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Friday, December 02, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Politics and Projects

Here is a list of things to keep in mind when managing projects in a highly politicized environment:

  • Learn to negotiate from a position of strength
  • Do everything you can to educate those around you about Project Management. Stress the benefits and overcome the objections by pointing to your successes.
  • Master the art of influence.
  • Understand that masterful politicians are sometimes helpful to you and your project, but can also be detriment to your project's success.
  • An effective executive sponsor can help minimize political time wasting events that slow project progress and increase project budgets.
  • Recognize that conflict on your project is inevitable and necessary.How you respond to conflict will determine how successful you are.
  • Mastering the art of negotiation is a critical skill for project managers.
  • Negotiate up front how much power you will have as project manager, how and where it can be used, and when it applies to securing needed resources for your project.
  • Realize that for the most part internal politics wastes time and is usually not something that people enjoy.
  • Team commitment and loyalty will help to minimize project politics.
  • Don't fight a political system you don't understand and can't influence. Leave that to the experts. (Hint: get these experts to support your project if possible).
  • A good communications plan will help to lessen the politics on your project.
  • Every project usually has at least one "politician" in the organization that is out to either sabotage it, or will try to ensure that it isn't fully implemented.
  • Recognize that change (which is what projects are all about) scares some people and your project's deliverables can lead to a loss of power or influence for certain individuals or departments. Anticipate this and have a plan to deal with the behaviors that will surface.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Culture of Project Management

Is the culture in your organization in chaos?  A great first step an organization can take is to ensure that their project leaders are trained and fluent in the discipline of Project Management. Also, and most importantly, senior management must understand and embrace the value of project management, and commit to support the process of implementing project management throughout all levels of the organization. 

To help change the organizational culture to one that embraces and values project management, it should fund and support the development of a project office, which can help facilitate rolling out this “project management culture”.

Some first steps that should be taken:
  • Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of existing project managers and project support personnel
  • Develop a basic project management training plan for the entire organization to familiarize all with the project management verbiage and practices
  • Identify and provide specialized advanced training for all project leaders and functional managers
  • Develop a project management office (PMO) to provide enterprise coaching, and to develop and manage your organization’s project management methodology
  • In addition to the methodology, the PMO should develop and maintain standard project management templates for the organization to use
  • Ensure that existing projects are audited and meet your organization’s minimum project management standards
  • Setup a program where your PMO provides coaching to less experienced project managers and oversight of all enterprise projects
  • Ensure all projects have Lessons Learned captured
  • Use software tools and systems to show the value of project management.  If you have time take a look at a vendor I recommend -  JD Edwards services from Syntax
There are many more things that can be added to the list above, but the intent of this post is to get people thinking about ways to change the Project Management Culture where they work.  As always I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

PMO Checklist

If your organization is planning to start up a PMO, you might want to look at the points below.

Identify the participants and their roles
Identify potential project team members as well as the major players in the user community that will test and except the final product or service. Ensure the Sponsor is engaged and has signed the Project Charter

Assign the project manager early
The Project Manager will make or break a project. Be sure the individual has the expertise to manage the project and they work well with others. Do not hesitate to look at outside sources if there is no one on staff that qualifies.

Assess the qualifications and experience of the planned project team members
Along with the project manager, assess carefully the qualifications and experience of each team member as they pertain to the specifics of this project. Keep in mind the importance of team players, and the ability to get along with others.

Conduct a project kickoff meeting
Officially start the project with a meeting of all parties involved. The project team should be introduced, the milestones reviewed with estimated completion dates, and expectations as to the level of participation, should be outlined.

Complete a detailed work plan
A preliminary work plan with major milestones should have been completed while developing the Requirements Document or Statement of Work. Now is the time to work with the project manager in identifying the tasks involved for each milestone. The work plan should list the tasks for each milestone with the estimated hours, start and stop dates, costs and responsible parties. Sample work plans and templates are available through the PMO upon request.

Establish an issues control tracking systemEstablish a method by which, all issues pertaining to the project are recorded and can be reviewed regularly and tracked by the project team. All issues should eventually have a documented resolution.

Establish a regular project team review meeting scheduleRegularly scheduled project review meetings should be incorporated into the work plan. These meetings are to review the current progress of the project including the percentage of completeness of work plan tasks.

