PMTimes_July13_2022

The Courage to Try Something Old – Part 1: Facilitation

We know that it often takes courage to try something new. But what about trying something old? Sometimes it takes courage to do the basics, things that we know work, but for a variety of reasons are deemed to take too long or seem too “old school.” Often the old ways are not welcome. To be sure, the old ways do not always add value. But when they do, it can take courage to convince the organization that it’s worth spending the time. The first one of these oldies but goodies that I will address is about facilitating requirements meetings. Even the concept of a meeting seems a bit old school, and when you add on the discipline needed to successfully facilitate, it can seem insurmountable.

The glorious thing about requirement meetings is that rather than interviewing many stakeholders separately, which is time-consuming, we can get the stakeholders together. It’s a chance to get issues discussed, questions answered, and direction set. But stakeholders may come unprepared or with hidden agendas. There are usually different personalities and communication styles which cause different types of disruption. And it takes courage to take the time to successfully facilitate. It takes courage to keep the meeting focused. Here are three tips that will provide you courage and increase the likelihood of success.

 

Preparation. No matter how experienced we are, no matter how many meetings we’ve facilitated, no matter how many disruptive stakeholders we’ve encountered, we face new challenges each time we facilitate a requirements session. We can’t eliminate the disruptions, but we can minimize their effect. Thoughtful preparation with the appropriate stakeholders will help us go into each requirements event with confidence. Minimally, we need enough preparation to communicate the following before the meeting:

• Objective. This is an action, stated as a verb. Examples include: to resolve issue(s), develop a process describing a current or future state, review the results of an iteration/phase, or project.
• Desired outcome. This is a thing, stated as a noun. Examples include: decisions, issues, parking lot topics, requirement models and lists, story maps, flows and other diagrams, user stories, action items, follow-up items, and responsibilities, to name a few.
• Attendees, prep work needed of each, and expectations for their contributions during the meeting.
• Topics to be covered, who owns the topic, and approximate time to be spent on each.
• Tools and techniques to be used and how, when, and by whom.

 

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Meeting agreements (ground rules, protocols). The ability to keep focus during the session requires the use of meeting agreements, or ground rules. Throughout the years we have tried to soften the use of the term “ground rule,” maybe because “rule” seems so inflexible. Regardless, these agreements help keep us grounded. Getting participants to establish and then follow them, though, is tricky but necessary—necessary because disruptive participants can make everyone miserable. If we call out the disruptor, we risk breaking the safe environment and having the other participants shut down. If we do nothing, we will not successfully meet our objectives. There is no one right way to handle disruption. What has worked best for me is to anticipate disruption, include it in the prep work, and hold pre-meetings with those most likely to be disruptive. And the use of a parking lot can be one of the many agreements established.

 

Quick decision are not decisions. The final thought is that decisions cannot always be made during the meeting. There are a myriad of reasons why trying to curtail discussions and move forward will result in frustration and future changes. We can’t demand that decisions be during the meeting. But we can have a tentative agreement, and then it’s up to us to check in with reluctant participants as needed.
Sound a bit old school? Yes, of course. These are techniques that have been around a very long time. But they work.

We tried getting rid of meetings, and that didn’t work. We tried getting rid of meeting agreements. Chaos. We tried getting quick decisions, only to be blindsided and saddled with rework later. Sometimes the old is not the most popular, but it is the best approach, even if it takes courage to get people on board.

 

[i] I use the terms requirements meetings, sessions, events, and workshops synonymously.
[ii] I once suggested the use of a parking lot and some of the attendees didn’t know that it was a list of tangential topics that would be handled outside of the meeting or at a future one. They thought that we were actually going to meet in the company’s parking lot!
PMTimes_July12_2022

The Power of Decision Criteria

Every decision is made based on criteria. Are you and your team conscious of your criteria?

