By Lynda Bourne
Projects mean reports! Many project teams are required to produce weekly and monthly reports for their client as part of a contract, or because of an internal set of reporting requirements. This process comes with challenges:
That raises a big question: Do we need traditional reports? Developments in business intelligence, artificial intelligence and system integrations offer a far more useful solution—putting real-time information in front of the people who really need to know now.
Most of the information on virtually every project (even traditional construction projects) is recorded in various software tools. With a little bit of organization, the data can be brought into a business intelligence (BI) system in real time. The result: a dashboard showing what’s occurring in real time, usually with a drill-down capability to see what has changed and why.
The problem with BI is usually too much information and added noise created by different elements within the tool being updated, edited and corrected at different times. This generates false differences for short periods of time. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in to play two useful roles:
Do reports still have a role? My answer is yes, but it’s a different role. Reports are needed to explain something or to show the results of an investigation or inquiry. For example, a team (or individual) may be tasked to report on the preferred subcontractor to engage for a particular role on a project. The report provides leadership with the information and options needed to make a decision. In fact, this would be a far better use of the time currently spent by PMO and project staff preparing and distributing weekly and monthly reports.
I want to hear your thoughts: Do traditional reports still have a place among project teams?
I’ve been familiar with remote work and virtual teams since 2010. I’ve also witnessed how digital transformation has enabled the adoption of new business models, flatter organizational structures and hybrid project management approaches since then.
In the wake of the global pandemic, I’ve received many questions about building high-performing virtual teams, and how to improve collaboration and productivity as a whole in the workforce.
Before I share some lessons learned with you, I’d like to remind you that we live in uncommon times. Predictions and models aren’t capable of guiding us as they were before the crisis. As quickly as teams have adapted to going virtual, there remains a great deal of uncertainty and a number of challenges that have yet to be overcome.
Going back to January 2020, you and your team likely were used to working together in a particular context. Maybe you had flexible working hours, and some team members worked remotely. Perhaps you were all working 9 to 5 in the same physical office space. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you had a routine.
When the world came to a full lockdown, the concept of remote work and the modern workplace shifted dramatically. We also saw the shuttering of schools and places of business. I told my employees and team members in March: We don’t expect you to be as productive as you were in the office. Take your time, take care of your family and health.
With time, people started adjusting and adapting to the so-called new normal—and forming new habits. There are many books and references about habit formation. I came across an insightful research article published by the European Journal of Social Psychology, which concludes that the repetition of behavior in a consistent context results in increasing automaticity and productivity.
As we made our way in the new work ecosystem, we thought we needed some structured guidance. We addressed that with open discussions, one-on-one meetings, and a shared space for ideas, emotions and lessons learned about working from home.
New Habits for the New Normal
Through a collaborative effort, my team built a work-from-home manual. It’s not mandatory, but it does provide some helpful advice:
Now I’d like to leave you some food for thought:
Let me know in the comments below.
Alexis Ohanian has racked up quite a list of accomplishments in his 37 years. He cofounded Reddit, sold it and then came back to help rescue it. He wrote a bestselling book. He cofounded a seed stage venture fund. But when it came time to have a chat with one of his fellow speakers at the latest gathering in PMI’s Virtual Experience Series, he seemed deeply concerned that people were going to be convinced he was a slacker. It wasn’t entirely unjustified. He was, after all, talking to Tanya Elizabeth Ken, the 17-year-old founder of LakshyaShala, an NGO dedicated to helping kids around the world gain equal access to education.
No shocker here, both of them had some interesting thoughts on how to revamp the educational ecosystem—a timely topic as kids around the world head back to school.
Introducing children to the virtual classroom forms habits that impact future work behaviors and outcomes. “Teaching someone how to learn online unlocks all kinds of doors,” Ohanian said.
With the vast power harnessed by digital learning comes an even greater responsibility to create platforms that are accessible. Despite all of the technological advances spurred by the global pandemic, systems of education remain unbalanced across the globe.
“Virtual learning can reach a wider audience, but we need to take into account the people who don’t have the access/resources,” said Ken. “If you want to solve a problem like equality in education, then we need to solve all the hindrances families are seeing.”
There’s still work to be done, she said. And while improving access to education sits high on her priority list, so too does improving the quality of education.
“The education system does not teach us entrepreneurship and project management skills,” Ken said.
Ohanian admitted he didn’t think much about project management until college and even then he used it mostly to plan his EverQuest guild or Quake 2 clan. But he also said those skills were the only way he was able to develop Reddit. “Project management is how you build a startup,” he said. (It’s also apparently how he helped plan his rather complex wedding. “It wasn’t always that romantic, but it was effective, gosh darn it.”)
Whatever the project you’re working on, this is a time that demands the ability to contend with astounding change. And empowering students to think of themselves as problem-solvers builds that agility from early on, said Ohanian. “Real life doesn’t have a syllabus,” he said. “The more a student can exercise the muscles of resilience, the better.”
Part of building resilience—on projects and in the classroom—is pushing past failure.
“You’re taught to avoid failure at all costs as a student, to get good grades, but life is full of failures and setbacks,” he said. “Get comfortable with failure—not because you’re not doing the work, but because struggling and disappointment and learning from it, that’s life.”
That theme of resiliency bubbled up quite a bit and it’s no doubt emerging as the new must-have skill as we all attempt to navigate the next normal. The goal shouldn’t be to just bounce back, but to bounce forward, said session speaker Greg Githens, PMP. Expect to be surprised—and seize the unknown, he said. Don’t let uncertainty stall progress: Do a lot and do it now, said session speaker Norma Lynch, PMP.
