Author: Brenda Hallman

Monitoring Dependencies Beyond Your Project

It’s important to understand all dependencies when planning a project.

While dependencies can be within a project (schedule dependencies), we are going to explore the practice of managing those dependencies that impact the project but are external to the project work “Inter-Project Dependencies”.

It’s essential to have a good handle on these activities as there is often little opportunity to control and influence them.

Let’s Look at an Example

To illustrate this, let’s look at an example. You have a project that started on 1/14 called the “Fargo Road Move Project” that is to move a bottling plant into a new building. When the building was purchased, there were some necessary updates for all of the departments that will be housed in the building. There is a separate initiative “Fargo Road Construction Project” to update the building, including laying new flooring in the bottling suite. The flooring is scheduled to be completed by 3/15. You cannot move the equipment until the flooring is complete. You have scheduled the equipment move for 3/26. Your schedule is dependent on the contractors completing the floor work prior to 3/26.

In the situation where you have required work beyond your project, you must take steps to assure you minimize the impact this may have.

Monitor and Communicate

As project managers, we are used to the ‘Monitor and Control’ aspect of our job. However, there is often little control when you are dependent on efforts by another project, therefore we ‘Monitor and Communicate’ inter-project dependencies.

Constantly monitor that the work you depend on to assure it is going as planned and understand the confidence factor of completing that work on time.

Communicate to your project leadership so they are always aware of this risk and the impact. If they heard about it regularly, they will not be surprised if they learn there is a possible slip in work and they have the potential to influence completion of that work. Often our project leadership may have control over work beyond our project.

Tools and Documentation

Inter-project dependencies should be established as soon as they are understood to exist. Below is a table that displays various project management tools and documentation that are recommended for this work.


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Where Action Why
Scope • Clearly state the dependency in the scope • This assures that the project leadership is aware of the dependency and that they agree to it when they approve the scope.
Staffing Plan • Add the manager of the project/work for which the dependency exists to the role of ‘providing updates to the project team on the status of [detail] work’ • This is an opportunity for that manager to be aware of dependency and the expectation that they are accountable to communicate status.
Task • Add an on-going task to monitor/check in with that manager.
• Add a task to the project scheduled for ‘completion of’ the dependency. This is the milestone. As able, allow some lag time in anticipation that this work may be delayed.
• Link your related tasks so that any slippage of this work can be easily identified and addressed.
• This will assure that you are monitoring the work and tracking any impact to your project.
Milestone • Add this inter-project dependency as a milestone. • The dependency must be completed before certain project work can proceed, therefore it is important that everyone is aware of that date and it will be reviewed often.
Risk • Add a risk to the risk register. Included impact if the dependency date is missed and a contingency plan.
• Identify a senior leader, preferable from your project leadership team, to be the owner of this risk.
• This is an opportunity to highlight the importance of the dependency and providing a warning to project leadership of the impact should the date be missed.
• It also provides a chance to plan what the team will do should the date be missed.
Status Report • A solid project status report will include milestones and high impact risks. Determine what information is needed related to the dependency for a given status report. • Status updates allow the project team and leadership to continue to be aware of the dependency. It provides an escalation point for the owner of the risk to influence the work should there be signs that the date will slip.

 

Bonus Points

If possible, the inter-dependent project should include the work and due date as a deliverable in their scope so there is a higher accountability to meet that date and that project leadership is aware of the impact to other projects.

If there are multiple projects that have dependencies, a regular meeting of the project managers should be occurring to discuss status and impact. This team could include other individuals who may help influence completion of critical work.

There are situations where projects that are tightly inter-related can share a leadership committee. This allows for oversite at the project leadership level. If this is possible, then there should be a status report of milestones for all of the projects so that the relationship between the projects is clear.

Summary

Pay attention to all inter-project dependencies and be prepared to make adjustments should the other work slip. Keep all of your team members and leadership aware of the status of the other work, particularly if you are not confident in the due date.

It is also important to consider the magnitude of the impact should a date slip. Do not over-burden your leadership team with concern if there is enough slack to accept a date slip or there is an acceptable work-around. This is the value in tracking the dependency as a risk and analyzing it early in the project.

