Stay Focused

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There will always be distractions in your work. Like driving in traffic, where other drivers seem bent on making your trip difficult, the people in your project will sometimes look like they are purposely trying to make a mess of things. Your team members, your Sponsor and Management, your clients and their team members – even your own thoughts and reactions – can all contribute to this sense of distraction and project entropy.

It is part of our responsibility as Project Managers to maintain focus in the face of this. When a client seems to be determined to make the situation as confusing as possible, we can step back, take a long view, and bring some order to the chaos. We will not always succeed, and we will almost never be perfect, but the effort, especially in the face of daunting pressure, is the mark of a professional. It is amazing what one simple clarification can do for a project.

If you come to believe that team members or clients are truly, purposefully trying to make things bad (cross-connecting otherwise unrelated issues, always persistently misunderstanding a given situation, repeatedly introducing and reintroducing closed issues) you may wish to confront that behaviour. Before you do so, however, remember that all behaviour is motivated. They have reason for what they do, even if you cannot see it or understand it. Try your best to imagine and to understand their position and motivations before you confront. Be prepared, be open minded…and Stay Focused.

Stay Calm

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All of us will face stress, urgency, emergency, crisis – powerful pressures that can cause us to become un-centered, upset, angry, frightened and generally emotional.

This emotional state is not a great place for making good decisions. Don’t misunderstand – there is nothing wrong with involving emotions in decision making, but ultimately the decision should be made from a position of calm cool headed consideration, fact based and supportable.

A calm steady demeanor, relaxed body, even speaking voice, confidence in managing the outcomes of the situation – these are leadership qualities that are admired and sought after. The good news is that this is a learned behavior. That unflappable PM you know was once as stressed and nervous as you feel. Even if it may seem as though someone is naturally calmer, they are subject to emotions just as we all are. They have had to learn how to remain calm and focused under stress.

It’s a confidence thing. To some degree, inner confidence comes with experience. Still, we need to develop and practice responding to pressure with calm fortitude and an even hand. Lot’s of very experienced people freak out when things go badly wrong, so it is not experience alone. It is your personal decision to be a calm reassuring presence in any crisis that is the main deciding factor.

So – when it hits the fan, take a deep breath or two, relax your body, straighten your shoulders and Stay Calm! You’ll make better decisions and your team will be glad a real leader is in charge.

Always Grow Your Knowledge

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It is a truism that we must maintain and grow our professional knowledge and skills, or somehow be left behind. Never mind being left behind – how about simply not knowing what to do? A Project Manager faces new and sometimes unusual challenges with every project. Over time, it becomes more and more difficult to face these challenges, especially if we have an aging or inflexible mental toolkit.

It is difficult to keep up with the latest best (meaning proven) practices in the face of a busy work environment, but it is crucial to ones continued success. Changes to PMI’s PMBOK, emerging technologies, new business models…all demand our attentions. Not request. Demand.

You can keep up by dedicated a certain amont of time weekly to reading relevant journals, a certain amount of time monthly to reading new books or attending seminars, and a certain amount of time each year taking professional development courses.

Plan this time and expense into your work and home schedule, much the way you plan and save for your annual vacation. We can use our own PM skills and training to manage ourselves – and we are great planners, after all. If not – there is your first opportunity.

 

Scan the horizon

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When I was learning to drive, I was taught to “scan the horizon” all the time. Watch about 1-2 kilometers ahead, then check the car right in front, then check the gauges, then back out to the 1-2 kilometer horizon. You won’t run out of gas (well, you won’t be surprised if you do!), you are less likely to hit the car in front – and you will be able to slow with lots of time if something way up ahead is going wrong.

Project Managers should develop this habit. Scan your project’s horizon, then what’s coming next month, then next week, and then deal with whats happening right now. Then – BACK to the far horizon, etc. in a non-stop scan. Try to live about 3/4 of our PM life in the future, preparing to deal with what is coming up tomorrow, next week, next month, and about 1/4 of our time checking on the today stuff. Trust your team to do their work (checking periodically, of course) and manage the future so they can keep doing their work well. 

You will be home in time for dinner more often. You will be surprised less often. You might even have more fun.

Leadership

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A project team has the right to expect the Project Manager to lead them. Leadership does not always mean hand holding, and it does not always mean full delegating. It means that you care about what is happening, you provide guidance and vision, you support, coach, train your team.

You look for opportunities to advance your team members, or your project, or your customer toward what they value. You freely share your knowledge, wisdom and skills in pursuit of the objective. You inspire others to do the same.

Your loyalty should be with your Charter; this is your objective. Your strategy is to deliver your project outputs on time and on budget. Your greatest tactic to do this is to lead, inspire, engage and guide.

Leadership should (IMHO) be biased toward recognition and reward, and away from punishment. We can punish people into obedience, threaten them into compliance – but we must lead them into true performance. Since this is best for your project – it should be your “go to” position.

Not sure what leadership is? There are hundreds, thousands of resources on how to be a leader. Go find them, read them, apply them. Be sincere and honest. The rewards are fantastically greater then the effort you will put in.

Track Progress

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Using a spreadsheet, create a row for every deliverable from your WBS

Row 1 – Desc and WBS Code
Row 2 – Due Date
Row 3 – Current Status (on progress, completed, late)

You can get more detailed than this if you like, such as Row 4 – project completion date, notes, person responsible (that’s a good one!) but simple is usually easier to manage.

Review this spreadsheet with your team weekly. When a deliverable is on schedule or not started, set the background for the entire row to white.
When a deliverable is completed, set the background color for that row to Green.
When it is at risk, set it to Yellow. When it is late – set it to Red.

Each week, discuss what could help you get to green for all the NEXT 2 weeks deliverables, any late deliverables or any at risk deliverables.

When a row goes green, SMILE AT EVERYONE genuinely. BEAM. BE HAPPY.

When a row goes yellow or red, do not smile at anyone for any reason. No need to be angry or frowning…just do not smile, don’t laugh, don’t engage. Ignore failure – reward success.

You could soon have a team that likes a green board, dreads red and acts quickly to move away from yellow. You’ll also have a  very effective communication tool for your sponsor. Your team will be interested and concerned about the status of deliverables as a team. They will ,without noticing, start to do good risk management.

There are many much more sophisticated tools. If you have them use them (and there is no reason to not use them! we should track everything), but use the same response technique. SMILE at green, BE HAPPY and PLEASED. Do not smile at red or yellow.

Scope Creep is always bad.

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Tip o’ my hat to PMHut (@PMHUT) for a comment last week. In it, he/she describes how the technique described for developing a Work Breakdown Structure could led to Scope Creep. Agreed – enthusiastic team members can use that technique to introduce cool new features, functions, capabilities not intended in the Charter. Not good.

We all know that Scope Creep in all its flavors is the enemy of Project Managers, right? Don’t we?

No, we don’t. Some Project Managers continue to assert that giving the client a little extra, exceeding their expectations, is good PM.

Wrong. it might be good business, but it is bad PM, and it is bad practice. While you are busy being a business manager, you are not being a project manager. It is very difficult to wear both hats at once. You will do both poorly. Beware.

Our loyalty, as a PM, should lie with our Project Charter and the defined project scope, budget, schedule and quality objectives. ANY unplanned, uncontrolled change is a threat to the Charter and project.

We PM’s should not be the source of change. We should resist unplanned change, even as we assess, control and implement approved change.

Whether from outside pressures (Scope Creep) or from inside the team (Gold Plating), it is a bad PM practice. Don’t be bad. be good.