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PMTimes_July16_2024

Red Flags in Contractors

The contractor is generally the builder and can cause serious damage if not scouted for wisely. They are mandated to execute works and pay the largest share of the project sum. Adequate due diligence is very important since 70% of the work rests in their hands. Here are a few insights to be keen on:

Lack of licensing or insurance: A reputable contractor will have the proper licenses and insurance to protect both themselves and their clients. Be sure to ask for proof of both before hiring a contractor.

No references or portfolio A good contractor will be happy to provide you with references from past clients and show you their portfolio of previous work.

Poor communication: If the contractor is slow to respond to your technical calls or emails or doesn’t seem to be listening to your concerns or questions, it could be a sign that they’re not interested in providing good customer service.

Pressure to sign a contract or make a deposit: If a contractor is pressuring you to sign a contract or make a deposit before you’re ready, it could be a sign that they’re not trustworthy.

 

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Lack of clarity in the contract: Make sure the contract clearly outlines the work to be done, the timeline, the payment schedule, and any warranties or guarantees.

Poor reviews or ratings: Check online reviews and ratings to see what past clients have to say about the contractor. If there are a lot of negative reviews, it could be a red flag.

Unwillingness to provide a written estimate A reputable contractor will provide you with a written estimate that clearly outlines the costs associated with the project. If they’re unwilling to do so, it could be a sign that they’re not trustworthy.

Generally, it’s important to do your research and trust your instincts when hiring a contractor. If something seems too good to be true or doesn’t feel right, it’s best to keep looking for someone else.

A contractor`s primarily defined as a business person. Stay alert!

PMTimes_July10_2024

Critical Thinking is a Critical Success Factor

Critical thinking is a process for making judgments and decisions. It applies analysis and evaluation to decide if information makes sense.

 

Scenario

Imagine a scenario in which a convincing speaker argues for prioritizing projects in a certain way. She is in a position to make a unilateral decision or to influence enough people to agree with her opinion. She cuts off anyone who brings up facts or alternative opinions to question her statements and decisions. Her priorities become the basis for capital planning for the next several years.

Were those priorities best for the organization? Without critical thinking, we’d never know.

How often are design, strategy, or other decisions made based on biases, beliefs, and unsupported opinions?

 

Controversy

Critical thinking is a foundation for sound decisions, whether in the realms of project management, organizational dynamics, or politics. Without critical thinking, there is the danger of allowing despots and self-proclaimed experts to drive poor decisions.

Strangely, critical thinking is controversial. There are people, some of whom are in powerful positions to influence decisions, who oppose applying analysis to evaluate opinions, biases, and beliefs.

Is the opposition because critical thinking takes time and effort, or is it that ego gets in the way? People want what they want and do not want logic and facts to get in their way. Objectivity and fact-based reality are annoying to those who want their way, even if their way is of questionable value.

 

Requirements

Critical thinking requires:

  • Active listening
  • Open-mindedness
  • Growth mindset
  • Self-discipline, and
  • Self-awareness.

 

Active Listening

Active listening means listening to understand, by paying attention, allowing others to have their say without interruptions, questioning, staying focused, considering non-verbal clues like the tone of voice and body language, turning off thoughts like “I know what he’s going to say”, and withholding judgment.

 

Open-mindedness

Open-mindedness includes curiosity, the ability to accept multiple perspectives, and the possibility that you may be wrong. It is a quality that enables active listening.

Being open-minded is having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. It implies being curious and courageous enough to surrender to vulnerability and uncertainty.

Brene Brown in her book Dare to Lead writes that over time “we turn to self-protecting – choosing certainty over curiosity, armor over vulnerability, and knowing over learning.

When we avoid the uncertainty of not being perfect, in control, and believing that our way is the right and only way, we face the reality of unnecessary emotional conflict leading to bad decisions and unhealthy relationships.

Open-minded curiosity enables root-cause analysis. It avoids jumping to conclusions based on a need to eliminate a problem’s symptoms or to find someone or something to blame.

 

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Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

Your mindset is the sum of your attitudes, moods, perceptions, beliefs, and mental models. It determines your behavior and emotional responses.

A Growth Mindset thinks that failures and challenges are growth opportunities. Feedback is taken as constructive even when it is negative. A Growth Mindset is open to learning.