Bonus Points
If possible, the inter-dependent project should include the work and due date as a deliverable in their scope so there is a higher accountability to meet that date and that project leadership is aware of the impact to other projects.
If there are multiple projects that have dependencies, a regular meeting of the project managers should be occurring to discuss status and impact. This team could include other individuals who may help influence completion of critical work.
There are situations where projects that are tightly inter-related can share a leadership committee. This allows for oversite at the project leadership level. If this is possible, then there should be a status report of milestones for all of the projects so that the relationship between the projects is clear.
Summary
Pay attention to all inter-project dependencies and be prepared to make adjustments should the other work slip. Keep all of your team members and leadership aware of the status of the other work, particularly if you are not confident in the due date.
It is also important to consider the magnitude of the impact should a date slip. Do not over-burden your leadership team with concern if there is enough slack to accept a date slip or there is an acceptable work-around. This is the value in tracking the dependency as a risk and analyzing it early in the project.

A Little Prep for an Efficient Project Team Meeting

A project manager should look to the most effective way to run their project’s team meetings. We are talking about your regularly scheduled meetings, typically weekly or bi-weekly.

With a minimal amount of pre-work, you can run an efficient project team meeting, get the updates needed, and best utilize the time of the attendees.

This method comprises of setting up a structure to follow the same ‘standing agenda’ as you work through your project. With a little preparation, you can have the items below available for display, or as handouts, during your meeting. You may vary the suggestions below based on the duration and complexities of your project.

1. Review Project Schedule

Prepare the schedule for the most optimal viewing of tasks. Regardless of what tool you are using to manage your tasks, you should only look at tasks that are:

  • Late – so you can discuss why and update the task to reflect reality and any resulting impact on new dates
  • Due soon – those tasks that are due to be completed through the next 14 days
  • Upcoming Work – tasks that are 14-30 days out to assure everyone is aware of what’s next

Consider highlighting (visually with color if possible) the tasks that most certainly need to be discussed at the meeting. Those that may have risks associated with them, those that are to be performed by individuals whom you may anticipate may have challenges in completing the work, those that are late or due very soon.

Periodically you should step through the full schedule of open work. This will provide the team a nice overview of the scale of project work and provides an opportunity to discuss concerns with future work.

2. Status of Open Issues

Prepare to review issues:

  • Sort by due date, with those due sooner at the top of the list.
  • Only show issues that are relevant to the project team, those they have reported or those assigned to them.
  • Only show the information necessary for the discussion. While you may be capturing various details on each issue, consider what the team members really need to see to provide updates.
  • Discuss those that are a high priority, regardless of the due date.
  • Be sure to cover issues due in the next two weeks, and review others as time allows.

3. Update on Action Items

Review any open actions items from previous meetings that are due. These are the smaller “to-do’s” that are not significant tasks requiring them to be managed on the schedule.

4. Report New Issues/Concerns/Work

Discuss anything new that has not be covered or concerns that have come up since the last meeting. Confirm that everyone is in agreement and can speak up on any items he or she believe need additional attention.

5. Summarize

Simple enough – review important actions, cover any reminders such as next meeting, and thank the attendees for attending!

By utilizing a standing agenda that follows this format, you will assure that you cover and address late work, recognize and discuss upcoming work, and focus on issues. Spending a few minutes before each meeting to prepare will provide a more organized presentation and lead your team to focus their attention on the priority topics.

The Why What and When of a Decision Log

Can you relate to that project that feels like it has been dragging on a little too long?

Moreover, your team is sitting in a conference room drowsy from preparing the final touches when one perky creative soul, who by the way missed the first four months of meetings (thus why they are perky), pops up with a question ‘Why are we doing it this way? We should look at a different option?’

Hallman 012517Once the collective groans subside, everyone starts in on a chatter contemplating a different option. “Wait,” you think, “it has already been hashed out!” Quick, where are your notes? Where is that email talking about a different option? Was it in the meeting minutes somewhere? “When was that again? February?” This is all too familiar. You can’t quickly find the results, and you desperately want to stop all of the cross-conversation and new found excitement that has roused up the room. Then you sit back and remember, “Ah yes, I have a decision log!” You swiftly scan it, find the related item and pound your gavel on the table to gain everyone’s attention. It will all be fine, we are on the right track, and we don’t need to spend another moment of discussion because it was already agreed which would be the best action. Phew!

