Project Manager is a driver not a traffic cop

Project Manager is a Driver
Project Manager is a Driver

As a sports fan, I often hear other fans complain that a team is not playing to win. They are instead, playing not to lose. This means that they are being conservative. They focus largely on defense, keeping their opponent from scoring. They do this at the cost of being bold. They don’t focus on scoring points as much as they do on stopping their opponent.

Many argue that the greatest offense is a great defense. And if your baseball team scores a lot, but loses 14-12, it doesn’t do you much good.

Fans, though, like to see scoring and a strong defense.

The traffic cop

After you leave the game and make your way home, you may hit a lot of traffic. As you leave the crowded parking lot, there is no doubt a traffic cop directing people. He or she is focused on making sure people take their turn coming out. They may stop cars to let others through. They wave others on. The main focus of the traffic cop is to avoid accidents and chaos so people can get home.

The folks driving the cars are trying to accomplish something. They want to get somewhere. They may inch in to get ahead of another driver. They hit the accelerator when they want to get up further in line.

The driver is trying to accomplish something – getting to his destination. The traffic cop is trying to avoid something bad – an accident or major traffic jam.

Both roles play an important part.

Project Manager is a driver

There are project managers that take on the role of traffic cops. They direct people and make occasional decisions. But their primary goal is to avoid a major accident. Like the team playing not to lose, they play conservatively. They keep their head down and avoid making waves or getting any negative attention.

When the project manager is a driver, he plays to win. The driver project manager takes bold steps. A traffic cop project manager accepts limitations given from others. A driver PM seeks out the root cause and identifies creative solutions to break down barriers.

I’m not a micromanager

Many project managers try to avoid being too much of a driver. “I’m not a micromanager.” They may claim. But there is a big difference.

Micromanagers interfere and tell people how to do their job. Drivers participate and collaborate. A traffic cop project manager claims that they hire good people – drivers? – and they allow them to do their jobs.

That’s a good philosophy. However, if the project manager is a driver, he can allow the team to do their job while still driving the project.

It is a difference between being active and passive in your management style. You can be active and participative without being a micromanager.

Conclusion

A project manager needs to push things through to conclusion rather than tracking dates and observing what others do. When a project manager is a driver, things get done more quickly and efficiently. A driver allows people to do their job, but pushes them to greater heights for greater project success.

Are you a driver or a traffic cop?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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The Confidence of Humility

Confidence of Humility
Confidence of Humility

Think of the greatest leaders you’ve ever worked for or admired. There are many traits that may have inspired you. Confidence was likely one of them. But were they so confident that they demonstrated the confidence of humility?

Johnny Carson was known as the King of Late Night. Before The Late Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live. He was not only the host of the Tonight Show. He defined the genre.

In today’s late night world, when the host is off, a repeat is shown. When Johnny Carson was off, he would designate a guest host. Many stars, including Jerry Lewis, Joan Rivers and Jay Leno, would “guest host” when Johnny was off.
Continue reading The Confidence of Humility

Setting Team Ground Rules

Team Ground Rules
Team Ground Rules

Do this. Don’t do that. It seems there are always rules getting in our way. But if we didn’t have rules, life – and work – would be a chaotic mess. Some people thrive on chaos. Others need complete order.

We all live within a certain set of rules in our organizations. Virtually every company has a policies handbook that is given to every new employee or consultant.

But those rules are fairly overarching and primarily generic. They are one-size-fits-all for the entire organization. When we find ourselves on a project team, we may want to be a little more specific about the rules the team wishes to follow.
Continue reading Setting Team Ground Rules

Incremental Time Savings by Being Proactive

Being Proactive
Being Proactive

As a project manager, I have always tried to seek the most efficient route to get a job done. I identify the critical path.  I try to determine how to schedule tasks concurrently. Being proactive is critical to this type of planning.

