By Christian Bisson, PMP
A deadline is the project objective defined in terms of time. But on some projects (a lot of them, unfortunately) the delivery date is not necessarily realistic.
When projects get delayed, the obvious solution is to push back the deadline. But it’s not so simple for every project.
Here are a few factors to weigh before deciding how to move forward when facing project setbacks:
The Client Relationship
Assuming the agency runs client-facing projects, not internal products, this is typically the most important reason to deliver a project on time. Happy clients bring in more projects—and other clients by word of mouth.
Determining whether or not your client will react negatively to a project delay may depend on the cause of the holdup. Is the delay related to client actions, such as adding new requirements or delivering assets late? Or is it due to internal errors, such as poor estimating or planning?
Keeping clients happy also presents a sort of balancing act for many agencies. You have to keep clients happy because they bring in the money that runs the agency. But, on the other hand, you don’t want your team members so bogged down with additional requests and revisions that they become tired or frustrated to the point they will leave.
Projects often have what we call hard deadlines, meaning the date cannot be changed under any circumstances. For example, in e-commerce, there are projects tied to holiday sales and, obviously, those dates cannot move. Missing those opportunities can have a drastic impact on sales. In these cases, it might actually be more cost-efficient to invest in more resources to speed up the project and have it ready on time.
The Big Picture
Delaying a project can have a direct impact on other projects, as well. Team members may be scheduled to move to another project once the first is completed, for example, so delaying that transition date can have a chain reaction on an agency’s planning. Talk to someone with a wide-angle view of the organization’s portfolio to better understand these potential implications.
There’s no magic solution for dealing with a delayed project. All you can do is balance the pros and cons and make a judgment call.
What factors do you typically weigh when deciding whether or not to push back the deadline on a delayed project? What advice do you have for other project managers facing a delay?
Project Managers As Persuaders
by Dave Wakeman
I’ve heard unverified claims that some project managers spend up to 90 percent of their time focusing on communications.
While I won’t dispute communications does tend to garner a lot of attention from project managers, I will say that calling the type of communications that project managers engage in straight up “communicating” is a bit of a disservice.
As project managers, we communicate less than we persuade. I’d offer up the idea that we spend far more time persuading stakeholders, sponsors and team members to see the project the way we do.
If we are persuaders instead of communicators, how can we do a much more effective job of influencing the decisions and thinking of our stakeholders?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Think in terms of what the other person needs to know: We have so much information coming at us that we might feel like the best course of action is to just give everything to everyone. The problem with this is that it is ineffectual and overwhelming. And too much information usually causes people to punt decisions or fall back on previous decisions.
That’s why it’s important to think about the people you are communicating with before you say a word.
What do they need to know?
What actions do you need them to take?
What do they already know?
Ask yourself questions like this and try to figure out what your audience needs to know to stay up to date, take action, or buy in.
2. Ask yourself what is the next logical step you need someone to take: You should never go into a conversation without an understanding of what the next step should be.
If it is an action, make sure you state that action clearly with a deadline if possible.
If you need the person on the other end to follow up by a certain time, set that expectation.
If you are just trying to update people, make sure you spell out the next step you are going to take, if that is applicable.
3. Frame your conversation around the benefits: This is pretty important. People love when you are doing something for them. The key to being persuasive is often to shape your conversation in a way that makes the person on the receiving end feel like they are gaining the maximum benefit and that you are just there to serve.
What tips do you have for being a more persuasive communicator?
Good luck out there.
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The Importance of ACCURATE Communication
by Lynda Bourne
A number of recent examples from the corporate arena illustrate that being oblivious to unethical or illegal behaviour happening within an organization is not an acceptable excuse for allowing it to occur. Leaders will be held responsible—even when they claim to have no knowledge of the situation.
In a recently reported case, a very senior director was found to be in breach of his duties by the Federal Court of Australia because he didn’t make appropriate inquiries when alerted to the possibility of illegal actions taking place within his organization.
This is far from a unique example. The people governing your organization are coming under increasing pressure to know what is going on at every level — and to take appropriate actions as necessary.
What does this mean for the average person working in a project management office (PMO) or on a project team? Because projects and programs are becoming increasingly important to the development and growth of organizations, information about the performance of projects and programs now plays a critical role in the governance of the organization. This means you are responsible for ensuring the information delivered to executives is accurate.
But you cannot fulfil this obligation alone. It takes a team effort.
Ensuring the right information reaches the right levels of the organization involves creating the right governance systems and structures. These systems operate best in a culture of openness and accountability — and require leadership from the highest levels of the organization to operate well.
Project professionals can support these systems, but we cannot do a lot to create the necessary culture. We can, however, have a major influence on how information is created and disseminated in the governance system.
