by Christian Bisson
In a complex world where we strive to improve, there is one trending weakness that I’ve seen amongst many teams and organizations—they measure little to nothing, and make decisions based on “gut feeling.”
Having key metrics is a powerful tool to identify areas to improve, and not just for weak points—you want to recognize strong points as well so that you can continue them. Here are a few examples…
How many times have you seen teams happy to deliver something—only to have absolutely no idea what value was ultimately gained from that delivery? There are a few ways you can be blind to the value being delivered (or not delivered):
All too often, people waste money when they could focus their resources elsewhere if they measured the return on investment (ROI) and adapted accordingly.
What will be delivered, and when? Every organization faces a challenge to know this. And all too often, typical random delivery dates are given to stakeholders—and forced on teams. This in turn hurts the quality of the deliverable (not to mention the very small odds that the dates are even being respected).
By measuring on a small scale (like a team’s velocity throughout sprints) or a larger scale (like being familiar with SAFe and its “product increments”), you can compare results to actual data to make more reliable predictions (at the end of the day, it is still a guess).
Product backlog health
Throughout the years, I’ve seen many backlogs, from small to gigantic. And I rarely see any of them being measured to make sure they’re actually healthy.
The definition of “healthy” varies, but in this case let’s assume it means that the backlog is an ordered/usable artefact that teams can rely on to know what to work on next to bring value to stakeholders.
Here are a few things that can be measured:
There are so many things that can be measured and used to properly align next steps—and they require the proper tools to do it efficiently. You want to spend as little time as possible getting the data and results that you need, and utilize reliable “live” information (with little cost to get it).
What will you be measuring in 2023? What do you think your blind spots are?
by Dave Wakeman
I was going through my portfolio recently and came across the original notes from the very first piece I wrote for PMI back in 2012.
I then noticed that I started writing for Voices in January 2013 after I left the world of political consulting and got my PMP. (Yay for needing credits for continuing education!)
All of that made me think about the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last 10 years. As a way of celebrating our time together, here are the 10 most important things I’ve learned writing this monthly piece for PMI and ProjectManagement.com:
Thanks for reading my musings on Voices. This has been a cool opportunity to speak with y’all each month, and I look forward to 10 more years of lessons to come. And if you have a favorite PM lesson, leave it in the comments.
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP
A few years ago, my manager invited me to a meeting to discuss how to organize teams for a strategic topic. No one asked me to do it, but because I was delivering these projects for a while, I prepared some detailed slides to give a state-of-the-art look at the current organization. In the online meeting, I was the only one who was not a manager—and the only woman. These facts laid the groundwork for stress that was triggered within me.
I began to go through the slides. One of the managers began to bombard me with questions. I answered him, and I often had to repeat answers. I got nervous and annoyed. To me, he was questioning my competence. I felt threatened and got defensive. I asked another manager to reformulate an answer for me. That gave me time to take a breath.
My second-level manager—let's call him Dave—was also present. He tried to help and play facilitator. The other managers had other meetings and left.
This meeting lasted 30 minutes, but felt like an eternity to me. When I hung up, I was tired—and angry at myself for how I behaved in front of all the managers.
What would Dave think of me? It was the first time he saw me in action. Will my professional reputation be damaged? In the past, I was labeled a bad communicator, and I had worked hard to improve it.
After the meeting, I got three text messages—none from my manager. The texts all congratulated me on the presentation. I was ashamed to receive these messages, because I thought they signalled that people felt pity for me.
I talked to friends outside of the firm about what happened. They were not present at the meeting, so they listened to the perspective I gave them. They were compassionate and supported me, but I thought it was because they were my friends. I slept badly at night in the throes of shame and anger with myself.
Two weeks later, I had a follow-up conference call with my manager. I was wondering what reproaches I would get. “By the way,” he said, “Dave appreciated your professionalism and calm during the meeting."
I couldn’t believe it. I answered with almost tears in my voice. "Thank you,” I said. “I thought I was too aggressive."
