Cultivating the team is crucial to reaping a good project harvest!

work-soilThe Canadian Victoria Day holiday is the first long weekend of the spring and is usually celebrated with two activities: fireworks and planting annuals. The weather is warm enough that the seeds or young seedlings which are planted then should flourish by the summer.

But planting seeds in the ground is usually not enough. Over the winter, the soil has likely absorbed road-salt from snow removal, its nutrients may have been depleted by the previous season’s plants, and drainage might be an issue. To increase the likelihood of good blooms, one should first aerate and then work some sand, peat moss or the right fertilizer into the soil depending on its condition.

So what does this have to do with project management?

When we are first assigned to lead a project, we feel we must produce results quickly – your project might be facing a challenging deadline, we want to stay in the sponsor’s good books, or there may be significant pressure to control team costs.

Even if you are fortunate enough to work with a team which you have previously worked with, if you jump right into project planning activities, you will see results, but you are unlikely to get the best you could have hoped for.

Never skimp on the following.

Conducting a proper kickoff meeting. This ensures that all team members receive a consistent message about why the project is being launched, what real constraints exist and what success looks like.

Establishing rules of engagement. Regardless of the level of formal authority you hold over your team members, involving them in the development of team practices is critical to their truly owning their work efforts. Not only does this include what you expect of them, it should cover what they should expect from you.

Helping team members identify areas for development. Ideally, everyone assigned is a perfect fit for their role on the project. Realistically, there might be some gaps from a capability perspective. Once you have reviewed the scope of work you are expecting the team member to own on the project, take the time to find out what concerns them about the assignment and help them develop and implement the most efficient plan to bridge those gaps.

Team building. While it is not a “one and done” thing, team building early in the life of the project can help to build resiliency to enable team members to survive the storming phase of Tuckman’s ladder.

The Victoria Day long weekend provides limited time to get everything planted properly, so there is always a strong temptation to jump right into planting. With projects as it is with gardening, slow down to speed up later.



Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

What’s your project management swing thought?

thoughts-in-head-graphic-238x300A swing thought is golf-speak for focusing on a single instruction while making your golf swing.

When you add up the multiple suggestions which one’s mind can generate when the ball is addressed, not having this focus means that you may become distracted with thinking about everything which you should be checking, and your resulting shot is more than likely to go astray.

This approach also applies to project management.

While the timelines for decision making are increased, the voices in our heads telling us everything we need to remember can be equally overwhelming. Faced with too many competing and conflicting choices, we might either fall into analysis-paralysis or might shoot from the hip.

There are numerous scenarios where this could happen – negotiating project scope, cost or schedule baselines with one’s client, entering a difficult conversation with a team member or having to deliver some bad news to a sponsor.

Here are a few tips on effective use of swing thoughts.

Keep them simple. The more complex they are the more likely you are to forget them when things get tough. There’s a good reason that mantras are short – with our mind’s tendency to wander, anything more than a few syllables is asking for trouble!

One size doesn’t fit all. Just as a golfer might use a different swing thought for a difficult putt than the one used for a tee shot, you should identify a few different PM guidelines to use depending on the circumstances.

Practice makes perfect. Hours on a driving range or time spent taking a practice swing before a real shot can overcome the novelty of a coaching suggestion. Look for safe or low risk opportunities to practice the use of a particular project management guideline so that you aren’t put on the spot when you really need to use it.

Of course, it is important to have the right swing thoughts – when presented with a water hazard, focusing on “Don’t go in the water” is likely to result in a golfer’s ball entering the watery grave!

The business world rarely gives you a Mulligan, so come up with a few good project management swing thoughts and your project might avoid a bogey!

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A Spring Cleaning List for your Project!

spring-cleaningSpring is traditionally the time when we get our yards ready for summer, wash our windows and put away our winter clothing. Like the seasons, project management processes are cyclical, so it’s a good idea to consider revisiting some artifacts & practices which haven’t been exercised in a while, especially on long running projects.

I’m not referencing documents such as your project schedule, risk register or activities such as regular status reporting – if those are out-of-date, shame on you! The reason I’m not focusing on these is that the fruits of such neglect usually ripen very quickly in the form of cost, schedule or customer satisfaction issues.

Putting aside the critical few, here are a few others worth considering for a spring cleaning blitz.

Stakeholder management

Like all good project managers, I’m positive you had populated your stakeholder register in the early days of your project, had assessed your stakeholders across different dimensions such as influence and interest, defined a target for each and planning actions to help move them to the desired position. When was the last time you had reviewed it to see if any key ones have been missed and reached out to silent stakeholders to confirm that they are still supportive? While we tend to focus on the highly visible or vocal negative stakeholders, it’s often the ones that are sitting on the fence and being quiet that we need to worry about as it doesn’t take a lot to push them into detractor territory.

Project communications plan

You may have spent the time to create a communications framework which addressed the informational requirements of your key stakeholders when planning your projects, have you gone back to poll them to confirm that these needs are being met? If their main medium for getting updates is to pick up the phone and call you or even worse to get in third-hand through the grapevine, it may be time to tweak that communications plan.

Expected benefits

Has your star project turned into a white elephant? When was the last time your team revisited the business case supporting your project’s investment to identify threats and opportunities to benefits realization. Have new external influences emerged which will drive the need to accelerate project timelines? While in most matrix organizations a project manager would have limited authority to make project changes based on a revised SWOT analysis, they certainly shouldn’t hesitate to influence timely investment decision making.

Team building

Even high performing teams require regular renewal to maintain velocity. It can be easy to grow complacent once you’ve passed Tuckman’s storming and norming phases, but his ladder can be a Mobius strip if you avoid conducting regular reviews of team morale and acting on any identified concerns.

Taking the time to revisit these activities will ensure that as we spring forward, your project won’t fall back!

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