Are You a Driver of Your Career or a Passenger?

driver of your career
Be a driver of your career

We’ve all heard of back seat drivers. They sit in the car and criticize the driver. They tell the driver when to turn, when to slow down, and when to speed up.

Not all passengers are like that. Some just sit back, close their eyes and nap through the ride. It is indicative of how we manager our careers. A driver is one who takes control. The driver of a car has to monitor how fast traffic is moving and adjust accordingly A good driver will look ahead to see if there is a slow down or an obstacle in the distance to be able to adjust before there is a problem.
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Failure to Execute – I’ve Got it All in My Head

Failure to execute
Failure to Execute

I have a friend who is a really good sales person. He is also very entrepreneurial. He has worked for other people for a number of years, but I’ve always been impressed by how he approaches his work like it is his own business. It shows commitment.

He has been talking for a long time about going out on his own. I have encouraged him. He has such a deep knowledge of his industry and a lot of innovative ideas that could help people in it.

But for years, he has talked about how he has everything in his head. “I’ve got all these ideas. I just need to get it down on paper.”
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6 Steps for Effective Project Communication

Effective Project Communication
Effective Project Communication

How could he not understand what we’re doing? I couldn’t have made it more clearly to him.

That feeling has probably gone through every project manager’s mind at one time or another. You have developed what seems like an easy concept in your mind. You quickly relay that information to someone else. Maybe they didn’t understand it as well as they thought they did. Perhaps they weren’t listening. Maybe they just didn’t care.

I experienced it once on a project that I managed. I felt I had a good rapport with the key business stakeholder. The project started out very open ended. The client had many initiatives that they wanted to accomplish. Part of our job was to help them prioritize things. We worked closely with them and narrowed it down to a category of tasks. We then discussed those tasks and brought it down to three primary initiatives that we wanted to accomplish in our three-month project.
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5 Ways to Align IT with the Business

Align IT with the Business
5 Ways to Align IT with the Business

Looking back at every project in which I’ve been involved, I’ve seen successes and failures. There are many reasons for each outcome. But I believe the reason with the most correlation is business alignment.

To align IT with the business is one of the most critical aspects of a project, and perhaps the most difficult thing to do. So how do you align it with the business in the face of such difficulty?

Do your homework

IT people tend to know IT. I know, it’s strange. But we all have our comfort zones and that’s what we focus on. Many business people are the same with business. When it comes to IT, they don’t know it. That’s somebody else’s job.
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How to Create a Project Communication Plan

project communication plan
Creating a Project Communication Plan

Communication is one of the most difficult things a project manager has to manage within an organization. Meaningful information must be gathered and distributed among the many stakeholders on a project. Because of this, it is important to create a project communication plan at the beginning of a project. It should be updated as stakeholders and other variables change throughout the project.

Components of a project communication plan

The project manager should determine the various levels or rank of people who hold information and those who need information. Most project information flows up, starting with the project team member to the project manager. The project manager reports to a divisional manager.  The PM and divisional manager then usually report to an executive team.
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6 Ways to Turn Your Job into a Career

Turn your job into a career
Turn your job into a career

Whether you went to college, trade school or jumped right into the work place. Your initial goal was probably to get a job. It may have been in your area of study. You may have gone in a different direction depending on the job market.

Once someone gets into their job, they get comfortable, complacent even. He learns the job well. He gets an annual pay increase. He eventually gets married, buys a home, and starts a family.

Soon, he has so much at risk, that he becomes risk averse. With a monthly mortgage and mouths to feed, he doesn’t want to jeopardize anything. He goes to work every day, keeps his head down, and survives.
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How a Project Manager Can Be a Good Team Player

good team player
A PM needs to be a good team player

I occasionally talk to fellow project managers. I’ve found that one of the most common things that PMs complain about is getting people on our teams to be team players. I’ll admit that it is important. I often wonder whether the project managers that I talk to are good team players themselves.

I believe that if project managers demonstrated some team player skills, it might set a good example for the team they manage.

That’s not my project

Project managers often complain about employees who are simply heads-down. They worry about their own tasks and nothing more. Certainly it’s better to have people on the team that have the backs of their fellow team mates.

Project managers, however, have the same tendency as the team members that they complain about. A PM gets focused on his or her own project and tends to ignore other projects within the organization, even if the two are interrelated.

I’ve actually heard PMs claim, “That’s not my project.” When another project’s issues come up. If the PM won’t help his own peers, it’s hard for him to expect his team members to do the same.

Micromanaging

PMs can become task masters. They stay on top of things by being on top of their team members. “Are you done with that task?”, “When will you be done?”, and “Why are you behind?”

By nagging and micromanaging, they take away any ownership the team member may have had. The PM isn’t being a team player, and takes away any desire for the team member to be a team player.

The need to be right

Some managers don’t think they’re actually leading unless they are the ones coming up with the ideas. If someone else on the team comes up with an idea that is different from what the project manager has in mind, the PM can always find a way to shoot it down.

This approach to management takes away any form of collaborative spirit from the team members. The team members eventually give up on trying to contribute and only focus on their immediate tasks.