Here are the lessons learned that I gleaned from this experience—they sound basic, but I did not follow them because I was overconfident and too hard on myself:
Before the meeting
During the meeting
After the meeting
In the instance above, I dared not ask my manager because I was afraid of getting negative feedback that would have reminded me of the “bad communicator” label I got in the past. But I should have—and I also learned through this experience that I should be more kind to myself and not assume the worst intentions in others.
If you are a leader in this kind of situation, reach out to the person and give your perspective and feedback—whether positive, negative or neutral (and do it promptly…don’t wait two weeks).
Have you ever experienced this kind of reality gap, where the way you perceived yourself acting in a situation was different from the way others did?
I don’t know about you, but in the last few years, I haven’t felt the same surge of energy that I used to have when January approached with everything that it potentially holds for us. I saw a post on social media that said: “We have 365 sunrises, 365 sunsets and 365 opportunities for magic to happen.” This really stirred within me and gave me some motivation to think about the year ahead, what I wanted to achieve and what was important for me.
3 Goals for 2023
What do I want to achieve? What is important to me? My career? Where did I want to go? You can easily have ambitious objectives, but how are you going to get there? What are the stepping stones?
I want to share my plans and how I aim to get there. Have you thought about this? Answer honestly. Have you really questioned what you wanted to achieve, rather than just coasting? Don’t get me wrong—you can make an active decision to coast, to remain doing what you’re doing (no decision is still a decision).
My key goals for the new year are grace, focus and growth. Just three things. For each of these larger goals, I break them down into:
For grace, it’s about showing grace to others, being graceful with myself and what I'm able to achieve within the time that I'm given, and prioritizing what is important.
During 2021/22, I went through some changing personal circumstances. While I tried to "spin" every plate that I needed to, I simply couldn't do everything. Instead of realizing my limitations, I tried to push myself to do everything, be everything to everyone, and manage a very difficult, complex and wonderful job. I am a constant overachiever, but in this instance, it didn't make me a better project manager or friend—it turned me into someone that I didn’t recognize or want to be.
So, how can I achieve grace? It’s all about boundaries and having them clearly defined for my professional and personal life. What boundaries do you have? Well, those come from what you want to achieve. Is it to get ahead? To build your network? This will guide where your boundaries need to come in.
For each of these details, I go into quarterly goals where I can look at where I am, what I wanted to achieve, and if I need to adjust my targets (remember, be kind to yourself). I’m also aware of my professional and working responsibilities, and when the busiest times of my year are. I won’t book a lot for the last quarter if I know that it’s going to just be focusing on keeping my head above water and “getting stuff done.”
When I’ve done these goals in the past, I just stored them in my notepad (I’m a stationary nerd…who doesn’t have a new notepad to start the year?). But this year, based upon how I read and learn, I’ve put everything on a mood board/sticky notes in my office so that I can see each of my goals. That way, they are present in everything that I do. Since I’ve done this, I have been more focused on reading the items that I need to—and fleshing out more ideas for my goals in the next year.
I block out some time on my calendar every three months to spend some time analyzing where I’m at, what I’ve achieved/done, and what I need to do in the next few months. This check-in can be really useful to gauge your progress and see if you need any adjustments.
I’m really interested to hear how many of you have created your goals for 2023. What do they look like? What are you trying to do: more certifications, personal development, professional growth? Share in the comments below!
By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP
From rookie mistakes to hard-won victories, my decade-plus journey as a program manager has been full of lessons. Here are the ones that stuck with me the most. As you ring in 2023, I hope these lessons will help you on your PM journey.
1. Don’t get too caught up in processes and labels. In my early career as a PM, I was stuck on implementing agile methodologies like scrum, Kanban etc. With experience, I have come to realize that it is important to figure out a process that works in the team-specific context rather than sticking to the labels of agile versus waterfall.
What is effective for one team might or might not work for another team. We get better engagement and buy-in if we involve the team in setting up processes and make the changes that the team recommends. It is important to rely on the collective wisdom of the team.
