Viewing Posts by Emily Luijbregts
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 Emily Luijbregts
During project retrospectives, one of the biggest issues I often hear is inadequate communication. Perhaps the project manager did not communicate correctly, at the right time, in the right manner—or simply did not communicate at all!
Excellent communication skills are critical for project success. In this blog, I’ll share six ways to improve your communication skills and become a better project manager in the process.
1. Understand your team and stakeholders.
Whenever I enter a new project or organization, I like to use a notepad to write down any relevant or important information about the team members with whom I’ll be working. This includes information about the location of the team, where the team members come from, if they have taken any personality tests, what type of resource they are, etc. I normally complete this by the first stage of team development, but I make sure that I add updates as needed or when new people join the team. This also includes stakeholder analysis. I make a note about where stakeholders are from, the best way of communicating with them and which language is the most appropriate.
2. Seek out collaborators.
How often do you have your communications reviewed by relevant experts or a second pair of eyes? In my projects, I’ll have a project subject matter expert (SME) or team lead review any technical communications before they’re released. I’ll also have a project coordinator or SME review other standard project communications to make sure that they’re clear, easily understood and relevant to the communication group or stakeholders receiving the communication.
3. Create a communication plan.
An effective communication plan can make or break a project. This plan does not need to include the type of communications that you’ll deliver during the project, but rather who needs to be informed and in what frequency. I also like to include other information, such as:
I also recommend sharing your communication plan with everyone on the project. I put ours in a shared document repository and ensure that everyone on the team knows where to find it.
At its core, a communication plan will also ensure that you’ve identified all of the relevant stakeholders within your project. Without identifying all potential stakeholders, you run the risk of miscommunication, misalignment and potential issues at a later point in the project.
When it comes to communication, clarity is key. It’s for this reason that I delegate specific communications to SMEs and technical leads. I want every communication that leaves my project to bring value to the receiver; therefore, it’s critical that anything remotely technical or outside of your knowledge area is handled by someone who understands the topic thoroughly and knows its current status. As the project manager, I then can support the preparation and delivery of the communication and ensure that it meets the best practices of communication delivery (as outlined in the communication plan).
5. Assess your delivery methods.
In your communication plan, you’ll set out what you will communicate and how you will do it. I recommend managing expectations specifically on the “how.” For example, you cannot afford to have individual calls with a dozen stakeholders delivering the same message, simply because they are in different time zones. To solve this, you can look at grouping regions together and having a maximum of two to three calls, depending on the location of your teams.
If you’re working with remote teams, consider the use of video or having a local leader give the presentation, if appropriate. For example, on a previous project we decided to have joint technical leads bridging three locations globally. Each lead would deliver their update in their time zone to the team (perhaps even in the local language) and ensure that the other leads were informed if anything important arose or needed to be added.
I also recommend regularly recording meetings for anyone who can’t attend and making these recordings available on the team’s shared site, so that anyone can review the communications at any time and provide feedback.
6. Learn from others.
Does your organization have a lessons learned repository? Utilize it to learn from past project mistakes and ensure that your project communications do not run into the same issues. I’ve found lessons learned repositories to be an invaluable source of information about the organization and the pitfalls to avoid.
Becoming an effective communicator is not easy. It takes practice, and you will make mistakes. But if you can devote time to understanding what you are communicating, ensuring that you communicate effectively and providing value to the project, you are on your way to becoming a successful project communicator.
How do you ensure that you’re a successful project communicator? Share your favorite tips in the comments below.
By Emily Luijbregts
In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell explains that you need 10,000 hours to master any skill. That equates to several years of work and development.
But even dedicating smaller amounts of time can lead to progress. If I told you that you could become a better project manager within 100 days, would you believe me?
I’ve been spending a lot of time during the pandemic thinking about professional development and how we can become better project management professionals in every aspect of our careers.
When I started on this journey myself, I decided to take a look at my leadership skills and determine how I could better manage my remote and virtual teams. I chose this path based on the projects that I managed this year and where I felt that I could add the most value to my projects, organization and, more importantly, my team.
