Posts Tagged With: improving project management

Project documents or online repositories (Part One)?

When designing project delivery methodologies, we are faced with the decision of whether information should be housed in standalone documents or in online repositories. While there are those who view this as a binary choice, I would advocate a hybrid approach. Assuming we have or can procure or build underlying tooling support we can then choose to host some information centrally and utilize standalone documents for the rest.

Before proceeding too far with any of these options, it’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each so that we can pick the right approach for each need.

Benefits of a document-centric approach include:

  • Low cost of implementation and limited training requirements – whether it’s MS Office or a competing suite, most organizations have already deployed the basic desktop applications needed to support creation of project documents and the staff who will be working on projects are usually sufficiently competent with the use of these applications.
  • External stakeholder access – as vendors and other external stakeholders are quite likely to have the desktop applications used to create the project documents, there is little difficulty in sharing these documents.
  • Ease of providing guidance and examples – project document templates can be created with structure and guidance to facilitate appropriate usage and examples of properly populated instances can be easily shared.
  • Approvals and versioning can be implemented easily – it is not challenging to conduct reviews and get approval using standalone documents, and taking a snapshot or baseline of a document is fairly simple.

However, there are some drawbacks when using documents to house project information:

  • Collaboration is challenging – while documents can be easily shared, the desktop applications used to create them don’t lend themselves well to having multiple contributors collaborate to create a document. Attempting to do so in a distributed manner often leads to document corruption or overwritten changes so invariably one person holds the pen or a game of hot potato gets played.
  • Documents proliferate like roaches – because of the relative ease of adding a new document to the methodology, without constant vigilance and refactoring it is easy to end up with too many document templates along with their supporting entourage of job aids and examples.
  • Redundant or conflicting information – documents supporting project delivery are moderately interdependent. Standalone documents usually replicate common information elements such as tombstone data and when a change gets made to one document template, the effort required to ensure consistency and alignment with all dependant document templates can be prohibitive.
  • They encourage an obsession on generating comprehensive documentation over delivering business value

But before jettisoning your documents in favor of a centralized tool, read next week’s article in which I’ll assess the pros and cons of that approach!





Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

While collocation is nice-to-have, meeting in person should be mandatory!

Colocation is often considered an enabler if not a critical success factor for successful project delivery.

While this makes sense for small teams, as we take on larger scale products and projects, it is not always practical to have everyone in the same room. Communication channels increase non-linearly as the size of a team grows and at some point it will be impossible from either a real estate or an effectiveness perspective.

As the size of an initiative grows, breaking down scope along component or feature lines can enable the distribution of contained work to smaller teams whose members might be collocated with a reduced need for constant communication. Having such teams distributed geographically should not be an issue so long as there is still the opportunity to conduct ceremonies such as a Scrum of Scrums to manage interdependencies, maintain alignment in release cadence and to raise shared impediments to the right level of resolution.

With such a distributed approach it is often tempting to use a purely virtual work model, especially on large initiatives where there could be a heavy cost to bringing everyone together once in a while. While this makes short term economic sense, Simon Sinek’s warning from Leaders Eat Last should not be ignored: “The more abstract people become, the more capable we are of doing them harm.

Sinek references Milgram’s experiments in the early 1960’s where test subjects were given the opportunity to do harm to someone else. While only 30% of these volunteers were capable of proceeding substantially through the experiment when they had to witness the (simulated) pain they caused, 65% were capable of doing so when they never saw who they were hurting.

Our very current problem of cyberbullying is another shining example of this. While we are still biologically social animals, the anonymity and separation created by the Internet and social media platforms reduces personal impacts of inflicting pain.

Trust is also hard to cultivate when we haven’t met those we are working with. While we hope that our co-workers will treat us as they would like to be treated, it is hard to feel psychologically safe with them if they are just an e-mail address or instant messaging avatar to us. As Sinek puts it “Trust is like lubrication. It reduces friction and creates conditions much more conducive to performance.

We may have differences of opinion at work, but if we have met and had the occasion to socialize outside of the office, it is much easier to see and treat one another as human beings.

Economize as necessary, but don’t eliminate opportunities for teams to meet in person.




Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Cultivate teams with lessons from your garden

With the return of warmer temperatures to North America, Spring provides us with the opportunity to spend a few hours each week gardening. Gardening is a great way to beat stress and the returns from a visual and potentially culinary perspective are compelling. But it also provides us with a number of lessons which can be applied to developing and sustaining teams.

Neither under nor over water

There is an art to correctly watering one’s lawn. Water it infrequently and too little and the grass will go dormant or will start to resemble the Sahara desert. Water too frequently and the grass roots will remain near the surface instead of growing deep and you will encourage the growth of fungi and weeds. Recognizing team members works the same way – neglect them and their engagement will diminish, but go overboard with praise and recognition will lose all meaning.

Weed promptly

Weeds grow in even the best maintained gardens regardless of the volume of herbicides used. Procrastinating on removing them can result in their proliferation. The same is true of unhealthy team member conflict or other dysfunctions. Turn a blind eye to this and the issue will fester and spread the way unchecked weed growth can choke out good plants.

Let the land go fallow

Letting a vegetable patch recover for a season or two after you have harvested is a good practice. While it can be tempting to plan work to 100% of available team member capacity, this approach rarely provides time for learning. The best source of learning may be work experience, but there is also benefit in giving team members a chance to step away from the daily work once in a while to attend a conference, watch a webinar or read a book or two. While giving them a break and a chance to recharge their batteries, it will also provide an opportunity to bring new ideas into the mix when they return from their training.

Variety is the spice of life

Perhaps you really like roses so you might decide to only plant rose bushes in your garden. But this won’t necessarily give you the best looking garden. Mixing it up by planting a variety of plants could provide the benefit of flowers throughout the year. It will also hedge (no pun intended) your bets against insect infestation or diseases targeting a single plant type which could wipe out your entire garden. It might be tempting to staff a team with people that are just like you, but you will get much better outcomes if you encourage diversity.

Thomas Jefferson might have been speaking about team building when he said “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.


Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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