Tuesday, September 30, 2014

5 Good Questions that Project Managers Ask the Team

I recently had someone ask me for some tips on getting a project executed.

I learned this (and relearned this) on projects I've worked on. These are important questions to ask those who are performing the tasks on the project.

  1. Schedule: Here is your lists of Tasks. Will you still be able to get these done in the durations listed and in the timelines scheduled?
  2. Dependencies: For your tasks that are listed here, is there anything that would prevent you from starting (or finishing) on time?
  3. Risks: What types of events might occur that could prevent you from getting these things on time or at an acceptable level of quality?
  4. Scope: Do you know of anything that might increase the amount of work that these tasks represent?
  5. Quality: Do you believe you can get these all done at the expected level of quality?
 If you, as a project manager, can ask these questions (simplified here to help make them easy to remember) on a regular basis of each of the team members, then you'll find that it will help you to get the project executed.

Of course, there are many more questions that Project Managers need to ask, but these are important ones to ask of the team members who are performing the work.

Please share the questions you like to ask when trying to get a project done.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to get CPR Certification

We have someone in our family who has had some heart issues and I recently read on the IBM Healthy Living "Active Track" website that we could obtain "points" for getting CPR certification. And, our daughter's are both in the "mommy" stage of life and encouraged us both (my wife and I) to get some CPR and choking training. So, we both took an infant CPR course a few weeks ago. Then, I took a CPR course last week and received my certification card yesterday.
It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be.  The instructor was very nice and thorough.
I took mine at the local hospital.
You can also find courses through the Salvation Army, American Heart Association, The Red Cross, and other organizations. Sometimes the local fire department will offer classes as well.

I suggest you consider taking a class as you may save a life. After the class, I was talking to a young man in the parking lot. He mentioned that his grandfather had died just a few months earlier. He said if he was there and had CPR training, he may have saved him. He was very close to his grandfather.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How to Issue the Important "Call to Action" in your Communications

This is a simple ones folks:
When you need someone to do something, include in the communication (email, chat, phone, text...) a "Call to Action" - usually it's included at the end of the communication (this way, it's fresh in their mind)
A "Call To Action" is you telling them what they need to do.  A few pointers:
  1. State clearly what is expected of them
  2. If more than one person is involved, state clearly who you expect to do the action
  3. If possible, give them a due date or ask them when they can have it done or at least tell them what the priority is
In an organization I used to work in, we used to laugh when someone asked for something "As Soon As Possible (ASAP)."- that meant nothing to us. We were all so busy that ASAP meant "some day" (which meant "no day").  We had an agreement that if it was needed immediately, then use the word "Immediately."  And, there better be a good reason why it was needed immediately (hopefully it wasn't because you didn't realize you needed it until the last minute).

A very important point: End the communication with the call to action. You can also start the communication with it, you would even do good to put it in the subject of the email, and ending with it is important because it leaves the receiving person with the most important reminder to do what needs to be done.

So, my "Call to Action" for you is: please post some comments below :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to "Get all the Liars in One Room"

At a previous employer, I had several project managers reporting to me. One of them had done Project Management for decades and was well seasoned. He knew a lot and I learned a lot from him.

One day he had an issue on his project: there were several people who had a different viewpoint on a big project issue. Everyone had a different story about how they got there and what needed to be done to address it. This issue was big enough that we all knew about it at my level. He came to me and told me what he was going to do. He said that the best way to solve issues when you have conflicting viewpoints is to "Get all the liars in one room!"  In other words, he was going to pull together everyone into one meeting so that everything could be aired and come to a consensus.

Sometimes this seems like a simple way to solve things; it seems like a straightforward answer: just get everyone in a meeting. But, sometimes this just isn't for the faint of heart. It can be very difficult with various passionate viewpoints to get everyone to work together to a consensus. A few pointers:
  1. Let everyone know the goal: to come to a consensus on how to address the issue at hand
  2. Let everyone know that we're not here to point fingers at people (i.e. to blame people). We will only discuss how we got here if it helps to determine a solution
  3. Use the G.R.O.W. technique: Identify the goal, the Reality (where we are), Options (let everyone air their suggestions to resolve it and the pros and cons of their proposal), and What Will We do! (i.e. let's all decide on a solution we can all live with, maybe not all agree with, but all of us can concur on the solution.
  4. You may also like to get input from people in advance, especially those who can't make the meeting, who are not invited, or those that are more quiet (less likely to chime in when there are strong personalities in the room)
  5. If there are people who have strong personalities who are re-stating their points and monopolizing the conversation, restate the ground rules and mention that we want to hear all viewpoints.
  6. If possible, share the notes real-time in a way that is shared with all those involved in the meeting: share a screen where you record the main bullet points, or use a white board.
What suggestions do you have for using a meeting to gain consensus on a team?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

How to Be Valued by Maintaining a Positive Attitude

One of the people I worked with for a while was seen as a valued contributor to our project. I stepped back to ask why.