Establish a participant update meeting schedule
Periodic participant update meetings should be incorporated into the work plan. These meetings are to present the current progress of the project to upper management and major participants in the user community.

Follow your Work Plan, create and maintain an issues list, and
Track, Manage, and Obtain Approval for
ALL Scope Changes
Author Unknown

Monday, October 10, 2011

Steve Job's Stanford Commencement Address - 2005

Text of the Stan Commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college  graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all  set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I  popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of  course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the  money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came  back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have  never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them  looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my  life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. 

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.  You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only  way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep  looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day  as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the  mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life,  would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you  with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual  concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die  to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single  best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wisdom from Dr. Bob Moordhead?

The piece below by George Carlin Dr. Bob Moorehead (see here) has been distributed around the Internet for several years. I thought it was worth posting here again for people that haven't read it. Very profound, very true, very sad.

"The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways , but narrower viewpoints.  We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less.  We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time.  We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.  We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.  We've learned how to make a living, but not a life.  We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.

We conquered outer space but not inner space.  We've done larger things, but not better things.  We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.  We write more, but learn less.  We plan more, but accomplish less.

We've learned to rush, but not to wait.  We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.  These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships.

These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes.  These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw away morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.

It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Listen Up!

I used to work for a guy that spent most of his time during staff meetings and one-on-one conversations playing with his Blackberry.  He never really cared what others were saying because his responses to questions and his off-hand comments would always deflect to what he wanted to discuss and rarely would he address the other person's ideas or inquiries.  I still think of him as one of the most disrespectful and arrogant people I have known.

Looking back, I think he was insecure and uncomfortable communicating face-to-face, which would explain why 98% of his communications to his staff and peers was via e-mail.  His poor listening and communication skills hurt his credibility with others, and caused many of of his ideas to be rejected or considered to have little merit.  You see when you tend not to show respect and listen to others, they tend not to respect or listen to you.  It is a shame people like him sometimes hold powerful "leadership" positions.  These short-sighted, arrogant leaders are killing our organizations because they stifle creativity and open communication. 

Great leaders must be incredible communicators, and must be respectful of others at all times.

Watch this very short video of Tom Peters explain how we can ensure we are showing proper respect to others.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What is Your Leadership Competency

Pass this out to your peers and have them send you their feedback. 

RATING SCALE - 1 – Strongly Disagree, 2 – Disagree, 3 – Neither Agree or Disagree, 4 – Agree, 5 – Strongly Agree

1. Effectively engages others to improve service delivery and follow-through on problem resolution. (Service Delivery)

2. Positively influences the team to translate customer needs into valued deliverables (i.e. work products and services. (Action Focus)

3. Ensures that agreed-upon commitments to internal and external customers are fulfilled. (Customer commitment)

4. Develops strong partnerships throughout the enterprise that foster positive customer relationships. (Organizational Relationships)

5. Stays calm and even-tempered when handling crises, stressful situations, or unexpected developments; does not become cynical, moody, or hostile when times are tough. (Composure)

6. Brings conflict into the open by encouraging constructive two-way communication, focusing on solutions and maintaining positive working relationship with those who disagree. (Conflict Resolution)

7. Builds effective teams by modeling open communication, providing constructive feedback, and encouraging different viewpoints. (Building Effective Teams)

8. Effectively facilitates group discussion by helping groups to define objectives, staying on task, soliciting diverse input, summarizing accomplishments and outlining next steps. (Group Facilitation)

9. Encourages a sense of job ownership by routinely soliciting input from team members, incorporating ideas into actions and holding the team accountable for results. (Empowering Teams)

10. Listens attentively and actively to both what is said and to non-verbal cues; has the patience to hear people out; accurately restates the opinions of others even when he/she disagrees. (Listening)

11. Demonstrates integrity in difficult situations by maintaining a balance between constructively identifying concerns, being upfront and honest, and maintaining respectful work relations. (Acting with Integrity)

12. Consistently acts in line with the best interest of the organization as well as in accordance with organizational policies during both good and tough times. (Ethics)

13. Builds and maintains trusting work relationships by being candid and upfront in a respectful and helpful manner, keeping confidences, following through on commitments, and practicing what is preached. (Building Trust)

14. Listens to complaints, suggestions, concerns, or requests; demonstrates consistency, impartiality, and even-handedness in making decisions. (Fairness)