People with a Fixed Mindset do not like to be challenged. They define themselves in terms of success or failure and will often either give up or fight when faced with challenges. They tend to think that ignorance is a permanent quality rather than something that can be corrected by learning. They tend to be closed-minded.

A Growth Mindset is a foundation for critical thinking.

 

Self-Discipline

There is often a desire to “get to the point” as quickly as possible. We want to make the decision and get on with the action. We want to be right.

Critical thinking means not jumping to conclusions.

It takes time and effort to listen, analyze, and reflect on the short- and long-term implications of decisions. It takes self-discipline to slow down and avoid impulsively plunging ahead to make snap decisions without considering facts and alternative opinions.

We must take the time to use classical project management skills – estimating, risk management, communication, control techniques, procurement management, quality management, and working with people – to acquire the information needed to make informed decisions based on facts while considering emotions.

And when facts are not available, we must make sure that we are deciding with that in mind – understanding the risks involved. We must be clear and make it clear to others that estimates are estimates and not definitive predictions. Expectations are not always fulfilled.

Assess risks. Assumptions are fine if they are correctly identified as assumptions and there are alternative assumptions with an understanding of the probability of their being correct. We also need alternate pathways in case we run into problems.

 

Self-awareness

“Self-awareness is knowing who or what we are, our goals and intentions, strengths, and weaknesses, and the way the mind works, our inner workings. It is realizing that the blend of these affects our behavior. Self-awareness is the foundation for emotional and social intelligence. It enables self-management, the ability to choose how to respond rather than to react.”[1]

Self-awareness tells us that we are jumping to conclusions. It enables self-discipline and the management of our emotions and habits. With self-awareness, we can tell when we are being humble enough to accept the need to validate our certainty about being right. We can sense when we are arrogantly insisting that we are right simply because we believe it.

Self-aware we can be ready for anything because we have confidence in our resilience and adaptability.

It means questioning mindsets and motivations.

When you are self-aware you can sense when you are succumbing to the fear of stepping out of your comfort zone to confront uncertainty and the possibility of being wrong. And you perceive your effect on others.

 

Critical Thinking – A Critical Success Factor

Critical Thinking is using analysis and evaluation to make effective decisions. It overcomes bias and belief to make highly effective decisions and helps to minimize unnecessary conflict.

To be a critical thinker and to have an organization that values critical thinking, it is necessary to overcome resistance to investing the required time and effort and to cultivate

  • Active listening
  • Open-mindedness
  • Growth mindset
  • Self-discipline, and
  • Self-awareness.

Decisions and the actions they drive will be more likely to be the “right” ones the more people apply objectivity and rational thinking, whether in business, at home, or in governance.

 

[1] Pitagorsky, George, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path, Self-aware Living, 2023, p. 224.

PMTimes_July09_2024

Navigating Project Control: Mapping Dependencies and Avoiding Bottlenecks

Project dependencies come into existence when one task in a project is dependent on the other, a project shares the same resources for a task, and some constraints can impact the task progress in a project.

 

To be honest, almost every project has the above three factors present. There is a flow of tasks that needs to be followed, one resource is working on two or more tasks, and there are external and internal project factors that you need to manage to keep the project on track.

Thus, you have to forcefully think and plan the tasks, allocate resources, and manage schedules to deal with all of these project dependencies.

Navigating the project control is all about understanding these dependencies. It is done by mapping on a chart. This helps you visualize them clearly to avoid potential bottlenecks.

In this post, we will learn how to map dependencies and look for strategies to avoid bottlenecks.

 

The Significance of Dependencies in Project Management

Dependencies in project management talk about how one entity impacts the other. That entity can be a task, resource, or project constraint. Dependencies in project management help you identify how these factors can impact the progress of the project.

For example, a project has five tasks: A, B, C, D, and E. The beginning of task B is dependent on the completion of task A. This is task dependency. However, task C can be started before the completion of task A.

In this case, suppose the resource allocated to task A is the only one that can perform task C. Thus, despite task C not being dependent on task B and task A, it cannot be started till the completion of task A because of resource dependency.

Similarly, you can understand the project constraint dependency by assuming that the equipment required to complete the task is available only for a limited time. This is a project constraint. Thus, you need to start and complete task C in the timeframe for which equipment is available.

Knowing these dependencies helps you plan your project better according to the constraints to complete it within time and budget.

 

How to map dependencies and avoid bottlenecks?

