Meeting Manners: 3 Project Management Hacks

I’m always searching for new hacks for Project Management.  This past week I ran across two from different sources: one from Inc magazine, another from SPAM.  Since three really is a better number, I thought I’d throw in a third that is a long-time best practice.  You have a minute to guess what it is…

So here we go:
1. Acting Immediately on Meeting Takeaways
Writing about a meeting hack that he claims has saved him 900 hours this year alone, Dave Kerpen recommends the following: Take the last few minutes of your meeting to review action items.  This isn’t new.  But taking immediate action on your actions is.  Read his article here.  After a few days of trialing this hack, I have to admit that this was far more effective than circling back to my minutes several hours later to follow up on actions.

2. Mind-maps to Capture Decisions
If you’ve been a Project Manager long enough, you’ll have had to transition a project to another project manager or to another team.  While scrolling and deleting piles of spam this week, I came across a suggested hack to capture Project Decisions.  Rather than use an Excel spreadsheet, he suggested that the PM use a Mind Map so that another manager could see in a glance:
1. The stakeholders involved
2. The reasoning behind the decision
3. The pros and cons of the decision

It was a random piece of SPAM probably trying to sell me some mind mapping software, but the idea is a keeper.  Documenting a decision in an excel spreadsheet or a bulleted list is fine for what it’s worth.  But when you’re trying to transition a project, it can be useful for the newcomer to know more of the history, the politics and the things that are not said or can’t be said.  A visual display of the decision might provide more detail than a bulleted list, proving that a picture is worth a thousand words.

And finally, the one you probably already guessed…
3. The Agenda – Your Friend and Mine
Finally, the last hack I wanted to mention is not a new idea.  Most meeting facilitiators are familiar with the idea.  You know the meetings that seem to have no focus and drag on unless someone leaves? This is what was missing.  I am happy to say that where I work – our PMO’s leadership has ‘strongly communicated’ that our meetings should not be without an agenda, but I know that out there, somewhere, some hapless person clicks on the Outlook Meeting button and puts a meeting on two or more people’s calendar without an agenda in the body of the meeting invite.

One-line explanations in the meeting notice don’t tend to make up for this gap in expectation.  An agenda that shows your topic, your progression and provides the reader with the impression that you intend to have a set of actions that result from the discussion resolves the anxiety that others may feel.  Think of it from their perspective: you are taking time from what they view as critical and you’re not telling them why you want them to dial into a 30 to 60 minute meeting.

When I was a very young project manager I was guilty of this.  Thankfully, I have passed from this to better things and hope to keep improving my meeting manners.

Have you come across any helpful PM hacks lately?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Give Yourself the Gift of Patience

EyeballDo you have the patience to wait
until your mud settles and the water is clear? 

- Tao Te Ching

 

 

 


 

Last Saturday I had plans to go downtown to see the opening of the Chicago Art Institute’s new installation of Magritte.

  • I had purchased a Membership to get in early
  • I had reserved a parking spot
  • I had checked my purse to see it fit their size requirements
  • I went to the library to print my Membership receipt to get a temporary Membership card so I could get in as a Member
  • I found directions via Google Drive
  • I put together a mental checklist/ timetable to get out of my house on time

THE DAY OF MAGRITTE:
I woke up.
I started stepping through my mental checklist.  So far, so good.  Dressed and ready to leave.  8:15 on the dot.
My plan was to get there by 10am with time to leisurely walk to the museum.*
I walked over to the keypad to set my alarm.  And it was frozen.
Nothing was working.  8:30 am and daylight was burning.

I called my provider, listened to the please hold message for a minute and a half…and the line disconnected me. 

I called them a second time. Hung on for another minute and half…and the line disconnected me.

The third time I put my cell on speaker and someone picked up.

After I reached someone, they tried to walk me through resetting my system, but we ran into a roadblock:  I couldn’t unscrew the back of the keypad because it had tiny screws.

