Communicating to Internal Teams

Which is the best answer for “How do team members find out what’s happening on your project?”

A. At the Watercooler

B. On the Sharepoint Site

C. Osmosis

D. Project Manager

Your answer will let us know whether your team knows where the project is headed.

“At the Watercooler” or by “Osmosis” would leave some of your team members in the know – and others in the dark.  Providing a Sharepoint Site would be a step in the right direction, but only if everyone on the project team is aware of its location and has permission to access the documents.

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by beawolf

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by beawolf

On a regular basis, communicating to the customer tends to be our focus.  When it comes to communicating change to the team,  we tend to lose focus, but it should be just as important.  We forget that usually, as the Project Manager, we are the center of the communication hub between the customer and other high visibility teams/ resources/ stakeholders.  When that happens, there may be teams that get left out.

To avoid gaps in your team’s shared understanding, the PM should remember three things:

  1. Remember: Team members from different functional areas may not share information freely even if they both know they are working on the same project.  If you’re in an organization that is more functional than matrix, this might be even more common than you think.  What you learn from one team may impact another – share what you learn with the other teams.  Leverage your status call to improve the sharing of information between functional areas.
  2. Remember: Information informally communicated may not be sufficient. Just because you spoke to one person on a team does not mean that it was shared with everyone on that team.  You can ask that each team rep at a meeting share information with her team – only to find out that a critical step was not shared with another person on the same team performing the same work.  Ensure that everyone is on the same page – discuss changes in your status calls, share it again in email and share again, if needed.
  3. Remember: Just because you sent an email or words came out of your mouth during a call does not mean that the message was actually received and understood.  Confirm that what you meant to share with the team was understood and that everyone is on the same page.

In the best of all possible worlds, the Project Manager is not the hub of communications.  Strong teams that work with each other week after week don’t necessarily rely on the PM’s presence to share information.  However, in some environments, the random nature of the teaming make these three suggestions something to keep in mind.  Do you have other suggestions that might help improve communication for internal teams?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Watch How You Talk To Yourself

We can be our own worst enemy at times.

Whether we say the words out loud or not, we are always talking to ourselves.

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by aleutie

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by aleutie

Just as guard rails can prevent drivers from running off of the road, setting up guidelines for your thoughts can make your self-talk an advantage – not a limiter.

In his book, Personal Effectiveness in Project Management, Zachary Wong, PhD, suggests the following mental techniques to use to keep your self-talk positive:

  1. Keep It Real.  Or as he explains it later – keep small things small in your mind.  Earlier in my career, the smallest mistakes I made were things that I brooded over.  Brooding over what you’ve done wrong has the same impact as a hen brooding over her eggs: they grow.  Instead of acknowledging the problem and moving on, you turn it into something that hangs over your next decision and the next.
  2. Keep your boat afloat.  To me this made the most sense.  You are bombarded daily with requests, complaints, and escalations.  To stay positive – you need stay level-headed, “keep both feet on the deck and don’t jump ship – trust your inner dialogue.”  So much of the noise you hear is made to push you off your center so you act out of character or without thinking.  Stay focused.
  3. Maintain a ‘want’ state of mind. This is part of Dr Wong’s larger argument in his book that you understand your motivations and wants.  You come from a larger space when you are motivated by your wants and not your needs.  Define what it is that you want to see happen and act from that basis.
  4. Stay open-minded.  So many conflicts tend to come from people hanging onto rigid views about ideas or situations.  His suggestion is to stay open by making observations, not judgments; “focus on the process, not the outcome, create options, not predictions.”  Coming into a meeting with a fixed idea of how things should turn now, may not be as effective as staying open to how the discussion flows in the meeting.
  5. Make Your First Thought Positive.  Here is where I tend to fall down.  It’s good to be proactive about self-improvement and trying to do better next time, but you need give yourself a break.  It will feel better if you focus on the things you did right – first.  What did you like or what went well this time? Then you can tweak the areas where you need to improve.
  6. LIGHTEN UP.  Unrelenting focus on always doing the right thing or making the right decision can be exhausting.  Throw in a little fun and keep your sense of humor.  As he writes, “Enjoy your imperfections – it’s all part of being human.”

Do you have any other suggestions on how to keep your self-talk from tearing at your self-confidence?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Nine Indications that You Need To Take the Day Off

Out of Office

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by BartPhoto

If you’re one of those hardworking project managers that drag themselves to work whether they have a cough or a low-grade fever – this quiz is for you.