Utilizing a Decision Log, which is a list of critical decisions agreed upon throughout the project, has not yet leaped into mainstream project management practice, although it has started to gain traction being viewed as beneficial for recording impactful decisions and serving as a central repository for those decisions.

Why Do It?

The concept is a simple one. Once a discussion begins regarding a project, decisions are being made with some decisions essential for the direction of the project. Documenting those in a central location can be of value throughout the project as a quick reference and communication tool to assure everyone is aware of the direction.

Decisions may not always be agreed upon by the team members. Rather than opening a discussion for debate each time the topic arises, it is better to resort to the documented decision and move on from the topic.

Additionally, these decisions may be made in a forum that does not involve all team members, and they may be hidden in meeting minutes or informal email messages. Providing a standard method to document and communicate decisions can assure everyone is aware, avoid lack of clarification, and can be used as a method to focus team members when debate arises.

Decisions can be revisited when necessary, and may even be changed when new information presents to the project. Team members who raise valid points that counter a decision should be heard and their opinion valued as it may offer a better course of action.

What Information to Include?hallman 2 012517.jpg

A decision log is a beneficial communication tool to assure all stakeholders are apprised of how a decision was reached, what other options were considered, and who is accountable for the decision. It provides guidance to the team members and can eliminate potential confusion. The format you use may be a spreadsheet, automated log, or another method that suits your environment.

The primary information to capture includes What is the decision, When was it made, Why it was made, and Who made it. Other information may be captured as well and may vary based on the project needs.

When to Include a Decision?

When to include an item in the log involves striking a balance between what is valuable to have recorded versus what is too detailed, and will take thought. As well as considering the overall audience, team members and project dynamics also consider these things:

  • Topics that are frequently debated or where there is often disagreement.
  • Decisions that may be confusing or not clear to all stakeholders.
  • Those made that impact the direction or future work of the project.
  • When alternatives exist, but only one must be selected.
  • Decisions made by leaders, or others outside of the project team, which will impact the work of those team members.
  • Those that impact what or how a deliverable will be achieved where it may be different than some stakeholders expect.
  • Items that may not seem significant but can cause issues if not understood.

As a project manager, you must judge what your stakeholders will view as too much detail. You also must consider not eliminating items that you think are valuable to minimize detail.

There you have it!

No one wants more documentation. That goes for the individual who must create and maintain it as well as the recipients who do not want yet another attachment to read. The value of the log is for the project manager to have a centralized location to capture items that may cause debate or slow progress or for those who are included to search for information on the project materials instead of hunting down the project manager. This can turn into a time-saver and worth a try it on your next endeavor!

Strategies to Improve Communication and Follow-up to Team Members

Getting the Most from Your Project Staff
Part 3 of a 3 Part Series

As a Project Manager you are tasked with getting work done through others.  It may seem simple, after all these individuals are assigned to the project team and just need to do their job. But this is not reality. 

What is reality is that project resources are often assigned work beyond your project and may even be involved in other projects.  It is typical in the popular matrix project organization that team members do not report directly to the project manager, but rather a functional manager.  This makes it even more important that the project manager have the skills to get work accomplished through others. Even the most experienced project managers continually report this as one of their top challenges.

In this three part series you will learn techniques that will maximize your ability to get the most from those individuals assigned to your project.  The strategies presented will provide a solid approach that can be used immediately with your team. 

 

Part 1: Tips to gain commitment from your project team

Part 2: How to be comfortable with escalating when work is not being completed

Part 3: Strategies to improve communication and follow-up to team members


If you have read Part 1 of this series, then you have established the guidelines to gain commitment from your project team members.  However, the work does not end there!  You need to keep up efforts to maintain the best possible dynamic for those involved in your project.  This article discusses strategies to improve communication and follow-up to team members.

Schedule: Where are we going, when do we need to be there, and who is driving?