15. Seeks opportunities to learn and actively works to continuously improve him/herself. Stays up-to-date on current practices and trends in his/her field. (Self Development)

16. Regularly solicits feedback on opportunities to improve oneself or delivery of products and services; implements ideas and suggestions to improve results. (Continual improvement)

17. Manages projects by breaking the work into process steps, establishing appropriate project teams, measuring performance against goals, and evaluating results. (Project Management)

18. Builds individual capacity by providing stretch tasks and assignments. Encourages others to learn and grow. Developing Others)

19. Creates focus by establishing priorities based on business needs; quickly zeros in on the critical few. (Prioritizing)

20. Seeks out and optimizes all available resources to achieve the best results efficiently, consistent with organization objectives. Knows who to involve and when. (Resourcefulness)

21. Effectively aligns fiscal resources to support strategic and business plans. (Fiscal Planning)

22. Effectively aligns technology resources to support strategic and business plans. (Technological planning)

23. Originates new and unique ideas; moves beyond the status quo and looks for better ways of doing things. (Innovation/Creativity)

24. Identifies obstacles and generates potential solutions to achieve challenges. (Problem-Solving)

25. Willing to try unconventional methods and/or to take personal risks to achieve desired outcomes that are consistent with organization objectives. (Risk Taking)

26. Accurately anticipates future trends and consequences. Sees the long-range implications of tactical decisions made today. Has broad knowledge and perspective. Can create competitive and breakthrough strategies and plans. (Strategic Thinking)

27. Considers various resources, obstacles, risks, perspectives, adverse reactions and financial impact when making recommendations and committing to action. (Critical Thinking)

28. Addresses performance issues by providing current, direct, complete, actionable, and developmental feedback to others; lets people know where they stand and supports others with ideas for continual improvement. (Coaching)

29. Takes responsibility and tackles difficult situations without passing them off to someone else; after making a mistake, admits it and either personally makes corrections or seeks assistance from others. (Ownership)

30. Drives for results; pushes ahead and maintains focus when confronted with obstacles. (Results Oriented)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Project Sponsors Are a Risk

Enterprise information technology (IT) applications can be difficult to implement, and often don’t deliver on their promises.  Why is this?  I believe the number one reason these projects fail to deliver on their promises is the lack of a strong, engaged, focused, and available executive sponsor.

IT customers are demanding more from their technology, and want results that help them reduce their bottom line, gain efficiencies, and do more with less.  Line managers have a justified fear of giving up control of their legacy applications because of past IT miscues and screw-ups.

A project manager’s job is to help understand and integrate departmental business processes to help ensure the technology will meet the customer’s needs.  A project manager can’t accomplish this task by themself.  Implementing an enterprise technology solution can be a daunting task and requires the skills and talents of many people.  When these projects fail, the blame falls equally between the project manager and the project sponsor.

PM FOR DUMMIES 101 - In order to successfully implement enterprise IT applications organizations first need to create the culture and climate that ensures investments in information technology contribute to a desired future outcome rather than continuing past practices.

Project Manager Tip – PLAN carefully then DO quickly.  The just “do it” culture is usually fraught with project failures and ruined careers.  Run from a project that requires the project manager to follow the failed mantra that says “Ready, Fire, Aim”!

Project Sponsor Tip - The sponsor must understand the technology being implemented, the culture where the change is taking place, and the benefits of implementing the desired solution.  He or she must be willing to “kick some ass” to get the solution implemented in a timely fashion, and ensure the solution provides the required benefits to the organization.

The sponsor articulates the project vision, objectives and goals, and drives the change to the culture, PERIOD.  NEVER forget this fact.  Also, an invisible project sponsor is your project’s biggest risk.

Monday, August 01, 2011

In Search of Excellence

Good post by Tom Peters the author of the blockbuster book "In Search of Excellence".  Tom writes:

"In response to a Tweet, I summarized In Search of Excellence—and thence the last 30 years of my professional life—in less than 140 characters.

