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Author: Tim Clark

11 Ways to Raise Your Team’s Morale

clark Arp2At some point in your career as a project manager, you’ll find yourself leading a troubled team. There could be a number of reasons for this: burn out; a past history of poorly managed projects; office politics or business changes, a fear-based culture. The list goes on – and many of us have been there.

According to the Gallup organization, disengaged employees make up 30% of the U.S. workforce which costs the U.S. from $450 billion to $550 billion per year.

It’s not a fun to find yourself steering a troubled team – but you don’t have to resign yourself to managing upstream. The trick is to make employees feel like their work is more than just a job. So where do you start? Here are 11 tips to help you cultivate a happier team.

  1. Figure out if you’re the problem. If you’re the project manager, you “own” the team’s morale, good or bad. Granted, you might be required by higher-ups to make decisions that don’t make your team jump for joy, but you’re in control of how you handle these situations (e.g., being compassionate and open instead of dictatorial and secretive).
  2. Learn why morale is low. Plenty of things can hurt morale: Lack of upward opportunity, poor communications, chaotic (or changing) work conditions, negative corporate culture, failing business and more. If you can’t figure out from team members what’s creating poor morale, consult your company’s Human Resources group because this is something they do—address employee problems. Think of HR as a resource you can draw from, but don’t ask them to take over the problem. You still own it.
  3. Win trust. If managers are seen as distant or untrustworthy, morale suffers. Make yourself accessible to your team. Spend a few extra minutes in your lunch or coffee room; keep an open-door policy (literally and figuratively); ask people how they’re doing and if they need anything from you, go out to lunch – be there for and with your team.
  4. Give people control as much as possible, because when employees are empowered to make decisions and influence a project and their jobs, their engagement and motivation rises. Make it safe for team members to express frustration or constructive criticism. Give employees opportunities to solve problems and take action – both strong antidotes to fear and feeling helpless. Also, involving your team members in decision-making can produce better results.
  5. Listen. It’s not only a tactic but a strategy. When team members get a chance to air their issues individually it makes them feel better, builds trust, and enlightens you to any deeper problems you aren’t aware of. Telling employees to “move on” or “just deal with it” fosters anger and resentment, or pushes them to disengage.
  6. Communicate well. Do more than share decisions with your team. Explain why decisions are made. David Lee, consultant and the founder of HumanNature@Work says, “When people understand ‘Why,’ they can deal with almost any ‘What.’”
  7. Celebrate achievements: Thank-you’s and acts of recognition highlight your team’s progress. To break the pattern of low morale, set achievable short-term goals that can be celebrated. Applaud examples of excellence in difficult times; it’s important for employees to feel like winners, especially when times are tough.
  8. Let your team do things in new ways. But make your new approach concrete. Preferably, the new idea – a process revamp, a new way to approach a project, a feature improvement – will come from team members, empowering them. And as their PM, you still have a role—support them in trying initiatives that have a high chance of succeeding.
  9. Advocate for your staff. When a team member is mistreated by a client or staff member, take a stand for your employee. You don’t need to administer a public admonishment, but drop by the person’s office and give them your support. Your team members will be worth more to you and your company than the occasional cranky customer.
  10. Tell stories. When talking about your vision and challenges, use stories and analogies, rather than PowerPoint slides filled with statistics and facts. Great leaders are masters at inspiring people through compelling stories. If the idea of this intimidates you, start practicing your story-telling skills with a small meeting and build up.
  11. Listen to your team’s internal customers through employee advisory groups, management meetings, team meetings and focus groups. You’ll get valuable feedback to form effective strategies for executing and communicating changes – which bring a deeper sense of purpose to work. And isn’t that what we all want?

What other approaches do you use to boost poor morale on your team? 

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

7 Ways to Create a Budget for Your Project

There’s a tight link between project management and budgets. Preparing a project budget requires thinking through the project in detail before anyone starts working.

“Budget is a proxy for project planning.” This aphorism was a live-tweet of a talk given by Aidan Byrne, CEO of the Australian Research Council. In other words, when you finish laying out a budget, you should feel like you’ve walked through the entire project.

While projects can differ dramatically, there are some common strategies when it comes to writing budgets, such as: plan for the worst, identify where changes are likely to originate and watch those areas closely. And don’t forget the contingency plan – and a contingency budget – in case things go a bit haywire. 

