Project Management

Eye on the Workforce

by
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

RSS

Recent Posts

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)

Leading by Listening (Part 1)

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)

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)

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)

The Blessing and Curse of the Long-Duration Task

Ah, the luxury of having an active task with an end date that is far away. You can concentrate on the tasks that are more urgent, making sure the team focuses on getting those done on time. There will be plenty of time to bring attention to that non-urgent task later.

That is, until the day when you think, "Is that task due already? Last check it was only 25% done and now there is only 10% time remaining!"

A long-duration task could be a task that takes many weeks to complete in a project where tasks typically last a week or two. There's been no mistake. It has been scheduled that way. A long design task, for example, to complete a single critical, difficult display for stakeholders. Or a long development task that takes the effort of many specialists who are working part time on the project, increasing the duration, but not the total effort. The key characteristic is that the task has been set a long duration by the team or owner (or you!) and now it is in progress in your project along with many other tasks that have due dates much sooner.

Consider this situation an opportunity, a way to exhibit your more advanced execution skills and maintain focus on active tasks with long durations. Build or strengthen this habit by using certain tactics and staying "above the fray" in your meetings

Stay Above the Fray . . . Inexperienced practitioners can wait too long to start checking on tasks that start weeks or months before they end. You can probably remember meetings where you allowed task reviews in meetings to be all about the urgent. That's what people want to talk about. But long-duration tasks have long durations for a reason. Effort needs to be expended the whole time. If inadequate effort is expended because of overconfidence, distractions or too much time allocated to urgent tasks, then the group completing the task will have lost the opportunity to do needed work.

  • Start checking status on long-duration tasks soon after the start date occurs. This forms a habit and expectation in the meeting. All tasks are "weighed" the same.

Use Effective Task Management Tactics . . . Manage long-duration activities to set up task owners and yourself for success. If you wait until too close to the end of the task to start checking in, then you lose the opportunity to intervene.

  • Your agenda for routine project team meeting should include Tasks In Progress. In case you can't get to all long-duration active tasks in one meeting, make sure you get a status in the next meeting. Build the habit and expectation.
  • Obtain status simply by requesting percent complete. You can gather other information as appropriate for your project and time limitations. You may need to help those reporting to be concise.
  • As soon as percent complete drops behind pragmatic expectations, ask questions about whether there are problems. If the report is that time can be made up, check on that over time. Be respectful and positive, but skeptical and careful. Call a risk a risk.
  • Provide positive reinforcement when tasks are completed. Workers will appreciate positive experiences from the usual grind of routine task management.
  • Consider whether a long-duration task would benefit from being broken into smaller chunks that allow better monitoring of progress. This could be as simple as splitting creation of a large document into a task for "Complete review draft" followed by a task for "Incorporate feedback, complete document and submit for final approval". Work with the owner to come up with ideas.
  • When you see long-duration tasks, be proactive about asking the owner or team about expected obstacles to completion. Make a note of these and ask about them during the task status updates.

A big part of keeping project execution on track is keeping long-duration tasks on track. The ability to get these type of tasks completed is a routinely useful skill that you can improve to increase your success and that of the teams who make up your project workforce. And if those who can possibly pay you the big bucks happen to notice, all the better.

Posted on: February 20, 2019 10:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Eye on Trust: Job Crafting

At some point, you have certainly thought about the importance of trust in project management. Did you happen to think of a lot of ideas to build trust? Probably not. This is a difficult topic.

Lucky for you, researcher Paul Zach looked carefully at workplace trust for 8 years and has developed 8 building blocks you can use to develop your own tactics to improve trust in your project. Some of these tactics have been discussed before elsewhere especially in this blog, but there are a couple that have not been discussed often related to project management. These will be the topics of this and the next post.

Facilitate Team to Craft Their Own Jobs

The first of Zak's building blocks to consider is called "Transfer." The term "transfer" for our purposes represents job crafting, which includes allowing people to use their own techniques to complete their work. That is, they determine how they meet the quality expected of their work.

This tactic is typically presented in training for managers and will always be easier for managers to implement. But that should not let you as a project manager miss out on a tactic to build trust.

Here are specific examples of how you can use the transfer/job crafting technique in your projects.      

  • Help them reduce the scope of existing tasks (when you can't really reduce the number of tasks in your plan) by allowing them to start involvement later during the duration of the task. Using reporting as an example, a team does not really need to report weekly until they really start significant meaningful execution. Similarly, they can fill out templates with only basic, absolutely required information.
  • Assist them with completing their plan for this by answering questions they have.
  • Keep this "crafting" process alive during the project. Provide feedback on how their work in job crafting is functioning. Proactively ask if they need any assistance working it out. Provide positive reinforcement for successes.
  • Consider also individual skill and career development. Ask if there is any special development experiences the team lead is looking for. Add that into work planning.
  • To your own monitoring activities, note participation and successes of project team leads and workers. During closing phase, send out formal appreciations that can be used in performance reviews.
  • Do the same with new team leads as they roll into the project in later stages.

Look for other barriers to flexible work that you can eliminate or reduce.

  • Enable more job crafting by allowing remote work or alternate team work spaces.
  • Reduce required attendance at periodic/routine meetings to individuals who are absolutely necessary at each event. Send good notes out to all others.
  • Remove work rules that are really just part of organization culture and not otherwise justified, such as expectations that a multitude must approve certain documents.
  • Allow use of agile techniques to allow teams to collaborate more even if those techniques are not yet accepted by the organization.

Once you have team leads crafting more of their own work to fit their circumstances, you will have built more of your foundation for a trusting work environment. Do even more by helping them provide the same flexibility to their own workers.

Giving control like this is a key part of maintaining trust. Wresting control away from workers, by forcing restrictions and requirements for whatever reason, serves to break down trust. Be aware of obstacles to flexibility as well.

Next month, my post will be about openness, another one of Zak's building blocks that can be applied to your projects.

In the meantime, have you had success with job crafting?

 

Posted on: December 23, 2018 03:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)
ADVERTISEMENTS

"Interestingly, according to modern astronomers, space is finite. This is a very comforting thought--particularly for people who can never remember where they have left things."

- Woody Allen