Author: Lisa Anderson

Keeping Your Project Team Motivated and Engaged

In leading and participating in hundreds if not thousands of projects during my 25-year career as an executive, consultant, and non-profit leader…

it is apparent that the most important aspect of projecting success is keeping your project team motivated and engaged. It seems as though success (especially on technical projects) would stem from some highly technical concept but that doesn’t hold true. Instead, those teams that are motivated and engaged far surpass all else.

The good news is that motivating and engaging a project team is almost exactly the same as motivating and engaging employees. People want to be treated well, informed and appreciated. Here are a few of the top strategies to motivate and engage project teams:

  1. Vision and goals – One of the most common mistakes project managers and executives make is ineffectively or simply not communicating a clear vision. When employees do not know where they are going or why they are not motivated to “get there.”

    Don’t be confused. Companies with vision statements on the walls are no better off than those without a vision statement. What matters is when the project managers and executives live and communicate the vision on a consistent basis. How does the vision relate to the project? How is the project team involved and a part of this vision? Think about the following questions: Is it part of daily conversations? Does it matter? How do departments, project teams, and employees contribute to the vision? Have you translated the vision into goals? Clarity, simplicity and passion matter.

  2. Leadership that combines passion and focus – Day-to-day leadership and communications engage employees. It’s as simple as that: project managers do not have to be charismatic; they must be passionate and focused. If the project manager is energized about the project, the project team will follow.

    For example, an organization I worked with that had the most engaged employees was led by a less-than-charismatic CEO; however, he had passion, drive, focus, and integrity. Everyone knew where we were headed and which of their tasks were most critical to the current focus and direction of the company. There was no doubt what was critical. Priorities were clear. And everyone knew that it was likely that the CEO and/or other executives would stop by to discuss ideas and brainstorm about the company’s area of focus. Their input seemed to matter. Suddenly employees were engaged. We managed multiple projects at this company and had engaged project teams because they knew they were a part of something important and felt needed.

  3. Appreciation – A simple thank you can go a long way! It is amazing how much of an impact being appreciated has on a project team member’s level of engagement. Unfortunately, I’ve seen countless examples of exceptional employees who don’t receive any appreciation, but instead get negative attention at times for bringing up potential problems or roadblocks that must be tackled in order to achieve the project goals successfully. There is nothing more disheartening to an exceptional employee than a complete lack of appreciation for the results achieved.

    On the other hand, the best leaders who drive bottom line business results speak with their employees and project teams. They review goals on a frequent basis and discuss roadblocks. They show interest in the employee’s ideas and provide immediate positive and corrective feedback. The best leaders appreciate progress and congratulate success. And the best leaders with the most engaged employees give credit to their employees for successes and take responsibility for the issues.

  4. Empowerment – Empowering project teams within reasonable guidelines will go a long way. People want to feel as though they have some level of control over the project’s success – and that they have an impact. Knowing they are empowered to make decisions within specific guidelines enables motivation and engagement.

The only unique circumstance related to project teams ties to the cross-functional nature of projects. Project team members need to feel “safe” and “free” to participate in projects without repercussions from their manager (which could be as simple as working long hours to get both done without discussion). Thus, the project manager must be alert to these occurrences, talk with the managers associated with his/her team members and proactively address this topic.

Since projects will have a substantial effect on your customer loyalty and bottom line – the two most critical aspects of any business – it is worthwhile taking a few steps back to think about how to ensure success by looking at one of the most critical ingredients – team member motivation and engagement. Set aside time to think about engagement and how you can improve upon your situation (no matter how good or bad) – one small step at a time will be noticed by your project team and success will follow.

Networking Success for Project Success

As project managers, the 80/20 of success is in leading, coordinating and facilitating among people.

Of course, the technical knowledge is a base requirement; however, no matter how technically correct, the project manager will not achieve significant results if the people side of the equation isn’t a focus. Thus, project managers must be exceptional communicators and networkers.

In thinking about projects across organization sizes, I cannot think of a project that doesn’t at least involve multiple departments. The pure nature of a project requires some sort of cross-communication and coordination. The ideal situation for these smaller projects is if both departments report to the same executive. Less conflicts will occur. However, 80% of the projects I’ve led or been associated with throughout my career, ranging from small, family owned business projects to private equity backed firms to large, complex, global organizations, do not. These require significantly more coordination with other departments reporting to different executives along with coordination with customers, suppliers, trusted advisors, and others. Thus, networking is a critical skill to develop to deliver bottom line business results with projects.

