All posts by lewsauder

Assessing Risk in Project Management

assessing risk
Are you assessing risk effectively?

The Scout Motto is “Be prepared”. I don’t know if a study has ever been done to determine whether former scouts make better project managers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a correlation.

The most successful project managers I know are prepared for almost anything. Over the years, the most successful way I’ve found to be prepared is to have a formal risk assessment process, in which risks are addressed early and often.
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Project Risk and the FedEx Truck

project risk
Assessing project risk
project risk
Assessing project risk

I recently went on a family vacation to Vermont. Even while I was admiring the beautiful green mountains of that state, I couldn’t help but get distracted thinking about project risk.

We were visiting some family who took us on a drive to Stowe, VT. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains with dense trees and mountain scenes. There was a narrow pass named Smugglers Notch, in which the road narrowed and curved sharply. The lane was wide enough for two cars to meet, and still pass. But it required them both to slow down enough to avoid hitting each other or the side of the mountain.

When we entered the mountainous area, I noticed a sign that read “Road ahead unsafe for trailers, trucks and buses.” I didn’t think too much about it until we got a few miles in and an oncoming car flagged us down.
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Project Management Role: Removing Obstacles

Project Management Role
Project Management Role: Removing Obstacles

When the role of project manager is brought up in every day conversation, many people think of the task-master, always trying to get status from the team member, reminding him of just how late he is on his task.

One can almost picture the PM standing there pointing to her watch, tapping her toe impatiently.
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Strategy: Focus on the Target

Strategic Target Focus
Strategy: Focus on the Target

Imagine that you are planning a vacation from Chicago to visit a friend in Los Angeles. As part of that trip you decide that driving and seeing the countryside will be a great way to enjoy the trip.

A little south of Chicago, you get on Interstate-80 and start heading west. You drive for hours and then days, feeling yourself getting closer the further you head west. You feel your destination getting closer as you drive through Salt Lake City and enter the state of Nevada. You can almost smell the ocean as you pass through Sacramento and begin driving through wine country.

Then, unexpectedly, after days of driving, you are welcomed to San Francisco. San Francisco? You wanted to go to LA. Which is six hours southeast.
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Just Do It My Way

Inflexible management
My way or the highway.

Do you like the toilet paper to roll up from the bottom? Or do you prefer that roll down from the top?

Chances are that you have a preference.

I deliberately ignore the direction of the role when I replace it (yes, I do replace it). By doing this, it rolls from the top and from the bottom each about 50% of the time.  And something amazing has come out of that. I haven’t once had trouble unrolling this bathroom essential, regardless from where it unrolls.
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The Importance of the Status Report

status reports are an important part of the Project Manager's job
Do you give your status report enough status?

An integral part of managing a project of any size is reporting status. Many project managers don’t give it the attention it deserves. Instead of treating it as the necessary evil that takes up your time to check it off your list, consider the importance of a status report.

Career opportunity. This is an opportunity to show your manager or others with influence how you communicate to executives.  Do you want to appear as a novice that doesn’t communicate well, or as a competent communicator who is comfortable reporting to the higher-ups?
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The Case for Toys in Meetings

Toys should be provided to attendees of long meetings
Toys can make meetings more productive

It was strange for my kids at first.  We’d be out running errands on a Saturday and I’d tell them I have to stop and buy some toys for a meeting I have on Monday.

“Toys? For a meeting?” they would ask.

We’d run into the Dollar Store or a Dollar General and find some cheap toys.  Maybe some squeezy rubber toys that light up inside, or maybe some scary rubber dinosaurs. I’d fill a basket with about fifteen of them and we’d go check out.  I’d always make sure to get the receipt because I would report it on my expense report.

The kids would just shake their heads. Most adults would too. But there are some legitimate reasons to bring toys to a meeting.

For more information see Stakeholder Management for Project Managers

I manage projects in an agile environment.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, for purposes of this blog post, we plan our work in four-week sprints. Every four weeks, we spend anywhere from a half-day to a day reviewing the requirements, identifying what tasks need to be performed by whom, and planning each task for each person for the next  four week “sprint.”

Reviewing the requirements can take a half a day. That’s a long time for anyone to sit and listen. So I bring everybody toys for several reasons.