And my tiny screwdriver kit was missing.  

I searched for it for 5 minutes while the lady hung on the line.

At this point, it was 9:15 and I was a little anxious.
Ok, I admit I was furious.

I thanked the lady, scheduled an appointment to have a technician come out and hung up.

I kept digging through my kitchen drawers and finally found a screwdriver tiny enough to unscrew the back of the console and rebooted my keypad.
Halleujah I was back in business!

I was still furious, but I had learned one thing:

 

Sometimes patience is a gift that you give yourself.

 

I could have blown a gasket

  • When I got the audio message: “You have a ton of other people in front of you”
  • When the line disconnected me twice
  • When the the lady made me walk through powering up my modem and router – when the problem was the keypad
  • When I went to look for the missing screwdriver kit
  • When she signed me up for a technician visit that I would have had to pay for

You always have multiple opportunities to lose yourself in the drama – “Nothing is working like I expected.”   

Give yourself the gift of patience.  Patience…
1. Prevents you from jumping to conclusions
2. Gives you space to respond
3. Allows you to be diligent in ensuring that the little things get done

And above all, it keeps you from ruining your day.
I was a little late to the museum, but I was able to be one of first in Chicago to see the new Magritte exhibit.  And it was wonderful.

Have you given yourself the gift of Patience lately?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

* Sure I didn’t need all that time to get downtown, but I know my method of navigating space: I drive in circles until I find myself in the right place.

Critical Customer Requirements or Understanding Remy

RemyonmybooksRemy-chan is my one-eared white fluffy cat.*  He’s lived with me for over 10 years.

Keeping Remy happy and giving him a quality environment is very simple:

  1. Feed him cat treats every morning at 6am and 8:30 pm every evening
  2. Fill the cat food bowl to the brim daily
  3. Refill the water bowl daily
  4. Empty the litter box daily……And most importantly:
  5. Feed him canned food for dinner every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

If I miss #2 or #3, Remy’s eyes may sparkle a little less, he might meow at me reproachfully, but the world is not ending.

if I miss #4, Remy will pick fights with my other cat to get him to stay away from the limited space in the box.  No Litter No Peace.

If I miss #5 and fail to feed him canned food on the weekends, I will wake up to an angry cat and am likely to see a one or more hairballs because he hyperventilated out of irritation.

All five of these things are important, but not all of them are equally important to Remy.  If I want to keep Remy happy I have to prioritize the critical items he believes are important.  You can guess which requirements are Remy’s Highest Priority Critical Customer Requirements.

Your customers all have requirements that they have communicated to you.  All of them are NOT equally important.  You could be on target with 8 out 10 of their requirements and miss the one or two that are their CCRs and lose some of their goodwill.

I’ll keep this short:

  1. When you’re defining the scope of your project, make sure you understand which requirements are critical.
  2. After you’ve defined our scope, make sure your plan builds those CCRs in.  Hoping that I’ll have enough canned cat food at the end of the week will not guarantee that Remy will have canned cat food for dinner. Planning to buy cat food every Saturday and keeping a reserve keeps cat food in the house.

It’s important to understand your customer’s view of a Quality deliverable. But it’s even better to understand how they prioritize their requirements.  Don’t guess which is more important – sometimes the only way you can find out is to ask.

Leave a comment or send me a tweet.  My id is @jgodfrey.

* Remy lost his right ear in 2008 due to a bout with cancer

Project Management Coaching Workbook: Book Review

Self-improvement doesn’t happen by chance or by accident.

However, if you don’t have any place to start from and nothing to set a goal against, the odds are that your desire for improvement will go nowhere.  In order to put together a plan to move forward, you need something to  measure your progress against.  

And there lies the problem.  

After a PM has achieved their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, it can be hard to find a standard to set goals or gauge your improvement against.  Where do you find a good benchmark of progress?