Your challenge—if you choose to accept it—is to sharpen your skill set as a project leader over the course of 100 days.
In the next 100 days, I want you to consider taking the steps below and tracking where this journey can take you:
1. Determine three areas that need your attention.
Where are your weaknesses? Where do you most need help?
This can be a real challenge for some people to comprehend, as knowing your weaknesses is a sign of a deeper understanding of yourself as an individual. I have truly come to understand my weaknesses, not only in my professional life but through my private challenges, which enabled me to look at myself from a different perspective and analyze my achievements and shortcomings.
When I’m mentoring an individual, we’ll spend quite a bit of time working on this topic—normally, it’ll be something that they didn’t think of initially. If you struggle with this task, I suggest talking to someone whom you trust and working on this together.
I recommend choosing three areas of focus, but if you have two or four areas, that’s absolutely fine. This is your path and your journey.
2. Make a plan for what’s realistic to achieve in this time period.
Let’s be honest, no one can devote 24 hours a day to perfecting a skill or personal development: It’s just not possible. Life gets in the way. And that’s absolutely fine.
Determine what’s feasible to achieve in the next 100 days and set yourself some realistic SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based). Also, analyze how you’re going to get there. What tools do you need to be able to develop? Is there a course of action you need to follow? What about guidance? This is the time to make sure that you’ve got the resources that you need to succeed.
You can plot this plan however you feel is most appropriate. You can choose a Kanban Board, Gantt chart or even a list of to-dos. Keep it simple and tailor your methods to your needs. When I did this for myself, I created a sheet in my workbook that looked similar to the below:
3. Seek out support.
Make your manager and colleagues aware of what you’re doing, and maybe they’ll join you. Make this a positive turn towards professional development and collaboration. I bet there are skills that you have that your colleagues need and vice versa. Challenge each other to become better professionals and raise the bar within your teams.
My support network came in the form of my peers. I asked several respected project managers whom I trust if they could recommend courses or webinars that might be suitable or give me advice based on their experience.
4. Complete the action plan.
Now, we get to the difficult part: You need to actually do the work and execute the plan that you’ve made. Watch some webinars, attend training courses and find a mentor. Along the way, I’d like to suggest that you adopt the agile principle of “inspect and adapt.” Analyze what you’re doing: Is it working? Do you need to change paths?
At the end of the 100 days, you will emerge a stronger, more confident project manager.
What 100-day challenge are you willing to take on to become a better project leader?
By Emily Luijbregts
Is a full calendar a sign of an effective leader? Does having lots of meetings make you a better project manager?
I’d answer “no” to both of those questions. For several years, I rushed through days where I’ve barely had time to think as I went from one back-to-back meeting to the next. I missed lunch more times than I dare to count and often took work home with me to complete. Then a colleague challenged me: What if we could reduce all of our project meetings by 50 percent for one month? Would it work? In my case, it was such a success, I was determined to never go back to so many meetings again!
Let me start by addressing one of the biggest concerns I hear from project managers when I suggest this: Losing control. Yes, that may happen. But you need to trust your team and trust that if there are any issues, that these will be brought to your attention. Also, I’m not advocating for the cancellation of all meetings. Rather, this is about removing the unnecessary ones.
When I am brought in to take over projects, I now analyze what meetings are in place, what meetings are needed and if meetings should be repurposed for a different use. Here’s how to do it:
How to Reduce the Number of Meetings
For every meeting that you currently have scheduled in your calendar, ask yourself the following questions:
I also try to give people time before and after my meeting for preparation, travel and using the bathroom. So, for example, I might schedule a meeting 9:00-9:40 or 9:15-9:30.
When you start cancelling meetings, you may feel a loss of control or fear that you won’t have all of the information you need as a project manager. However, I would argue that if you use your meeting time effectively, you can still gain all of the information that you need—and not waste your teams’ time in the process.
How to Improve Your Meetings
The next step on our reduction journey is to evaluate how you lead and conduct meetings. If you need some tips, don’t hesitate to ask your colleagues or peers about what works for them. One piece of advice I was given that has always helped me is: “Control the meeting, not the conversation.” It’s important to make sure that every meeting is as effective as possible, so that the right information is shared with the right team members.