  1. You’ve been working every weekend for two weeks without a day off in-between. This is kind of a dead giveaway.  I don’t really think I need to explain this one.
  2. You’re dreaming about your project or you wake up in the middle of the night dreaming about a nightmare project.  After few minutes to clear your thoughts and pinch yourself back to reality, you’re able to get back to sleep.
  3. You can’t remember what day it is.
  4. You’ve forgotten what month it is at least once in the past two weeks.
  5. You’re surprised when you hear that it’s March and not February.
  6. Mondays don’t stand out because every day seems like Monday.
  7. You start using Project terminology in your personal life.  What did you just call a deliverable?
  8. Your patience is wearing thin.  And everyone is stomping up and down on your last nerves.
  9. You can’t shut off your thoughts about work when you go home.

If you resemble 6 out of 9 of these – you need to take a vacation.

If you resemble 5 out of 9 of these – you need to take a day off.

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by BartPhoto

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by BartPhoto

All kidding aside, you need to take care of your health.  Don’t let your project grind you down you until you have nothing left over.  If there are other indicators that we should keep an eye on, leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Introducing Change: Three Ways to Engage Your Stakeholders

“I don’t need to tell you that now, more than ever, we need sideways thinkers like you.  We need more dents in the status quo, more disruptions of business-as-usual and more people realizing their dreams, large and small.  Thinking sideways is about stepping off the beaten path and carving your own road.”
- Think Sideways, Tamara Kleinberg

Copyright 2013 Dollar Photo Club by Oberonsk

Copyright 2013 Dollar Photo Club by Obersonsk

A week ago, I was listening to Tamara Kleinberg describe a situation in which she and her branding team had come up with super creative ideas that they were pitching to a reluctant customer…

And they were falling flat.

The customer would come up for reasons why the ideas would fail or complained that the idea had been tried a few years ago and failed.

Nothing they said seemed to be getting through to the main stakeholder.  On their return home, she ranted about the dismissal of the new ideas – then realized that her team’s approach was *the reason* the customer “didn’t get it.”

In her book, Think Sideways, a short book on unconventional thinking, she explains that the hardest part of introducing ideas may not be developing them, but in getting buy in from your stakeholders.  While the book provides a wide variety of exercises to help nurture new ideas, I wanted to cover three of her suggestions on how to sell your ideas to others.

From her perspective, engaging others in change or accepting new ideas is about building bridges between you and your stakeholders. She tries to engage stakeholders by:

  1. Giving them credit.  
    She doesn’t mean give them credit for your idea.  You worked hard on it and should get credit, she says, but you need to show your stakeholders how your thinking and their thinking are connected, not opposed to one another.  The key here is to make them a part of the vision.  Explain how their point contributed to the idea or played into it’s creation.
    She writes: “People want to feel important, and explaining how it was their genius point that led you to this idea is a great way to do that….In some ways, this tool is more work for you.  It means you need to work double time listening and connecting the dots between their conventional thinking and your unconventional ideas.”  To help with this, she even gives you sentence starters…

    • What I love about what you said is..
    • What I found interesting about what you said was…
    • What you said about ___ really made me think

      Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by LaCozza

      Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by LaCozza

  2. Throwing questions back
    This does not mean throw them back in their face.  She recommends throwing questions back in order to get a better read on the person and the motivation behind a question.  An example might be, “That is a great question.  What makes you ask? That one question has helped me uncover the real issues and gain buy-in without having to convince anyone,” she writes.

    Following are other questions she says might help build bridges:

    • Interesting, what makes you ask?
    • Help me understand why you are asking, so I can focus my answer.  Finally, she recommends….
  3. Demonstrating your idea’s value
    When you cannot convince people with your words, let your actions speak.  She wrote about Art Fry, the inventor of the Post It note.  Initially, no one saw the value in the Post-It Note.  But instead of trying to convince his colleagues with words, he gave all the secretaries in the company a stack of Post-It notes.

    When they ran out, he told them “The Marketing Department says that there’s no practical application for this product.”  The admins lobbied their bosses for Post-Its and the rest, as they say, is history. What you need to do, she writes, is think about how you can show someone the potential in your idea.  How can you get them to take the idea out for a test drive?  That may do more to convince them than your words ever could.

