Once out there – you lose control of the message and how it’s read. To avoid having to use the feature, I’ve tried to implement the following 5 suggestions:
1. Be wary of the Cast of Thousands email.
Be especially wary of those with mail aliases – because you really never know how many people are copied on. Treat these mails with kid gloves because their sender is trying to make a point. Each of the suggestions that follow go doubly for emails like these. It goes without saying that unless you’re sending a status report – you should not be sending out this kind of email.
2. Reply Alls Should be Used Sparingly
I read a post that suggested you should never Reply All. I don’t agree with that. I think that you should use your head when you reply all. If you’re:
a) Trying to avoid a misunderstanding that involves everyone on the email
b) You’re trying to avoid miscommunicating then Reply All.
If, as above, you have a Cast of Thousands email, my recommendation is to forward it – to avoid a possible bcc and then only to the sender and the key people that need to be engaged.
3. If any email thread goes beyond 3 responses: Set up a call.
We all get a boatload of email every day. If there are questions that go beyond a simple answer – response – answer – then honestly – you need a meeting. Get everyone on the same bridge and hash out whatever question, issue or concern that they have so that you can reach a common understanding. Threads that go on and on are hard to follow and usually add to the confusion.
4. Don’t Flame. NEVER Flame. I repeat: Never Flame.
Run around your desk. Curse up a storm, but never let it show in your email. Later, if it turns out you didn’t have the full picture or were just wrong, you can at least comfort yourself with the knowledge that you were polite and it cannot be sent back to embarrass you at a later date. I’m not saying you have to act like a robot, but express your emotion in another format. You’ll thank yourself later.
5. Remember that it is likely that you may encounter situations where most if not all of these suggestions are not followed. Remind yourself that people are human and remember Suggestion #4.
I’m sure you have other suggestions to avoid email mishaps. Leave a comment or send a tweet. My id is jgodfrey.
If you’re a virtual team it can be worse – as you are trying to reach a consensus while contending with a myriad of competing attention getters (multi-tasking might only be one).
One way to combat some of the noise is to present a model or an image to get everyone’s attention in your web ex meeting – if only for a moment. The project artifact can also serve as a rallying point to pull people back to the conversation and the issue at hand.
Displaying a model or visual of some kind during your discussions (whether a schedule, gantt or milestone chart, a timeline, a WBS, or just a plain excel spreadsheet) can help you have a more effective meeting in several ways:
1. By Pushing Attention to one Reference Point
Multi-tasking can be insidious. Everyone thinks they’re paying attention, but the one second they are attending to the other task, the team moved on to another point. Having a model can counter some of that distraction or absent thinking. If you catch someone multi-tasking, it can allow them to get back on point without losing the train of thought altogether.
2. By Summarizing the discussion or the plan
After having a discussion about the scope of a project, a timeline or milestone chart can provide a summary view of the plan the team has committed to. In a team review of the plan, you might find that there are other activities/ milestones that need to be added so that the team is aware of them during their planning.
3. By providing a Big Picture View of the project
Providing a timeline or a model of the project can take the project out of the abstract realm and give it a ‘reality’ that will help you manage the project and keep the team focused on the next milestone. With a big picture view the team can identify dependencies, risks and concerns with external events that may impact the project.
So are you on the same page? Linking your discussion to an image or project artifact can help you drive to reach that common understanding. What have you done to keep your virtual team engaged during a a call? Leave a comment or send me a tweet. My id is jgodfrey.
You might be looking at some of your options as commitments.
In Commitment, Olav Maasen and Chris Matts write that deferring a decision until the last possible minute may give you a better range of options to choose from.
They call this idea: Real Options. The authors explain the idea in 3 bullet points:
- Options have value
- Options expire
- Never commit early unless you know why
What’s interesting about Commitment is how the authors present Real Options. This is not your standard business book with eight chapters starting with quotes and ending with action plans. Instead of just reading about the idea, you see it play out in the panels of the manga. Project cancelations, Audits and ‘Come to Jesus’ meetings seem closer to us because we can see the reactions of the project manager, her team and her sister panel after panel. Similar to The Goal, the authors explain their Real Options theory using a down on her luck project manager who has to cope with a large project dumped in her lap after her boss, who led the project, was fired.
I liked the book in part because of the manga format – it feels like less of chore to flip back through to reread. Watching Rose address the challenges that are thrown her way as she learns the Real Options theory is entertaining and educational. The book’s ‘real life’ walkthrough of scenario planning gives you a model to use if you need to hold your own scenario planning session. When I reached the last frame of the manga, my only thought was that I wanted see more examples of how to use Real Options in my professional and personal life.
