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Why and how to clear your mind

Ambiance

Source: earl53

One day or another, everyone feels like their head just do not have any space left for new information. This feeling is generally accompanied with a lack of sleep, more stress, a reduction of efficiency, and we tend to forget more often. Yet, we try to fill our head more and more, thinking it’ll pass. The reality is, it won’t.

Fortunately, there is a way to clear your mind and make room for more “thinking” and that is to transfer the information elsewhere, via writing. Many methodologies like GTD mention this but are generally more task oriented and how to note everything. In this article, I want to help to clear your mind of more than just what you need to get done.

Why you should clear your mind

Think of your mind as a box. Like any box, you can fill it up with anything, but at some point, you can’t add more stuff in it. If you need to add something else, you either first remove something from the box or use another. In our context, we’ll concentrate on removing stuff from the box rather than using another box which could be the equivalent of getting an assistant.

If you do not remove something from your mind, you will have a hard time learning/remembering/thinking. Having your head cluttered like this is not good for you, so avoid it.

How to clear your mind

As mentioned above, by writing, you can clean up your head, it’s actually quite underestimated. There are different “types” of information you need to clean from your mind and different approach:

Knowledge: Everyone good at what they do wants to share valuable information to others, it’s in our nature, so why fight it? If you feel like you have knowledge, tips, information, anything that should be shared, share it! How? Years ago, writing books was almost the only option, but today, you can write a blog, use social networks, commenting on various platforms, etc.

By writing that knowledge down, you’ll make place for new knowledge, and if you forget anything, you’ll know what to read to remember it. Teachers or coaches may interact with people to share information, but they still write down their plan before (if not, they should).

Things to do: People are more familiar with this one, but the basic of this is to note what you need to do. Have the information easily accessible (apps, cloud, computer). If you do need such accessibility or it’s just simple “today” lists, you a good old paper and pen. The idea is to never leave actionable information inside your head only. It’s also important to check this information at a reasonable interval, if you don’t, you’ll have a tendency to want to remember everything by heart, and it beats the whole purpose of the thing. You need to be able to trust your system.

Meetings/reunions/etc.: I separated this one from “Things to do” since they are more dependant on a specific time, so here you want to note in anything that can notify you of that date approaching. A calendar for example, or reminder apps. If you trust your tool to inform you when the time is right, you will liberate your mind of that date, and yet, you won’t forget it! The probability of you being on time for your meeting is much higher than if you depend on your mind to remember at the right time (which it probably won’t)

Emotions: This one is tricky compared to the rest, and depending of how you feel, writing will not do miracles, but it will help at the least. Clearing your mind of emotions is not new, people have been writing personal journals for years, so give it a try.

Keep in mind that what is key here is to never share this with anyone, it’s for your eyes only. That way, you will not hesitate to write what comes to mind exactly how it comes to mind, and that’s the trick. If you are scared that someone may read it afterwards, than burn the paper, delete the document, erase everything! Nevertheless, you’ll have freed your mind of it. It may feel awkward at first, but keep writing, and then, explore what you are writing/thinking, and write some more! If you feel like some information could be shared or should be noted elsewhere, then do it immediately and come back to writing how you feel right after.

In conclusion

Freeing your mind lets you stay focus, efficient, and makes place for new information. Do it and you’ll feel better, and will accomplish so much more.

Pile of paper


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TMI when communicating is just as bad as not enough

I just read a great tip amongst others from Cupe Projects and just loved it, so I thought I’d share it with you here:

Pile of paper

Source: Orin Zebest

In times where technology permits fast accumulation of unfiltered information, the Project Manager must use caution to only push out information that is useful to the recipient, whether it is for the recipient’s benefit or to solicit a response.

Communication stops  when too much time is required to dig through data to attempt to determine what is required. This is true for project schedules, as well. Project managers that create 600 line timelines and then expect a team member to quickly understand all dependencies and personal deliverables is charting a course for failure. So, the right amount of information is critical.

Too much, and it’s overwhelming. Too little, and it’s a watered down executive summary that doesn’t contain enough information to provide context.

It’s so true, and well said. If you communicate in a way that others can’t find relevant information, or won’t even bother reading, than the result is the same as if you do not communicate at all.

Format your documents/emails clearly (lists, bold, underline), use as few words as possible, and always put yourself in others’ shoes while writing.

Share what you think about this tip!


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“Everything is fine”

As you manage your projects, you need to know the status of particular tasks. Depending of who you work with, you will (or have) come across the “Everything is fine” answer.

Chances are, not everything is fine, because the definition of that word is different for everyone:

Varies with what you do

As a project manager, your definition of “fine” concentrates on all aspect of the project (at least it should!), but for a colleague, a developer for example, his definition of “fine” probably concentrates on his part, a feature he’s currently developing for example, and not the feature he hasn’t started yet but should have done two days ago.