In Search of Excellence basics in 127 characters including quotation marks and spaces:

"Cherish your people, cuddle your customers, wander around, 'try it' beats 'talk about it,' pursue excellence, tell the truth."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Good Habits

‘Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.’ ~Benjamin Franklin

Monday, July 18, 2011

Organizations and Project Failure

Studies have shown there are lots of out of control projects in organizations.  One of the contributing factors to this fact is the lack of qualified project management professionals.  Many organizations tag people and assign them to run projects even though they have little to no project management experience.  We know that training alone does not make a project manager. It takes years of experience to build project management competence.  (KNOWLEDGE + EXPERIENCE = WISDOM)

Project management is a discipline, and as such requires people with self-discipline, and project management knowledge and experience to be successful.  Too many times organizations look at a person’s technical and/or functional skills and make the assumption they can train them in the project management basics.  They also wrongly assume these individuals will make a quick, smooth transition and be effective, capable project managers. You aren’t effective at anything if you aren’t measured against your performance.  Most “accidental” project managers fail miserably because they don’t have the experience, or aren’t interested in doing the job.

Immature organizations tend to add project management to people’s job function rather than recognizing that project management is a profession.  Organizations won’t be successful entrusting large complex projects to accidental project managers.  Organizations can help themselves by realizing that project management competence is measurable, and project management results are what really matter. 

Inconsistent project results are many times the result of having the wrong people planning the wrong things in the wrong order, and using the wrong resources at the wrong following the wrong process looking for the wrong results.

Competency at anything requires training, knowledge, and experience. Providing project management training without the benefit of ongoing mentoring is just asking for poor project results and dissatisfied customers.

In closing, project management is a profession.  Training alone doesn’t build professionalism.  It takes lots of time and varied experiences, and even then some people never become professional project managers.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Negotiating with Minimal Conflict

In the book "Field Guide to Project Management" by David I Cleland, there is a discussion on page 282 about "Conflict in Negotiations". As the book mentions, PMI (the Project Management Institute) outlines eight project management functions that can be a source of conflict.

To paraphrase from the book, the areas are:

Scope: what is to be done (results, products, services)

Quality: what measures, what steps to be taken

Cost: financial outcomes, savings, ROI

Time: deadlines, resources, when complete

Risk: what risks are accepted, avoided, deflected

Human Resources: what resources, what skills, availability, competency

Contract/Procurement: cost, requirements/specifications, when, how, what, where

Communications: when, how, to whom, contains what

There are several ways to approach handling conflict (see the Guide to the PMBOK), however the important point to keep in mind is we must confront the issue(s) and work with the individuals or groups to come to a win/win outcome.

Unresolved conflict can often lead to bitterness and resentment, which can linger and rise up later to sabotage your project. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Good List of YouTube Videos for Business and Project Management

I don't link to many external websites, but I like the list of YouTube videos Molly Cunningham has put together on her site.

Click here to check out her site

Communication Tips

How are your project communications? How do others perceive you? How do you perceive yourself as a communicator?  Let us review some rules of communication that will help us better manage our projects.

When making presentations know your:

OBJECTIVE – Goal, Purpose, Destination

LISTENER – Know facts about the group, the group expectations, the key people

APPROACH – Premise, Strategy, Theme, Pay-off for the Listener

When speaking with others one-on-one, use statements that show you are concerned about them. Remember the three “A”s when communicating.

APPRECIATING – Show appreciation for the other person’s problem or situation

Examples: “I appreciate you bringing this to my attention”

“Thank you for letting me know that”

ACKNOWLEDGING – This lets the other person know that you hear them

Example: "I can understand…I sorry to hear that..."

ASSURING – Lets the other person know that you will help

Example: “This will be taken care of…I will see to that personally.”

Some thoughts to ponder…

Project Managers that do not communicate effectively at the right times are destined to fail.

Poor communication skills have derailed many a career.

More than likely you will never be told that your communications skills are lacking.

Every project needs to have a written communication plan.

Acouple of books you might consider are: “The Four Agreements” and the “Seven Survival Skills for a Reengineered World”.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Absent Executive

Ever had a project that begins with strong executive/senior management support and over time that support fades?

The symptoms of executive disintrest are:

Executives/senior management don't ask questions during status meetings or stop coming to the meetings

Executives/senior management lack a sense of urgency regarding "your" project

Executives/senior management become more confused and/or less supportive over time regarding project goals and objectives

Executives/senior management begin to focus on what has been "installed" vs. what business results have been realized

The project sponsor(s) becomes detached and less available for project updates

Executives, sponsors, and stakeholders start to forget the culture and try to force solutions to meet deadlines

I know first hand that executives/senior management will tell you they support your project, and then turnaround and encourage resistance in their departments, and allow or ignore passive-aggressive behaviors of key staff members regarding the project's goals and objectives. What can be done? Here are some ideas; however you must realize that your project is in serious trouble if you have observed the behaviors listed above.

