Category Archives: Leadership

Risk Management: Three Steps

Risk Management
Risk Management

One of the most forgotten and ignored aspects of project management is risk management. The project plan and issues log get a lot of attention. And rightfully so. Those are important aspects of a project.

If you don’t pay attention to the tasks that need to be completed, they won’t get done. And if you don’t attend to issues, they result in delays and cost overrides.

But risk management is as important as those other aspects. Risk management is like buying insurance for the project. It allows you to be more prepared for things that could go wrong on your project.

Three steps for effective risk management

Many people don’t focus on risk management because they don’t see the value. That’s because most people don’t do it completely. People spend lots of time, especially at the beginning of the project identifying risks to the project. They document the list and store it in a project repository. Little, if anything gets done beyond those efforts.

But there are three steps that need to be addressed for effective risk management. The team needs to identify risks. But there is more to it.

Step 1: Risk identification

At the beginning of the project, the project manager should work with the team to identify any risks that could occur. This can range from computer servers not being delivered on time to the risk of a hurricane, if you work in an area susceptible to that type of thing.

Once risks are listed, the analysis begins. I like to be fairly scientific about it. It try to assess the likelihood of the risk occurring. This can be stated in terms of a percentage or a High-Medium-Low designation.

I also like to assess the impact to the project if the risk occurs. Again, you can assign a High-Medium-Low label. You could also try to assess what the actual impact would be based on dollars, time elapsed, or lost team members. If you choose to do that, it is recommended to assign real measurable numbers that impact the project.

Step 2: Identify mitigation strategies

Once risks are identified and analyzed, you need to identify mitigation strategies. It’s one thing to identify everything that could go wrong. It does very little good unless you determine what you will do about it.

Mitigation steps generally can be broken down into three approaches:

Avoidance – What can we do to avoid this risk? If you have a risk that your servers might be delivered late, you might choose to avoid that risk by ordering from multiple vendors. If one vendor is late, you have better odds of getting your other servers delivered on time.

Reduction – If you can’t avoid the risk, you may be able to reduce it. With the late server example, you may be able to pay a premium for express delivery.

Acceptance – With some risks, it is either a very low likelihood, like a hurricane in Chicago, or low impact. For those risks, you may choose simply to accept and monitor the risk.

Step 3: Reassess

Situations continually change. It is important to reassess your risks frequently. An alert project manager always has one eye open for new risks on a project. The team should go through risk assessment exercises every couple of weeks. In weekly status meetings, the project manager should ask team members about any new risks.

The existing risks should also be reassessed. Has the probability or impact changed? Are you no longer willing to accept a risk? Perhaps new mitigation strategies are more appropriate as the project has matured.

Projects are fluid and the risks to the project continue to change. It is critical to project success to always be aware of new and changing risks to stay on top of them.

Conclusion

I’ve always considered issues as risks that came true. Although it is impossible to think of every possible issue that could occur, frequent and thorough risk analysis can help a team avoid many issues from happening. For issues that can’t be avoided, risk analysis and mitigation strategies can help the team be more ready to address them with resolutions more rapidly.

Detailed risk analysis is a great insurance policy against issues taking over your project.

How thorough is your risk analysis?

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 Skill of Categorization

Skill of Categorization
Skill of Categorization

Imagine going to the grocery store where food is just randomly put on shelves based on available space. You might find one brand of breakfast cereal in isle two, and another brand in isle seven.

Instead, the grocery store categorizes their products. The produce is all together in one area. The cereals are all in one isle and so on. It makes your shopping experience faster, easier, and more organized.

If you stop and think about it, most of what we do is based on how we categorize things. And the more logical the grouping is, the easier it is to be organized. A library categorizes books on their shelves by genre. Within genre, they generally sort the books by author to help you find a book easily in a large building full of books.

Categorization based on correlation

The important thing is to categorize based on some logical correlation. If the library sorted books by color, it would provide little to no value. I’ve never gone into the library looking for something green to read.

Poor outcomes occur when we base our categorizing on flawed correlations. There is currently intense debate regarding how to limit the inflow of terrorists. Should immigrants being categorized by the country they are from, their religion, or some other way? Racism roots from associating flawed correlations to broad categories of people.

When you listen to two opposing politicians debate, they are arguing two different correlations. Can we stimulate the economy by giving tax breaks to the rich or the poor? In fact, most of politics is a process of developing correlations based on categories. We categorize many of our political beliefs based on our income, age group, national region, religion, ethnicity, gender, and many other things. Many of these categorization have little to no correlation to the actual belief.

When I was a young boy in school, I remember my teacher dismissing us based on the color we were wearing. “Anybody wearing red is excused.” There was no correlation to that categorization. It was simply a random approach to grouping dismissal to avoid a bottleneck at the classroom door.

Categorizing is a skill when managing a project

Think about how often you categorize in your day-to-day work. You may categorize people based on their skill or work location. You may categorize tasks based on priority or urgency.

When you schedule a meeting, you have to decide who to invite. Most of us do that based on the category of people that need to be in the meeting. Do they contribute to the meeting? Do they need to be informed? The finance people get invited to a finance meeting. There should be some correlation between who you invite and why they should attend. Unless you just want to invite those wearing red.

I’ve often said that everything we do or say should have a purpose. Purpose is driven by correlation. Although there are plenty of random events, most events have a cause. Developing your skill at identifying causes and their effects means having a deep understanding of correlation.

We make decisions based on what we think will happen as a result. People disagree with us because they have a different set of beliefs for what will result.

For example, consider the situation that your project is running behind. You may decide that the team is spending too much time fixing issues. Someone else on the project may believe that the team is not spending enough overtime on the project.

It’s possible that either solution – or both combined – could resolve the issue. The most important point is to verify whether either of them will create a cause and effect situation. If so, determine the best solution.

Categorization should enable decision making. When categorizing anything, be certain that the categorizations are logical. Categories should be based on cause and effect rather than randomness or false beliefs. Otherwise, there is no reason for the categorization.

How do you categorize based on correlations?

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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Are You Realizing Project Value?

Realizing Project Value
Are yYu Realizing Project Value

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.

How to measure value

Continue reading Are You Realizing Project Value?

“I am the CEO!” Leading without Authority

Leading without Authority
Leading without Authority

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.

If anyone disagreed with him, he would scold them, telling them “I am the CEO of this company!” as if that gave him omnipotent authority and knowledge.
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5 Rules for Running Meetings

Running meetings
5 Rules for Running meetings

“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.

Be on time

If you have been invited to someone else’s meeting, promptness is a sign of respect. If you are the meeting organizer, promptness is an even bigger deal.
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Do you take credit or demonstrate value?

Demonstrate Value
Claim credit or Demonstrate Value

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?

Do you have a leadership personality?

Leadership Personality
Presidents and Leadership Personality

Every president’s leadership personality

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?

Defining the Project Escalation Process

Project Escalation Process
Project Escalation Process

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.

What to escalate

Certainly the project manager shouldn’t escalate every single issue that occurs on a project. It is the PM’s job to track, manage, and resolve issues.
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The Communication Skills of a Project Manager

Communication Skills
Communication Skills of the Project Manager

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.

Conclusion

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?

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 pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thinking a Step Ahead of the Project Owner

one step ahead
One step ahead of the program manager

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