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Tag: Project Management

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_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
PMTimes_Jun8_2024

How to Prevent Project Burnout Before It Strikes

I suspect many people reading this work on projects pretty continuously. It’s normal to jump from one project straight to the next, often without much time for reflection and decompression. In fact, you might be balancing multiple smaller projects at the same time. That’s a hard gig: typically each project has its own set of deadlines, and Project A’s sponsor doesn’t care that Project B has suddenly put extra demands on your time…

 

In situations like this, it’s easy to get into the vicious cycle of working longer and longer hours. Sometimes, for a very short and defined period of time, this might be OK. But when it becomes the norm, it can become unhealthy. When weekends become the ‘mop up’ time for all the emails you couldn’t clear during the week, and Monday is filled with a sense of dread, something is probably wrong. If you’re there at the moment, I feel for you. I’ve been there. I suspect we’ve all been there.

In this blog, I wanted to share some tips that can help avoid situations like this. Of course, we are all individuals and we all have different working patterns, so what works for me might not work for you. Certainly, you’ll want to adapt the tips below, but hopefully they’ll provide you with a useful starting point:

 

  1. Say “No” Effectively

There is rarely a lack of work to be done, there is a lack of time and attention to do it effectively. Say “yes” to unrealistic deadlines and there’s a risk that everything will be rushed and everything will be late.

Yet saying “no” sounds career-limiting, doesn’t it? Who would dare say “no” to a senior leader? Perhaps it’s all about how the message is given.  For example:

 

  • Say “yes, and here’s the impact”: Imagine you’re stretched and another task comes in. A way of responding might be to say: “I can absolutely do that, by that date. However, this will impact tasks B and C. Are you happy for this new task to take priority?”.
  • Say “Thanks for thinking of me, let me introduce you to someone that can help”: It’s easy to inadvertently take on the work that others might be able to do more effectively. Perhaps someone is asking you to pick up a support issue on a project that launched months ago and is now in ‘Business as Usual’ (BAU). A response might be “Thanks, it’s always really interesting to hear how things are going on that system! I’m somewhat out of the loop with that now, as the support team took over. It’s really important that these issues are logged with them, so they can track trends. Shall I send you over a link to the defect logging form? If you don’t get any response, feel free to follow up with me and I’ll connect you with my contact there”.
  • Say “No, but here’s what I can do (and offer options)”: Imagine a completely unrealistic deadline has been given. Saying yes will save short term pain, but will cause long term issues when the deadline is missed. A better option may be to say “I can’t hit that deadline (for the following reasons), however here’s an estimate of what can be done. Alternatively, with additional resource we could achieve this…”
  • Finally, a flat out “no” is fine sometimes: Not everyone agrees with this, but in my view, particularly when something is optional, it’s fine to say a flat out no. “Would you like to help organize the summer BBQ?”.  “No thanks, I’ve got a lot on right now, so that’s not something I’m interested in”. Of course, this needs to be delivered with rapport, empathy and respect.

 

There are many other ways, and it’s important to be aware of context and culture. What works in one situation will not work in others.

 

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  1. Find Ways of Recharging (And Make Time For Them)

We all have things that replenish our energy. For me, it’s exercise (whether that’s walking or going to the gym), reading and other hobbies. It will be different for you. The irony is that when things get hectic, often these are the very things that we jettison.  Don’t! Build them into your routine and make them non-negotiable.

 

  1. Celebrate Successes

It’s so easy to jump from sprint to sprint, delivery to delivery without actually reflecting on what was achieved. Celebrating even small successes is worthwhile. This doesn’t have to be a major event, just a lunch with the team, or some other kind of social event can help mark the milestone.

 

  1. Watch for Warning Signs

Finally, it’s important that we all look out for warning signs—in ourselves and others. I remember friend and fellow BA Times author Christina Lovelock talking about ‘digital distress signals’. Is someone emailing at 6am and then again at 10pm? Might that be an indication that they are overwhelmed?  If the person has an unusual work pattern (perhaps working before the kids go to school, and catching up in the evening) it might be totally fine. But if this isn’t the case, they might be pulling 14 hour days, and that’s got to be impacting them.

 

We all feel and experience overwhelm differently, and a little bit of stress is not unusual. There’s even a theory that a little bit of stress is good for you. But continuous stress is an issue, and it’s worth watching out for.

Of course, this article has only scratched the surface of this topic, but I hope you’ve found the ideas thought-provoking. I’d love to hear how you avoid burnout on projects. Be sure to connect with me on LinkedIn and let’s keep the conversation going!