2. Don’t try to control the outcome of meetings. I place a high value on clear agendas and sticking to them in meetings. However, there have been occasions where my meetings did not go as planned. At first, this upset me, but I eventually came to understand that it is our responsibility to be prepared (and we cannot always control meeting outcomes). It is important to read the room and adapt meetings as needed.
3. Don’t overload yourself. During the early stages of my career, I was hesitant to decline additional work, even if my workload was already overwhelming. I was afraid of not meeting expectations.
However, it is important to be aware of your own limitations and feel empowered to say “no” when necessary. While we may not always have a choice, it is important to carefully consider how much work you can realistically handle. Is it better to do a good job with what you already have on your plate, or lower the quality of your work by taking on more?
Constantly being overburdened with work can prevent you from having the time and energy to identify opportunities for personal and team growth.
4. Don’t be a default meeting scheduler. There is a misconception that it is a PM’s job to schedule meetings, and as such I have often been asked to schedule meetings and take notes. However, this is not the primary focus of a PM role. To better manage my workload and prioritize, I have learned to say “no” to scheduling meetings unless I am driving the agenda or have a significant interest or stake in the meeting outcome.
While I may make exceptions in certain cases (such as when I need to expedite something), I have learned to be more selective about the meetings that I agree to schedule.
5. Identify single points of failure (SPOF) for projects and their mitigations. As a Technical Program Manager in the tech industry, I have often managed projects where only one engineer is assigned to a project. This is a big risk, as that engineer is now a SPOF for the project.
Whenever possible, it is advisable to request that at least two engineers share the workload of any deadline-sensitive, critical projects to reduce the risk of unanticipated personal emergencies or other risks. Apart from reducing the risk, this also helps with improving team morale as the engineers have someone else to bounce ideas off—and share the workload.
6. Put things in writing. It is important to document commitments or decisions made during your hallway or informal conversations in writing for future reference. Putting things in writing often leads to more careful consideration and follow-through from your team members.
Personally, I have learned the hard way to always get things in writing to avoid any misunderstandings or miscommunications later.
7. Encourage proof-of-concept development. If your team is stuck in analysis paralysis, or if you are trying out a new technology, get management buy-in to spend time creating a proof of concept or a prototype. This can help to quickly demonstrate the potential of the technology or approach and facilitate faster decision making.
8. Include key stakeholders in reviewing status reports before they are published. Early in my PM career, I gave more importance to adhering to timelines than to aligning with key stakeholders. One time, I marked a project as red (behind plan) in a report without first discussing it with the manager of the team that was running behind. That manager was unavailable, and I did not want to delay publishing the status report.
I went ahead and published the report without reviewing it with him. This had unexpected negative consequences, including the manager having to explain the red status to multiple members of the leadership team.
Since then, I have been more careful about how I report project statuses. Before turning a project status red, it is important to consider possible mitigation plans and to review the status with all relevant cross-functional team members and their management. This may slow down the process, but it ensures that all key stakeholders are aware and aligned on the status.
9. Identify projects/programs to cancel. Deciding to cancel a project or program can be challenging, especially if a lot of time and resources have been invested. However, it is important to consider whether the project is still delivering the value that was expected.
Don't let the sunk-cost fallacy (the tendency to continue investing in something simply because of the resources that have already been spent) influence your decision making. It's better to cancel a project and move on to higher-value projects rather than continuing to invest in something that is no longer worthwhile.
10. Be cautious about reporting program status as green/on track. In my experience, it is rare for all the projects in a program to be on track. If you do encounter a situation where all the projects seem to be progressing as per the plan, it’s important to carefully assess the situation and verify that thorough risk analysis has been done.
While there are several other valuable lessons I've learned, I've distilled my most valuable lessons into these top 10 nuggets of wisdom. Project management veterans, what valuable insights have you gained throughout your career? Share your nuggets of wisdom in the comments section below!