Ask the right questions to make sure you receive the right answers.

Varies with experience

People with less experience or less confidence may be scared of your reaction if they tell you that are having problems, so they tend to cover it up until the very last-minute.

To avoid this, you want to make sure your colleagues know the impact of doing this, and to flag anything wrong as soon as possible.

Varies with how close you are to “clients”

Some roles are closer to client communication then others; which makes it easier to be in its shoes. Others never even see clients, so they are not aware of how it works, how clients have expectations, or how they can react when something goes wrong.

It’s important that everyone be aware of the client’s point of view so they can consider it when working, and when they give you a status.

For example, a box that is displayed 5 pixels too much on the left using IE may not be important, so it may not be mentioned, but for the client, who is using IE, he will notice, and won’t like it.

In conclusion

Make sure you receive a clear status of what you need to know, and know that “everything is fine” is a sign to dig deeper.

If you still have any doubts, then verify yourself, or have your colleague show it to you, and you’ll can come up with your own status. You can avoid awful surprises like this.


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Thinking of disturbing someone today? Think twice…

People are being disturbed on a regular basis; sometimes it’s justified, but usually it’s not. What many do not realize, or worst, ignore, is the cost of disturbing someone and the chain reaction it creates.

Some reasons that they think it’s alright to disturb others can range from lack of prioritizing his tasks, vague definition of an emergency amongst colleagues, incapability of managing clients demands, etc.

Someone disturbed during the execution of a task loses momentum and concentration requiring 5 to 15 minutes (give or take) to get it all back depending of the task/person.

For example, a developer, right in the middle of analyzing an algorithm for a software’s functionality will completely lose his train of thought, and have to redo the thinking from scratch. That will cost him time, may make him forget an idea, and the probability of him making an error rises after being disturbed.

So let’s say this developer loses 15 minutes when disturbed, and is disturbed twice during a day. That adds up to half an hour of lost time per day. Assuming out of the blue he is paid 30$ an hour, that means 15$ per day is wasted for this resource. That means 75$ per week and about 3750$ within a year! Just imagine the wasted money if this spreads across an entire team.

Believe it or not, that’s a detail compared to the chain reaction it creates. The reality is, this developer as a “to do” list to accomplish, his time is limited, and managed by project managers who share this resource’s time. Meaning, the developer couldn’t carry out all his tasks because of disturbance, so the project managers will have to adjust project/resource schedules which means even more time wasted.

Now some will think this is exaggerated for disturbing someone for one minute, well, that is because the impact of “unconnecting” and “reconnecting” to a task is underestimated. I’ve once worked in a chaotic environment where I was disturbed every half hour; at the end of each day, I could barely remember half of my day because the rest was wasted left to right.

In conclusion

Disturbance is destructive to efficiency, make sure people around you know the cost of disturbing others so that it’s being done only when justified.


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4 tips when you inherit an ongoing project

If you are starting a new job as a project manager, chances are, you are going to become responsible of projects that others have started.

If you are lucky, the previous project manager will be available for a week or two, or maybe permanently, but what may happen is that you have to do your best to take control with limited help, if any.

Here are some tips to help you with that:

1. List/use available resources

Resources may vary from documents to people that may have information. It is important that you know what’s available as a source of information concerning the project so that you can gather everything and either talk to everyone or read everything available.

2. Clarify everything

Being new on the project, you have a clear unbiased point of view of the available information, therefore, it should be relatively easy for you to spot what’s clear and what needs clarification. If notes are unclear, fetch information, verify the project, and clarify those notes. Same goes for a schedule, plan, or anything else for that matter.

3. Update the team

After those 2 tips, the project should be clear enough for you, now, you must make sure it’s clear for the team. Either by having a team meeting or by transferring the appropriate documentation, make sure the whole team is up-to-date and that everyone, including you, are on the same page.

4. Positive attitude

The state of the project you will recover will vary from stable to completely fuzzy but hang in there, be pro-active, never assume anything. Think of it as a chance to prove yourself to your new employer (if applicable).


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Why QA is important for your project

QA (Quality assurance) is what makes the difference between a satisfied client and an angry one. It makes sure you deliver what your client is expecting.

