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A Project Manager’s Mid-year Performance Tune-up

For many companies, the month of June is when mid-year performance evaluations are conducted. I’ve often found it helpful to solicit feedback on my direct reports using start, stop and continue categories. This technique provides a team member with guidance on which activities they might consider modifying as well as encouraging continuation of positive behaviors.

Listing the common activities and behaviors being performed by most project managers which should be encouraged would fill multiple books. However, here is a much shorter list of do’s and don’ts which are worth reviewing as a checklist for your mid-year performance tune-up!

Start asking “Why?”. One of the most endearing, though at times most frustrating, traits of small children is their insatiable appetite for asking questions. As we grow up, we repress this natural inclination to question information being presented to us. On projects, not requesting clarification or justification can end up costing our project teams a miserable trip down the road to Abilene.

Stop imposing self-made limitations. Your project will have some real-world constraints – nine women can’t have a baby in one month. However, to quote Morpheus, when it comes to the most project constraints: What you must learn is that these rules are no different than the rules of a computer system. Some of them can be bent. Others can be broken. When faced with a decision or issue, to overcome linear group-think, it can often be helpful to challenge your team by asking “what if?”. A common example of this is with risk responses – as I’d written about in an earlier article, we eschew the avoid response as we are hesitant about challenging scope inclusions. 

Start following good practices. We shouldn’t learn about tools and techniques such as earned value management, expected impact calculation, Delphi method and work breakdown structures just to pass a project management certification exam. While you may feel that your company’s project management maturity level is too low to enable the usage of such practices, follow the advice from the

Guide to the PMBOK and tailor their usage to the specific culture of your team and the needs of your project. If we wish to be treated like professionals, a reasonable expectation is that we should practice project management in a professional (i.e. not ad hoc) fashion.

Stop being a checklist PM. While it might appear somewhat contradictory to my previous recommendation, it is as bad if not worse to blindly following processes and practices. Some of the worst project managers I have worked with were extremely compliant with their organization’s methodology (the “what”) but demonstrated little judgement (the “how”). Whenever you find yourself falling into the habit of treating the project management lifecycle as being a linear set of steps or processes, just remember that uncertainty and uniqueness underlies all projects, hence taking the time to decide what is the most appropriate next step or practice is crucial.

Start sharpening the saw. In almost every other career path, professionals know the importance of continuing to develop their skills to stay current and to stay abreast of changes in their field. Perhaps it’s because project management has been an “accidental profession” for so many of us, but there doesn’t appear to be that same commitment to ongoing learning. How many of you take the time to thoroughly read all the articles in the monthly journals you receive from your project management associations? Personal development has to be more than just taking courses – after a point you will find diminishing returns in what you are actually learning. You may find you’ll get more out of mentoring a junior PM or participating in online discussions related to project management. Of course, this requires planning the (personal development) work, and then working that plan!

Stop being a pessimist. I realize the more experience we gain, the greater our appreciation for how tenacious and creative Murphy can be, but being a realist does not mean expecting the worst in every situation. I’m not advocating the opposite extreme of blind optimism, but let context be your guide. When your team appears to be dwelling on what could go wrong, you be the one person in the room who sees the cup as half-full. During risk identification sessions, when negative risk events are presented, think about the opposite situation and explore with your team how you might exploit such opportunities.

If you’ve taken courses on quality, you’ll be familiar with the 1:10:100 rule which indicates that the costs of prevention is significantly lower than the costs of inspection which in turn is much cheaper than the costs of external defects. Apply this rule to your own performance to keep your project management career running like a well-oiled machine!

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