There is a lot of advice out there on time management. I’ve found that the greatest aspect of managing my time effectively comes down to being proactive. It seems like a subtle thing, but the incremental gains I get from it are pretty amazing.  But I think the reason people are not proactive is that it takes a fair amount of overhead and planning.

Planning ahead

The biggest aspect of being proactive is planning ahead. You have to take the time to plan your day, your week, your year, your life. You have to have a plan for where you want to go. Then you have to develop the steps necessary to get there.

By taking the time to plan, you always know your destiny and what it takes to get there. Many people don’t plan. They rely on luck to make them successful. There is no such thing as luck.  There are only good decisions and bad decisions.

Be organized

All the planning in the world will not help you if you don’t organize that plan. Organization is a matter of writing things down. Write your plans down. Write down the steps in the path that will get you there. On a daily basis, write down what you need to do each day (your to-do list) to get you that much closer to your goal.

By having all of this information handy and available to you at all times, you can be organized enough to get where you’re going.

Prioritize

You can write lists as long as your arm. But if you end up working on the wrong tasks, you may still never realize your dreams. You need to go through that list and determine the most important items that you need to do first.

This could include items that have dependencies. If one task’s output feeds into another task, you have to do them in the right sequence. Other tasks are just more important than others. Make sure that you do the most important tasks first.

Don’t delay

On a more tactical approach, it is important not to procrastinate. Do you need to schedule a meeting? Schedule it right away. People’s schedules fill up quickly. The longer you delay scheduling a meeting, the further out it will end up taking place.

I have a process that I use with email. I create folders for different categories of emails. I use my inbox for tasks I need to act on. Once I act on them, I move them into their appropriate folder. My goal is to have as few emails in my inbox as possible. This keeps me from delaying taking any action.

Conclusion

Many people approach time management as a way to save time in large swaths. That’s good work if you can get it. But saving time also requires an investment in time. Taking the time to be organized results in incremental time savings. Those incremental time savings accumulate and result in major time savings and major accomplishments. It’s all a matter of being proactive.

Are you proactive enough to save time?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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Two Motivation Types

Two Motivation Types
Two Motivation Types

Although there are an infinite number of management styles, human beings have two basic motivation types. We do things because we fear some type of negative ramification. Or we do things because we seek pleasure.

Every manager should understand this. And every employee should know what type of manager they are dealing with.

The fear motivator

We have probably all known managers who use fear as a motivator. They make threats. They usually yell a lot. They also are not afraid to humiliate people in front of others.

Employees who work for this type of person usually follow a strategy of avoidance. They want to avoid being yelled at, or humiliated. They have mouths to feed at home. So they want to avoid being fired.

This often works for some managers. I’ve spoken to people who say they respond best to this type of treatment. “That’s how my father was when we were growing up.” Is a common response when I ask them why.

The people who respond to this feel that it pushes them to achieve. The fear motivator keeps them on their toes like a drill sergeant in the army. If that manager didn’t yell at them when they did something wrong, they feel they would become complacent. They would get less done.

Others – myself included – see it as demotivating. Workers should be inspired to succeed. Working for a fear motivator creates workers that are more focused on not failing. Some may say that not failing and succeeding are the same thing. They are not.

Not failing also means not taking any chances. Not failing means playing it safe. Not failing causes people to do the minimum required effort to get the job done satisfactorily.

I believe that people who say they respond best to the fear motivator are people who lack self-confidence. They don’t feel they can achieve. They believe that they need that negative push for them to achieve results.

The pleasure motivator

Pleasure motivators build people up. They are complementary of peoples’ skills and abilities. They motivate them with uplifting comments and gestures.

Pleasure motivators have a tolerance for errors. They know that for an employee to achieve great things, they have to take risks. And when people take risks, they’re going to fail once in a while.

Critics claim that this approach makes people complacent. The boss that lets them get away with anything will end up with a team of slackers.

I believe that encouraging a positive environment creates happy workers. Having happy workers generates loyalty. Creating an environment that has a tolerance for errors encourages people to achieve at greater levels.