Calculate the costs of the project so far. Consider scaling back the project or killing it all together. I know from experience that this is much easier said than done.

Identify key executives and stakeholders and meet with them personally and restate the projects benefits. If they still aren't sold or supportive, move on to the next group. Ensure you create a Scope Change and de-scope portions of the project that aren't getting support.

Reevaluate the project team. Do you need new people? Are they really focused on meeting the project's objectives and scope? Are the project's objectives and scope still realistic, attainable and relevant?

Reevaluate the organization's culture and re-plan the project if needed. Reset expectations, and identify sources of resistance. If the culture can't be changed quickly, perhaps the project's objectives, goals, and/or scope need to be adjusted.

Remember, project failure rests on the project manager's and project sponsor's shoulders. Sometimes senior management is too busy to get or stay involved, however that doesn't release them from their responsibility to support your project. Determine if they are too busy or just too lazy to support your project. Not easy to do, but absolutely necessary.

Remember what Dr. Stephen Covey says is the 4th Discipline (The 4 Disciplines of Execution) - "Hold Each Other Accountable - All of the Time". If you are a project manager it is your job to hold all levels of the organization accountable for project success. Having said that, you must proceed with caution if you plan to do this with executives. Be tactful and respectful; however, don't let them off the hook!

A recent survey found that only 39 percent of workers feel highly energized and committed to their organization's most important goals. This survey includes executives and senior managers. Just because they have the title doesn't mean they will behave responsibly or be focused on doing the right things right!

Executives, senior management, and your project sponsor(s) may say they support you and your project, but it is up to you to figure out if they really are being supportive. Silence is not acceptance when it comes to dealing with the decision makers. When they stop asking questions, you are in deep trouble.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Dozen Truths (for Project Managers)

More wisdom from Tom Peters.  Check out his website for lots more.
1. Insanely Great & Quirky Talent

2. Disrespect for Tradition

3. Totally Passionate (to the Point of Irrationality) Belief in What We Are Here to Do

4. Utter Disbelief at the BS that Marks "Normal Industry Behavior

5. A Maniacal Bias for Execution and Utter Contempt for Those Who Don't "Get It"

6 Speed Demons

7. Up or Out. (Meritocracy Is Thy Name. Sycophancy Is Thy Scourge)

8. Passionate Hatred of Bureaucracy

9.Willingness to Lead the Customer... and Take the Heat Associated Therewith. (Mantra: Satan Invented Focus Groups to Derail True Believers)

10. "Reward Excellent Failures. Punish Mediocre Successes"

11. Courage to Stand Alone on One's Record of Accomplishment Against All the Forces of Conventional Wisdom

12. A Crystal Clear Understanding of Story (Brand) Power

Friday, June 03, 2011

Toxic People

Mark Goulston, MD writes:
A toxic person...
    1. Interrupts.
    2. Doesn’t take turns.
    3. Takes advantage of people who are down.
    4. Gloats in victory.
    5. Is sullen in defeat.
    6. Is not fair.
    7. Lacks integrity.
    8. Is the kind of person you’ll avoid if you possibly can.
Three good responses to nearly every type of toxic person...
"Huh?" This one word can stop a jerk in his tracks. Use a mild, neutral tone of voice. Do this when the toxic person says something utterly ridiculous but acts as if he is being perfectly reasonable. This response conveys that what the toxic person is saying doesn’t make sense. It works because it signals that you are not engaging with the content of what he said.
"Do you really believe what you just said?" Use a calm, straightforward tone, not a confrontational one. This question works because toxic people often resort to hyperbole to throw others off balance. They are prone to using the words "always" and "never" to drive home their points. However, don’t expect the toxic person to admit that he is wrong. He is more likely to walk away in a huff -- which is fine because then you won’t have to waste more energy dealing with him.
"I can see how this is good for you. Tell me how it’s good for me." This response is a useful way to deal with a toxic person’s demands. If he stalls or changes the subject, you can say, "Since it’s not clear how this is good for me, I’m going to have to say no."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Look to the Past

Have you heard the quote by George Santayana that states, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".  In project management, we need to remember that historical data from old projects is our best source of data when planning new projects.  This data can help you to reduce negative risk and increases your odds for project success.
When planning new projects:

Review your companies past project files for information regarding past resource estimates, lessons learned, budget data, risks, assumptions, etc...

