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Saturday, October 30, 2010

One Rule from the Nordstrom's Employee Handbook

Nordstrom's Employee Handbook

"For years, Nordstrom’s Employee Handbook was a single 5×8” gray card containing these 75 words:
Welcome to Nordstrom
We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.
Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.
Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.
During this time, Nordstrom had the highest sales per square foot performance in the retail industry"
Does your company have a "Rule #1 for its employees?  

When you review your employee's performance does their employee appraisal include a review of his or her customer service strengths and weaknesses?  Regular formal appraisals (quarterly, or better yet monthly) will help your employees improve their skills.

Do you provide your employees with regular training to ensure they are providing the highest level of customer service?

Does your company survey its customers to find out their level of satisfaction?  

Are your customer survey results used as part of the employee's appraisal process?

Remember, you can't manage what you don't measure, and you probably aren't providing excellent customer service if you aren't surveying your customers and providing continuous customer service training to your employees.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Effective Project Teams

Teams are dynamic and always changing.  Teams work when the individual team members unite around a common goal and have a vested interest in each others successes.  Once team members begin to bicker and fight amongst themselves, the team begins to lose its effectiveness and the reputations of the each of the team members can suffer.

Once teams lose that "all for one and one for all" dynamic the whole team loses.  Win-lose relationships on teams are never an option.  There are only two options when working with another person on your team.  You either both win or you both lose.  The team leader and team members must openly discuss issues that hinder the team from performing at their highest level and work through the issues quickly.  Lingering problems between team members can only fester and worsen, which drags down the effectiveness of the whole team.

EMOTIONAL OUTBURST - team members that display a pattern of destructive or caustic behavior to others (inside or outside of the team) should be removed from the team immediately.

Remember, when working through team dysfunction, compromise doesn't satisfy anybody and doesn't solve problems.  Collaboration is key to working through team issues and getting team performance working at a high level.  Compromise and capitulation are flawed strategies for working through problems as they don't support a win-win outcome.

In closing, keep in mind that poor listeners are not good collaborators.  In order to be an effective team leader you must listen carefully and think win-win while working through problems with your team.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Your Estimates Are Wrong!

I have been burned more times than I can count by bad estimates. What can a project manager do to help ensure the accuracy of estimates?  First we should understand the basics behind the estimating process (there are many more than I have listed here). Some are:

• The more unique , complex, or larger the project, the more of a challenge it will be to get good estimates

• Estimates are only as good as the estimator is at predicting the future

• "Padded" estimates are not always bad as long as the padding is communicated (... and as long as the Project Manager is the one doing the "padding")

• An estimate is not a bid

• Estimates using sound estimating practices, performed by experienced estimators from clear specifications should never be negotiated

• Ballpark estimates are guesses and should be treated as much by the project team, management, and the project sponsor

Other items to consider when estimating are:

• Ensure the statement of work or contract is clear and understood by the person(s) doing the estimates

• Ensure that a schedule or mandated date doesn't drive the estimating thought process

• Include Risk Management in the estimating process

• Ensure that estimates take into account the skill level(s) of the person(s) that will do the work

• If your work breakdown structure (WBS) is flawed, your estimates will be inaccurate

Accurate estimating is an art and a science. The estimator (or team) must take into account historical data from past projects, the team's knowledge and experience, the project risks, the statement of work and other project information to make the best estimate possible.

Keep in mind when planning your project that estimates aren't hard and fast numbers. They are guesses, however they should be very good guesses if you have good estimators and are following tried and true estimating practices.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Project Is...

Project managers get in trouble when we try to complicate things. In my career, I have worked for many different types and sizes of organizations. Some have embraced Project Management and others have made excuses so as not to be constrained by what they believe is a process that slows things down (adds cost and overhead). I have preached the same message for years. Project Management is designed to help reduce or eliminate rework and surprises at the end of a project.

So why don’t some organizations see the value of Project Management? Usually it is because they do not understand the benefits of Project Management, they do not trust the Project Managers they currently have, or the ones they have encountered in the past. OK, we can accept that, however, what we should never accept is the idea that Project Management just adds cost and overhead.

We need to educate those around us about the difference between projects and other organizational work. Senior management needs to realize the fact that work is basically broken down into two areas: Operations (focused on Maintaining) and Projects (focused on Change). Most organizations do an adequate job of managing their operations; however, my experience (limited as it is) has shown that projects and the support of project management vary greatly.

Every organization has projects; sometimes they are just too busy to realize it. As project managers, we need to keep fighting the good fight of educating the influencers in our organizations about the benefits of Project Management. In addition, we need to realize that the benefits of Project Management are demonstrated in the successful implementation of projects. Do not preach the benefits of Project Management; demonstrate them by walking the walk and talking the talk.

So, a project is:

A temporary endeavor to create a unique product or service

Constrained by a finite budget

Constrained by a finite timeline (defined start and end date)

Composed of interrelated activities

Focused on attaining one or more clearly defined objectives

The last point needs to be stressed. Without clearly defined and agreed upon objectives your project is doomed to fail from the start. I would also add that your project does not have a chance for success unless you have an engaged, influential, and respected executive in the role of project sponsor.