I have a lot of friends who have Fitbits. They’re those wrist watch-like things that people wear to measure their heartbeat and the number of steps they take per day. Many of them compete with each other on how many steps they get in each day.
The implication of this is that the steps are making them healthy (fit is in the name of the device after all). But they should also consider aspects such as the number and type of calories they consume. If all they measure is their steps, there’s a risk of limited health benefits.
The same goes for project managers in the effort of realizing project value. You can have all sorts of metrics and measurements, but if achieving the targets of those measurements doesn’t translate into project value, you’re likely just wasting your time.
I once worked for a man who believed that his title gave him authority. He was the CEO of the company and never hesitated to let people know. He always introduced himself emphasizing his title and listed the C-level positions he had held in the past.
“I wish I had more meetings to attend,” said no one ever. It has become a universal law that meetings are bad. They waste time. They rarely accomplish anything. Nobody likes them, but everybody continues to schedule them.
They are a necessary evil. They are a primary form or communication between people in the business world. By following these rules for running meetings, you can be on your way to running more efficient meetings that your coworkers may even look forward to.
Have you ever watched a president’s State of the Union Address? Regardless of the president or his party affiliation, the President tends to describe utopia. If you knew nothing else about what was going on, you would believe that that particular president was accomplishing all of the problems in the world.
If you think about it, the State of the Union Address is essentially a status report. The President is submitting a status report to Congress. Congress is, in a way, his steering committee. They may not be the President’s superiors and approve his initiatives. But the President is required by the constitution to present this status annually.
The State of the Project Address
A project manager presents status to management, usually on a weekly basis. Status can be presented to an executive steering committee on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. The presentation of the project’s status is a chance for the project manager to demonstrate to management how much value the project is adding to the organization. Continue reading Do you take credit or demonstrate value?→
As some of you know, I listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the car as a way to pass the time on my long daily commute to and from work. I recently finished listening to the podcast series “Presidential.” This is a 44-episode series of podcasts that focuses on every U.S. President from George Washington through Barak Obama. There is a final episode recorded the day after the election discussing the outcome.
It piqued my interest enough that I’ve decided to listen to a full biographical audio book on each president. I’m working on the assumption that an audio book exists for presidents such as Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan.
My interest is based in history. I’ve always found American history and the political process intriguing. I also find it an interesting study in leadership. We’ve had great leaders and not-so-great leaders running our country. Because of the way our political process works, it usually takes many years for opponents to admit that a president from the opposite party might have been a great leader. Eisenhower despised Truman when he took office. They later became close again when both were out of office. Continue reading Do you have a leadership personality?→
It has probably happened to you at one time or another. You’re sitting in a meeting with your boss present when an issue comes up.
You’ve been trying to resolve that issue for a week. It’s the first time your boss is hearing about it. He asks why he wasn’t made aware of the issue. If you had defined a project escalation process, he might have already heard about it.
Having a project escalation process can help guide a project manager through the decision-making process to communicate effectively to leadership to ensure that they are informed in an accurate and timely manner. It is a matter of knowing the what, when, how and why of issue escalation.
I’ve often mentioned that a project manager is the CEO of his or her project. Knowing that a CEO needs to be able to communicate in many ways, the project manager has to have a wide variety of communication skills in order to be effective.
Verbal Communication Skills
The most obvious and critical communication skill is the ability to speak. The project manager spends most of his day speaking to people. I’ve known a lot of people who can talk. But sometimes they say very little. The project manager must be able to speak concisely. Why say seven words when four will do.
When reporting to an executive on the status of a project, she doesn’t want to hear every detail. Talking in circles and never getting to the point can be even more annoying. When describing an issue or situation to an executive, the PM has to determine how much detail to provide. It is important to know how to build it into an understandable story that gets the point across as economically as possible.
I’ve found it better to provide just enough details to get the basic point across. If the executive asks for more detail, provide a few more details until they are satisfied. It always depends on the executive. Some want as much detail as possible. Others want the bare minimum.
When talking with team members, it is important to speak to them as equals. Assuming a superior attitude may intimidate them. This could result in receiving less information than you need. It also creates poor relationships on your project.
Written Communication Skills
Just like verbal communication, a project manager’s written communication must be concise. Co-workers receive emails, reports, and many other forms of written communication. When someone opens a 10-page email, their eyes are likely to roll back. Their likelihood of reading what you wrote is just as unlikely.