Networking is the process of connecting with other people to exchange information, develop contacts, to further one’s career and to further project success. Thus, there are countless reasons you’ll need to network for project success. A few of these are as follows:

  1. Find project team members: Since projects are commonplace for delivering critical changes to the business, there tend to be an overload of projects at every company. Thus, it isn’t surprising that there are limited resources to staff a project. Logically, you’ll have to negotiate for team members and/or make your project more appealing than others.
  2. Convince project influencers (such as leaders with resources, those who can influence decisions etc.) to support your project: These people can be some of the most important to achieving project success. If your influencers do not support the tasks or resources, your project will stall.
  3. Explain the whys behind your project: For project team members, influencers and even sponsors, it will be important to explain the whys behind your project. Why is the project important? Why is it important to the company’s success and vision? Why should your team members want to be involved?
  4. Negotiate conflicts: Hands down, this has proven to be the largest detriment to project success. Undoubtedly, your project will run into a conflict between departments, resources, personalities, or some other issue. Ignoring the issue is the best way to ensure failure. Instead, the better equipped you are to handle these conflicts and get everyone on the same page moving forward, the better your success.
  5. Publicize results: Although promoting project success doesn’t always seem that important outside the team, it is vital. People need to be reminded why the project is important and feel a part of the success.

Becoming as effective as possible at networking will contribute directly to project results. Thus, a few strategies for networking success seem appropriate.

  1. Know your networking partners: Not every person is the same. If you know of the person, get to know what is important to him/her. Do not assume what is important to you is what is important to him. And, if you don’t know your networking partner (which is quite common), find out something about them in advance. If you don’t know the specific people, make sure you know the types of people likely to attend. Find out what is likely to be important to that group of people so that you can start the conversation off with something in common ground.
  2. Quality not quantity: Networking is not about collecting the most business cards. Get to know the people you talk with and follow up after you meet them. Tailor your phone call or email to what you learned about them. No one wants to be seen as a number. Find out about the person.
  3. Provide value: This is one of the most important keys to success. Think about what you can provide to the other person. What resources could you share? What expertise or information might they need? Do NOT think about what you want from them; start by thinking only about what you can give to them.
  4. Follow up: Follow through and provide the value you offered. And, then follow up and see whether it was helpful and if there is anything else you could provide. Again, think solely about the other person and helping them be successful.
  5. Smile and be energetic: Smiling can go a long way! No one wants to network with a grump. Think about it. Also, if you are excited about your topic, it is likely to carry over to them. It must be genuine of course, and success will follow.

Since projects will have a substantial effect on your customer loyalty and bottom line – the two most critical aspects of any business – it is worthwhile taking a few steps back to think about how to ensure success with projects. Networking can have a profound effect on this success as it impacts project communication, coordination and results. Follow these networking strategies and success will follow.

The Million Dollar Project Manager

In our experience working with manufacturers and distributors from small, family-owned businesses to medium-sized, private equity backed companies to global….

large, complex organizations, projects account for 80% of the improvement. There are projects to improve efficiencies, reduce inventory, grow sales, expand into new regions, consolidate operations and the list goes on. Thus, if we must rely on projects for business growth and profitability, should we think about our project managers as million-dollar project managers?

Most likely the answer is yes. However, in our experience, project managers are not often treated with much respect. Often times they are seen as lower level resources responsible for executing initiatives, coordinating resources and reporting progress up the chain. But, is this how we should treat our resources who can have such a far-reaching impact?

Let’s think about the reach of project managers impact. There are several key points to consider:

  1. Impact on resources: Undoubtedly, the number one concern from all levels of leadership relates back to resources. There are “too many,” “not enough,” “not the right skills,” “not allocated properly” and so on. Thus, anyone who has a significant impact on resources should be considered valuable.
  2. Daily decisions on which tasks gain priority: Similar to the impact on resources, determining the priority of tasks is crucial. As a project manager, there is a constant need to prioritize among tasks, collaborate with departments, etc.
  3. Ingrained in the business: Project managers are in the “thick of things” on a daily basis. In order to complete tasks and achieve results, project managers are involved in a wide array of activities. They are familiar with what is working and what isn’t working in each department as it relates to project tasks. There are very few projects which are confined to a singular department.
  4. Communicate across the organization: In order to complete their tasks, the project manager must communicate and collaborate across departments and layers of the organization. Since high-quality resources are hard to come by, it is vital to keep communications in a positive light.
  5. Impact on profit: Certainly, almost every project relates back to profitability in some respect. Whether we are growing the business, increasing margins, automating key processes or improving efficiencies, there is a direct impact on profit.