If you’re looking for a new way to approach project or scenario planning from a professional or personal perspective, this book will give you some food for thought. Unfortunately, the book is not offered by Amazon, but is available for purchase on the authors’ website: http://commitment-thebook.com/. They offer the book in pdf and hardback or both. If your preference is digital books, it’s worth the purchase, but the effort to download the 247MB file and copy it to your reader of choice may require some creativity. [8/4 Update: Amazon is now offering the book here.]
If you read Commitment, let me know your thoughts. Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.
I love Post Mortems.
At the end of every project, I have a strong urge to figure out what went wrong and tweak our process for the next release.
Post Mortems, or “Lessons Learned” meetings, give us a chance to look back and reflect.
At the companies I’ve worked at, Lessons Learned meetings were very straightforward. We asked:
- What did we do right?
- How can we improve?
The emphasis was on the positive – not an attempt to point fingers or find a scapegoat. In the spirit of kaizen, the goal is to try to improve our performance the next time through. So I’m always on the lookout for ideas on how to improve the process. A few week’s ago, I read a blog post on how one Agile team approached their retrospectives and I was intrigued by the questions.
The first two were very familiar – similar to questions from a Waterfall PortMortem. The next two questions floated in my head for the rest of the week:
- What did I learn?
- What still puzzles me?
The first question: What did I learn?
This stuck with me because it is refreshingly positive. I can’t imagine having a conversation about a project and have this question come up with an answer that could take the meeting off course. It almost seems to force people to be constructive because I know everyone learned something. It’s the kind of question that lets the responder recognize the value they took away from the effort. No one’s time was wasted.
The second question: What still puzzles me?
I love this question. It gives you a lever to take a look at a part of the project you still cannot wrap your head around and helps you carry it forward – perhaps into a side project you look at personally or a goal that the team might want to attack the next time through. I don’t know about you, but sometimes there are issues that are identified that you can’t resolve in an hour and a half and still finish the meeting. This question gives you the means to table the issue and capture it so that you can pick it up in another discussion.
What do you think? Would these questions steer your Lessons Learned meetings to a better place? Leave me a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.
P.S. I’ve been kicking myself for a week because I can’t find the original post on retrospectives. If you read it too, please let me know so I can link it here. Peace.
Some of us, you know who you are, have a bad habit of not expressing our gratitude to others.
Sometimes this carries over from our personal lives to our behavior on projects. There can be any number of reasons why the words or the written expressions of ‘thank you’ does not get expressed.
Some of us ‘think’ our ‘thank yous’ and hoard them up inside our hearts. When the next time comes around when we need someone’s services, we remember their help the last time and we bring that good feeling to our interactions with them. This works for us, but not so well for them. Just a reminder: People cannot read your mind, no matter how hard you think.
Some of us may worry that they may not be taken as sincere. How many of you have seen project completion status then followed by a flurry of thanks you to the entire alias. Maybe people think after the first or second thank you that everyone is piling on for good form’s sake? If you miss the first few, you think it might not be taken as seriously.
But a thank you is always appreciated.
Being thankful does more than benefit the recipient. In my experience, it helps me remember a few things:
- No project is completed alone. Saying thank you either verbally or via a note is a reality check that the project took many hours of other team members’ time and hard work to produce the deliverable we committed to deliver.
- The final deliverable was a product of a collaborative effort. Whether you’re delivering software or an environment or a product, your thank you is an acknowledgement that everyone – from the person with the smallest contribution to the bulk of the effort – had to work together to produce the result. That the team succeeded in working together and delivered something that was good. It’s good for me to remember that the team delivered.Finally, I remember that…
- I am lucky enough to work with a bunch of talented individuals. They make up a team that worked through any number of issues on the project to deliver an a new environment, a product or a software release. That jazzes me.
Leave me a comment or send me a tweet. My id is jgodfrey.
When you’re planning a project, “missing something” can result in an issue that could impact your end date.
Along with that worry, you have the time pressure that is everywhere these days. I don’t know about you, but when I am assigned to a project, the pressure is on: you’re being asked to produce a schedule last week and you’ve barely wrapped your head around the scope. This when the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) comes in remarkably handy.
I use the WBS to ask questions, such as…
1. What are the deliverables?
I can probably skim through a document and pick out the high level deliverables, but to flesh out what we need to do to deliver on the charter, I need to run through the process of creating a WBS. Whether I’m using Visio or sketching it out on a legal pad, the process forces me to think through the logic of what is being asked.