Conduct interviews with select project team members from past projects to understand what went right and what went wrong.

Interview customers and other project managers for lessons learned from their past projects.

Do searches on the Internet about similar projects to gather information which might assist in planning your project.

Most importantly, use risk management during the planning cycle to identify issues that could cost you later on.

Finally, do not fall victim to the project manager's curse of not learning from the past.  Remember the old saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Project Management Rules (revisited, reworked, repost)

Remove people from your team that don’t ask questions, don’t talk with other team members, won’t provide documentation, or won’t do analysis

Only people that aren’t competent won’t show off their work

Question authority or live with the result

A sense of humor can help get teams through tough times

A working meeting should have no more than five people. Meetings with more than five should be reserved for providing updates or relaying information

Project failure is planned at the beginning of the project

Project initiation is the most important project phase

Be honest in all your dealings

Project managers are expected to offer their opinions, but be accountable for their words

When it comes to project scope, what is not in writing has not been said

Have verifiable milestones

End of project surveys must be completed and the results distributed to the team

Bad conclusions lead to more bad conclusions

Documented assumptions are believed to be true for planning purposes

The best lessons learned come from failures

Without data you only have an opinion

Data doesn’t tell the whole story

Bad data leads to bad decisions

Senior management is usually clueless when it comes to what your project is all about

A bad project team will never deliver good project results

If your project sponsor isn’t responsive you should put your project on-hold until such time they can become involved

The bottleneck is at the top of the bottle

A project manager’s main job is to keep the customer happy

At the end of a project if you have met all scope, quality, budget, and schedule objectives, but the customer isn’t satisfied your project is a failure

Documentation doesn’t replace knowledge

Most people want to do good work. Many times they don’t have the tools or information they need to perform well, or they aren’t managed properly

Project managers aren’t successful if their team members aren’t successful

Not all successful project managers are competent and not all unsuccessful project managers are incompetent. Sometimes you just have to be lucky

Good project managers are insecure by nature

An introvert can’t be a (successful) project manager

A project manager with lots of enemies won’t be able to be successful over the long run

You must be a relationship guru and be ready to fall on the sword sometimes

A project manager must be a motivator

If you don’t listen, you can’t plan

Project managers deal with change. You must be the change agent for your project. Your project sponsor is the change salesman

Another Wisdom Equation

In project management (sometimes in life)...

Knowledge + Experience + Meaningful Relationships + Passion + Integrity = Wisdom

...should also equal Success!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rewards and Punishment

The quotes below are from Tom Peters.  They are relevant, important and meaninful to all project managers.  Check out his website for lots of free content, and for information about ordering his books. 
In any public-sector business, you must become an avid student of "the politics," the incentives and constraints, mostly non-economic, facing all of the players. Politicians are usually incredibly logical if you (deeply!) understand the matrix in which they exist.

Risk Assessment & Risk Management is more about stories than advanced math i.e., brilliant scenario construction.

Don't waste your time on jerks, it'll rarely work out in the mid to long-term.

Under promise (i.e., don't over-promise; i.e., cut yourself a little slack) even if it costs you business; winning is a long-term affair. Over-promising is Sign #1 of a lack of integrity. You will pay the piper.

There is such a thing as a "good loss", if you have tested something new and developed good relationships. A half-dozen honorable, ingenious losses over a two-year period can pave the way for a Big Victory in a New Space in year 3.

Keep it simple! (Damn it!) No matter how "sophisticated" the product. If you can't explain it in a phrase, a page, or to your 14-year-old ... you haven't got it right yet.

Don't hold grudges. (It is the ultimate in small mindedness, and incredibly wasteful and ineffective. There is always tomorrow.)

Little People often have Big Friends!

Work hard beats work smart. (Mostly)

Phones beat email

Obsess on ROIR (Return On Investment In Relationships).

Scoring off other people is stupid. Winners are always in the business of creating the maximum # of winners among adversaries at least as much as among partners.

Your colleagues' successes are your successes. Period.

Lend a helping hand, especially when you don't have the time.

Don't get too hung up on "systems integration", first & foremost, the individual bits have got to work.

For Gods sake don't over promise on systems integration it's nigh on impossible to deliver.