When a project manager discourages collaborative participation from the team, they stifle the very behavior that they want the team members to practice.

Look at it my way

I was once on a project where the PM sent out daily updates on how far developers were behind on fixing defects. He told the team that part of his evaluation criteria from his management was based on the team’s ability to resolve defects in a timely manner.

Anyone who has taken an elementary marketing class understands that you put things in terms of your customer. When you advertise a product, you don’t try to convince the consumer to buy it by telling them about your revenue targets. You provide benefits that the consumer will receive from buying your product.

As a project manager, you can try to convince team members to accomplish something based on the criteria by which management measures you. Or, you can create team incentives that will motivate them to achieve accomplishments for the benefit of the team.

For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

Passive aggressive behavior

Some project managers avoid confrontation. When someone does something detrimental to the project, they avoid confronting the individual. Instead of immediately sitting down and addressing the issue upfront, they let it slide for a time. Then, a half-joking sideways remark about it is made. Maybe a new policy is emailed to the team, which is intended to stop the behavior.

Some managers don’t like the confrontation of holding people accountable. But people would rather be held accountable. It is much better to have that one awkward moment of confrontation than many awkward moments through passive aggressive behavior.

Having the confrontation of holding people accountable results in team members working to please their manager with quality work. Passive aggressive behaviors cause team members to seek to avoid displeasing their managers.

Are you a good team player PM?

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.

5 Ways a Project Manager Can Remove Obstacles

A project manager trying to remove obstacles
How a project manager can remove obstacles

One of the project manager’s key responsibilities is to remove obstacles. Many see management and leadership as an oversight task. Instead, a project manager should strive to balance being informed with getting involved when necessary. The role requires more leadership than management. This means not only knowing when to get involved, but how to get involved.

What follows are five examples of typical obstacles a project manager may face and how to remove those obstacles.
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6 Tips for Managing Scope on a Project

Managing Scope on a Project
6 Tips for Managing Scope on a Project

One of my favorite books I used to read to my kids was The Mitten. It’s the story of a young boy walking in the woods and loses his mitten. A mole comes along and crawls in it to stay warm. Then, a rabbit sees the mitten and squeezes in with the mole. After that the animals get progressively bigger. An owl, a badger, a hedgehog, a fox, and then a brown bear all squeeze into this little mitten.

Finally, a field mouse squeezes in. This proves to be too much and the mitten explodes. Besides this being a classic tale, one of the reasons I like this story so much is because it is a perfect illustration of how scope creeps into a project. People think, “just a little more” over and over until it’s just a little too much.

There is a common term of “the final straw.” The full expression is “The straw that broke the camel’s back.” It stems from the practice of loading straw on the backs of camels. Individual straws are easy to carry. But as you load more and more, the camel’s ability reaches a limit and eventually it breaks its back. There is one straw that tips the scale to the point of being too much.

Like straws and mice, small things can make a big difference. It is a project manager’s responsibility to be a defender of the scope. There are several ways in which that can be done.

Define scope in the project charter

Project managers produce a lot of documents. Some are necessary. Others are done to please a checklist. The project charter is one of the more important and necessary documents.

The project charter defines the purpose of the project and how it helps the organization achieve their overriding strategy. An important section of the charter is the definition of scope.

The scope definition should provide some high level detail about what types of functionality will be completed as part of the project. An important aspect of that is listing things that are specifically out of scope for the project. This sets distinct expectations and removes as much ambiguity as possible for the business stakeholders.

Require succinct requirements

In most projects, business requirements are defined by business analysts. It is important to ensure that the business requirements they define are complete and succinct. There should be as few loopholes as possible.

In an organization where I once worked we had a term called “spell checker.” Assume that someone asked you to design a spell checker for a word processing package. You define a simple application that will go through a block of text and identify any words that do not exist in the internal dictionary.

When you present a demo of the product, the business is disappointed. They wanted it to provide correction recommendations. They wanted thesaurus capabilities. They wanted you to check for grammatical errors.

In your mind, a spell checker is simply that. Software to check your spelling. The additional items they wanted are additional functionality outside of just checking spelling. If they wanted that, they should have asked.

When you review business requirements, consider how you would implement it. Are the any open questions? Are there any gaps? Are there any broad terms like “spell checker” that could be interpreted in different ways?

Business analysts are the liaison between the business and those who will implement the project. They have the responsibility to make sure both parties are aligned with the right terminology.

Get sign-off from business

When business requirements are complete, they should be reviewed by the business stakeholders and approved. The review should be done formally with a physical signature or an email that documents the version of the requirements being approved.

In the future if there is any difference of opinion with the requirements, there is an official, authorized version that everyone uses as a source document.

Think like a lawyer

Lawyers take a lot of criticism. Some may be warranted. Nobody likes when a lawyer defends a criminal and gets him off on a technicality. He murdered someone, but since they didn’t read him his rights, he walks free.

But lawyers aren’t paid to do what’s right morally. They are paid to defend the law. If they have been hired by a criminal, the lawyer’s job is to use the laws to protect the client to the best of his ability. The lawyer’s job is not to judge the client.