A hybrid approach

There are some managers that focus only on the negative. There are some that believe only in cheerleading people to success. But most successful managers have a hybrid approach.

If all you do is focus on negativity and criticism, good workers become demotivated. They either stay with the company and deal with low morale, or they leave. Turnover is very high in negative environments.

The manager that focuses only on the positive can end up with people who risk too much. They know there are no consequences to failure and may become careless.

There are times when employees need to be aware of negative consequences. Having a tolerance for mistakes can be a great motivator for achievement. But if people fail to learn from previous mistakes, it becomes costly. Positive managers still have to fire someone once in a while. That needs to be an example to other employees. The message must be that we tolerate calculated risks. But we won’t tolerate carelessness.

Conclusion

Different people respond to positive and negative management styles in different ways. Just as managers have management styles, employees have their own followership styles.

Effective managers need to positively motivate people to strive for success. They also must make sure that employees don’t take advantage of perceived kindness. A strong manager makes sure to positively motivate people, while making them aware of possible negative consequences.

How do you motivate your team?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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Having a plan vs. planning

Plan vs. Planning
Plan vs. Planning

As some of my readers know, I have combined my long daily commute with my interest in American history by listening to a biography of every U.S. president in chronological order. I listen more for leadership reasons than political.

I recently finished Dwight D. Eisenhower’s biography.  While Ike was seen by many as a “retiree president” who primarily golfed his way through two terms, he actually used his military knowledge for a lot of behind-the-scenes foreign policy diplomacy.

One of the more interesting quotes he is known for is, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

I found that to be very enlightening from a military perspective. The man who masterminded D-Day certainly had a plan. But he knew that there were many things that would go wrong and situations that would change.  He knew as soon as execution began, situations beyond his control would immediately cause them to deviate from the plan.

But the process of planning includes considering what can go wrong and establishing alternatives. That provides the indispensable aspect of planning.

Planning in project management

This is just as true in project management as in the life or death world of the military. Every competent project manager knows that every project needs a project plan. And every project manager knows that as soon as the plan is done and the project begins, deviations begin rearing their ugly heads.

That’s where issue and risk analysis come into play. In addition to developing a detailed project plan, project managers should do extensive risk analysis. This should be done early and often.

At the beginning of any project, the project manager should meet with all project stakeholders to brainstorm on any risks that could be faced.

With every risk, analysis should include the likelihood of the risk occurring, the impact to the project should it occur, and mitigation plans to avoid the risk, deal with the risk, or accept the risk.

This type of planning allows for many deviations in the original plan. The project manager knows how to deal with those deviations and what to do when they happen.

You can’t think of everything

I’ve experienced pushback from people in the past when it comes to risk analysis. They tell me that I’m wasting my time. You can’t think of every bad thing that will happen. You can’t tell the future.

True. You’ll never think of every possible thing that can go wrong. That’s not the point. The point is to think of as many possibilities that you can. Brainstorming like that and coming up with mitigation strategies will help make it easier to zig when things zag.

Mitigation strategies provide ideas that lead to mitigations for other things that go wrong. That’s where the planning is infinitely more valuable than the plan.

Being on the same page

Another major outcome of planning (rather than the plan) is the communication that it generates. Have you ever been on a project where people are asking “What are we doing and how are we going to do it?” They may look at a plan. But that may not make it clear.

When they are involved in the planning, they have a keener sense of the project purpose. They are also much more aware of how the project will be managed.

If they are involved in risk mitigation practices, they understand that the straight line of the plan, may be a circuitous path. But they know the end point will not vary too much.

Conclusion

Many project managers develop a plan and stubbornly stick to it. Their inflexibility can cause many problems for the project. They end up focusing more on the plan than the original purpose and intent of the project.

Having the flexibility to deviate from the plan can be the key to their success. The magic is in the planning, not in the plan.

What have you accomplished through planning?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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How to keep team members accountable

Keep team members accountable
Keep team members accountable

When I was a kid, I remember my mom would ask my siblings and me to do some kind of chore. The three of us would end up arguing about who should do it.  After a while, mom would say, “Just forget about it. I’ll do it.”

Modern day children would probably be fine with that. Problem solved. Back to Instagram. But we knew that my mom was practicing her fine art of the guilt trip. I wasn’t about to let my mom do what my brother or sister should rightfully do. One of us invariably gave in before we would let mom do our chore.

I once had a boss that had a similar approach. He would ask someone to do something without an indication of urgency or a deadline. He would wait about fifteen minutes, and then do it himself.

When his direct report went to perform the task, he or she would find that the boss had already done it. The resulting conversation would go similar to this:

Employee: “Boss, I thought you asked me to do that task, but I saw that you already did it.”

Boss: “What were you waiting for? When I ask you to do something, I expect you to do it.”

It was his passive-aggressive-control-freak-douchey approach of saying, “Anything I ask you to do should be your top priority.”

Over the years, I’ve seen many instances of managers who get sub-optimal results from their team members because of their poor tactics of keeping their people accountable. Some use negative tactics like those described above. Others allow their people to get away with not doing their assigned tasks. This creates a low producing team which hurts morale in the long run.

It’s about communication

So how do you get your team to do what you ask them to do? The key is being explicit in your communication.

Tell them exactly what you want them to do. High level managers get busy. They often have their heads full of details of many other matters. As a result, they sometimes give directions in an email that can be vague. Imagine getting an email that says, “Call that one guy about that issue I emailed you about last month.”

That sounds extreme, but I’ve had managers provide about as much information. One manager would email me an attached document with no instructions on how to act on it. Taking just a few minutes to provide the recipient appropriate content around what you want will save you more time explaining it again.

Provide a deadline. Telling them exactly when you would like to have the assignment complete will provide them a lot of clarity. If it is of the utmost priority, let them know. If you don’t need it until next week, that will help them prioritize it with other tasks.

The deadline should be specific. Telling them it’s “no hurry” doesn’t tell them if that means next week or next month.

Keep team members accountable

Once you have handed off the assignment, you need to be able to count on them to finish it. Some managers do this by checking in on them so frequently, it hinders their ability to get the task done. Micromanaging is not an appropriate way to hold people accountable.

Provide a checkpoint. If the task is significant enough, schedule a meeting on the deadline for them to present it to you. This should appropriately relay your expectations to the team member.

If the assignment doesn’t warrant a formal meeting, describe your expectations on how to inform you that the task has been completed. If you want them to email someone, tell them to copy you on the email. Simply emailing you that it is completed may provide you with enough information.

Write it down.  I’ve often had team members who don’t write their tasks down. The direct correlation between not writing it down and forgetting it is not surprising to me. I encourage people to write their tasks down to avoid forgetting. To further encourage it, they see me writing it down. I also record the deadline that I asked for.

They learn quickly that I won’t forget the assignment and that I will follow up when the deadline passes. This encourages them to get their tasks done on a timely manner.

Track missed deadlines. I generally keep a spreadsheet of tasks that I assign. I’ll list the request, the person I assigned, the date asked and the deadline. Once the task is done, I’ll track the date it was finished.

This allows me to fairly assess who is meeting their commitments. If I see a trend of frequent missed deadlines, I can sit down and talk to the person with all of the facts. Rather than saying, “You miss a lot of deadlines.” I can say, “Over the past three weeks, you have missed the deadline on four tasks.”

Getting them to communicate

It is also imperative to teach the team your preferences on how to keep you up to date.

How to update you. Let them know whether you prefer a conversation or an email, or some other way of being informed. If you’re not specific about how they update you, they’ll either guess or, more likely, not follow up at all.

When to update you. Let team members know your expectations for when and how often to provide feedback. If the deadline is further out, you may want periodic updates. Follow up with them if they miss an update to let them know you haven’t forgotten your request.

Conclusion

Many managers do not hold their team members accountable. Once that precedent is set, it is hard to consistently reestablish accountability. A manager should be consistent. Clearly communicating your expectations and following up consistently will teach your team to be responsible for their assigned tasks.

How do you keep your team accountable?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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How Much Do You Make?

How much do you make
How much do you make

What is a college degree worth?

Chances are that if you work in the business world, you have a college degree. That degree may be in a major that has nothing to do with your occupation. But the standard rule in the modern business world is that you have to have a college degree to even get a seat at the interviewer’s desk.

My degree is an achievement that I’m proud of, especially the fact that I funded it myself. But I find that it is basically irrelevant to my life and career today.

I occasionally refer back to a finance book or a specific case study to refresh myself on an issue I’m dealing with at the time. But for the most part, I rarely apply anything I learned in college to my current work. My experiences after college are what I usually apply.

In fact, when I interview someone with more than five years of business experience, I rarely look at where they went to college. If they are still resting on that laurel, I assume that they must not have very valuable experience.

Education is a building block. Not an accomplishment.

The inferiority complex

Throughout my life, I’ve had the good fortune to have many friends. Many of them, for one reason or another, do not have a college degree. Virtually every one of them has become successful in whatever career they have chosen. We’re all pretty high on Maslow’s hierarchy. But over the years, many have made comments to me about feeling inferior because I have a degree.
Continue reading How Much Do You Make?

Deceiving the Project Sponsor

Deceiving the project sponsor
Deceiving the project sponsor

I had an uncomfortable situation one time on a project. We had an issue with a software application. I wasn’t sure how serious the issue was. I asked the team members to provide more information on it. They told me it would take about two days to investigate it and understand its consequences.

In the meantime, a manager within the application team spoke to my project sponsor, suggesting it was a show-stopper issue. He, in turn, came to me wondering why he hadn’t been informed by me. Why did he have to find out from an outside source?

I tried to explain to him that I had just known about it for two days and was gathering information to learn more about it. I didn’t even know the ramifications yet.

This presents an age old dilemma at just about any management level. Project managers maintain an issues log. All issues get logged to it. Smaller, less impactful issues get resolved. You don’t have to bother your next level of management with many of them.

Other issues are reported to upper management. Some require upper management’s input and decision making. Others are simply to keep the executive informed, just in case it grows to a larger issue.

Much like reporting Red-Amber-Green status, the PM walks a tightrope between taking up the manager’s time with unnecessary issues, and deceiving the project sponsor. There are a few things that a project manager can do to ensure that they are reporting the correct issues correctly to the project sponsor.

In the exploratory stage

If you have just been made aware of an issue, but have not been given all of the details, the issue is in limbo. You don’t know if it is a reportable issue. But you do know that it has potential to be.

In this case, you may want to send the manager an “FYI email.” Starting the email with “FYI” (For your information) tips them off that there is no involvement required by them. It is just to keep them informed. Explain that you are still investigating what the ramifications are and that you will provided an update if necessary.

This circumvents the sponsor learning about the issue from someone else. It also provides a heads-up if this becomes a major issue. Executives don’t like surprises. Providing an informative heads-up can eliminate a surprise on multiple fronts.

Find out the consequences

If the team tells you that it will take an extensive period of time to investigate the issue, find out why it will take so long. Pursue options that could accelerate the inquiry. If there is a risk of it being a major issue, it may be worth adding people to investigate or increasing the priority.

If the investigation cannot be sped up in any way, try to establish milestones in which you can check in with the team to get updates as it progresses.

Major show-stoppers

If you establish that this is a major issue that needs to be brought to the executive’s attention, determine the appropriate communication path. If the executive is available and approachable, speak to them directly.

Many executives are so busy it is hard to get any personal time with them on the fly. A quick email or text may be appropriate to get the information out in a timely manner. You may also try to schedule a personal meeting with the appropriate people to provide additional insight.

It is best to take issues to executives armed with possible solutions. You may have two or three possible resolutions to the problem and a recommendation of which one you think would work best.

Additionally, the ramifications of the issue should be well understood. Those ramifications could be related to internal politics, technical problems, public relations concerns, or in many other areas. Be sure to consider all ramifications of the issue. Also, be sure to know the pros and cons of each resolution.

Know your sponsor

Knowing your sponsor and how he or she likes to be communicated to can help a lot. One executive may prefer to hear things in person, while another wants things in writing electronically.

Knowing the proper verbiage to use, and hot button items that they don’t like, are equally important. Some managers like to be provided updates on an hourly basis. Some may prefer it daily. Determine their need and fulfil it.

The goal is to inform them without unnecessarily worrying them. Make them feel like you are in control of the situation and want them to be informed, or want their input on the matter.

How do you report major issues to your boss?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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Do You Have a Leadership Personality?

Leadership Personality
Leadership Personality

Few topics in the business world have had more written about than Leadership. Everyone seems to have an idea of what leadership is and what it is not.

There are many facets to it. But I’ve found that to be a good leader, you need to have certain leadership personality traits to even be considered. Here are some of the key ones that I’ve seen in the most successful people.

Attention to detail (but not too much)

Most managers move up the ranks, managing positions that they fulfilled in the past. The lower level positions likely involved a lot of detail. As you move up, the need for detail becomes smaller. You need to focus more on strategic aspects rather than tactical work.

Some people in leadership positions are happy to put the detail behind them and focus only on the big picture. It becomes problematic when they don’t know enough about the details to make proper decisions and give people direction.

Other folks can’t let go of the detail. They have a need to get in up to their elbows in all of the details. Continuing to do the work at the same level of detail they did before will suck up all of their time. They won’t have time to effectively lead.

A good leader is curious and asks the right questions regarding detail. This helps the leader to know what is going on for effective decision making.

Positive attitude

People prefer to follow positive people. They enjoy being in their presence and are more eager to do good work for them.

Positivity can also be contagious, especially if you hire people with the right leadership personality traits. They will have a positive attitude and relate better to whatever they say.

A positive attitude breeds charisma for the leader. Creating a positive environment focused on success pulls more people in with the desire to contribute.

Effectively confrontational

Intimidation and fear are poor leadership traits. People perform their work with enthusiasm when they want to do it. If the manager is threatening, overbearing, and yells at employees on a regular basis, they will do what they need to do to avoid conflict. They will rarely go over and above the call.

Leaders on occasion need to have difficult conversations to improve performance. The fear mongering shape-up-or-ship-out lecture may improve performance for a while. It won’t change it significantly. And it won’t change it long term. Most employees will do the minimum requirement to avoid getting fired with that approach.

A leader can’t simply avoid the confrontation either. Fear of team members not liking them is not good leadership. Bad performance needs to be improved. An effective leader has the personality to confront people to let them know the areas where they need improvement without sugarcoating it. The individual needs to know what to improve and the ramifications if they don’t.

Most employees will appreciate their manager being frank with them.

Succinct communication

Some people in leadership positions believe that when it comes to talking, quantity rules. It is often driven by ego. They enjoy the sound of their own voice and assume everyone else does.

A good follower would be just as happy getting directions from their leaders and getting back to work. Effective leaders put their egos aside and communicate what needs to be said; no more and no less.

A listener

Once the effective leader gets over the sound of their own voice, they will have a lot more time to listen. Complimenting their curious personality trait, they will be more willing to get information from others instead of assuming they have all of the answers.

Listening provides the leader with two distinct benefits. First, they learn more from others. Listening will give the leader more information that many in leadership positions who don’t listen don’t get.

Secondly, people who are listened to feel more appreciated. They will strive to do a better job for the person who gave them the extra attention of listening to them.

What personality traits have you seen in great leaders?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

101 Tips for Success in Project Management