That’s not to say that I’m building the WBS on my own. I typically draft up a WBS and then send it to the team. Then we walk through it during a team call – and everyone builds on it: removing, rewording or adding in deliverables.
At this point, I like to step back – and look at the entire structure and ask:
2. What are the Dependencies?
Where does Deliverable A link to Deliverable L and is anything missing? When you and team walk through the structure, keep prompting for the items that are missing, and ask whether there are dependencies (internal or external) that you need to address. This helps me flag all kinds of dependencies for the project:
- Resources from each team
- Deliverables that need to be in place or need to be done in parallel
- External dependencies from external teams or vendors
Once we’ve fleshed out the majority of the WBS, I like to ask…
3. Are there any risks associated with these deliverables?
Are there risks associated with external deliverables? Any unseen risks between deliverables provided by different teams? Risk is something that you need to address throughout your project, but I find it very helpful to use the WBS or the “bare bones” of your plan to begin to surface them.
I know that in the past that I’ve said I love closing on projects. Thanks to the WBS I have to admit that I’m starting to love the Start of the Project. It’s the last perfect moment before reality closes in on your plans. To learn more about how to use the WBS on your projects, I recommend a book I’ve reviewed in this blog before – check it out here.
Do you use the WBS routinely to develop your plans? Let me know what experiences you’ve had. Leave me a comment or send me a tweet. My id is jgodfrey.
I feel as if I have less time in my day than I did a year ago.
To reclaim the extra minutes spent running through my routines:
- Capturing notes
- Managing my time
- Capturing Ideas
- Reviewing the top items that need to get done today…
I’ve incorporated several Apple IPhone apps that have helped me slash extra minutes spent maintaining my daily routine.
The first of these apps is Day One.
Day One is a diary app that lets you make entries as short as a line long without feeling guilty for leaving the blank space. To be honest, this really isn’t a project management app, but this app provides an easy way to capture accomplishments, dates and times. It can also help you capture your thoughts and lessons learned from closed projects. I think what really sold me on the app was the interface, which gives you the ability to view your entries in 3 ways: by the year, as one-liners grouped by month or in a calendar view where each day with an entry is highlighted.
You can also star key entries to forever mark them electronically. I am of two minds about starring entries – I’m not sure whether I really want to remember some of these moments, but I star them just in case I change my mind and want to review my thoughts for a lessons learned session.
The app can be synched to your ICloud if you want to back up your journal) or you can access them from your Mac.
Moving Toward a Paperless Workstyle
Evernote is the second app that I’ve been using to save myself some steps between a pad of paper and my keyboard. As an example, we seem to have a password for everything nowadays – from logins to ticketing and company tools. Nearly each one of these blessed passwords need to change every 90 days – and keeping up with them as well as remembering them is one of the minor aggravations that slow me down.
The password keychart (www.passwordchart.com) that helps me generate passwords used to be printed and carried around with me.
To lose the printed page was to lose my password.
Now I just generate the password chart and take a snapshot of it in the Evernote app to keep it safe. My biggest concern is the delay in getting my IPhone 3GS to crawl to the Evernote repository. Evernote has also become the keeper of my personal “processes” (Checklist on How to Ramp up on a New Project, for example), Notes from PM classes I took for review, and Notes on improvement ideas.
I’m still finding new uses for Evernote, both personal and professional. I could spend a separate post just explaining how Evernote works and what goodness it has for you, but better yet – just go get it.
Calendar for Time-Obsessed People
Finally, the third app that I’m recommending is the MiCal app.
Now, I have to be real here. The biggest sell for me is that this Calendar gives you a full 52 view of the year and a weekly view with a cell split out for the month.
Time is always on my mind. Whether it’s my time or the time I have left to complete a project. For some reason, occasionally, it makes me feel better to see the remaining weeks I have left.
Granted, there are some things that I don’t like about the app – the monthly view, for example, but the little things (Daily Temperature, the Week of the year and, wait for it, the time in large font on the daily activity screen!) have totally made me buy the app and move the IPhone pretender calendar off the main Icon bar.
While there is a drop down slider screen that provides date, time and weather in IOS 5.1, I rarely remember to use the functionality.
As a peace offering to Apple, I do actually use the Calculator and the Reminder functionality to track action items (opening tickets, setting up meetings that fall out of conversations into my action item list, updating PMO Issue tracker, etc).
That’s all I have for now. I’m sure there are other IPhone apps out there that I haven’t discovered yet. If you’re using one that cuts any of the routine out of your day, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. My id is jgodfrey.