Here are 7 tips and practices for creating a budget that supports your project:

  1. The hardest project budget you’ll ever write is the first one. After that, you have both a model for budgeting similar projects, and the experience for writing detailed budgets going forward. For your first budget, get help from an experienced team member or mentor. If you’re a collaborative group, get input from everyone’s work estimates. The point is, you don’t have to do this alone.
  2. Learn from other projects. Find a past project that was similar in type or scope to the current one, and use it a model. Some teams turn to their project management tool to mine data and information on how much time and money went into certain projects – and identify where resources were added or subtracted.
  3. Know your core costs. Start by entering costs – the absolute must-haves to get the project up and running. They include team members, equipment, software, travel, etc. Next, compare those core costs to the total budget. If your costs fit under the total cost figure, you fit under the cap. If not, you need to have that first conversation with your boss or stakeholders about how to scale the project to be completed within the budget – or about expanding the budget.
  4. Prepare to change budget estimates. Most initial estimates are just that – estimates. With the common occurrences of scope creep, unexpected surprises and the nature of doing business, at some point in the project the budget can easily change. This fact just underscores the need to manage the project budget continually. Vigilant project manager compares actuals-to-date against the initial budget and then against anticipated costs toward completion at regular intervals. And then it’s time to tweak the work plan to bring expenses in line with the total budget.
  5. Monitor resources. You want your team members working on the right tasks to their full potential. Salaries are a big component of the budget, so review resource usage weekly to make sure that everyone is working the highest priorities and putting the proper amount of hours per week into their tasks. A project management tool with strong resource leveling features can help manage this.
  6. Be transparent. Keep your team informed of the evolving budget forecast. Communicate what’s expected of them to stay within budget. People might start watching how they designate hours and other costs to your project. And they’ll understand any requests to change directions if they come up.
  7. Manage scope. Scope creep busts budgets. To avoid unplanned work that leads to cost overruns, create change orders for work that goes beyond initial project requirements, with accurate projections of additional cost. Seek additional funding for the project to cover change orders.

Some projects are difficult to scope and budget. For example, with a construction project you can’t forecast dry rot, and when implementing new software for a large company you never know what kind of glitches will surface, or when. In either case, even an experienced project manager will be challenged when unexpected events arise. Cost overruns are common, and change orders become key tools. 

And finally, using the right project management software is one of the best way to know exactly where your project stands; to track how much time and money has been spent, and to forecast the cost and timeline for the entire project. The right tool won’t eliminate cost overruns, but it can help manage them.

Do you have budget tips and tricks to share? Drop them in our Comments box – we want to hear from you!

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5 Ways to Set Your Team up for Success

The watchword for a successful project is clarity. To set your team up for the best experience and outcome, you have to be clear about your project’s objectives as well as each team member’s role and responsibilities. Before getting your project started, break down pre-project preparations into these five steps:

  1. Start before your team does. The first order of business is to clarify project objectives – before sitting down with your team. This step, vital to successfully completing the project, is likely to be dictated by a customer or, for an internal initiative, by your company’s management. Next, create a resource plan that details budget, hours, the number of people and required skills to tackle the work. The resource plan/budget may be broad at the beginning, and it will grow increasingly granular over time.

    Many people on your team may work only part time for the project, stealing time away from their regular responsibilities. In that case, talk to their individual supervisors before the project begins to reach an understanding about the share of each team member’s time that the project needs. If possible, put your understanding in writing, if only in an email to the other manager after you meet. These understandings won’t eliminate conflicts between a team member’s day job and your project, but they can help resolve them more quickly.

  2. Clarify roles and expectations. Before the team’s first meeting, reach out to begin a relationship with each individual team member. This gives you a jump on the team-building at the first meeting, and helps you assess talent and get to know your co-workers better if you don’t already. As project manager, your role is to make the lives of team members easier. While they are working on their individual tasks, clear obstacles from their path, fend off recalcitrant dissuasions, help them to meet deadlines, identify bottlenecks and advocate for more resources or time to get the job done.

    For a project that involves both business people and IT (or other technical folks), make sure that both sides share the same goals. Too often different agendas from incompatible expectations impede project progress. If your project team is global, remember that different regions are not only in different time zones but have different cultures and ways of communicating. You probably can’t change anything, but at least you can understand the potential implications.

  3. Set the right tone. As project manager, you play a huge part in defining the work tone of your team, especially at the beginning. Address your team in a way that makes a positive, team-building impact; negativity can poison a team’s mood and effectiveness. Instead, strive for an upbeat team spirit, a “We deliver as one” team attitude.

    And don’t forget to have a sense of humor – a fun, natural joking style (that’s appropriate) can diffuse a stressful situation and help get the most out of team members by relaxing them a bit. Set an example of focusing on solutions, not problems – it can go a long way in maintaining an optimistic and constructive atmosphere.

  4.  Model right behaviors. Show your team how you expect them to work with your own good work habits. After all, actions speak louder than words. When obstacles arise, as they will, overcome them calmly and openly so others learn the right way to respond to difficulties. To maintain a sense of balance and calm, have a life outside work. There might be times when you have to work overtime, an occasional project push, or to support team members working to stressful deadlines. If your project uses online project management software, set an example by using it the way you want your team members to use it. This is the best way to establish a habit for your team.
  5. Deal with individuals. Don’t manage with a one-size-fits-all approach. Some people need hand-holding, others hate it, and others like a combo. Some team members respond to a kick in the seat, others go into a mild depression. Model yourself on a high school basketball coach who boldly encourages some players to stretch themselves, takes an intellectual approach with cerebral athletes, and challenges others to the point of annoyance—and better efforts. A cookie-cutter approach to team management won’t work. 

How about you – do you have tips and tricks that have worked for your team? Drop us a line in our comments box, we’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.