Resources at Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

A couple of weeks back, I recommended Personal Effectiveness in Project Management as a good resource to use as a personal effectiveness benchmark.  Professor Wong’s book helps PMs look at what internal motivations or behaviors that prevent her from growing/ achieving more.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Project Management Coaching Workbook, written by Susanne Madsen, is another resource that will help you look at personal effectiveness through the lens of a more project management process-focused model.  Madsen’s book focuses on the external processes that if implemented well, result in a successful project.

Madsen identifies 10 project management themes that are critical for effective project management that anyone can use to develop goals and track improvement against:

  • Managing Product Quality
  • Tracking Cost & Schedule
  • Risk, Issue & Scope Management
  • Managing & Motivating the Team
  • Stakeholder Relationships and Communication
  • Self-Management
  • Leadership Behavior
  • Project Stability and Identity
  • Skills & Knowledge
  • Project Initiation & Planning

The key benefit to Madsen’s book that it gives the reader a guide on ‘what to do’ to be a better project manager.  Personal Effectiveness serves as a guide on ‘how to manage yourself’ so that you can be more effective as a project manager.  In my opinion, I think both are valuable and can be used to improve your personal effectiveness as a PM.

How does it work?

So how does Madsen’s ‘Project Management effectiveness gauge’ work?
Using a spider diagram, Madsen asks her readers to gauge their performance against the 10 themes.  She asks PMs to…

1) Imagine what a 10 out of 10 score would look like on your project: what would you be doing or feeling?
2) Perform your own self-assessment against the themes
3) Check your self-assessment against someone else’s feedback

Looking inward first, then reaching out to others provide their input, the PM will be able to get a clearer sense of the areas they need to focus on.

Why Read the Book?

I recommend the book because:
1. It is focused on Project Management processes.
2. It includes Team / Stakeholder management as a critical aspect of project success
3. It seems like an excellent book to be read alongside the internal focus of Personal Effectiveness for Project Management.

So if you’re looking for a book to help guide you in your personal development planning, The Project Management Coaching Workbook would be an excellent resource for both the beginner and seasoned project manager.  Do you know of another book everyone should read on Personal Effectiveness?  Leave a comment of send me a tweet, my id is @jgodfrey.

PMXPO 2014: Worth Another Look

For PMs with little free time and no money for conferences, online conferences on Project Management have started to spring up.  PMXPO is one of the conferences taking advantage of the online format.

The PMXPO 2014 live conference was held in May and will be available in On Demand format through most of the summer.  While the opportunity to talk ‘live’ to vendors and other conference viewers is now gone – the remote or simply overbooked PM can still take advantage of the resources that were shared.

Presentations and PDUs
Perhaps the biggest benefit from accessing the PMXPO at this point would be to listen to the presentations.  Each of the presentations can be played On Demand with feedback and audience questions at the very end.

Among the presentations were the following:

  • Choosing Wisely: When is Agile the Right Approach?  A (too brief) talk about when to use Agile.  I think the slides alone will add value – but you should listen to the presentation and hear the reasoning behind the use of not just 2 – but four different methodologies of implementation (Incremental, Agile, Waterfall and Iterative).
  • Hacking the Gantt.  Cool Title, huh?  The presentation was even better. This talk centered around how to track Agile in a Waterfall Organization.  The discussion around considering how you can best build trust in each discussion was extremely interesting.  I recommend you check this out.
  • Top 10 Tips for Building a PMO that matters was a team-presentation that gave tips on PMO Setup and Management, Harmonizing PM and Agile and Portfolio Execution.  The tips were shared in hopes of helping us shape a PMO that is relevant and adds value to the business.

More than just the presentations, viewers can also download 
* Presentation slides and mp3s – from the Conference Hall
* White Papers – from the Resource Center
* Vendor Presentations – from the Exhibition Hall

How can you access the conference? 
1. Access PMXPO2014 here

2. Just create a login and log in.

The PMXPO resources will be available through July 24, 2014.  Time has a way of getting away from you, so please take the time to hear the speakers and access the other resources.  Given the On Demand format it would be shame not to check out what’s been shared.