    The three suggestions she makes in Think Sideways are good approaches to keep people from rejecting your ideas. In summary, Give them credit, Throw back a question and Demonstrate the value may make your idea seem less unconventional or threatening to “their way of doing things”.  Do you have any other suggestions on how to introduce your ideas to others in order to fast-track acceptance?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my idea is jgodfrey


Experimenting with Personal Kanban

Copyright 2013 Dollar Photo Club by Inez Bazdar

Copyright 2013 Dollar Photo Club by Inez Bazdar

After reading Personal Kanban, I wanted to try running with some of the authors’ ideas in the real world. And why not? All I needed was a Kanban board and a few minutes at the beginning and the end of the day. I threw a twist at the experiment by downloading a new Android app, Trello, to free me from the need to set up a physical kanban board at my desk.

Trello gives the user the ability to create Kanban boards and tasks / columns at will. The app even lets the user move the issues from column to column as if you were looking at a physical Kanban board in your office.

Since Trello lets you name your columns, I used the columns used in Personal Kanban:

  • To Do – Those items that need to be done
  • Doing – Those tasks that are being worked on
  • Holding – Tasks that are not moving forward because they are waiting on other folks to take action or make a decision
  • Completed – Those tasks that are completed

After you finish your tasks, Trello gives you the option of leaving them in the Completed column or moving them into an Archive.  Instead of just striking out a completed task on your to do list, you’ll move it to the completed column.  Moving a task to completed will give you the same satisfaction as moving a post-it from the To Do column on an actual Kanban board to the Completed column.

After two weeks or using Kanban and Trello, I’ve discovered:

1. If I’m good about using them both, my focus improves.
Small distractions are less likely to derail me because I know they need to go on the list. If I must attend to them immediately, I can address them, then go back to the Doing Column to stay focused on the tasks I’m working on.  Before Kanban, I could be driven from task to task and never get back to the priority for that day.

2. Some issues stay in a holding pattern because they are dependent on the actions and decisions of others. This is one of the key benefits of the Holding column, so you have clarity about what is keeping a task from completing. You know who to push and have a better idea of your capacity.

3. I also discovered that I cannot move entirely away from paper to using Trello.  And this makes sense. You wouldn’t use a kanban board to capture every detail of every task either. Where I need to take notes or doodle, I need to use – what else – paper. A Campus notebook to be more specific.Campus Notebook

4. Finally, I learned that multiple boards seem to work best for me.
Personal Kanban recommends that you use the kanban to drive your life (work included). Although I can see how including everything in one board may help identify your priority and impacts of other projects, I prefer to keep my business to dos separate from my personal activities.

You only get the benefits of both Kanban and Trello if you’re disciplined enough to capture every task that comes your way in the system/ tool.  If you’re like me, that might be more challenging than you expected.  What I’ve learned from using Kanban and Trello at work have encouraged me to continue my experiment at home.  If you’re interested in learning more about Personal Kanban, check out my review a few weeks back.  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Are We Building Widgets or Reducing Costs? Using Benefits to Drive our Project Focus

Project planAs Project Managers we communicate daily to Customers, Salespeople and Senior Management.  We could be using the PMI-approved words and concepts, but our focus may be frustrating our audience.  To effectively communicate with our stakeholders, we may need to tweak our methods to align the message with our audience’s concerns.

In his PMI webinar of 4 years ago: “5 ‘Visible’ Signs Your Project Will Deliver Expected Results,” Mark Swiderski, PMP, introduced 5 tools that will help us do just that.  The impact of these tools impressed me so much that I wanted to write about one of the tools in this blog.

Swiderski suggests that in order to align our communication with the issues that senior management or our customers are interested in, we should build out our WBS and schedule from an outcomes based perspective.

I hear you already: “That’s what I’m doing!”  But are you really?

It starts with the tool

Using an excel spreadsheet, Swiderski walks the viewer through a benefits identification exercise in the webinar.  He has us: 
  1. List our benefits, 
  2. Identify the means of measuring success for each benefit and 
  3. Finally, identify the owners that contribute to each benefit.  Using that spreadsheet, you can then move into your WBS and then your schedule activities by keeping the focus on the outcomes or benefits you are trying to achieve.  See the example below from his presentation.

