90 Percent

Project management, productivity, change management, and more!

PMBOK guide 5th edition

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PMP exam adjusted: 5th edition of the PMBOK guide

The PMP exam is now updated with the fifth edition of the PMBOK guide. It is very important to take that into consideration if you are thinking of taking the exam from now on.

PMBOK guide 5th edition

PMBOK guide 5th edition

In general, the adjustments are great, I love them! Amongst other things, the processes are more consistent amongst each-other, and have been adjusted to make sure we concentrate on the values and goals of the organizations while planning. In addition, some elements are less confusing, so it’s easier to understand the logic between processes and ITTOs.

Here is a summary of the changes:

  • A 10th knowledge area was added: Stakeholder management;
  • 5 new processes going from 42 to 47; and
  • 13 processes were changed, moved, or both.

Integration management:

  • “Direct and manage project execution” is now named “Direct and manage project work”.

Scope management:

  • Now has 6 processes;
  • “Plan scope management” is a new process; and
  • “Verify scope” is now named “Validate scope”.

Time management:

  • Now has 7 processes; and
  • “Plan schedule management” is a new process.

Cost management:

  • Now has 4 processes; and
  • “Plan cost management” is a new process.

Quality management:

  • “Plan quality” is renamed “Plan quality management”; and
  • “Perform quality control” is renamed “Control quality”.

Human resource management:

  • “Develop human resource plan” is renamed “Plan human resource management”.

Communication management:

  • 2 processes were moved (Identify stakeholders, Manage stakeholder expectations);
  • “Distribute information” is renamed “Manage communications”;
  • “Plan communications” is renamed “Plan communications management”; and
  • “Report performance” is renamed “Control communications”.

Risk management:

  • “Monitor and control risks” is renamed “Control risks”.

Procurement management:

  • “Plan procurements” is renamed “Plan procurement management”; and
  • “Administer procurements” is renamed “Control procurements”.

Stakeholder management:

  • Completely new knowledge area with 4 processes;
  • “Identify stakeholders” was moved from communication area;
  • “Manage stakeholders expectations” is renamed to “Manage stakeholder engagement” and moved from the communication area; and
  • The two other processes are “Plan stakeholder management” and “Control stakeholder engagement”.

The new knowledge area focuses on one of the most important element of project management (in my opinion at least), and manages stakeholders, their expectations, and engagement. It used to be part of a simple process inside the communication area, but now, it is much more elaborate and receives the attention it deserves.

Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom model:
They clarified some terms by aligning them with the D-I-K-W model to reduce confusions between “Work performance measurements” and “Work performance information” and how they are used.

It now becomes “Work performance data”, “Work performance information”, and “Work performance reports”. At first glance it may seem more complicated but their relationship with the processes are more logical and easier to understand.

Agile project management:
This is becoming more and more popular, and the PMBOK guide now mentions it in 4 areas:

  1. Adaptive project life cycle;
  2. Enterprise environmental factors;
  3. 2 tools inside the “Collect requirements” process; and
  4. “Control schedule” process.

It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. This is because PMI offers a completely different certification called the Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP).

And that’s it! For those who have studied the 4th edition, what do you think of the changes?

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6 reasons you shouldn’t use trickery with your team

Card sharp

Card sharp (Photo credit: totallyfred)

While managing projects, we try all sorts of techniques or methodologies to manage them as best as possible. One “idea” amongst many is to trick your team by feeding them false information to stay on budget or on schedule. For example, you will tell your team the deliverable is for the 15th when it’s actually for the 22nd, so they will work under pressure, or do overtime, and you know you have a week of buffer.

While it can sometimes work, here are several reasons it shouldn’t become your way of managing your projects:

1. You will get caught

It may work at first to trick your colleagues, but they will eventually catch on.

For example, you are probably going to need some of them to estimate your project. Those resources will than have an idea of the budget (or part of it), which means that if they question the official amounts that you give them, you will either have to explain why you’re using false numbers and hope they don’t talk, or you will have to use additional lies to trick them. Either way, your trick will stop working with them, and the others will simply find out sooner or later.

What happens then? Your colleagues won’t trust you anymore. Either they will confront you or what may happen is that they will stop taking your budget/schedule seriously and you will have a hard time managing your team.