So, since it is clear that project managers have a substantial impact on business success, it is wise to think about how to maximize their performance. As a metaphor, the million-dollar project manager is appealing since there is often million-dollar impacts. Thus, what should we do to ensure project managers are treated more like million-dollar project managers?

  1. Provide clarity of the big picture: Project managers will be more invested in their projects if they understand the impact on the organization. Make sure to provide clarity of the big picture and how they fit in.
  2. Give them discretion: There have been countless studies as to what is most successful in keeping valuable employees (like your million-dollar project managers), and the net conclusion is that employees want some ability to affect the outcome of their work. We must give them some level of discretion to make decisions and guide their projects within reasonable parameters.
  3. Recognize small wins: Managing projects can be a slog into details with little to show for it. Find small wins to celebrate. Make a big deal of the importance and tie it back to the project manager and their team.
  4. Support their decisions: There is nothing more important than supporting your project managers. Of course, providing constructive feedback is essential; however, when in the heat of the battle, it is vital to support your project manager’s decisions. Without this support at critical junctures, the project will suffer, and the project manager will become dismayed.
  5. Promote the project: Promoting the project throughout the organization can do quite a lot for its chances of success. How do you get resources to want to join your project team? Start by being attractive. This often times goes back to how compelling the project seems. Make it so! Do you think the best leaders’ projects for improving margins happen to be more enticing than the average leaders’ projects of the same type? No; perception becomes a reality.

Since projects will have a substantial effect on your customer loyalty and bottom line – the two most critical aspects of any business – it is worthwhile taking a few steps back to think about the project managers driving these results. If you think about their impact, a million dollars might not be sufficient. Therefore, start thinking about your project managers as though they have a million-dollar impact and results will follow.

Best Practices in Project Teamwork

Projects are the cornerstone to achieving bottom-line business results.

In working with clients ranging from small businesses to large, complex, global organizations across multiple industries, I’ve yet to run across a client that doesn’t rely heavily on project results to support customers, grow the business and increase profitability. What else could be more important to business success?

Related Article: How to Increase Teamwork to Ensure Project Success

Since projects cannot succeed with a sole participant, project teams are essential to success. Therefore, discovering the best ways for project teams to work together will lead to results. After leading and participating in hundreds of major projects and many smaller projects over the last 25 years, I’ve compiled a short list of best practices for project teamwork.

1. Clarity of goals 

As with almost every team, the team will be far more successful if the individual teammates understand the goals. Start with the goal of the project. Why are we doing this? What does it accomplish? What are the expected results of the project? Answering these questions will provide clarity of the overarching goals.

Next, go over the critical path milestone. What is the goal of each milestone? Who needs to do what to make them happen? Following this exercise provides clarity of the project plan and project objectives. All team members are on the same page up front.

2. Resolve goal conflicts

Of course, gaining clarity on the goals and critical path alone won’t foster teamwork. The next step is to resolve goal conflicts. I’ve found that as teams go through this process, 80% of the time, some sort of conflict will arise. The main conflicts fall into two categories – resource availability and department conflicts.

In today’s Amazon-impacted world, speed is of the essence. Equally troubling, since the recession, organizations are running lean and so time is limited. Thus, conflicts related to resources are commonplace. For example, let’s assume there are 16 hours remaining this week, and one team member has to complete a project task on the critical path that would require 8 hours of time by the end of the week in order to keep the project on-track. Alone, this is not a problem. However, his/her line manager also has a priority task that requires 16 hours of time that must be complete by the end of the week. An inherent conflict exists. The sooner this problem is uncovered, the sooner it can be resolved.

Equally commonplace are inherent conflicts between departments. For example, if a project task requires Purchasing to get volume discounts while a different task requires Planning to reduce inventory which would require more frequent deliveries, even though both team members are available to complete their tasks, there is a conflict between the two. Again, the sooner this is uncovered, the sooner it can be resolved.

3. Reward project goals; not individual goals

One of the most common issues that arise is when the individual is rewarded for doing what benefits them instead of the project team. Similar to aligning goals, rewards and recognition need to follow the team. If each person does their part to contribute to getting a milestone accomplished, the entire team should celebrate success. If one person can be rewarded for achieving an individual goal while the team doesn’t meet its goal, a miss-match will occur.