Different aspects require different resources

There are different aspects of your project that you have to verify before presenting it. Depending of which type it is, different team members should take care of it since they will be able to focus on the right parts of the project. By making sure you use the right resource for the right QA, you maximize your project’s quality. There are probably more, but those below are the main ones I’ve come across in IT projects:

  • Visual: Here I mean everything related to the design once the front-end developer as finished coding. You must make sure everything is aligned correctly, and that it follows the design approved by your client. The best people to test this are designers. The worst people are the front-end developers who coded the interface.
  • Functional: This makes sure that everything “works” and actually does what it should do. For example, does a form actually send the information? The best people to test this are beta testers. The worst people are the developers who coded the features.
  • Texts: You wouldn’t want to send your project that includes a huge typo in your client’s company’s name would you? Well here you concentrate on texts. Unless it’s included in your contract, I’m not talking about correcting the texts the client sent you, but there always are sentences or words scattered in your project that may not have been provided by him. Error messages inside forms are a good example. The best people to verify this are proof readers or translators. The worst people are anyone weak with grammar or it’s not their primary language.
  • UI/UX: This is the usability of the interface and the experience in general. It may have been coded exactly like planned, but maybe it’s hard to use, or there are some key elements missing that prevents you from using a page or feature correctly. The best people to test this and give valuable feedback are people outside the team. The worst people are the ones in the team since they know the project by heart, and may not be able to put themselves in the user’s shoes.
  • Client’s expectations: This one is tricky but if expectations are managed correctly during the project execution, it should not be a problem. Still, here you basically need to predict the client reaction. You must know your client, and you think anything will pose a problem, fix it or temporarily remove it from the deliverable if applicable. The best people are the closest to the client like the project manager. The worst people are anyone not in contact with the client.

Don’t get me wrong, when I mention “best people” or “worst people”, I’m talking in general so you can obtain the maximum efficiency possible. As a project manager, you could check the UI, but having been in the project since the beginning and knowing every detail about it, you may not notice that it’s confusing to use the navigation for example, but someone not familiar with the project will tell you within seconds. Know your resources and use them accordingly.

What may happen

There are two main scenarios which will make it hard to execute a great QA:

  • Managers underestimating QA: Managers have a tendency to think they save money by not investing in QA. If that is the case, explain to them that it risks sending your clients poor quality products, and therefore, can force the client to terminate the contract. You may want to make them read the first part of this article too to prevent them forcing the “worst people” to test so they may to save a dollar here and there.
  • Lack of time: My favorite! No matter how you plan QA inside your schedule, there will always be something that will try to take more time then planned, and QA is often the first thing that you think you can remove. If you absolutely need to send something to your client, assuming it’s not the final delivery, explain to your client that the QA will be done later, and not to worry too much if they find something that does not work properly. It’s not ideal, but at least your are managing your client’s expectations, and explain to them that the quality is to come instead of them imagining that what they are receiving is perfect and end up disappointed.

In conclusion

QA is crucial for your project. Plan it in your schedule from the beginning. Assign the right resources for the right type of QA and you will always have happy clients!


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Why feedback is important and what to avoid

Feedback is a free way of getting better, or improving everything around us.

Of course there is positive/constructive feedback, and there is negative/destructive feedback. Here I will concentrate on why it is important to take all feedback into consideration and not how you should give feedback to others.

All feedback gives valuable information

Feedback can be given on your work, your project, on anything! Whether it’s being said constructively or not, there is a meaning behind it, and by actually listening to it and keeping an opened mind, you can use it to change something and improve.

Unfortunately, most will give meaningless feedback like “I hate it”, “It’s horrible”, which shows that something is potentially wrong, but doesn’t give any detail to what. When this happens, try to gather more information, by asking this simple question: why?

You have to understand the feedback to be able to make your own opinion on the matter, and then decide if a change could improve something. For example, you could be told that your emails are too wordy and they are heavy to read. You may not have noticed, and that feedback as given you the opportunity to fine-tune the way you write emails.

It could come from friends, colleagues, clients, managers; it doesn’t matter, it can all be useful, and it’s free! Quick tip: you may have to ask for feedback to receive any, most will not give any otherwise.

Common reactions to avoid

Feel attacked: It’s hard sometimes to receive feedback that seem to diminish us or our work, but avoid taking it as an attack, that will make you go on the defensive and find any way of working around the feedback, which will solve nothing.

For example, if someone tells you that you mispronounced a certain word, instead of lashing at the person telling them “you always heard it that way”, you may want to consider correcting the way you say it and actually thanking the person.

Destroy the feedback: When you don’t agree with the comment and automatically think it’s “stupid”.

For example, someone says your website is hard to understand, and your reaction is to think he’s probably a “newb” and that’s why he can’t find his way and nothing is wrong with the website. If one person can’t find his way, chances are, many others will have the same problem, maybe your website needs to be adjusted!

Ignore it: That’s just wrong, that leaves you blinded to what’s around you, and prevents any evolution whatsoever.

Over-justify: Some may feel compelled to justify why they do what they do, whatever it is, whatever the feedback. You ignore the feedback, but it’s even worst since you justify that what you are doing wrong, is right.

For example, let’s say your coding could use some improvements, and your team-lead gives you a great tip, and you tell him how “you learned it that way, and many do it that way…”. By doing so, you miss the chance of improving your coding, and you probably annoyed your team-lead!

In conclusion

Feedback is valuable and an important part or your evolution, ask for it and people are generally happy to give it you. Actually, if you ask for feedback, people will tend to more constructive, give it a try!