If you’ve already attended the conference, let me know which presentation you enjoyed the most?  Leave a comment, send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Personal Effectiveness in Project Management: Book Review

“…You’re on the right path when you make decisions and take actions that are true to your values, diversity, passions and core goal – it’s the inside path of your personal effectiveness cycle.”
– Personal Effectiveness in Project Management, Zachary Wong, Ph.D.

We all want to be more effective in our roles as PMs, right?
If you’re like me, the resources that could help us align our intentions with our actions are not easy to find.  We are usually left with the PMBOK and business books that don’t seem to tie it all together.

Personal Effectiveness in Project Management is the book I think we’ve all been looking for.  We all know there is more to Project Management than process and tools and techniques.  This book opens the door to a better understanding of how to align your values, your goals and your effectiveness.  The author explains not only how they are connected, but how each of them impacts your effectiveness.

For Professor Wong, personal effectiveness is a cycle that has inputs, outputs and a series of stages that transition into the next.  Your Personal Effectiveness cycle starts with your Decision-Making, moves into your Motivation, then Achievement and finally Sustainability (the phase where you keep the momentum going).  As I read the book, the  process-loving side of me said – ‘all right!  Finally an answer for everything!’   The learning side of me wondered if he was full of hooey, but I kept on turning the pages…

After reading the PMBOK numerous times and living your own projects, you come to the conclusion that being effective is far more than just knowing the exact tool or technique required, and more about moving yourself out of the way.  At the end of the book…I was excited because I now knew that I had the tools/ techniques I needed to become more effective as well as a holistic view of how personal effectiveness works.

This book provides the other half of what is missing so that you can ‘turn the corner’,  as Wong describes it, and turn your striving to succeed into a cycle that can be sustained.  If I could take the class that this book is based on, I’d fly to California on my own dime and take it.  Honestly – this book is really that good.  

I could write multiple posts about this book and not delve into everything that you can get out of its pages.  My recommendation: go buy the book and use it to develop personal development goals.  That’s my plan.

Do you know of any other books on personal effectiveness that you would recommend?  Leave a comment, send a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Can our fears make us better Project Managers?

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.
- Measure for Measure

My least favorite thing on the planet are horror movies.
I think the first time I saw a horror movie, I was about 12.  I won’t tell you what the movie was – but it involved the standard box set of horror movie cliches: a lot of blood, some undead, and of course the supernatural.  I learned that horror was never going to be my favorite film genre.

The truth is my imagination is far too good to let me leave a horror movie in the theatre or on my television screen.  It slips between my imagination and my reality and creates fear behind doors, curtains or poorly lit areas.

My imagination works overtime on projects as well – which can be good and bad.  According to author Karen Thompson Walker there might a use for my fears.
They might also help with risk management.  In a TED Talk she gave in June of 2012, she explained her unique way of thinking about fear.

I took away two key points from her talk:

  1. Our fears may be everyday clairvoyance
    Instead of rationalizing away all of the potential things we ‘fear’ might occur – we should use them.  Our fears, or risks, to use a more familiar term, might be helping us prepare ourselves for the ‘worst’.

    When we ask ourselves, what will happen next?  We could use the same question to help plan our projects, walking through our plan to review the risks.  What we fear may happen may help us devise a mitigation strategy to address them. 

  2. We shouldn’t let our fears drive us to make bad decisions.  
    The story Walker shares with us illustrates how fear can be our worst enemy when we let it overwhelm our thinking.  Fears should be considered and used to arm ourselves, rather than let them drive the decision-making.  In the end, we learn that what we avoid out of fear could be an opportunity.
     

I enjoyed the talk because it helped me consider another way to think about risk and fear: as tools to help me achieve my project objectives by uncovering the sinkholes along the way.  Have you used an unusual method to find new risks on new projects?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet.  My id is jgodfrey.