Related post: 8 Tips for Meeting Facilitators

Creativity: When someone has a bright shiny toy it gets them thinking differently.  Perhaps it takes them back to their childhood before school and work ripped all of the creativity out of them.  Or maybe the sharp contrast of having a toy in a drab work environment does the trick.  Whatever the reason, I’ve seen people solve problems in more unique ways when toys are involved.

Alternative to electronics: It doesn’t take long in any meeting for someone to get bored and unholster their smart phone.  Perhaps they check an email they just got a notification for.  Then they want to check updates on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Before you know it, they haven’t heard the last fifteen minutes of the meeting.

I would venture to bet that most electronics use in meetings is a result of boredom.  Providing toys allows people to keep their hands busy and avoid opting for the more distracting electronic toy.

Fun: Few would refute the argument that toys create a more fun environment. When a group of people have to meet for a long meeting, the mood of that meeting can be lightened up significantly with a few brightly colored toys. And toys won’t put you in the sugar coma associated with a dozen donuts.

Status symbols: I’ve seen the toys coveted.  People line their cubicles and offices with the toys they’ve collected over time.  The toys become trophies signifying how many of the planning meetings they’ve been through.

Good and bad toys in meetings

To be conducive to a meeting you have to get the right toy.  First of all, I wouldn’t recommend spending too much.  I try to spend between one and two dollars per person.  You don’t need to get more expensive than that.

The best toy is one that you can do things with.  Something that squeezes or is bendable is the best. Meeting attendees can bend and ply the toy while listening to a speaker without too much distraction.

Bad toys are any kind of toy that makes noise and would distract the meeting. Balls or any kind of toy that will bounce or induce people to throw around will automatically turn thirty-something professionals into a group of eighth-graders.

I have also found Silly Putty to be distracting.  There apparently are just too many things to do with it.  People start looking for funny papers to transfer on to the glob or they roll it into a bouncable ball (see above).

The best toys I’ve used are rubber squeeze toys that light up (about a dollar at most dollar-type stores), Wikki Sticks (, and bendable monsters with arms that twist. (Doing a Google search on “meeting toys” will find you plenty of links to companies that market to this unique niche.)

It’s probably not necessary to bring toys to every single meeting you attend.  But if you plan a meeting longer than an hour where people will be presenting a lot of information or where you want to induce some creativity, I’d suggest bringing some cheap, fun, goofy toys to it.

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.

7 Tips for Meeting Participants

Meeting participants
Meeting participants should help the facilitator make the meeting run smoothly

In last week’s blog, I detailed 8 Tips for Meeting Facilitators.  This week, I’ll discuss 7 tips for meeting participants.

1) Be on time. I know, this was a tip for the facilitator, but it applies to everyone.  If you are a lower level worker who habitually shows up late, you can limit your upward mobility. People may think you are too inconsiderate of other people’s time to be prompt, or they may think you are too disorganized to be assigned to an important project.  Either way, people may no longer want to work with you.

If you are higher up on the food chain, being habitually late for meetings will set an example for everyone that reports to you.  If it’s okay for the goose, the ganders will start showing up late too.  This will not only affect your team’s reputation, but their performance as well.
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8 Tips for Meeting Facilitators

Meeting facilitator
Meeting facilitators should strive to run efficient meetings

Meetings: the ultimate necessary evil. I’ve met few people who haven’t complained about another meeting; or dreading the idea of another Monday morning status meeting, stealing an hour of their life every week.
There are certainly too many meetings in this world. Even if we could reduce the number of meetings to the necessary few, I think people would still hate meetings.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is largely a facilitation issue. So I’ve come up with 8 tips to help you facilitate meetings that people will be less likely to dread attending.
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That Bad Project Can Still Help Your Career

bad project
Bad project, good project

I once received a late-night call and was told to travel the next day to a project three and a half hours away from my home. When I reported to the project the next day, I learned that it was well behind schedule. They needed me to help them catch up and get back in good graces with the client.

At that time in my career I was trying to transition from a technical coder to a team lead or project manager role.  I wasn’t happy about being assigned to the programming role for this project.  I labored over the next seven weeks working long days to help the project get caught up. I felt like I was wasting my skills on that project.
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