The key facets we can control are interlinked and interdependent, and are summed up in the acronym ACCURATE:
Available: The project information has to be accessible in various appropriate formats to all levels of management.
Complete: The project information needs to provide a full picture of the current and forecasted situation.
Concise: Executives are busy people—excessive detail does not help. They need to understand the bottom line.
Understandable: Project management is full of technical jargon. While we may understand the difference between EAC and VAC, executives will not. Communicate in business language.
Relevant: Just because it’s important to the project team doesn’t mean it’s important to the overall organization. Communicate information that is relevant to the achievement of business objectives.
Auditable: If asked, you need to be able to provide the source of the information and the processing steps taken to consolidate and communicate the information.
Timely: Markets operate in a 24-hour news cycle. Important information needs to be communicated immediately (you cannot wait for the monthly report).
Explainable: Project professionals need to be available to explain the information and help executives understand the consequences (typically this is a key role of an effective PMO).
Just as witnesses in court promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, project professionals have an ethical responsibility to make sure the information they are communicating meets this standard and is also ACCURATE.
How can you work toward ACCURATE communication in the New Year?
by Christian Bisson, PMP
When a new person joins the team, there’s always a bit of a learning curve. But when teams fail to prepare new members, it takes even longer for them to provide efficiencies and improve performance.
Here are three training tips to help new recruits hit the ground running:
1. Don’t Put Trainees In Control
Being available to answer questions isn’t a sufficient way to train new team members.
While knowledge is transferred when you answer a question, new recruits can only ask about issues they’re aware of. This means they’ll often make mistakes that could have been avoided.
Rather than let team members learn things the hard way, share important information before questions are asked—and remember that details matter. For example, project briefs are done differently everywhere, and it’s not always clear who should be included if no one has been specified. A new team member might not think to ask if he or she has sent briefs a specific way at previous jobs.
2. Create an Onboarding Plan
Don’t make new team members chase people down to discuss processes or protocols.
I once joined a team where I was told to set up meetings with a dozen different colleagues so they could explain how they work. I didn’t really know how the conversations would turn out, but I expected the others would be prepared to meet with me.
The result was a bit surprising. The list of people I was supposed to meet with was outdated—several were no longer with the company—and those who were still around expected me to lead the meeting since I had set it up (which made sense). So they didn’t quite know what to say.
This experience was an eye opener. To make new members feel welcome, teams should plan onboarding discussions in advance and have information ready to share.
3. Take a Phased Approach
More often than not, generic training sessions bore and demotivate people, wasting everyone’s time.
Instead, training should be relevant to a person’s role and immediate needs. For example, not everything that a new team member should know will be relevant on day one. If you give them information they’ll need a few months down the road during onboarding, chances are they’ll have forgotten everything when that time comes.
Training and knowledge sharing should be done gradually. The gaming world offers a useful example. Many games have ongoing tutorials where bits of information are shared throughout gameplay, requiring the player to practice a new skill right before it’s needed. This approach maximizes the learning experience and keeps training from becoming tedious. It makes lessons easier to absorb and more likely to be remembered.
Training is often thought of a secondary need for new team members, being conducted as time allows—which might be never. How do you make time for training on your team? What type of knowledge transfer do you prioritize?
By Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Because human resources is so process-oriented, it’s easy to overlook its need for project and program management.
The human resources department’s projects may not be customer-facing and highly visible, but it is very likely that they will make your work life easier! They might be focused on integrating or retrofitting an HR information system, changing an organization-wide benefits provider, developing a new employee handbook or designing and releasing an employee satisfaction survey.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on several HR projects. Though they weren’t product launches delivering external customer value, they were critical to internal business operations. Because they are so essential to internal success, if you’re the person responsible for enterprise roadmapping, you must ensure HR projects are part of the way forward.
One human resources area that benefits exceptionally well from stellar project management is organizational design. Don’t pass up the chance to work on an organization redesign project—you’ll be teaming up with not only human resources, but also with service designers, team managers and executive leadership.
There are many stages to an organizational design project. Organizational design projects have a lot of moving parts. Early on, it can be easy to get stuck in the research and design parts, constantly reviewing and revising. Later, ensuring companywide adoption can seem like a never-ending slog. A project manager can be a boon during these critical phases by keeping the focus on smaller, incremental milestones, and communicating when that milestone progress is made. This keeps the project moving forward, the momentum continuing even though the results of the final goal may be nebulous and still too far away.
In the end, you’ll deliver a model that will become the operating structure for the entire organization—helping all of its employees navigate through a changing business environment. And maybe even disruptive changes that pose grave threats to the organization.
What types of human resources projects have you led? Where else do you thinking project management could be beneficial for human resources?