At the moment, we are going through an unprecedented period in history, and work has taken on a more virtual role. Learning how to lead effective virtual meetings is difficult! It’s not the same as managing onsite teams, and it does require an additional set of skills. Luckily, there are some great resources available that can help you enhance and improve your skills.
You may also find that during this time, more meetings suddenly appear on your calendar, as people want to catch up or hold a virtual chat. This is not necessarily a bad thing! It’s important to keep up your social contact with your colleagues. But be efficient with your time: If it’s an informal meeting, can you do it while you take your walk after lunch? If it’s a catch up, can you schedule it for a quieter period of your day?
I encourage you to take up the challenge and look at what meetings you can eliminate in your schedule. Let’s take back control of our day and give ourselves more time to actually work!
What are your favorite tips for avoiding unnecessary meetings?
By Emily Luijbregts
We are facing uncertain times. The “External Shock” that COVID-19 has brought to economies around the world was something that few of us could’ve predicted—deserted highways, closed schools and businesses, and an instantaneous demand to work remotely. Within the first quarter of 2020, workforces were furloughed and organizations struggled to adapt to the new world.
As project managers, we have not remained immune to this. Our projects have been cancelled, postponed or delayed. We have had severe issues with supply chains, team management and connectivity. And the uncertainty which faces us, not only for the next quarter but for the remainder of the year, has made us look tentatively towards future prospects and the ability of our organizations to survive.
If you are finding yourself furloughed or in a precarious position within your organization, you may already be asking yourself: What can I do to become more adaptable to change? How can I make myself indispensable within my team and organization? And more realistically: What can I do to make sure that I can land another job as quickly as possible?
Here are a few career tips to set yourself up for the future:
First things first: When was the last time you updated all of your professional profiles? I’m not just talking about LinkedIn, but also PMI and ProjectManagement.com, PMTribe and others. Are you showing off all your skills, and are your job descriptions and goals concise?
It can also be helpful to analyze if your skillset is still relevant to the job that you’re looking for. This can be especially enlightening if you are working in a remote environment and can now promote your ability to manage virtual teams.
I try to update my own profile every quarter or every six months, depending on the amount of change that has happened in the previous period.
Like many of you, I’ve been forced to spend a considerable amount of time indoors in the last few weeks, and I’ve been trying to figure out the best use of my time without binge-watching another series on Netflix. One thing that I often try to reflect on are my strengths and weaknesses. What do I need to improve, and where do I excel? Then, I try to look at what I can do to turn my weaknesses into strengths in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible.
If you’ve been furloughed, your company may have provided you with a learning program to boost your skills during this period. But if, like many project managers, you’ve been let go without support, there are a few free options that can support your learning journey.
For example, PMI offers free courses to anyone who is interested in project management. This is a great way to learn more about project management and refresh your existing skillset:
Have you already joined your local PMI chapter? Have you tried networking on ProjectManagement.com? I am a strong advocate for online networking, and I’ve been trying to connect with other project managers on LinkedIn and ProjectManagement.com to support them during this time with coaching or access to job prospects.
Networking is not just about searching for your next job. It’s about utilizing and building relationships with your peers that can stand the test of time. During the first month of virtual working, I scheduled and held virtual coffees with peers and team members, and also planned regular catch-ups with colleagues to make sure that we could stay virtually connected and supported during this uncertain time.
Recruiters are also feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. I have several recruiters in my network who are very nervous about the remainder of the year and what it will mean for companies and their ability to provide suitable candidates. If you do not have a few trusted recruiters in your network, consider sending an updated CV or résumé to professional recruiters who might be able to help if a viable opportunity presents itself.
We all know that life will be dramatically different for many of us once this pandemic is over. Not only with respect to our careers, but within our personal lives. I hope that whatever happens in the coming year, we all come out of this crisis with our health and good humor intact. The project management community is known for its close-knit and supportive atmosphere, and I hope that in a “Life after Corona,” it will continue to be so.
Share in the comments below: What career tips would you give other project managers during this time?