This is a useful chart even if all you do is to walk through the benefit identification steps for your project.  However, its true value lies in how you use the information it provides to move your project through the project lifecycle.

Instead of building around deliverables, take the benefits outlined in your table and begin your Work Breakdown Structure around your benefits.  The highest level in your WBS is your project, the next level down are your benefits.  Below that are the deliverables that contribute to implementing those benefits.

This changes how your schedule is viewed in 3 ways:
  1. Your customer will see what they are looking for: the benefits that s/he expects to see from funding the project.  It also highlights the dependencies that contribute to the successful delivery of the benefit.
  2. The team will see how their contribution helped deliver that benefit.  If we structure our schedules based on ‘deliverables’, outside readers of our schedule will continue to need someone to interpret what they are looking at.  It also communicates priorities.
  3. You will focus more effectively on ensuring that your project delivers on the benefits as described by the customer.  It might be easier to see if you’re missing work packages if everything supporting that benefit is in one section of the schedule.
This isn’t rocket science, but the use of a benefits table to define a project’s focus and then using that focus to shape your WBS and schedule might make your schedule more accessible to people who don’t read the PMBOK for a living.  
I was sold after I heard Swiderski’s explanation of the first tool in his webinar.  I recommend listening to the rest of his webinar to learn about the other 4.  I plan to roll this idea out on my next project and see how it works. If you try it, let me know how it goes.  Leave a comment or send me a tweet.  My id is jgodfrey.

Book Review: Personal Kanban

“Like Traffic, work does not fit.  Work flows.”

- Personal Kanban

Do you ever look up at the end of the day and wonder
1) Where the day went?stress in ufficio
2) What you spent it on?

3) Whether another urgent and important task is out there waiting to blindside you?

Personal Kanban might help you avoid that moment of staring into the void.  Personal Kanban, written by Jim Benson and Torianne DeMaria Barry, does an excellent job of introducing you to the mechanics of Kanban and how to implement it.  But that’s not why I recommend it.

I recommend the book because of three ideas it introduces that will help you become more effective:

First, Context should always inform your actions.

Standard Time management strategies take your To Dos and assume that they are all equivalent and that your days are all the same: no unexpected tasks pop up and no personal responsibilities inpinge on your free time.  The sense is that you shouldn’t let these unexpected interruptions push you off of your prioritized list.

Personal Kanban basically tells you what you already know: that if you need to rush home because your child is sick or you have a firedrill request from a customer –  your time and the list of Prioritized To Dos will be upset – if not completely set aside.  Personal Kanban explains how using Kanban will help you see this priority change and force you to make a conscious decision on what is more important and what will not get done on this day.  Context always impacts the flow of your work.  ‘What’s going on in their lives’ or your team’s context is the reason you add contingency in your team’s estimates – isn’t it time you considered it in how you plan your day?

Secondly, Work unseen is Work uncontrolled.

Aside from the To Dos on your current list, unexpected actions and issues pop up on team meetings or status calls that require your attention.  Do you add those to your To Do list or do you just “fit them into” your multi-tasking?  At the end of the day, do you recognize or even remember these smaller tasks that ate up time and attention?  My bet is that you don’t – and that’s why capturing everything in your backlog is so important.  You can’t track what doesn’t enter your conscious awareness.  You can’t track it, can’t measure your effectiveness and likely can’t remember that you finished it if you’re traffic rush hour  in shanghaispinning from one task to another.

And finally, Bottlenecks need to be visible.   

Once you get your kanban board started, Personal Kanban warns about tasks that seem stuck for no apparent reason.  Decisions that don’t get made or actions that others need to take in order for you to complete your task will result in a pile up of work in your Today column.  With a bottleneck, your work is not flowing.  On top of that, it won’t be clear why they are hung up.  It you add dependent tasks or tasks that are bottlenecking a ‘To Do’ to your Kanban board in your ‘Today’ column, you make these dependencies visible and it allows you to pull another task forward in its place.
civil traffic in city

With these and other tips to improve the flow of your work, Personal Kanban is worth reading.  It’s a book that hands the reader the building blocks to put together a Kanban that works for *her* life, and at the same time, encouraging her to change the structure and the tools as she sees fit.

At the end of your day – you should know what you finished and be able to assess how effective you were. No more staring into the void.

Have you read any good books on Kanban lately?  If not, try reading Personal Kanban.  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.