PMTimes_Jun1_2024

The Value of a Project Charter

If you’re familiar with the Project Management Book of Knowledge, or PMBOK for short, you know all about the Project Charter and its criticality to the success of a project. The PMBOK says that the project cannot start until the Project Sponsor formally signs off on the Charter.

 

Having worked at midsize companies for nearly 15 years, I learned that actual Project Charters with formal sign-off are more of a “big company” thing. To date, I haven’t once been required to write a Charter or get one approved to begin a project. Let me tell you why I insist on a Charter and have more than just the Project Sponsor sign off before I kick off a project. Come with me on this thought journey.

 

If I had to pick a single area of knowledge from the PMBOK as the most critical, I would pick Stakeholder Management. You can have the best plan and the best tools, but a tumultuous stakeholder situation can completely derail a project. On the flip side, you can have a scrappy team with few processes and subpar tools, but with committed people working well together, a project can succeed in spite of other project elements being challenging.

 

If I had to pick an area of knowledge to be second most critical, it would be Time Management. This encompasses your ability to scope the project, break it down into tasks, understand dependencies, build a project schedule, and keep the team aligned with each other as well as the schedule. In a sense, it’s a superset of a few other areas and captures the core of your project plan.

 

Enter the Project Charter, which I would argue is the most critical project artifact. Below are the basic elements of a good Project Charter:

  1. Problem statement
  2. Business case
  3. Goal statement
  4. Timeline
  5. Scope
  6. Team members

 

Diving into these 6 elements, we see 1, 2, 3, and 6 align to Stakeholder Management and 4 and 5 align to Time Management.

 

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Let’s start by looking at the Stakeholder Management elements.

  • Problem statement – Having this clearly written in the Charter ensures that key stakeholders agree a problem exists. They are agreeing on what that problem is. Finally, they are agreeing that this project is the right approach to solving the problem.
  • Business case – Here is where stakeholders are agreeing that this project is worth the resources. It’s possible to have everyone agree that a problem exists and needs to be solved, but it’s something entirely different to agree on its priority and resourcing.
  • Goal statement – Different people can look at the same problem and come to a different conclusion about how to solve it. Articulating the goal in writing will avoid assumptions and make it clear to stakeholders what everyone is working toward. Without stakeholder alignment on the project goal, the project is doomed to become tumultuous when the project team inevitably encounters a fork in the road.
  • Team members – We’ve agreed we have a problem to solve, we’ve agreed it’s worth investing in, and we’ve agreed on what the ultimate goal looks like. This section gets specific about whose time will need to be invested, what the commitment is, and what their responsibilities will be. Key stakeholders reviewing the Charter will be able to think through the impact on their teams and make sure they are able to commit the team members required. They will also be able to identify other team members who may not be listed, helping to complete the project team.

 

Our remaining two elements are tied to Time Management, though agreement on these is also inextricably tied to Stakeholder Management.

  • Timeline – To be able to write this section of the Charter, you will have had to do some high level project scoping and establish your project structure. Do you have phases? Stagger starts? Is your execution stage planned to be managed using Agile methodology, so the timeline needs to be flexible? All of those considerations and more are required for a timeline estimate. Putting this estimate in front of key stakeholders in the Charter ensures they understand the high level of time commitment. This provides an opportunity for discussion if some stakeholders think it needs to be completed faster or someone says they can’t commit the required resources for the deadline, so the project needs to be extended.
  • Scope – They say the devil is in the details, and this is where those details live. Clarity on scope allows for work estimates, project scheduling, and work coordination among team members. Clarity on out-of-scope work is just as important, because that enables you to define “done,” wrap up the project when in-scope deliverables are complete, and hand off deliverables and/or processes to business-as-usual owners for long-term ownership. The clearer you can be about your scope in the Charter, the fewer struggles you’ll have with scope creep later.

 

I personally expand on these base elements with a couple of my own tried-and-true tools. Seizing the opportunity to get stakeholder alignment, I also include the below:

  • Communication plan – I use this section to detail what information will be shared with which stakeholders as well as the method I will use. This is especially important if some team members or stakeholders are in different time zones, and even more important if there are people from multiple cultures. Communication norms vary in different cultures, so I like to ensure everyone knows what to expect and has an opportunity to raise a hand if they need something different from what I had originally planned.
  • Project change management – What are the criteria for something to be considered a project change? What process does it go through to be approved? Who has the authority to approve a change? Stakeholder alignment up front will save time and struggle when someone wants to add a deliverable to the project or expand the project to include related work that is discovered during project execution.

 

The Project Charter provides the best opportunity for you to detail critical components of your project and get stakeholder alignment. You can’t possibly list every detail, but you can align on your plans, processes, and expectations so everyone is working in the same way when questions and challenges inevitably arise.