It's Relationships, Stupid; Deep and from multiple functions.

Don't over-schedule. Running late is inexcusable at any level of seniority; it is the ultimate mark of self-importance mixed with contempt.

"Preparing the soil" is the first 98 percent. (Or more.)

Be kind. It works.

Opportunism (with a little forethought) mostly wins.

Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes.

Integrity. Credibility. Humanity. Grace.

Strategic planning is the last refuge of scoundrels

Focus groups are counter-productive

All information making it to the top is filtered to the point of danger and hilarity

Success stories are the illusions of egomaniacs (and "gurus")

If you believe the "cause & effect" memoirs of CEOs, you should be institutionalized

Top teams" are "Dittoheads"

"Expert" prediction is rarely better than rolling the dice

Statistically, CEOs have little effect on performance

Success kills

Saturday, May 14, 2011

All Projects Are Unique

All Projects are unique.  Because they are unique, the risks are often great and failure to deliver "on time" is always an option.  Minimize the risks by informing your sponsor that until you are finished with your initial project planning activities you may not be able to provide realistic budget and time estimates.  Once you have completed your initial project planning activities, (project planning is continuous) provide your sponsor with an estimated budget and time range, and remind him or her that as planning progresses these ranges may be adjusted to closer reflect reality.

Doubt and the Door

‎"Doubt comes in at the window when inquiry is denied at the door.". Benjamin Jowett

What are you denying?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Estimating Laws

Found over at the very good Project Connections website

1. Everything takes longer than you think (sometimes a lot longer)

2. Thinking about everything takes longer than you think

3. Project Managing and leading a project team is a FULL TIME job, and then some

4. Software Engineers are always optimistic (generally REALLY optimistic)

5. Schedules are (almost) always wrong

6. If you under-estimated an early task when you wrote the WBS (schedule), you probably under-estimated middle and later tasks. Revisit the later phases of the schedule as early as possible when you discover early phase schedule (estimate) errors

7. Business types (upper management) REALLY do use your estimates for planning. For example, head count, money, customer deliverables, shipping dates, ordering materials, scheduling manufacturing lines, advertising timing, etc. Be able to express your level of confidence on various estimates when you provide them to others

8. Initially, a good schedule estimate is 80% confidence for near term deliverables, 60-80% for long-term deliverables. Revisit the schedule and revise your estimates after the Initiation Phase (Kickoff) and again after the Design Phase to improve on these early confidence levels

9. Don’t let yourself be bullied into committing to something you cannot achieve

10. Don’t bully someone else into committing to something they cannot achieve

11. Notify “Need To Know” people AS SOON AS POSSIBLE if there is a significant problem or potential problem in meeting the schedule. Remember that there was a certain degree of optimism in the schedule originally. Note: It's an art to not over-do this

12. Let team members know that you, the project manager, expect early notification of schedule problems as a courtesy. You decide on the severity or risk of the problem and its impact to the schedule, what actions to take, and what contingencies are appropriate

13. Most people’s estimating skills improve with experience; some don’t

14. Learn your own estimating flaws and compensate for them. Then learn the flaws in your new estimations and compensate for them. Repeat continuously while employed as a project manager

15. Learn others' estimating flaws and learn to compensate for them. Mentor them on improving their flaws and then compensate for their improvements. Repeat continuously while they are on your project team

16. In some environments, some people are hedging their estimates, some people are expecting them to hedge the estimates and some people are doing neither. It’s an interesting problem to get all of them to stop this behavior and have people give honest, best-effort estimates. Laws 14 and 15 are useful for dealing with this variability while you are working to get your team members to be more honest with you. Laws 13-16 are part of the "people aspects" of the project management job - like it or not, we have to deal with these "real world effects" on the projects we manage

17. Be wary of anyone who wants 100% confidence in an estimate. 90% confidence is an exceptional human achievement for any complex task, even with extremely good data

18. Look up the word “estimate” in the dictionary. You may find it useful in a meeting

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Projects as Art

"A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not.  It is the discipline to discard what does not fit - to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort that distiguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life"

Author Unknown

Monday, April 18, 2011

Awesome Life Tips

Various Quotes by By Bruce Lee

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”
“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.”
“Simplicity is the key to brilliance.”
“Using no way as way, using no limitation as limitation.”
“Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better than. Be not for or against.”
“Real living is living for others.”
“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”
“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”
“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”
“A quick temper will make a fool of you soon enough.”
“All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.”
“As you think, so shall you become.”
“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”
“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
“To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”
“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
“Knowledge will give you power, but character respect”
“Obey the principles without being bound by them.”
“Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.”
“You just wait. I’m going to be the biggest Chinese Star in the world.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Good Listening Tips

Stop Talking!