There are a few simple steps that you need to follow to map the dependencies in a project. Have a look at them:

 

Identifying Project Dependencies

The first step is to identify the project dependencies. The best way to do this is to break a project into tasks, add the start date and end date of each task, and assign an owner to each task.

The process is done systematically using the work breakdown structure (WBS). It involves breaking a project into phases and then further breaking down a phase into tasks where each task is further broken down into activities.

This will give you a clear idea of what you need to do and how much time it will take to do each activity. This will help you identify the key dependencies.

 

Documenting Dependencies

To document dependencies, you need to visualize them on dependency mapping tools. There are various dependency mapping tools that you can use to create project dependencies maps such as network diagrams, Gantt charts, and dependency diagrams.

Irrespective of the tool you use, key elements of the dependency map will remain the same. However, each tool offers additional elements to make it distinctive from others.

Key elements of a dependency map include:

  • Nodes: Nodes represent the tasks in a project.
  • Arrows: Arrows represent the dependencies. The direction of the arrow indicates the direction of the dependency.
  • Timeline: A timeline depicts the information of the sequence of the tasks.
  • Label: Labels include the information related to the tasks such as task owner, dependency information, or any relevant information.

This will help you visualize and document dependencies for your project.

Project management tools like ProofHub can be a great asset to manage them effectively.

The tool offers Gantt charts, which are a popular dependency mapping tool. You can easily create tasks, set dependencies between them, and visualize the overall project flow.

 

Monitoring Dependencies

Monitoring dependencies is all about making sure that project dependencies are followed as per the plan and that there are no discrepancies. It includes comparing the actual progress of the tasks to the planned progress.

If there are any discrepancies between the two, you need to evaluate how it impacts the project schedule and measures to take to get the project back on track.

Depending on the criticality of the dependency, failure of one project dependency can lead to overstretching the project budget and deadline and sometimes project failure.

 

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Strategies to Avoid Bottlenecks: Proactive Project Management

Dependency mapping provides you with the knowledge of how each dependency will affect the overall project. But bottlenecks can still occur and you have to avoid them.

Here are strategies in project management that can help you avoid bottlenecks:

 

1. Risk Planning and Management   

Document each dependency, create a risk register, categorize risks, and design a mitigation plan for each risk using document management software. This will help you better prepare to deal with project risks by having all risk information centralized and easily accessible in the software.

 

2. Actively Track the Baseline

The baseline is the snapshot of the original project plan on a dependency map. Track the actual project progress to find out the deviation from the planned progress. Take swift measures to get the project on track.

 

3. Create Milestones

Set milestones for a project and allocate the budget and time for the project according to the milestones. This will help you ensure that you are not spending too much time and money on one particular phase of the project.

 

I hope by following these steps, you can effectively map dependencies and avoid bottlenecks in your project, ensuring a smoother and more efficient execution of the project plan.

PMTimes_July2_2024

Effective Strategies for Leading Remote Teams

In today’s professional landscape, remote work has become the norm, transcending geographical boundaries and redefining traditional notions of collaboration. For project managers, leading distributed teams presents both challenges and opportunities.

Managing projects with remote teams presents unique challenges that require adaptability and effective strategies. Successfully navigating the complexities of remote work demands a combination of effective communication, technological proficiency, and adaptive leadership.

In this article, we’ll discuss strategies to empower project managers to effectively lead remote teams and drive project success.

 

Leveraging Technology for Seamless Communication

At the core of successful remote collaboration lies effective communication. Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful project management, particularly when working with remote teams. There are various strategies for establishing robust communication channels that facilitate clear and timely information exchange. Some of these topics to be covered here may include:

  1. Utilizing proper communication tools: Explore various communication tools and platforms, such as video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management software, and highlight their features and benefits.
  2. Setting communication expectations: Discuss the importance of establishing clear communication guidelines, including preferred modes of communication, response times, and availability, in order to ensure seamless collaboration.
  3. Regular team meetings: emphasize the significance of regular team meetings to foster alignment, address challenges, provide updates, and encourage open dialogue among team members.
  4. Transparent documentation and knowledge sharing: Highlight the importance of centralizing project documentation, sharing relevant information, and leveraging knowledge management systems to promote transparency and collaboration.

Project managers must leverage technology to facilitate seamless interaction and foster connectivity among team members. Using collaboration platforms, video conferencing tools, and instant messaging apps facilitates real-time communication, enhances transparency, and strengthens team cohesion.