2. Wastes time

Managing budgets and schedules can be time-consuming, especially if there are a lot of changes in the project. So imagine if you have to double that time since you also have to maintain a false budget/schedule!

Furthermore, if you are using a software to manage budgets/schedules, then you will be able to enter one budget or one schedule per project, and if the team can have access to the data, that means you have to use the false one, leaving you to use other means to manage your real data, which will waste even more time.

3. Creates confusion

If you use trickery a lot, chances are you are becoming good at it. Nevertheless, at some point, you will probably confuse your fake numbers with your real ones. That confusion could have a serious impact on your project.

For example, if you mix up the real budget with the false, you may think you have less money available than you think, forcing you to make horrible decisions to manage project changes, resulting in your client’s unhappiness.

4. Adds stress

If you use pressure created by false schedules, you inevitably add stress to your team. I will not go into details of the negative impact stress can have on efficiency, but to sum it up: it’s not good!

A little stress here and there can have a positive effect on productivity, but if you constantly stress out your team, they will leave, or stop working properly. Not to mention the anger that can be created.

5. Reduces project quality

There are two sides to this point:

  1. The first one is concerning stress by using a false tighter schedule (previous point): the negative impact the stress creates on your team’ effectiveness will result in poor quality work overall, and it will worsen with time; and
  2. If you feed false budgetsyour colleagues will try to stay on budget by using smaller amounts than they should. The result will be that they will take minor or major decisions along the way to “cut corners“, obviously reducing the quality of your project.

6. Chain effect

When trickery is used by more than one person, this can amplify the false data and multiply the negative impact.

Here is an example that I witnessed: A project was recently added about 30h worth of budget for maintenance to execute a series of small tasks. The account manager told the project manager the team had about 20h. The project manager, who thought 20h was the real data, used the same trickery with the team, telling them they had about 15h to do the work. The team immediately told him they wouldn’t have enough time. The project manager had to go back to the account manager and tell him that, and that’s when they all had to tell one another they were sharing false data, and they actually had 30h. The project manager then told the team they magically had twice the time all of a sudden…imagine the look on their faces!

What a mess…

In conclusion

If you want to build a solid team based on trust, than trickery is not the way to go. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many use those “techniques”, pretending it works. To some extend, it does work, but it’s not worth it in the end if you take everything into account (resources leaving, lack of trust in the workplace, lying and deceiving, etc.).

To each his own way of managing project; what do you prefer, honesty or trickery?


7 tips for a well documented project


Source: dhester

A project without documentation is a sure path towards problems. Whether it’s a few documents for a small project, or a great amount of documents for a large project, documentation is important to make sure relevant information is available when needed to complete the project.

Keep in mind that the goal is to have information available for your team when they need it, so having documentation is important, but it must be organized too. Here are several tips to help you with all this:

1. Document everything that’s important

A lot of information is transferred during a project, whether it’s oral or written. It’s important to note everything that is relevant to the project.

For example, every meeting should be documented into “meeting-minutes” and sent to everyone. That way, everyone can refer to those conversations, and that will avoid terrible conflicts in the future.

At the same time, too much useless documentation is not going to help. The important information will get lost amongst the rest. Make sure you note what is useful for the project. If you are unsure, then have special locations for secondary information. For example, have a separate section at the end of your document that list miscellaneous information just in case. Just make sure it doesn’t get in the way.

2. Keep it accurate

Your documentation is like your project’s instruction manual. If the information is wrong, then it’ll bring your project to disaster. Have it double-checked by colleagues to make sure everything is perfect, or if your colleagues documents some parts of it, then make sure you validate everything.

Even if just a small portion of the information is unreliable, then the team will stop referring to ALL the documentation since they won’t trust it.

3. Keep it updated

This complements the previous point. Non-updated information is the same as not accurate information. This means that it can bring your project in the wrong direction and can have colleagues lose trust in your documents.

Always keep it updated as soon as new information is available.

4. Format for easy reading

If your documentation is hard to read, or too time-wasting because it’s awfully long, people will not read it or will waste a lot of time finding the information they need.

Read my article on TMI when communicating is just as bad as not enough for more information.

