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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Project Site Design for Stakeholders (Part 2)

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

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 (2)

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)

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)

Better to Be Competent or Warm?

If you were to go back through postings on this blog over the many years that it has been in existence, you would find that many of the tips and tactics covered fall under the category of “ways to improve the work environment so that workers can do their best”.  To be able to manage an environment is a high-leverage technique for a project manager. You would do well to identify and build as many skills in this area as you can.

Here’s one now!

A recent study helps you understand in a more sophisticated way how to interact so that you create a more productive environment for your project team.

Before getting into the details of the study and pulling out useful tactics for a project manager, it’s useful to ask yourself: Is it better for me to appear as competent or to appear as warm? You might think it is best to be both. You might think it is more important for you to appear competent because your team does not have to like you, they just have to respect your authority and ability.

There are certainly different ways to look at this and, of course, different project managers have different personalities. But if your objective is to create a productive workplace, it is important to strike the right balance in a given situation, to understand what behaviors create the environment where workers will thrive. This study helps you do that - with a little help from my tactics provided after the description of the study.

The study was supported by Carnegie Mellon University and led by Shereen J. Chaudhry, who was trying to determine how and why people use apologizing, thanking, bragging and blaming. The study used clever scenarios with winners and losers and researchers monitored what happened on live chats after the winner was revealed. Sometimes the environment and outcome was fixed to really test researcher's predictions. (Hard to tell whether that would have been fun or just a little creepy.) Researchers interviewed participants afterwards to gather more information.

The outcome of the study confirmed predictions and made additional discoveries, including:

  • People generally prefer thanking far more than bragging.
    (Notice that there is a preference to be polite or appear "warm" in a social setting.)
  • People even preferred to thank or apologize albeit reluctantly when it was important in the environment to appear competent.
    (Notice how there is a fear that thanking and apologizing are seen to make someone look less competent, but it is preferred to appear warm.)
  • "Winners" tend to want to experience gratitude, so may "prompt" others when it is not forthcoming.
  • When given an opportunity to work again with a participant, preference went to those who chatted previously and who used techniques to appear warm over other participants who did not either participate in a live chat or those who appeared less warm in previous interactions.
  • Thanking and apologizing occur less often after bragging and blaming occur.

You can employ certain tactics based on this information, such as

  • Show gratitude to your project team for their work. Provide an authentic apology when appropriate.
  • Prompt your team to show gratitude until it becomes a habit. (Have you seen meetings where gratitude is a standard agenda item? Now you know why.)
  • Do Less bragging and less blaming and counter it in team interactions so that it does not squelch preferred behaviors. Any advantage you desire to achieve to appear more competent by bragging and blaming works against you in reality.

Managing the amount of thanking, apologizing, bragging and blaming turns out to be a powerful tool in your tool set.

Before hearing the results of the study, would you have anticipated that appearing warm was more important than appearing competent in such social interactions? Would you have managed these kinds of interactions as recommended above?

Posted on: March 20, 2019 11:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)
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