  • The schedule is not just valuable for planning, but should be maintained. This will provide a mechanism to keep team members up to date on any changes to their assignments. 

E-Mail: Can’t live without it, so let’s make the best of it.

  • Minimize volume of messages – keep it short and simple.
  • Make sure the content is clear and organized.  Re-read before you send so you are sure it’s accurate.
  • Don’t include individuals who are not necessary to the message.  We all wish everyone would do that, don’t we?
  • Include dates for any action items you are including in the message.
  • Highlight names and dates if possible.
  • Consider the message subject so that messages can be sorted, or located easily.  Be consistent with all of your messages.
  • Utilize the e-mail message as a follow-up to an informal meeting or agreement.
  • If you have details, consider storing it elsewhere and reference the details in your message; or you can place details at the bottom of the primary message and direct those interested to that section. 

Issues: We all have them.

  • You should utilize this as a primary tool for keeping problems and action items in sight and on track.
  • Be sure your Issues log is kept up to date. Team members should be able to refer to the log and rely on it’s accuracy. 
  • Share!  It’s great to share your issues, but sharing your issues list is even better! 
  • Be certain that all of your issues have a due date and an assigned resource!  As a note, ASAP and TBD are not dates!

Meetings: Respect the time of your meeting attendees.

  • Plan your meetings – this is not an overrated concept:
    • Consider what you really need to accomplish at the meeting.  This will help to build a tight agenda and dictate the format necessary for the meeting.
    • Think about who you need in attendance, and when.  Inviting resources to the ‘part of the meeting’ that is relevant to them, rather than expecting everyone to sit through the full meeting, can minimize frustration when individuals have other work to accomplish.
    • If possible, build the agenda for structured attendance time such a ‘reverse pyramid’ styled meetings or holding small subgroup meetings.  A reverse pyramid meeting includes topics of relevance to all attendees at the start then the agenda works down to more specific topics allowing attendees to dismiss when their areas of interest are covered.
    • Contemplate placing team members who may not be needed for a specific meeting to be ‘on-call’ for that meeting.  This will provide them the opportunity to work from their desk, but be available to the meeting if needed.
  • Review the agenda and objectives at the start of the meeting.  If you are incorporating any of the strategies above, inform the attendees so they are clear on how the meeting will flow and why other members may not be in attendance.
  • Schedule recurring meetings so attendees are in the habit of knowing when meetings will occur.
  • Start on time!  Arrive on time!  End on time (or early!)
  • Cancel if the meeting if it is not necessary to meet in person. 
    • If you choose to do this, send an update to the team so they have a status.
    • It is not recommended to cancel often.  Your team members may come to expect this and plan not to attend.  Also there is always value in human interaction and discussion.  You may have individuals with something to contribute and they will not have a forum for that input if meetings are cancelled.
  • Keep on track, we all appreciate it!  If a topic goes astray, consider sideling the topic for follow-up or if all attendees are engaged and it is valuable discussion, consider adjusting the meeting to allow for further discussion.
  • Meetings don’t have to be 60 minutes.
    • Consider starting ‘off the hour’, such as 11:10am.
    • Hold 15 minute status meetings when possible; it’s amazing what can get done when you have a short window of time.
  • Make your team aware that you are being considerate of their time!  Take credit for being respectful of their time and let them know so they will shower you with appreciation!

Meeting Minutes: Not fun, but inevitable…

  • You should have already determined requirements for project meetings and documentation and have this stated in the project management plan
  • Make every attempt to have minutes distributed by the end of the next business day
  • Minimize content as much as possible.  Minutes, with few exceptions, should not be transcripts of a meeting.
  • Minutes should be written as statement of facts
  • Action items should be including with due dates

Hello!  Stop, Talk, Stroll…

  • Stop by your team members desk, have a chat, ask how it’s going.  This will show your interest in them, and their work.  It will provide a little one-on-one opportunity for them to bring up any questions or concerns. In some cases it may even minimize deviations from the work schedule. 
  • Pick put the phone and say ‘hello’.  Again, keeping in touch is invaluable for your relationship with the team.

