of emerging problems with your communications and actions.

  1. Work Environment . . . Is there a work environment situation that may effect your team's ability to complete work? Is there a business context documented in the business case that affects how to surmount obstacles? Are stakeholders involved in conflicting work? Has the sponsor apprised of a conflicting business initiative? Is there a big change required by the team, such as a new methodology like agile, a brand new team or a new type of complex project? How do tactics for succeeding at the next phase follow new guidance or priorities from the organization or enterprise?
  2. Risks/Issues /Challenges . . . What are the new risks or issues to be addressed? Has the project team been involved in looking for risks? What did the project team identify? Who is affected? How must they be involved? How best to communicate to the effected?
  3. Preparation for Resolution . . . What are the next decisions to be made so that the project team can progress? What information is needed? What type of session is needed to bring participants to agreement? How is the project team best involved in preparation for resolution? How do any resolution decisions need to be communicated? Who gets the communication? When are the next meetings where communications must be made? Who needs to attend? What are their interests? How can these interests be addressed in preparation for the meeting? What information needs to be collected to resolve the issue(s)? What questions need to be asked at the meeting? How does resolution need to fit in with the business case?
  4. For any of the above categories, what needs to be said to motivate the project team to be successful? How do you say it? When do you say it (at what meeting)? What can you say to help them identify specific risks in this area?

Now apply the questioning technique to a particular example:

Situation: Your project is approaching the design phase. You ask leading questions of yourself (#1 and #2)  and determine that there is a risk from some key stakeholders not receiving recent leadership communication of organizational priority on customer-centric design. Alternately, if they did receive the recent communication, they may not agree with the ramifications. As a consequence, these stakeholders may not make themselves available for the amount of time needed in work sessions to understand the design and give feedback to improve its effectiveness with customers.

Think ahead: 

  • Prepare messages to communicate need for stakeholder availability based on organizational leadership initiatives.
  • Determine which communication vehicles should be used.
  • Determine which meetings should be used to communicate this message and obtain feedback.
  • Involve your project team to come up with ideas to meet this challenge. For example, the project team should come up with ideas to communicate through a variety of methods the need for availability in design work sessions. The team can also identify stakeholders who are pushing back on new design priorities or who have not received leadership communications about customer-centric design.

Notice how these tactics, built by asking leading questions, keep you ahead of the risks and engaging your project workforce to manage the situation in a more sophisticated manner. If you were only focused on project task management, you would run the risk of not starting to address the problem until much later and in a much less-effective reactive manner. Don't be that project manager.

Posted on: November 30, 2020 05:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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:


Posted on: June 29, 2020 04:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

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 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 (10)

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. 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:

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:

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:

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

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)

"If they have moving sidewalks in the future, when you get on them, I think you should have to assume sort of a walking shape so as not to frighten the dogs."

- Jack Handey