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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 (http://www.wikkistix.com/), 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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Running Things as Projects


I’ve been a project manager for so many years that it’s part of everything I do. In the morning, I get my coat on and grab my bag while the Keurig is running.  I just don’t want to waste that minute standing and watching coffee brew when I can be doing tasks in parallel.

My wife laughed at me when I used a Microsoft Project plan for our move to a new house a few years ago.
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Too Much Process. Not Enough Thought

Too much process

When I was a kid, I would watch my mother bake.  She meticulously measured the cups and tablespoons of ingredients to ensure they were precise.  The resulting products were unsurprisingly consistent.

When it tried baking and cooking as an adult, I followed the same process.  I measure things out with precision.  I eventually learned when that type of precision was necessary and when it was not.  For example, when baking, I learned that things like baking soda and yeast had to be accurate.
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Project Management Skill: Getting the Team to Communicate

project management
Project Management Skill

One of the most important abilities a good project manager has is being able communicate effectively.  Project managers need to know when to communicate, when not to communicate, and how to do it effectively.

Having good communication skills means knowing the the right format – should I email this person, call her, or schedule a meeting in person?  Once you identify the best approach, you need to determine the correct words to make your communication diplomatic and direct enough for the situation.
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In Defense of Checklists

Defense of checklists

A 2009 study from the New England Journal of Medicine showed that when surgeons used a basic checklist prior to a surgical operation, deaths were reduced by almost 50%, and complications due to surgery were reduced by more than a third.

These basic checklists included steps such as verifying the identity of the patient and the type of surgery to be performed, as well as making sure blood was available in case it was needed during surgery.

Pilots go through the same type of checklist before ever flight.
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How to Leave a Project

leave a project
How to leave a project

According to the Project Management Institute, a project is a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result. Because of that, hopefully everyone who serves on a project, knows that they will eventually leave that project.

Most projects are not fully staffed for the duration. Nearly every project that I’ve seen has ramped up slowly, starting with only a few team members.  It ramps up, occasionally adding or changing staff as needed. Then, as the project ramps down, so does the staffing.  The bell-shaped curve follows its course through project closure.
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