Decision making is at the heart of project management. Doing it well requires skill and awareness of the process. This article addresses decision criteria and the need for up front and formal definition of them as part of a decision-making process. A previous article Get the Right Answers to Make the Right Decisions[1] discussed the need for the right questions to ensure high quality decisions. Among those questions is “what criteria will we use to evaluate options and decide?”

Poor decisions are made when people make them without consciously identifying their decision criteria. This happens at all levels, from individuals to decisions amongst project teams, executives, and members of boards of directors.

 

The Decision-Making Process

When decision makers are aware of their process it is less likely that they will overlook setting up mutually agreed upon decision criteria.

Being aware of the process means consciously recognizing that there is a set of steps for deciding. One of the steps is agreeing upon the criteria to be used.

There are many variations on the definition of the decision-making process. They share a common theme – consciously understand what you are doing and how you are doing it. Define your process and make it adaptable and flexible. Make it so that later steps influence earlier ones in an iterative refinement process.

Here are nine steps to sum up the process[2]

1) Define values, goals, objectives, and requirement specifications

2) Define the decision making and target environments

3) Agree upon decision criteria

4) Identify solution options

5) Analyze and compare solution options vis-à-vis the decision criteria

6) Decide

7) Implement the decision

8) Monitor and adjust

9) Reflect on the process for lessons learned.

 

The first step includes the definition of the desired outcome. The second step identifies who will make and influence the decision(s), levels of authority, process, tools, and techniques to use in decision making. It also makes sure that the decision makers have a good understanding of the nature of the environment that the decision will affect – the operational environment. Goals and objectives may be adjusted as step two is performed. Both steps one and two may be refined as criteria are identified. All three are subject to refinement as the process proceeds, as implied in step eight.

 

What are decision criteria?

Decision criteria are the basis for deciding. They “are the principles, values, rules, variables, and conditions that an organization or team uses to select an option or make a decision.”[3]

 

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Why Define Criteria

Consciously defining decision criteria improves the quality and rationality of decisions.

The criteria always exist. Every decision is made based on some criteria, which may be consciously known or not. Many are prone to subconsciously consider factors that skew their decision. For example, a bias towards reinforcing privately held values may get in the way of reaching a practical decision.

When decision criteria are consciously considered, prioritized, and agreed upon by decision makers, biases can be identified and managed, criteria that may not be immediately obvious can be discovered. Without consciously addressing decision criteria, decisions are suboptimal. They will take longer than necessary to make, and they are more likely to turn out to be ineffective.

Decisions take longer because criteria emerge over the course of discussions rather than at the onset. For example, a team charged with the design of the interior of elevator cars became aware after deciding, but before the design was implemented, that there were design options that were more likely to protect against damage. The team had not directly assessed damage resistance when making their decision. Once aware of the newly identified factors, the original decision was put aside while other options were identified and assessed, causing a several weeks delay.

The team had not explicitly stated their criteria. Informally, everyone had an understanding that aesthetics was the main criterion, with maintainability as a key factor. Cost and availability were also considered. They reviewed several options and selected one. If the decision had been acted upon the team could have made a poor choice that looked good but was easily chipped or cracked. The result could have been costly.

 

Time and Effort

Besides thinking it is unnecessary, a reason that decision makers do not spend adequate time and effort considering their decision criteria is the perception that it will take too long and that it is overly formal.

The time it takes to define decision criteria depends on the situation. With a team that often works together on similar projects, the criteria for choosing supplier, design, or plan options may be already available in a checklist. Little time would be needed to review the checklist and verify its fit for the decision at hand. If on the other hand the team was not used to working together, was operating informally, and had no checklist, setting decision criteria can be more complex, requiring convincing team members that some formality is needed.

In most cases all it takes to identify decision criteria is a brief brainstorming session among the decision makers, informed about typical criteria for the type of decision they are to make. Going further to evaluate the criteria, prioritizing them, takes more time and effort.

 

How Formal Do You have to Be?

A formal process improves performance. But how formal is formal?

The minimal degree of formality is to have a written list of criteria. If during the decision-making other criteria come up, add them to the list.

A next level of formality is to weight the criteria to identify priorities among them and then use the weights to score each option, so the score becomes a factor in choosing one.

In all decisions some criteria are more significant than others. Sometimes the degree of significance, the weights, are used informally or unconsciously. With more formality weights are used to calculate scores in a documented process. This brings a greater degree of objectivity to the process, though making decisions purely on the numbers can be unskillful. Do not underestimate the power of intuition, particularly among experienced decision makers.

The degree of formality depends on the complexity and impact of the decision, the team’s confidence in their decision-making process, and their accountability for their decision. In some cases, rules and regulations mandate the documentation of decisions, in other cases it is useful to be able to show others that a rational process was used to make the decision.

 

How to Set the Criteria

Identifying the criteria for a decision is not a particularly creative process. Use readily available lists via a quick web search for decision criteria lists. For example:

  • Performance
  • Appearance – look and feel, aesthetics
  • User experience
  • Stakeholder acceptance
  • Cost – of implementation, operation, and replacement
  • Benefits
  • Risk
  • Security
  • Maintainability
  • Reliability
  • Resilience and flexibility
  • Environmental, social and governance considerations
  • Sourcing and availability
  • Time to implement
  • Reviews.

Use this list or one that is more specific to your decision as a starting point to craft your criteria.

 

Bottom Line

Consciously agreeing upon and documenting decision criteria in the context of a defined decision process promotes high quality decisions and avoids unnecessary delays. To apply this principle most effectively tailor formality to the nature of your situation, with the minimum being a list of agreed upon criteria.

[1] https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/get-the-right-answers-to-make-the-right-decisions/

[2] Adapted from Pitagorsky, Managing Conflict in Projects: Applying Mindfulness and Analysis for Optimal Results

https://www.amazon.com/Managing-Conflict-Projects-Applying-Mindfulness/dp/193558958X

[3] How to Write Decision Criteria (With Tips and Examples) | Indeed.com Canada

 

PMTimes_July04_2022

How To Write A Data-Driven Resume

As business professionals, we know the increasing importance of data-driven decision making in our projects and operations.

 

This article will explain why we need to bring that same approach to resume writing, and how to level up your Project Manager/Business Analyst resume writing skills.

The Importance Of Data

In the business world today, it is hard to come by important decisions that are made in the absence of data to support them. Managers are, understandably, loath to not have evidence stacked up to support a claim or decision that exposes their organization to opportunity, but also risk.

This same perspective can be applied to hiring decisions as well. Are not employees a huge opportunity, albeit potential risk, for any business? A star employee can transform an organization for the better, resulting in a strong bottom line and happier customers. In a competitive job market, candidates need to sell their attributes and accomplishments to hiring managers, who increasingly need to base their hiring decisions on strong evidence, not unlike other operational or project decisions. Show me the data!

What Does This Mean For Your Resume?

For one, your resume needs to be quantitative. Most resumes list work experience and education in a neat table, sorted by date and organization. This is a good start. However, when you drill down into the details (the bullet points) underlying each previous job, the descriptions often leave something to be desired. For example;

  • “Compiled project analysis for company executives”
  • “Managed an organization-wide ERP solution implementation”
  • “Trained support teams on use of new software tool”

What these examples demonstrate is a lack of volume, scale, or size. How is a hiring manager to know if you managed the roll out of an ERP system for a staff of 10, or 2000? What does improved service delivery really mean? That each agent more consistently said thank you at the end of each call? Or were turnaround times reduced by 30%? Look for your ‘wins’ and highlight them with data.

What this can look like:

  • “Comprehensively analyzed and compiled dozens of address, routing, and fuel data points on a weekly cadence, to draft executive reports that could be quickly understood and acted upon”
  • “Managed a 1 year ERP implementation affecting 900 staff, resulting in time savings of 5 FTEs”
  • “Facilitated dozens of training sessions of 5‐25 participants each, achieving an average instructor rating of 4.5/5 from feedback forms”

There are 2 important take-aways from the above examples:

  1. Fully use the real estate provided to you on the page. Your resume should only be 1-2 pages, so use up that white space as efficiently as possible.
  2. The examples use specifics that are quantified.

Examples of other metrics you can use:

  • $’s spent, saved or earned
  • Time taken or time saved
  • Cadence or turnaround time of process or task
  • # of people impacted, trained or involved
  • # of computers/machines updated or provisioned
  • Volume or quantity of materials

 

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Is The Data Impressive Enough?

What if the numbers aren’t impressive, you may ask? When providing feedback on resumes, mentees often state they don’t think their accomplishments sound big or important enough if too much detail is given, as if keeping it vague somehow augments their work. If you don’t think an accomplishment is worth quantifying, remember that hiring managers can also revert to the lowest common denominator, if quantities aren’t provided. You may have concurrently managed 10 accounts worth an average of $10,000. In the absence of concrete numbers, a hiring manager may theoretically guess that maybe it was 4 accounts worth $5000 each.

Sometimes, exploring different ways of telling your data story can make your work history sound more effective too. Maybe you successfully negotiated a $100 savings on a monthly vendor contract. That’s great, but maybe you can re-word it as, “Negotiated a 10% savings on a recurring monthly expense, saving $1000s per year”. Explore absolute versus percent versus ratio metrics for each claim, as sometimes one will sound better than the other.

Internal- And External-Facing Data Points

You may notice 2 distinct metrics types, that we can call internal, vs. external. Often, when we are stuck in the weeds of our projects, we only think of our internal metrics. These could include things like # of stakeholders managed, dollars spent, or groups involved. What are often more impactful, in terms of convincing employers of the significance of your work, are metrics that speak to what your project ultimately accomplished; the downstream outcomes. Sometimes, these data points may not be known for months or years. These could include things like # of new clients, # of people trained, or incremental dollars earned or saved, directly due to actions you took while deep in the weeds of your project. Have a think about your last few projects. What were their downstream outcomes?

Quantify Your Interests

People differ on the utility of a personal interests or extracurricular section of your resume. I’m personally a fan, because hiring managers are hiring people, not robots, and want to know who the person is that they are hiring. Also, hiring managers, like all humans, are subject to nervousness around meeting new people in a formal interview setting. The personal interests section provide great small chat talking points to fill otherwise awkward pauses that can occur before and after the formal questioning part of an interview.

Just like with the other sections of your resume, be specific, and quantified, with your personal life! Instead of;

  • “Organizer of musical festivals”, or
  • “Love travelling and photography”

you could say

  • “Have organized 3 musical festivals with 1000s of participants each”, or
  • “Have traveled in 23 countries, and photographed the Taj Mahal to the fish & corals of the Great Barrier Reef”

Final Thoughts

Lastly, quantifying your resume is an exercise to perform not only once you are looking for your next contract or job, but on an ongoing basis, so that you can leverage the metrics you have formulated for yourself in conversations and informal networking chats.

Good luck on your next application!

PMTimes_July04_2022

7 Easy Time Management Tips To Increase Your Efficiency And Productivity

We all know how hard it is to keep up with everything in such a competitive world.

 

Most people who live in urban areas notice that everything around them seems to go on without waiting for anyone or anything. Time is flying by and you don’t even notice when yet another day has passed.

So how do you manage your time in a way that will be beneficial for you? Use these seven time management tips to increase your efficiency and productivity.

1. Set Your Goals

Every hardworking person has some kind of goal in mind that they are actively working towards. If you don’t have a clear aim in mind, you cannot possibly know why you are doing what you are doing.

An aim is also very important to keep you motivated. It is very easy to get discouraged if you are putting a lot of effort and see no instantaneous results. Having an aim, however, will increase your chance to stay dedicated to your job and find inspiration even in the hardest of times.

Once you decide what your goals and aims are, make sure to keep them in front of your eyes in some way. Maybe this will mean that you print out a huge poster and hang it by your desk at work or maybe you will only have to place a sticky note on your refrigerator to look at every morning.

2. Create A Schedule

Having a schedule is directly related to productivity. Creating a plan for a day, a week, or even a month will increase your confidence in your own future and will help you have your priorities straight.

There is also the flipside of having a plan which is that you may get too obsessed with it and react badly if something goes not according to it. This is why you must always be able to adapt to new circumstances. Don’t be afraid to change your plan at some point if the situation requires it.

3. Detect Time Loss

One of the most important factors that determine the success of your time management strategy is detecting where you are losing time. You absolutely must know when you are losing your precious time and what you can do to change this.

When you will be creating your schedule, you will most likely notice in which periods you spend your time for nothing and, eventually, lose your precious minutes. Make sure that you add some valuable tasks to these hours and change the situation.

4. Set Shorter Deadlines

Longer deadlines lead to procrastination. This is the sad truth which not everyone realizes. When you set a longer deadline for yourself, you usually think that you are doing a good thing because this will mean that you have more time to do what you want. In reality, you are letting yourself procrastinate and then make yourself stressed when you have little to no time left until the deadline.

What you must do is take smaller goals and set shorter deadlines for them. This way, you will be able to complete everything in time and motivate yourself to keep moving on. Success always prompts people to try and do more. Use this technique to boost your confidence and increase your energy levels.

 

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5. Learn To Say “No”

You don’t need to agree to everything someone asks you to do! You do not exist solely to please them or to help others all the time. You must accept the fact that helping others and letting yourself down at the same time is not a good thing, especially for your mental and physical health.

It is time to learn to say “no”. Imagine that a friend is asking you (for the eighth time already) to look after their kid while they go out with friends. But you are busy in that exact time or have plans to go out yourself. What you must do is politely decline their plea and be honest: you have plans. Don’t worry about what they may think. You have the full right to have a life, and if they think you are their personal servant, then bad news for them because you really aren’t.

6. Get Some Rest

Getting some rest leads to being more productive. What you must understand is that your health must always come first. As pointed out in the previous tip, it is important to take care of yourself, because nobody else will.

Having a good night’s sleep is the first step to being more productive in the day to come. If you weren’t able to get enough hours (the norm is eight to ten hours for adults), then make sure that you nap during the day. You can do this even while you are getting to work by bus or other public transport.

7. Stop Being Lazy

This may seem like something that directly challenges the previous tip, but it’s actually not. Being lazy is an art… and a curse. If it is already a habit of yours, then this is the time to finally get rid of it.

Don’t think that you are the only one suffering from laziness though – many people do. But not everyone realizes it is a serious problem, while those who do, often blame themselves for being lazy and feel terrible or even depressed about it.

Instead of trying to get rid of laziness all at once, take baby steps one at a time. This means that you must select those hours when you are lazy and lose time, and then try to decrease the by five, ten, and then fifteen minutes. It may take you weeks or even months to get rid of this bad habit entirely, but all your effort will ultimately be worth it.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, managing your time is not as complicated as it seems. Anyone can become more productive as long as they genuinely want to. Follow the advice in this article and change your life for the better!

PMTimes_June27_2022

Best of PMTimes: 5 Secrets To 5% Increased Profit On Your Next Project

All resources matter on the project.

 

Without all resources working cohesively and effectively together, it can become nearly impossible to effectively and successfully deliver on the project. But beyond that – looking to the revenue level and the profitability on the project… everything affects it, but close management and oversight of it comes down to the project manager. No one entity on the project has the insight, access to info, and overall project knowledge from that standpoint to effectively manage how healthy the project financials are.

Also, not only can the project manager help keep the project stay on track financially, they can also help increase project revenue and profitability through effective financial management, scope management, and customer and team management. Many things do affect all of this – well beyond my list below, I know – but for me it starts with regularly performing these five tasks… my secrets to keeping project revenues high and project profits hopefully higher than expected. Let’s discuss…

Discuss Financials Weekly With The Project Team.

One of the best ways to get the team aligned on managing their own time charging well and accurately on the project is to just let them know it’s very important to you and to the bottom line of the project. Many don’t realize that and they’re just trying to account – usually at the end of the week – for all their time. They know they put in 65 hours on various projects and they are tired and throwing hours down on a time sheet that means very little to them other than a task that is due Friday afternoon or Monday morning. It’s not daily tracking as it should be – in reality it’s Friday afternoon guess work when they would rather be doing anything else.

So, discuss the project financials at each weekly team meeting. Make sure they know how much time charging is expected of them for that week and the following week from your resource forecast and ensure that the two match up. I realize this one action may not add to the profitability of the project very much – but it can keep it from being the rollercoaster ride it often is and can definitely keep the project from unexpectedly going 50% over budget leaving the project manager wondering what went so horribly wrong.

Limit PM Travel.

Believe it or not, not all project customers see PM’s as a vital expense on the project. I had one project client in Texas who just didn’t see the need or value from Day One. Even my lead tech – who was mostly working onsite with the client – said “how can you not like Brad, you don’t even know him?” I got to the bottom of this PM disdain on their part and they were mostly concerned about budget and questioned the need for my $150 per hour project hit. So I immediately looked for ways to manage from afar. I eliminated my travel and reduced meetings to conference and video calls and they loved it. Best of all it added to the profitability of the project without affecting my management of the project or our performance level on the project.

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Limit Team Travel.

Beyond the PM travel, look for ways to limit team travel as well. If the plan calls for onsite quarterly meetings with the customer re-think that. Does the customer care if you do it with a video call, thus saving thousands and adding to the profitability of the project? I realize that some travel can’t be avoided and the customer will need it to maintain a level of confidence and overall happiness in most cases. But it can be kept in check – I’ve worked too many projects where it seemed we were traveling way too often and making the rest of our “productive time” and effort on the project suffer when we could be effectively delivering on the next phase instead of wasting important dollars on what has already been accomplished by traveling just to review it.

 

Manage The Project Scope.

Scope management may be the best overall way to help ensure project profitability. Too many projects go by with extra work added without the necessary change orders in place to cover the work, add the necessary revenue for that work and keep the profitability of the project in place. Those change orders can add nicely to the project profits – I once added $100k in revenue with a high profit margin by selling the need for an onsite business analyst to the project client. The customer loved it, project revenue skyrocketed and profitability took a nice jump as well. Look for ways to do things like this when managing scope.

Tighten Resource Management And Forecasting.

Making your team aware, watching scope, limiting travel, etc. are all great ideas. But the real profitability boost comes from you – the project manager – effectively, efficiently and relentlessly forecasting resources accurately throughout the project engagement. Don’t just come up with a resource forecast and let it sit. Revisit it weekly. Maybe you no longer need an expensive business analyst during weeks 32 and 33 on the the project. Discuss removing the resource from the project for those 80 hours – thus possibly saving the project as much as $12,000 during that downtime for the resource. If you are working on a time and materials basis with the client it may not help revenue and profitability much. But if you are charging more on a fixed price or deliverable basis, your profits could increase dramatically

Summary/Call For Input

You’re the project manager. No one else can keep costs on track and profitability high like you can. Never just phone it in when managing anything that affects the project $$ bottom line. Even one hour a week spent analyzing project financials and re-forecasting the project financials and resource usage can reap huge dividends in the long run in terms of profitability on the project.

Readers – what are your thoughts? Do you agree with this list? What are your secrets and tricks for keeping project revenue and profitability in check and adding to it throughout the project? What frustrates you the most with revenue planning and profitability on the projects you manage?