A project manager should also write clearly. Proper grammar is of the utmost importance. It is distracting and unproductive for someone to read and reread a sentence trying to figure out what the author is trying to say. A strong vocabulary is also essential. Do not mistake having a strong vocabulary with having knowledge of long and confusing words. A good vocabulary means knowing the right word for the right situation.
Graphical Communication Skills
Whether you like the tool or not, MS-PowerPoint is a staple of the business tool kit. It has a reputation of being overused and, to many, boring. One of the main reasons that people dislike PowerPoint is that people don’t use it well to communicate.
We’ve all seen PowerPoint slides with more text than a page from a Shakespeare play. And most of us have seen diagrams with the complexity of a nuclear submarine design.
It is important for a project manager to be able to create clear and concise PowerPoint slides that have the proper mix of text and graphics that make it pleasing visually, while communicating a point.
If you must show a complex diagram, it should be broken down into manageable pieces on subsequent slides so that the audience can break it down mentally and put it together easily when you are done.
PowerPoint is the tool of choice in most business settings. The Project manager’s job is to learn how to use it as an effective communication tool.
Technical Communication Skills
Many project managers work in technical arenas. Industries such as information technology and health care rely on technical language and complex details.
A project manager often plays the role of liaison between technical workers and business people. It is important for a PM to learn how to translate business requirements so that they are understandable to technical people.
It is even more vital for a PM to understand technical issues that have been explained by the technicians. Once understood, these issue need to be translated into understandable terms to the project sponsors. This description should also address how the technical issues affect the business.
Know your audience
As I addressed above, who you are talking to determines much of your communication. You obviously communicate to executives in a much different mode than to technical team members.
Each level within the organization needs to be considered. Copying a director on an email to one of her direct reports may be acceptable on a regular basis. Copying the vice president at the next level may not be. If there is an acceptable time to do that, extra scrutiny should be taken. You may want to have it reviewed to ensure it is clear and uses appropriate language.
Knowing your audience includes having a flexibility of tone. If you are communicating with a business associate with which you have a close personal relationship, it may be appropriate to joke around and discuss personal issues. This would be inappropriate with someone you don’t know well. The formality of the language you use is determined by the rank and familiarity of your audience. It is also is governed heavily by the culture of the organization.
One of the most important skills a project manager develops is the ability to communicate. It requires many modes depending on how, why, and to whom you are communicating. It also requires being a liaison that can explain issues between people with different skills and education levels.
What communication issues have you experienced on your projects?
In my early days of managing projects, the tasks ran the show. I was the man with the to-do list. I filled it out every night before leaving work. Every morning I religiously reviewed it, verified the priorities, and executed each item for a successful day.
The disappointment I felt if I wasn’t able to complete the list was measureable. It wasn’t just my own tasks that I managed that way. Every member of the team had their tasks, if not for the day, at least for the week. I felt it was my job to make sure everyone got their tasks done for the good of the project.
The tactical mind
By following that task-mastery approach, I know that I got a lot done. The team got a lot done. I felt like I was managing the project effectively by following this tactical approach. And to some degree I was. I was identifying what needed to get done and driving it to completion. Continue reading Thinking a Step Ahead of the Project Owner→
Project managers have a certain notoriety with their teams. They push team members to reduce their estimates for work. Once an agreed upon estimate is reached, the PM pushes the team to beat the estimate.
If the estimate can’t be beaten, it certainly has to be met. And there will usually be hell to pay if the estimate can’t be met. Now the task is behind. Because there are dependencies for other tasks, the entire project may fall behind.
This of course is scandalous. Project plans need to be updated. Change requests need to be completed. Executives need to be notified. Team members can be made to think that a one-day delay on a task could bring the entire organization to its knees. Continue reading Can You Estimate Like Your Team Members?→
I’ve always wanted to get into the mind of people who are habitually late. As one who prides himself on promptness, I hate to be late. On the rare occasion that I am late, I’m very apologetic.
But people who are always late must be intentionally late. When they stroll in ten minutes late for a meeting, have they thought about how they’ve negatively affected the mood of the team? Did they have any consideration of the time of the other people who showed up on time only to wait for them?
I doubt it.
But there is another set of people who hate to be late, but still make a habit of being late. They know they have that meeting in ten minutes, but don’t stop to think about the documents they’ll need to gather for it, or the time it will take them to get to another floor or another building to get there on time. Continue reading Scheduling backwards to be on time→