So get cracking. And get ready for the next Experience PMI event, “A New World View: Our Global Impact,” slated for 20 October: http://ow.ly/569n50Biskx
Before we reconvene on the Interweb, tell me: How are you becoming a more resilient leader?
by Emily Luijbregts
I often take on the role of escalation manager. I’m brought into projects when things are going wrong. It’s my goal to bring the project back on track and repair the working relationship with the teams and the end-customers to ensure we can have a lasting, productive partnership.
Rebuilding a poor relationship with your clients takes time, effort and sincerity. You need to be able to convince those involved that you’re the right person for the job—that you can be the change they need to see on the project. You also need to be clear with your own management about whether it’s worth the time and effort required.
The first thing I do when I come onto projects is talk to the key members of the team and the customer so I’m aware of the conflicts, issues and expectations. This step is the most important—you have to look at the current situation before you start investigating the history
Next, it’s time to look at the wider impact. What’s happening in the organization? Where did the issues arise from? This is where demanding honesty from all parties comes in because you need to understand the environment in which the project has been operating and look at the influences that have affected the project up to this point.
Here are a few common reasons why relationships get derailed, based on some of my experiences:
Poor expectation management
Was a Ferrari promised to your client and you’ve delivered a bicycle? Were the deliverables clear and understood by the customer? A lack of alignment is one of the easiest ways projects can be derailed—and cause a lot of frustration between end customers and the project team.
Sometimes it’s the wrong people are on the project. Either they’re not suited to the team or they don’t have the skills to perform the necessary tasks. As an escalation manager, you must have the authority to work with human resource managers to change or bring in different people to achieve project goals. If you don’t have this support or authority, then you need to have the sponsor’s support to train people. You also need to make sponsors aware of the additional time and money required and the impact on the project schedule and budget.
Core issues with the project itself
This comes down to how the project was started. Is the foundation of the project solid? Or are the aims of the project unclear/no longer relevant? Based on your findings, it may be that you need to have a difficult conversation with the sponsor/key stakeholders to stop a project that no longer fulfils the end goals or will be unable to achieve the objectives.
Once I fully understand what’s going on, I lay out the next steps, the timeframe of when things will happen, what they can expect/not expect and what I’m expecting from them. As escalation manager, I’m completely honest—about the issues we’re facing, about my role. what I’m able to achieve (and not able to achieve). And, more importantly, I demand everyone else is honest—some of the biggest issues that I’ve seen on troubled projects come from little white lies.
From there, I follow these steps:
Plan realistically. Make sure whatever you’re doing moving forward, you have a realistic plan—and that it was created with everyone’s full support and buy-in of tasks. This can take some time but it ensures everyone is aware of what needs to be done and on what timeline as well as the critical path/dependencies that exist between tasks/work packages/teams.
In this step, I also look at the working conditions of the teams and what’s needed for the project to be a success. In previous projects, I’ve take actions like these to ensure planning remained on track and realistic:
Build a stronger working relationship. In the projects I’ve supported, I try to have a catch-up/alignment session every month to ensure stakeholders are happy and understand where we currently are in the progress of the project. These check-ins allow me to read how the customer is doing or if there are further concerns that need to be addressed. As I build these stronger relationships, I make sure I reiterate what each member of the team can expect from me and also what’s realistic/feasible.
Deliver on what you promised. This is the outcome of your hard work! You’re delivering what was expected and communicating effectively so everyone signs off on the deliverables and the current status. It’s at this point in time that I hand over the project or it’s closed.
Every project and every relationship is different, but I’ve found communication and honesty are the core components to rebuilding a partnership with your teams and end customers.
What are your top tips for rebuilding a frayed relationship with a customer? What would you do differently? Let’s share knowledge in the comments below!
by Dave Wakeman
As we’ve moved through the pandemic, I’ve learned more and more about leadership—what good leadership looks like and what bad leadership looks like.
Since early July, the first question I pose to guests on my podcast, The Business of Fun, zeroes in on how they’ve have been leading their teams during the pandemic. Here are some of the lessons learned that can help you level up your leadership game no matter what industry you work in:
Put People First
This actually came out of several conversations I had, but Mark Fowlie and Harold Hughes, a pair of tech CEOs, really put the best exclamation point on this directive.
Mark is the CEO of Audience View and has a team distributed around the world. He said he helped his team adapt to the new normal by communicating consistently and clearly, and helping people get the space to operate, think and work in an environment where no one had a playbook.
Harold is the CEO of Bandwagon FanClub and his approach is to have daily stand-ups. This provides some consistency with the in-office experience and offers teams a place—albeit virtual—to come and talk. It also gives folks some structure to their day, so they don’t feel alone in their work. On top of that, Harold and his team emphasized socialization with baking classes, happy hours and other fun meetings to ensure the team got a chance to know their co-workers both personally and professionally.
Be Honest In Your Communications
Richard Howle is director of ticketing at The Ticket Factory in the United Kingdom and the biggest lesson learned he shared with me was: It’s totally fine to say that you don’t know something.
No one has the definitive playbook for how to deal with unexpected situations. So expecting we’re going to have all of the answers at a moment’s notice isn’t doing our team any favors—and sets us up to fail as leaders in the process.
Change Is Difficult, But We Have To Deal With It
Zoe Scaman from Bodacious shared her philosophy on communicating change, especially to an audience that may not be comfortable with change or might not want to change. Securing their buy-in goes beyond simply telling them why they need to change. You must show the exciting things possible when people create change and embrace the process.
As project managers, change is a constant and it can be disruptive in the best of cases. In my own experience, I find the need to sell change to my team a bit frustrating. But when I chatted with Zoe, her point of talking about selling the benefits and the vision of a better future helped recalibrate my thinking about what change is really about and why it matters so much.
Change is really about improvement and making the environment and world around you a bit better. In times like these, that’s actually a pretty refreshing perspective to maintain.
How have you been leading your teams during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments.