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Tag: Planning

Avoiding Road Rage: Ensuring a Smooth Project Ride

One recent unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon, I was  running errands alongside two-thirds of the American populace.  Having finished the current errand, I reached for the seat belt, confirmed I heard the familiar “click”, and was off to complete my final run for the day.  Truthfully,  I was tired and moderately cranky, due to the fact that this gorgeous day was lost to me as I drove from one corporate megastore to the next.

Traffic is more congested than normal for a weekend, again, probably due to the lovely weather.   I approach a highway requiring me to use an onramp with no merge, and after what seemed like an eternity, I see an opportunity.  Accelerating, I pulled into the lane when a vehicle suddenly approached at high speed forcing me to make a split second decision- floor it or move to the shoulder.  My anger grew (did I mention that I was already in a poor mood?).  I decided to floor it. My SUV used all it’s muscle to pull through and into the lane, requiring, I’d imagine, the speedy dude to slam on his brakes. He tailed me at a dangerously close distance, clearly intentional.  This continued for a good minute until finally he pulled into the faster lane, sped off and mouthed obscenities through his window as he passed.

Ahhh, good ol’ road rage.  It’s so common, and although it most often ends without incident, it can and does escalate. When we’re in this situation, sometimes it’s difficult to think clearly and it’s certainly easy to make bad decisions. And oddly enough, after my nerves settled, my mind wandered to work.  I was reminded of a particularly challenging project and client that’s caused me some heartburn as of late.  The similarities to this road rage incident and my project issues were, well, astounding.  And another article idea was born:  applying strategies for successful conflict resolution to both road rage and project management.

 

Stay Calm: Did that driver just flip me off?

Our clients are the most important thing in our business, but yes, clients may be irrational, demanding, and unwilling to negotiate. When someone seems unreasonable, keeping your thoughts calm is the first line of defense, and avoids putting your mind into a flight or fight response.  Take deep breaths, relax your muscles, and remind yourself that getting angry won’t solve anything. In fact, getting angry with your clients makes you look bad.

Project managers are often the face of the company so it’s your job to ensure client success.  Does that mean escalation isn’t an option? Of course it is, but ensure that you’ve done what you can to remain focused and offer concrete solutions to the clients. Make sure you have meticulous documentation.  Do your best to keep the project moving despite tensions.  The only thing you can control are your actions- whether behind the computer or behind the wheel, a steadfast manner wins every time.

 

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Plan Ahead: Don’t aggressively speed, change lanes, or flash your high beams

Road rage is more easily incited if you’re rushed, anxious, or angry.  It’s not always possible to leave for your destination early, but certainly try to allow for extra time to account for unforeseen problems such as traffic, construction, or weather.

Project managers are familiar with rushing and more often than not, when our clients ask for urgency, they back off once they realize that they too need to act with urgency.   Although project managers may breathe a sigh of relief in such situations, the effort required to book resources in preparation for a rushed project, which later fizzles to a more standard schedule, is also stressful.

Planning is the definition of project management and a PM’s golden ticket is building a solid schedule.  It goes without saying (but I’m saying it) that a schedule gauges risk up front and protects the PM should things get really ugly. Sometimes a well designed schedule will encourage clients to add the additional time back in, helping you avoid the dance of perceived urgency altogether.  Keeping your clients educated, informed and updated when projects are high-risk makes all the difference.

 

Emotional Intelligence: Get this driver off my tail!

Successful project managers exhibit high emotional intelligence, can better control their emotions and know how to empathize with others.  When we have challenging clients, it’s incumbent on a PM to focus on the big picture- your project’s success.   It’s easy to make a client’s cranky disposition personal.  Don’t.  You can not control, and likely have zero knowledge of, the day-to-day activities of your clients.  Do your best to listen, be objective, be empathetic, and don’t let someone else’s bad day get to you.

As well, PM’s who exhibit high emotional intelligence are more successful communicators during stressful, awkward or challenging project situations.  We all know that clear communication with your clients is paramount. The messier the project, the better the communication skills need to be.  Communicating frequently and consistently will go a long way during a rough project because it will not only act as your record, the client will undoubtedly appreciate it, even if the appreciation goes unstated.

Whether driving a project via a Teams meeting or driving your vehicle home, control what you can control: remain calm, be courteous, and don’t inflame the situation by getting angry.

 

Leadership: Oh? You wanna race…?!?

Every project manager is a leader. Effective leadership motivates team members, sets a positive tone, and fosters collaboration. In stressful situations, it’s critical to maintain a leadership style that keeps everyone motivated. Showing genuine appreciation for team efforts keeps morale high. Plus your team looks to you for direction.  Maintaining a professional level of courteous interactions when engaging with testy clients fosters respect from your team members and reduces tensions when stress is elevated.

Believe it or not, the client looks to you as a leader too.  Bringing stability and calm to challenging situations helps reduce possibilities for poor communication.  There are always situations where a client outburst can’t be avoided, but as already mentioned, if you’ve planned well, stay calm, and use thoughtful and empathetic language, your leadership will shine through.

 

Steering the project toward success: Anticipate the actions of other drivers

As project managers, we’ve all had our road-rage-like projects.  It’s part of the job and it’s inevitable.  Although the experience can be exhausting and overwhelming, you play a big part in how the project will ultimately fair.  Plan ahead and plan well, stay informed, remain calm when tense situations arise (use that emotional intelligence!), be mindful that a client’s bad day is likely not about you, and finally, focus on the task at hand and the overall success of your project:  That’s all you can control and that’s what’s expected of you.

Walking The Reporting Tightrope in PMOs

Within project management, reporting stands out as one of the most critical services provided by Project Management Offices (PMOs). It serves as a crucial communication tool for fostering stakeholder engagement and is frequently highlighted as a major contributor to P3M (Portfolio, Programme, and Project Management) maturity. It’s also the area most stakeholders express a desire to enhance.

So, why must PMOs navigate a tightrope between reporting well but seemingly never well enough?

 

When executed effectively, reporting delivers timely insights, analysis, and information on key delivery matters. This empowers executives to make well-informed decisions that directly influence organisational success. However, when reporting falters, it not only raises the risk of poor decision-making but also jeopardises support for the PMO itself.

In achieving PMO reporting maturity, three factors are important: data, culture, and application. An organisation must gather ample data to conduct meaningful analysis. It must also have a culture that fosters and supports candid reporting of both favourable and unfavourable developments. Finally, it requires leaders to recognise the significance of applying and using collated information to inform their decisions and take appropriate action.

 

These factors however, interplay with each other considerably to affect reporting maturity within PMOs.

For example, data collection can vary across organisations. Some PMOs can collect data from all projects whilst others can only collect from a few.

Cultural differences also influence how PMOs handle reporting, with psychologically safe organisations able to conduct truthful reporting. In these organisations, red statuses are used to direct support into areas that are under stress. Less psychologically safe organisations lead PMOs and managers to avoid reporting altogether or to hide negative statuses. In these organisations red statuses are treated as pariahs and buried from view.

 

The application of reporting also differs amongst organisations, with effective boardrooms leveraging reports to inform their decisions. Others merely review data but don’t use it in their decision-making. From these observations, three key learnings emerge.

Data gathering remains challenging for organisations.

While visualisation software tools offer sleek dashboards, effective reporting hinges on robust PMO processes and stakeholder buy-in. The most effective PMOs treat stakeholders as customers, ensuring transparency and demonstrating the benefits of reporting.

Cultivate the right culture.

 

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Overcoming cultural barriers to reporting, such as a reluctance to report negative statuses, is essential. A shift towards collaborative working environments that welcome truthful reporting is necessary. PMOs play a pivotal role in facilitating this shift by nurturing collaboration and providing support for projects in need.

Reporting’s true value lies not in the data, but in its application.

 

Merely reporting data is insufficient. Having correct data reported is good, but without analysis, using it is hard. To derive optimal value from reporting, organisations must utilise it to drive informed decision-making. PMOs should therefore coach leaders to leverage reported data to help make impactful decisions that drive positive change.

Reporting is a tightrope walk for PMOs, it’s capable of either bolstering decision-making and organisational success or undermining it. By addressing challenges in data collection, fostering a supportive reporting culture, and applying it in decision-making, PMOs can elevate their reporting maturity and contribute significantly to organisational success.

Adapting Agile Principles for Successful Maintenance Hand-Overs

Over the 20+ years since the Agile Manifesto was created, more and more organizations see agility as key to success, especially for software development. Agile methodologies have revolutionized the way teams approach software development, emphasizing flexibility, collaboration, and continuous improvement. Ideally, there are Product Teams that handle development and maintenance throughout the product’s lifecycle. But what happens if development and maintenance are handled by separate teams?

This scenario can be problematic, especially if the teams are using are using different methodologies, or belong to different organizations (e.g. in-house and contractor teams). What happens when it’s time to transition control of a software project from the development team to the maintenance team? Can Agile principles be applied to facilitate successful hand-overs? In this article, we’ll explore how Agile principles can be adapted and applied to ensure smooth and successful software transitions.

 

Understanding Agile Principles

Before we delve into how Agile principles can be adapted for software transitions, let’s briefly review some the core principles of Agile methodology. Agile is built on four foundational values and twelve principles, as outlined in the Agile Manifesto. These values and principles emphasize:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan (flexibility)

 

Adapting Agile Principles for Transitions

Now, let’s examine how these Agile principles can be adapted and applied to facilitate successful software transitions:

  1. Flexibility: Agile methodologies prioritize flexibility and adaptability, allowing teams to respond to changing requirements and priorities. Similarly, in software transitions, flexibility is one key to navigating unforeseen challenges and adjusting plans as needed. By adopting a mindset embracing change, teams can proactively address issues and adapt their approach to ensure a smooth transition.
  2. Collaboration: Collaboration is a cornerstone of Agile methodologies, with teams working closely together to deliver value to customers. In the context of software transitions, collaboration between the development and maintenance teams is essential for success. By fostering open communication, sharing knowledge, and working collaboratively to address challenges, teams can ensure a seamless hand-over process.
  3. Continuous Improvement: Agile methodologies also emphasize continuous improvement, with teams regularly reflecting on their processes and seeking ways to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. Similarly, in software transitions, teams should evaluate their transition processes, identify areas for improvement, and implement iterative changes to optimize the hand-over process over time.

 

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Applying Agile Practices to Transitions

In addition to adapting Agile principles, teams can also apply specific Agile practices to facilitate successful software transitions. Some key Agile practices that can be applied include:

  1. Iterative Planning: Adopting an iterative planning approach to break down the transition process into manageable iterations, with regular checkpoints to assess progress and adjust plans as needed.
  2. Daily Stand-Ups: During the transition period consider holding daily stand-up meetings, where team members share updates, discuss progress, and identify any impediments. The goals is to facilitate communication and alignment between the development and maintenance teams.
  3. User Stories: Creating user stories to capture requirements and priorities from the perspective of the maintenance team can help ensure that the transition process is aligned with the needs of the end-users. Even more importantly, user stories that include updating and maintaining the software and likely rule or data updates will improve the maintainability of the software itself.
  4. Retrospectives: Conducting retrospectives at key milestones during the transition process allows teams to reflect on their experiences, identify successes and challenges, and brainstorm improvements for future transitions. These should also be communicated across teams and product groups.

 

Applying Agile Principles in a Software Transition

To illustrate the application of Agile principles in software transitions, let’s consider a hypothetical case study of a software development company transitioning control of a web application from the development team to the maintenance team:

  1. Flexibility: When unforeseen technical challenges arose during the transition process, the development and maintenance teams collaborated to adjust their plans and implement creative solutions, ensuring a successful hand-over despite the challenges. This included adjusting target dates and budgets for both teams to provide the time and resources needed.
  2. Collaboration: Through regular stand-up meetings and collaborative planning sessions, the development and maintenance teams worked closely together to share knowledge, address issues, and ensure alignment throughout the transition process.
  3. Continuous Improvement: Following each milestone in the transition process, the teams conducted retrospectives to reflect on their experiences and identify opportunities for improvement. By implementing iterative changes based on these retrospectives, the teams continuously optimized their transition processes over time. These were shared with other teams, along with tools, templates, and tips that had proven useful during the transition.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, Agile principles can be effectively adapted and applied to facilitate successful software transitions from development to maintenance. By embracing flexibility, collaboration, and continuous improvement, teams can navigate the complexities of transition processes with confidence and ensure a seamless hand-over that meets the needs of end-users. Through the application of specific Agile practices and a commitment to Agile values and principles, organizations can optimize their transition processes and set the stage for long-term success in software maintenance.

If your organization uses Agile methodologies with development and maintenance handled by different teams, how are transitions handled?

Brewing Success: Managing Your eLearning Project One Cup at a Time

Coffee is a staple of my morning routine.  With little deviation, I make my coffee as soon as I sleepily saunter into the kitchen.  I don’t think much about it, the process is nearly hard-coded at this point: choice of favorite mug, mug placed, coffee prepped, brew cycle on- then I await the pop-pop-popping of hot water as the sweet aroma fills my kitchen. My brain is hyper focussed on both the sounds and smells like a Pavolivan trained dog awaiting the liquid award.  Then finally, I add cream and a touch of honey (yes honey, it’s delicious!) and after my first sip, my morning is ready to begin.

 

I get it. I’m in a rare class of those who need this cup of coffee to go beyond the simple, great, I have coffee.  I admittedly spend a lot of money on this caffeinated nectar.  It’s my one true pleasure each morning. I have a deep appreciation for connoisseurs who hone their skills and master the art of selecting beans, grinding them to perfection, and brewing a rich, flavorful caffeinated beverage. I read about coffee entrepreneurs and love to smell fresh beans when I’m in a coffee shop.  I even enjoy reading the descriptions of flavors: medium body with tasting notes of nutty, sweet chocolate, mild citrus and a bright finish….yes please, I’ll have a cup of that!

 

I realize that for the vast majority of the population, the process behind an excellent cup of coffee doesn’t really matter, it’s about the end result done right.   Yet one morning, I started thinking about both my morning routine and the overall coffee process, going from a bean in a field to a liquid in someone’s cup. And that’s when it hit me that the process of making coffee bears a striking resemblance to eLearning project management.   As it happened that morning, I had a busy day of deliverables and thought to myself, “huh, as clients receive their final deliverables, they’re likely unaware of all the careful planning, execution, and evaluation that goes on behind the scenes. They want their deliverable, done correctly and as expected”.   So I set out to write about the two processes and their similarities.

 

Selecting the Right Beans (Project Initiation/Needs Assessment)

A high-quality, aromatic coffee bean sets the foundation for a rich, silky cup of Java and a well- organized pre-project launch process is paramount to the success of an eLearning project.

For example, a coffee’s success includes bean variety, the growing region, climate (including altitude) and how the beans are harvested and processed.  Typically, there’s no need to think about anything else in the process. Sound familiar?

 

As PMs, the project initiation phase is arguably the most critical stage of the entire project.  Above all other tasks, a PM’s job is to review and/or confirm the target audience, determine what, if any constraints or risks are present, understand scope, draft a schedule, confirm resources and ensure that all source materials were shared. In other words, conduct a thorough needs assessment.   An air-tight project initiation sets the stage for a balanced and mellow project experience. Again, if done right, there’s no need for your learners to think about anything else in the process.

 

Measuring and Grinding (Project Planning)

Precision is key in both coffee and project planning. How one grinds coffee beans will play a significant role in the flavor, aroma, and strength of your final drink.  If your beans aren’t measured correctly before grinding, or if the grind size doesn’t match the intended strength, that cup of coffee will taste acidic, weak, or sour, all things I cannot tolerate.

 

In eLearning, the best way to avoid a weak project finish is early preparation to ensure that all team resources are informed of the project objectives, deliverables, schedule and risks. An eLearning project is only as successful as the individual parts.  The more project information a PM shares with the project team members, the higher the probability of success.  Kickoffs are the best way to communicate with your project teams.

 

Kickoffs ensure that your team understands the schedule, the deliverables and that everyone knows the part they’ll play in the project.  It’s a time for the team to ask questions, get to know each other if they don’t already, and to understand accountability for the project success.  Projects started without kickoffs often go sideways because they’re missing precision from the start.   Take the time to measure the project needs beforehand, so that your project begins from a position of strength.

 

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Power on- Whirring, Sizzle, Gurgle, Drip! (Official Project Kick-off)

Few things are better to coffee lovers than hearing the sound of the coffee machine preparing for your morning brew. It’s surely my favorite part, as I detailed at the start of this story.

 

The official kick-off with your learning team is akin to powering on your coffee machine.  Kick-off meetings are the time to confirm project scope, timing of milestones, agreements around project responsibilities, establishing meeting cadence, verifying source material status, and highlighting risks.  Kick-off meetings set the foundation for a strong project start.

 

The best way that PMs can level-set expectations is via note-taking.  Holding everyone on a client call responsible for their individual or collective parts is key, and live scribing is highly suggested so that the collective team agrees to action items and deadlines.  With the advent of AI-based tools that are creating quite the sizzle in our industry, note taking is easier than ever before so there’s no need to skip this important step!

 

Brewing (Project In-Flight, Monitoring & Control)

Obviously, the best part of the brewing process is your satisfying cup of coffee.  The preparation of your coffee beans invites the flavors from coffee grounds, and at that point, your coffee should brew as expected.  Still, like any process, problems might arise.  For example, the water temperature (targeted between 195°F to 205°F) could be off, or the wrong type of brewing method is used for the ground type which would heavily influence the role in flavor, or worse yet, user error- inserting the wrong sized filter or not measuring the water correctly.  Keeping a close eye on the brewing process throughout and adjusting parameters as needed is the best way to achieve and brew the perfect cup.

 

Similarly, an eLearning project that is meticulously and methodically organized (during initiation and planning), should percolate to an ideal state, assuming the PM’s involvement includes excellent communication, detailed awareness, shared notes and prompt resolutions.   Regularly assessing project progress is critical so that you can identify and rectify any issues quickly.  Incorporating feedback from stakeholders is an ideal way to glean that your near final product is meeting/has met expectations.

 

Ask open, thoughtful questions during status meetings that begin with “How”, “What”, or “Tell me” as examples.  Sending short (3 question max) surveys mid-project works too.  Dropping a quick email that simply reads, “I am interested in hearing your feedback around how the project is progressing to date” could glean rich insight of an issue that may have not been covered during a standing meeting.

Enjoying the Final Cup (Project Closure)

Finally, it’s time to serve your eLearning project like a perfectly brewed cup of coffee. Present the finished product to stakeholders and ensure they have the tools and knowledge to make the most of it. After successfully conducting LMS testing and launching, your project is complete.  Celebrate your team’s hard work and savor the sense of accomplishment.

 

And so, much like brewing a good cup of coffee, managing an eLearning project involves distinct phases, each crucial for a satisfying end result. Skipping or rushing through any phase can lead to a less-than-desirable outcome. By carefully tending to each step, eLearning project managers can ensure a successful and effective learning experience for their audience.  If you brew your eLearning projects with the same care and precision as you would your favorite cup of coffee, you’ll serve up excellence every time.

The Rhinoceros In The Room (Risk Analysis and How to Tame Your “Unicorn”)

Imagine going to the pet rescue organization in your town to get a new pet, and you look at several adorable dogs and cats, and then the staff person says, “Well, there’s one that we’re not sure we’re going to be able to find a home for. Would you like to see him?”

You’re there to help make a rescue and get a new furry friend, so you say, “Of course!”

The staff member takes you to the end of the row, where there’s an enormous pen with a rhino inside.

You say, “That’s a rhinoceros!” as though the staff person didn’t know that already.

They say, “Yeah! He has a horn. They make great pets because they always go to the bathroom in the same place.” (This is true, by the way.)

You say, “Yeeaaaah…but he weighs 6,500 lbs., has a horn, and can run 30mph.” (This is also true.)

They say, “But they go to the bathroom in the same place every time. Think of how much easier that is than cleaning up after a dog!”

 

It’s a comical episode, but we often do the same thing in risk analysis. The temptation is to come into risk analysis with pre-conceived notions, or even just so intent on committing to the project as is we’re unaware that’s not a unicorn staring us down. Consequently, we discuss how an Australian Shepherd can get bad hips late in life but forget that a rhino can destroy your house by turning around when you call his name.

So, let’s talk about how to recognize the rhinoceros in the room.

 

Overview

Risk analysis is the process of identifying, assessing, and prioritizing potential obstacles or stoppers before they derail your project. It involves a meticulous examination of what could possibly go wrong, the likelihood of such events, the potential impact of those worst-case scenarios, and the strategies for mitigation. We must foresee the unforeseen, prepare for the unpredictable, and make sure that a project is not merely feasible, but in the worst case will not harm business continuity or exceed allowable energy or resource expenditures.

Without a comprehensive risk analysis, projects can easily miss deadlines, overshoot the budget, suffer severe scope creep, or otherwise hinder not just the project in question but the business as a whole. The consequences can range from mild setbacks to catastrophic failures, affecting not just the project but also team morale and organizational reputation.

 

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Methodology

Identification:

The first step is recognizing that a rhino, for all its intriguing attributes, poses certain…ahem, “challenges” as a pet. Brainstorm and list all risks, as absurd or unlikely as they may seem.

 

Assessment:

Next, evaluate each risk based on its likelihood and potential impact. It is truly critical that you measure both sides of the equation; A potential problem that has little impact, like a few users needing help installing new software, probably doesn’t warrant a four-hour meeting and approval from the board of directors before proceeding. Conversely, an unlikely problem with severe consequences, like the credit card system going down on Black Friday, absolutely needs mitigation before proceeding. This is where quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques come into play, understanding the nuance of each risk.

 

Mitigation Strategies:

Finally, develop strategies to manage the risks that warrant attention before proceeding. This could involve anything from contingency planning to risk transfer mechanisms, all aimed at reducing the likelihood of risks or minimizing their impact should they materialize. In the worst case, at least assign a risk owner to keep an eye on a potential risk so nothing sneaks by you.

 

Conclusion:

The discipline of risk analysis in project management is about foresight and preparation. Balance your desire for a pet against the wreckage that overgrown unicorn can bring to your life. Equal parts caution and courage, pragmatism and progress, and dreams and dependability. By thoroughly analyzing risks, your projects are more likely to succeed, and you might even be able to sleep better.

Risk analysis is not just a task; it’s a mindset, a culture, and a practice that distinguishes successful projects from pet rhinos.