By leveraging technology as a communication enabler, project managers bridge the physical divide and cultivate a collaborative remote work environment.

 

Promoting Trust and Autonomy

Empowering remote teams relies on two key elements: trust and autonomy. Project managers must empower team members to take ownership of their work, make independent decisions, and contribute meaningfully to project outcomes. Establishing clear goals, defining expectations, and offering regular feedback creates a culture of accountability and trust within remote teams.

Entrusting remote team members with confidence in their expertise and capabilities unlocks their full potential, promoting innovation in remote work environments.

 

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Embracing Agile Practices for Adaptability

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, the true essence of agility lies in fostering a mindset of adaptability, collaboration, and continuous improvement. Agile methodologies provide a flexible framework for managing projects in dynamic environments.

As organizations strive for true agility, it’s crucial to remember that agility is more than just a set of practices; it’s a way of thinking and working that empowers teams to navigate uncertainty and deliver value with speed and precision.

Project managers can leverage Agile principles such as iterative development, frequent feedback, and adaptive planning to navigate the complexities of remote work effectively. Breaking down projects into manageable tasks and conducting regular stand-up meetings and retrospectives promote transparency, collaboration, and continuous improvement within remote teams. Additionally, Agile practices enable remote teams to respond quickly to changing priorities, customer feedback, and market dynamics.

By embracing Agile principles and methodologies, project managers empower remote teams to adapt, innovate, and deliver value in a rapidly changing business environment.

 

Prioritizing Team Engagement and Wellness

Remote work can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection among team members. Project managers play a crucial role in prioritizing team engagement and well-being in remote work environments. Regular team-building activities, virtual coffee breaks, and informal check-ins foster friendship within remote teams. Additionally, project managers should be mindful of challenges associated with remote work, such as work-life balance, burnout, and communication fatigue.

Advocating work-life balance, encouraging self-care, and offering assistance as necessary showcase dedication to the welfare of remote team members and create a positive work culture.

 

Empower Project Managers to Achieve Outstanding Results by Leveraging Data and Analytics

Managing projects means making decisions. Data-driven decision-making is essential for driving project success in remote work environments. Project managers can leverage data and analytics to gain insights into team performance, identify bottlenecks, and optimize processes. Utilizing project management software and collaboration tools allows project managers to track progress, monitor resource allocation, and identify areas for improvement within remote teams.

Project managers can use this predictive information to make better decisions and keep projects on schedule and within budget. A data-driven analytics approach enables project teams to analyze the defined data to understand specific patterns and trends. Executives can use this analysis to determine how projects and resources perform and what strategic decisions they can take to improve the success rate.

Furthermore, analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) such as productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction informs strategic decision-making. By leveraging the power of data and analytics, project managers empower remote teams to achieve their full potential and deliver exceptional results.

 

Conclusion

Enabling project managers to effectively lead remote teams requires a comprehensive approach that includes communication, trust-building, Agile practices, team engagement, and data-driven decision-making. By embracing technology, prompting autonomy, and prioritizing wellness, project managers overcome the challenges of remote work and capitalize on its opportunities.

Using a strategic approach and commitment to continuous improvement, project managers unleash the full potential of remote teams, driving innovation and project success in the digital age.

Empowering project managers with the skills, tools, and strategies needed to succeed in remote work environments prepares organizations for success in an interconnected digital and virtual environment.

 


References

Edvin Lundstroem, 2024. Efficient Software Project Management: Strategies for Successful Implementation. Independently published.

PMTimes_Jun26_2024

Minimum Viable Certainty and Optimal Performance

Optimal performance is operating as best as possible. It is achieved when we are in Flow, a state in which the sense of time blurs, we have a sense of effortless effort, and we get out of our own way. This is true of individuals and teams as well. To perform optimally we need to be fully absorbed in a task, concentrating on a clear goal.

We need certainty about where to channel our attention to let go into full absorption. And, we need to be able to accept uncertainty to avoid the distractions that come when we are not comfortable with it.

 

Attention and Focus

Concentration is a requirement for Flow. It is the ability to stay focused on a chosen object, a goal, an activity, or a task. But if we look more closely, we see that concentration needs focus and attention.

To sustain focus on a task you must be mindfully aware and persistent. That is what makes it possible to recognize distractions and remain focused by coming back to or staying with your task.