Once the business requirements have been approved by the business, those requirements are the law. The project manager’s job is to implement what the requirements dictate. If the business decides later that they want additional functionality, it can’t just be squeezed in like a field mouse in a mitten.

The business may argue that the functionality they are requesting is absolutely necessary for them to do their job. The project manager’s job is to protect the scope of the project. If the business needs it that bad, there are other means of including it that don’t introduce additional risk of squeezing it in.

Develop a strong change control process – and follow it

The most effective way to handle those new requests from the business is to establish a process to manage change requests. When a new request is identified, complete a change request form that details the change and provides an estimate for the work.

Additionally, the impact to the project should be provided. This will indicate whether the project timeline is affected, more people will be needed for the project, or whether the additional work can be absorbed in the current project plan.

Never say “No.” Once you have identified the impact to the project, present the change request and its impact to the project to the business. In most cases, the business is financing the project. Impact to the project implies additional cost. If the change is large enough, it may include adding resources and extending the timeline on the project.

The project manager should develop multiple options, if possible. Those options should be presented to the business owner to allow him or her to decide. Would you like to pay to bring on additional resources? Would you like to extend the project? Would you like to add this functionality and remove some other functionality to make time for it?

Develop a collaborative relationship with the business

Often, the project manager and business owner develop an adversarial role. The business owner wants as much functionality at the lowest possible cost. The project manager is often held responsible for getting the project completed on time and within budget. But she is also responsible for completing the project to the business’s satisfaction.

It is important that both the business owner and the project manager work collaboratively toward the goal of adding business value. If both teams work toward a balance of providing business value while managing scope and delivering a project within the planned parameters, both groups can succeed.

Be their adviser, not their adversary

How good are you at managing scope on a project?

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 Hywards at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Applying the 80-20 Rule Every Day

Applying the 80-20 Rule
Applying the 80-20 Rule Every Day

I recently met a college student who was studying psychology. He was one of the brightest and most ambitious young men I’ve met. He had dreams. He wanted to own his own business.

“Not just a little sole proprietorship,” he told me. “I’m willing to start small. But I want to grow this business and someday have something on a national scale.“

“That’s great. How do you hope to do this?” I asked.

“Well first, I want to get my PhD in psychology.”

“Why do you want to do that?” I asked, trying not to sound too incredulous.

“I want to be the best I can be.” Was his response. “So I want to get the best education I can get.”

It occurred to me that he had the idea that the more education he got, the more he would be successful. More is better. I talked to him about the fact that, unless you are going to go into research, there are diminishing returns to education at some point. I suggested that once he gets his bachelor’s degree, he may want to get some experience.

I asked him if he was familiar with the Pareto principle.

The 80-20 rule

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule, stipulates that roughly 80% of value comes from 20% of one’s effort. You want to prioritize your work so that you are always doing that 20% that produces the top 80% of outcome. I explained to him that he could get a lot of value from earning his bachelor’s degree. That is focused on the 80%.

Someday, maybe a master’s in business administration (MBA) will be helpful. But probably not until he’s had some experience in business, either working for a company or running his own.

I told him that getting some business experience would probably be more focused on the 80% of value than a PhD.

Applying the 80-20 rule to big decisions

It’s normal to apply the 80-20 rule to major business decisions. In a consulting environment when we consider selling to a client. Are we spending 20% of our time seeking a client that will give 80% of long term value through additional business?

A manufacturer may identify that 80% of their customers buy 20% of their products. This can help them make decisions about whether to introduce a new product or to discontinue one.

For more information, checkout Career Management Tips for Project Managers

Applying the 80-20 rule to minor decisions

Those of us who apply the 80/20 rule, tend to use it for major decisions. But it can also be used for everyday decisions.

Planning: When you start a project of any size, it is important to spend time on planning. That is an area that provides 80% of value. I have always been a pretty organized person. I always have a daily to-do list. And I usually put it together the night before. I know people who don’t use a daily to-do list. I’ve found that they aren’t usually as productive.

Planning your day, whether it is through a to-do list or another means, allows you to lay out everything that needs to be done. But more than that, it allows you to prioritize.

Once you have listed everything you want to do, you can compare the tasks. You can identify the “80% items” to make sure you are working on the right things.

Perfectionism

I have spoken to people who call themselves “perfectionists.” It almost always turns me off. I’d probably never hire someone who calls himself a perfectionist. I’m a firm believer that perfect is the enemy of good.

Instead of doing the 20% of work to get 80% of value, a perfectionist will go well beyond the 20% trying to get 100% of value. That last 20% of value is not nearly as valuable. And the effort expended to get it could most likely be spent getting the 80% of value of some other task.

Conclusion

Applying the 80-20 rule should become a regular habit. Everything you do, everything you say should have some Pareto in it. Before you start anything, ask yourself “Is this an 80% task?”

It is important to do things right. But it is more important to do the right things.

Are you applying the 80-20 rule in your everyday decision making?

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 Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

101 Tips for Success in Project Management