One thing I learned from her was that she always had a good attitude no matter how stressful or frustrating or complicated things got.

She would always have a laugh or giggle her way through these times.  People valued her contribution of a positive attitude to the project team.
This is something I can learn from.

A positive attitude in the difficult times helped those working with her to be lifted as well. A good laugh in the face of these difficult times made the job a bit lighter.
Just as a negative attitude can poison a team, a positive one can also spread to the team and encourage a team, lifting their spirits.
It also frees people up to see new possibilities, to joke around, and to put things in a bigger perspective.

How have you seen a positive attitude of someone on your project spread to others?  How has it helped you to be positive? How have you helped the team to be positive? Have others with a positive attitude helped you?

Monday, September 08, 2014

Are you Fighting Battles or Are You the Messenger?

Sometimes we have big battles to fight; sometimes we have small battles to fight. Sometimes we fight battles that are not ours to fight.

Always keep in mind who has the battle to fight. Ask yourself who owns the fighting of the battle.

Many times it's not you, you're just caught in the middle.

Let those who are fighting and those who have the authority to make (and enforce) decisions be the ones to make the decisions and fight the battles. Realize the times when you are "only the messenger." And, when you are the messenger, remember where your allegiance lies.

What are your pointers of fighting battles or when you find yourself fighting a battle that isn't really yours to fight?  What about pointers on being the messenger?

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Benefits of Spreading Your Questions Around When You Are in a Learning Situation

I've had some great managers and some challenging ones, but I always try to learn from each.

One thing a past manager taught me: When you are in a learning mode (trying to learn things quick), don't always go to the same person all the time, spread your questions out.

This way, people don't see you as not knowing much, their perspective is that you're picking things up faster because you are learning (but they don't realize you're learning from others), and you don't always bother one person, and you get various viewpoints which is also good.

Another point to keep in mind: When I was in college for engineering, one of the things they taught me was that I didn't always need to know all the answers, but I needed to know where to get the answers. So, you might want to make a list of people and places you can go to for answers on various topics.

So, to reiterate, here are some benefits of going to various people with your questions:
  1. It spreads it out
  2. you're not always going to one person and interrupting them
  3. You're not always taking time from one person
  4. People perceive that you're learning quick because they don't realize how you're getting answers from others
  5. You get various perspectives which is always helpful in understanding things
  6. You can build a list of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to go to for answers and reuse that list when you need specific answers
What other benefits do you see from spreading your questions around?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

How to Increase Client Communication Quality Using a "Second Set of Eyes"

I was recently reminded of a practice we had at the consulting company I worked at (before my current employer)

We realized that by having a "Second Set of Eyes" look at every artifact that went to the client, we could increase the quality of communications with the client.
By "Second Set of Eyes" I mean to say that we would have someone look at emails, documents, artifacts, and deliverables before they went to the client. One or more persons would create the "artifact" and someone else would review it. It was that simple. Yet, the payoffs were huge!

In some organizations there are business controls that dictate that at least two people are involved in a transaction. This is especially true of financial transactions. For example: an invoice isn't created and sent to the client by one person. Of course, this is to ensure that financial improprieties are not carried out by one individual (or a group of individuals), but it also does add a certain amount of quality to what is sent to the client. These controls are certainly an attempt to prevent financial misconduct, but as an additional benefit, having a second person review an invoice (for example) might cause them to catch that the amount is incorrect or an address is incorrect.

So, we can see the benefits of a "Second Set of Eyes" on everything we send to a client.  This holds true even for just proof-reading: is the English grammatically correct, did we use the correct references, are the links good?  But, it also takes on more value when a Subject Matter Expert (SME) is involved and reviews the item with a deeper understanding: Are we using the correct terminology, is the technical explanation valid, is the quote reasonable and accurate, are the formulas in the spreadsheet correct, are our assumptions stated and valid?

Please comment below with your thoughts about the value of a "Second Set of Eyes"