“According to Amisha Jha, a neuroscientist, there are three kinds of attention:

  • Open attention—using a floodlight to see or be objectively aware of what is occurring in a broad expanse. This is mindfulness.
  • Focused attention—shining a flashlight or laser to direct light on a chosen object. This is concentration.
  • Executive attention—deciding what, within the field of open attention, to attend to and what to do about it, regulating responses with mindful awareness and discernment, avoiding distraction. This is the effort required to sustain open and focused attention.”[1]

Focused attention—concentration—elicits and cultivates the experience of resting comfortably in the present moment. Open attention or mindfulness makes you aware of experiences and movement, telling you when you are distracted.

 

Certainty About The Goal

A clear goal is needed to focus attention. If the goal is fuzzy or constantly changing the ability to perform optimally is lost. We know this from experience in project work and life in general.

Once we start on a task, the more we are uncertain about where we are going – the goal – the more we are distracted.

When the goal changes, particularly if it happens frequently, we not only have to shift our attention, but we lose confidence in our leadership. Shifting attention we lose momentum. With a lack of confidence in leadership, we lose motivation.

While goals are subject to change when they are well thought out, they can be relatively stable.

 

Examples

Imagine a team of U.S. Navy Seals on a mission. If their target is changed in the middle of the mission, they will be less able to focus on the objective. If it changes more than once, they will likely lose trust and confidence. Their performance will suffer.

The same is true of a project performer or team faced with frequently changing goals and objectives.

 

Minimum Viable Certainty and Performance

But the need for certainty goes beyond goals. To perform optimally we need certainty about our next steps.

When goals are broken down into short-term goals, the objectives needed to be met to accomplish the goal, then each objective can be accomplished with greater certainty. The shorter the task, the fewer risk events can occur.

In a recent article, A. Poje states that “Recent research and the wisdom of the SEALs suggest that minimum viable certainty might be the key to achieving our highest potential.”[2]

 

Ultimately, one of the few things we can be certain of is uncertainty. Anything can change at any moment. Minimal viable certainty refers to the period during which certainty is high. We can create windows of high certainty, periods during which we can be relatively (though not 100%) certain about what is going to happen.

Navy SEALs, need very short periods of certainty. They seek a minimum viable certainty of 5 minutes or less. While skiing, the skier doesn’t look at obstacles but instead finds and plans for the path of certainty. That kind of planning is moment-to-moment. You sustain momentum and avoid hesitation and unnecessary thinking.

 

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Creating Certainty Windows

Executives, managers, and individual performers often feel the need for some certainty when there is a barrage of priority changes, and interruptions like emails and ‘urgent” calls while they are expected to hit planned target dates.

Each new message amplifies uncertainty. Sometimes it seems there is no way to get into Flow.

In project work our minimum viable certainty window is much longer than it is for the skier or the Seal – it may be hours, days, or weeks instead of seconds or minutes. Even in an environment with constantly changing priorities and interruptions we can plan and create windows of certainty.

While we may have a six-month project plan we can make our personal or team plan for a month, a week, a day, or even an hour out. In that window of certainty, we can focus attention and perform in Flow. Then we can regularly step back to adjust the longer-term goals and objectives.

 

Adaptability

While we need some certainty, we must be comfortable with the discomfort of uncertainty and confident in our ability to accept and adapt to whatever happens.

That comfort and confidence allow us to eliminate the worry that uncertainty brings. Instead of expecting things to turn out the way we’d like them to we focus and remain fully aware of what is happening now and in the next few moments so we can respond rather than react.

Minimum viable certainty is enough to keep you on your game, performing at the highest level possible.

 

To create a certainty window, turn off the interruptions, carving out the uninterrupted time needed to fully focus on the task at hand. If you can’t do it 100%, prioritize the interruptions so that you are increasingly likely to give yourself and your team the uninterrupted minimal viable certainty needed.

While you can never be certain, you can create stability by taking control of your situation as best you can. And you can cultivate the acceptance and resilience you need to be comfortable with the discomfort of uncertainty and anything that comes up.

When you strive for optimal performance, mindfully focus on the now and let go of distractions like worry and interruptions. Find the minimum viable certainty that works for you in your environment.


[1] [1] Pitagorsky, George, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path, 2023, p.135-136.
[2] https://medium.com/@andrewpoje/navigating-the-waters-of-peak-performance-the-seals-secret-to-flow-a8810606b4a9