4. Metrics

I’ve found that one of the most important ways to align teams is to have a common set of metrics. What is measured will be achieved. Thus, if the team has a clear set of metrics, everyone will be tracking the same items. Thus, as conflicts arise, the metrics will provide initial direction. Also, the metrics focus teams on what is most important. In my experience, the simple act of selecting and tracking a few metrics can create significant teamwork. The team unites behind improving the metrics.

5. Celebrate successes

Lastly, celebrating success is an important way to tie it all together. Teams unite when the individuals get to know one another. Celebrating success allows the team to connect in a different way and it creates momentum. Thus, celebrating small wins along the way (such as the achievement of critical path milestones) can go a long way to enhancing teamwork.

Teams with stronger levels of teamwork surpass the results of those with high individual contributors that do not work as effectively together. In my experience, even if the high individual contributors are the best of the best as compared to medium contributors that work well as a team, the team of medium contributors will win that race. Appreciate the value of teams and consider implementing a few of these strategies to accelerate success. Bottom line results will follow.

Simple Tips for Project Success

Projects are instrumental in growing the business and making a profit.

Thus, it is critical that we find simple yet effective ways to make sure we are successful. In my 25+ years of project management experience, I find that the natural tendency is to make things complicated. The goal is typically to accommodate nuances in the business or project; however, I find that Occam’s razor is absolutely correct. There are simple strategies to increase your probability of project success.

Related Article: Winning Leadership Traits for Project Success

In trying out many project management techniques, I’ve found these to be most beneficial yet simple:

1. What’s the point? It helps to start the project by understanding why you are doing the project. What will be accomplished? Or why does management consider it a priority? How will you affect the company performance? For example, will customers enjoy the improvement? Or, will the company make additional profit? Be more efficient? What will be the outcome?

When I was VP of Operations and Supply Chain for an absorbent products manufacturer, we produced adult diapers. I led several critical projects while turning operations around. One of these was to redesign our #1 product line so that it performed better (was more absorbent) while reducing the cost to make the product – in essence, we were looking for a win-win. Why we were doing this was essential to rallying the team around the project. We imagined that the diapers were for our grandparents. We’d want only the best for our Grandma! And, since the CEO kept us informed on company performance, we also knew we needed to make money in order to increase the value of the company which would allow us to serve more people and eventually obtain bonuses.

2. Develops a simple plan: Don’t become overwhelmed with complex project timelines and worrying about “form vs. function”. Instead, put together a simple plan. Who needs to do what? And by when? Are there tasks that have to be done prior to other tasks starting? Or that need to be completed before other tasks can complete? Do we have these outlined somewhere? Although I find that Microsoft Project does a great job of managing timing and sequencing, it also has far more functionality than is needed for 80% of projects. Getting bogged down in project software details is the quickest way to ruin a project.

For example, while working on redesigning the #1 product line, we ran across several moving parts that crossed over department lines and even expanded to customers and suppliers. We could have become really complicated; instead, we took the simple route. It is amazing how the simplest of concepts can create positive momentum. What are the next 10 tasks that have to be completed? Who should be assigned? Never assign more than one person to the task. A team cannot achieve a task. A team might be involved, but there has to be one owner. Does the team understand the tasks? If not, who can we find to help explain them?

3. Prioritize and sequence the tasks: This can be quite similar to identifying the critical path; however, it is not as complicated. Start by identifying which tasks are most important? Just take a step back and think logically. Which tasks will have the largest impact on the success of the project? If you cannot decide, think about 3 things you could use to evaluate whether the task will have an impact. Then compare these criteria with the tasks on the simple plan. Priorities will emerge.

Priorities and sequencing are not the same. Sequencing refers to what order the tasks must be accomplished. Should you work on task A before task B or does it matter? There is no reason to get carried away. If the tasks can be done in any order, do not specify an order. It will be easier to accomplish if task owners can work in parallel. However, undoubtedly, some of the tasks will need to wait for predecessor tasks. Identify those tasks. Are there tasks required for several other tasks? In my book, these tasks are more important as they can hold up multiple tasks.

4. Follow up: It is impossible to wrap up an article on simple project management techniques without taking about follow-up. Follow-up will make or break success. You need to check in with task owners before and after your task. If you are dependent on an overloaded resource, check in more frequently and make sure you are re-aligning your work with this bottlenecked resource. Find out if there are any issues surrounding the simple plan. Asking a few simple questions can go a long way.

If common sense was prevalent, companies would probably double their profits. If you can focus on what is simple yet effective in project management, you will affect those programs that will have a direct benefit to your business. Take a step back and make sure you haven’t gotten bogged down in non-essential “stuff.”