Put the talker at ease

Show him/her that you want to listen

Remove distractions from your behavior


Be patient

Hold your temper

Try not to argue or criticize.  Don't evaluate, just listen

Ask questions

Summarize occasionally to confirm understanding

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Manage Expectations to Succeed

In the project management world there are many differing opinions regarding how to successfully manage a project. One of the most important things project managers must do is to manage the expectations and relationships with our stakeholders.

Some things to keep in mind to help us manage our relationships better are:
  • Take the time to assess the culture (Is it supportive, what is the balance of power, what are the stakeholder attitudes)
  • Identify and formally document the goals of the stakeholders and sponsor (Are the goals realistic, attainable, communicated)
  • Assess our own capabilities and limitations (Are you politically savvy, respected, a good negotiator)
  • Define the problem(s) the project will be solving (Define objectives, risks, relationships)
  • Develop solutions (Create action plan, determine the right solution for the right time)
  • Test and refine the solutions (New learnings must be incorporated, replan, retool, rethink)
  • Develop communication plans to ensure expectations are managed 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Successful Project Managers Have...

Have recognized leadership traits

Be a great communicator
Have a sense of humor (often)
Have integrity
Be driven to succeed
Have great project management skills
Be disciplined
Be able to think strategically
Be a good listener (active listening)
Be compassionate
Make good decisions

How does a new project manager obtain and hone these skills?  My quick answer is a blend of education, experience, on-the-job training, mentoring, and a continuous feedback loop.  In order to move from good to great we must work to improve our skills and focus on our strengths; however, we must also identify and minimize or eliminate our weaknesses. 

Finally, great project managers like working with people. They like challenges, they have an even temperament, and they are a motivating influence to those around them.  Good PMs don’t just plan and delegate, they get involved and become part of the team. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wisdom and Projects

Albert Einstein said "A clever person solves a problem; a wise person avoids it". After reading this quote, it reminded me that project managers spend a lot of time (or should be) avoiding problems. One thing that can help project managers avoid problems is to follow a Project Management Methodology (PMM). A PMM is a set of agreed-upon processes that assists project managers and  teams to deliver predictable project outcomes.

To create a customized PMM for your organization you need to define all applicable project management processes, procedures and policies used to deliver your organization's projects. Also, don't forget to develop or obtain a set of project templates as they are an important part of any PMM.  Finally, you need to develop a training program to introduce and educate your organization about the new PMM.

Once your PMM is implemented ensure you measure the results and make adjustments where necessary. If you need help in developing your PMM there are many companies that can assist you and your organization.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Organizational Best Practices for Project Management

A good reference book about Project Management is “The Portable MBA in Project Management by Eric Verzuh”. In the book Eric sites a major study that was conducted around what Project Management Best Practices look like in a typical large organization. Perhaps we can learn a few things by looking at the results.

Formal (agreed-upon) Project Management Structure

Companies that successfully implement and use project management have a formal structure in place. These organizations have repeatable project management processes, and executives of the company are engaged and accountable for the success of project management and the project’s that they sponsor.

A Repeat Project Management Process

Repeatable processes that are aligned to PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Guide’s Nine Knowledge areas have been shown to increase the probability of project success.

Alignment of Projects to the Organizations Strategy

Projects that aren’t aligned will probably not be given a high priority (or proper support) within the organization. Projects that are aligned will have an executive sponsor that is engaged and measured against the project’s success.

Use of Tools

Project Managers need tools to do their job just like any other profession. The tools can be project management software, templates, and other items. The tools need to be closely aligned around the organization’s project management processes.

Experienced Project Managers

This was found to be the single most important success factor in the companies studied. The skills that successful project managers exhibit were:

Experience in Project Management
Ability to see the big picture
Excellent communications skills (verbal and written)
Willingness to do what it takes
Leadership and organizational skills
Problem solving skills
Collaborative and cooperative
Positive Attitude

The book is a great Project Management reference, is well written, and contains a wealth of information that will help you to be a better project manager.