You are probably thinking by now that this all sounds like more work! Yes, you have figured it out… but it is promised that the end result will pay off.  You will experience more engaged team members who are clear on what is expected of them (you will make it easy for them!) and it will minimize the need for continual follow-up, ultimately saving you time and frustration.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

How to be Comfortable with Escalating When Work is Not Being Completed

FEATUREJune6Getting the Most from Your Project Staff
Part 2 of a 3 Part Series

 


As a Project Manager you are tasked with getting work done through others. It may seem simple, after all these individuals are assigned to the project team and just need to do their job. But this is not reality.

What is reality is that project resources are often assigned work beyond your project and may even be involved in other projects. It is typical in the popular matrix project organization that team members do not report directly to the project manager, but rather a functional manager. This makes it even more important that the project manager have the skills to get work accomplished through others. Even the most experienced project managers continually report this as one of their top challenges.

In this three part series you will learn techniques that will maximize your ability to get the most from those individuals assigned to your project. The strategies presented will provide a solid approach that can be used immediately with your team.

  • Part 1: Tips to gain commitment from your project team
  • Part 2: How to be comfortable with escalating when work is not being completed
  • Part 3: Strategies to improve communication and follow-up to team members

This article should really be titled ‘How to be comfortable with escalating when work is not being completed or not completed as expected’

Good news! You’ve already started! If you’ve followed the strategies in Part 1 of this series, “Tips to Gain Commitment from Your Project Team”, you already have agreement on expectations for your project resources. In a perfect world, everything will go according to plan, but it is not a perfect world and there is a chance you will run into ‘imperfect’ situations involving team members.

This may include such things as work not being completed on time (particularly critical path tasks, issue resolution, and those that are predecessors to other work), status not being reported, meetings not attended as expected, or lack of participation.

The steps outlined below will help to guide you through the escalation process.

STEP 1: Determine the impact

1. Judge the degree of impact

  • Is it behavior or actual work not being completed?
  • Is this an early warning sign of things to come?
  • What significance will this have to the project?
  • How will this impact other team members?

2. Obtain clear examples and impact to the project

  • Be specific to the project work and not to the person.

STEP 2: Discuss the situation and impact with team member

  1. Review the agreed upon expectations
  2. Determine, with the individual, if there a reason and how you can help initiate change to rectify the situation.
  3. If the reason is related to the person being overwhelmed with other work, offer to change expectations to accommodate, if the individual can agree to meet requirements and it is acceptable. Indicate that you will help by discussing the situation with their manager so that the manager can initiate change
  4. If you are not having success resolving with the team member, let them know you are concerned with their availability and that you will be discussing the situation with their manager.

STEP 3: Escalate

1. Formulate and document examples and the results of your discussion with the individual.

2. Contact the manager

  • State the examples and recommend actions (corrective and preventative).
  • Utilize the schedule to demonstrate tasks and dates and the staffing plan for the individual’s responsibilities.
  • If work needs to be completed, state dates and be clear that the manager is responsible for seeing that the work is done by that date.
  • If there is a resource availability issue, expect the manager to resolve this by replacing the individual, freeing up other work, offering a backup, etc.
  • If behavior needs to change, communicate your expectations.
  • Follow up any conversation immediately with an e-mail stating expectations and dates.

3. Follow-up

  • Follow up if change has occurred or work has been completed, be gracious!
  • If work not completed escalate to the project sponsor or senior leader of the project.

4. What? You want me to tell on someone?

  • No, it is not telling! Your job as a project leader is to assure the work is completed on time and as expected. It is your responsibility to judge when this will not occur and make every attempt to keep the project on track.
  • You have no choice but to escalate if work is not being completed on schedule.
  • Using leverage from your project leadership can help resolve staffing problems, or recognize the issue and adjust the project expectations or deliverables.
  • If the team member is burdened with other work, you will be helping them by trying to elevate the problem. Make that clear to them.
  • Setting this standard will help build future commitment and expectations.

5. Rules! Yes, there are rules… sorry.

  • Business policy is primary, then project policy.
  • Only discuss the problem, not the person.
  • No surprises: Notify those involved as to your next steps.
  • Notify your management before you escalate to a team members manager.
  • Document your examples, conversations, and resulting commitments.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


 

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