5. Make it easy to find

It’s so easy sometimes to transfer the information in several mails here and there, not gathering it all at the same place. What happens when you do that? You end up with lost information, or it’s scattered everywhere and you waste time finding it.

Instead, have one place where you store all documentation, including simple quick information like a FAQ for your project (people will have questions, and answers will be forgotten!). If you always use the same logic with your projects, and organize them the same way, your team (even you) will find the information more quickly. Time will be saved and everyone will appreciate it.

6. Avoid duplicates

There are rarely any good reasons to have the same information documented more than once. If so, try analyzing if you could document differently to avoid this.

What can happen if you duplicate information is:

  • You waste time documenting more than once, and you will waste the same time updating the information afterwards; and
  • Adds the possibility of error; if the duplicates are not maintained correctly, it may lead to confusion.

7. Keep versions

Keeping versions is important if you have to go back to validate information, or answer questions you may have. Documents are not going to take too much space on a hard-drive, so keep versions, just in case.

Name your documents correctly when numbering them; version 2 should be used over version 1. I’ve worked with colleagues to whom numbers didn’t matter, and version 1 was to be used instead of version 2 or 3. Guess what happened? We often used the wrong documents and lost hours. It’s very frustrating so be nice to your team, use the right numbers 🙂

In conclusion

A well documented project simply runs better overall. It does take some time to do this correctly, but the time you and your team save is more than worth it: Less confusion, less wasted time looking for information, fewer errors,etc.

Do you have any tips to add? Have you had good/bad experiences with documentation in past projects? Please share!


5 reasons you should embrace conflicts


conflict (Photo credit: verbeeldingskr8)

First off, to make sure everyone is one the same page, by “Conflict“, I’m referring to a disagreement, and not a “fight” or something like that.

Here is the definition from Wikipedia:

Conflict refers to some form of friction, disagreement, or discord arising within a group when the beliefs or actions of one of more members of the group are either resisted by or unacceptable to one or more members of another group.

Conflicts, when managed properly, become vital to teamwork and projects, so it’s important to keep them coming, and not avoid them. Obviously, it can have a negative impact if you let it get out of control, but let’s focus on the positive here.

Creates or finds the best ideas

Typical conflicts in IT projects would be the balance between design and programming; designers will tend to prioritize the visual aspect, and developers, the functional aspect. Generally, concentrating on only one aspect is not the best option for a project, you always have to take everything into consideration, which is why a “clash” of ideas between visual and functional can bring out the best idea that no one would have found on their own.

It’s by discussing and challenging other’s ideas that the team gets a creativity boost. By avoiding the conflict and taking only one colleague’s side, you skip the chance to find those ideas.

Of course, there can be conflicts of any kind; design VS programming is just one example amongst many others.

Improves teamwork and communication

If conflicts are managed correctly, the team will develop a sense of camaraderie when communicating disagreements. Instead of going on the defense, they will become more and more open, they will learn to trust their colleagues, and even start having fun when they disagree.

It’s normal to notice that when a team just formed, conflicts start off less efficient; as the team go through the different stages of team building, it will improve. It’s important to manage each stage accordingly.

I used to have a colleague (artistic director) who was more focused on the design (obviously), and I have a developer’s background, so I tended to focus more on the functional aspect of a project. When it came to meetings where we validated a project’s design before it would be sent to the client, we always had several conflicting opinions. Although at first it used to be more of a debate to win, it became cooperative discussions on how to meet the other half way, for the best of the project of course. The results were always greater than if we only took one’s idea as-is.

Improves one’s efficiency

I’ll use my example above once again. My colleague and I started off each more focused on one aspect of the project; as time went by, and we did many projects together, we became more easily aware of the other aspects we used to neglect. By opening our minds to the other’s ideas, we became able to find new ideas on our own, before any conflict even rose. We developed new reflexes, and learned more and more as we communicated.

My point here is that we each evolved with the other’s knowledge and ideas. It helped me concentrate more on the visual aspect of projects, and for him, he could design his interfaces with the functional aspect more in mind generally resulting in less changes in his design when we spoke. Furthermore, conflicts were actually less and less present, and at some point, conflicts really just became simple discussions.

Makes sure everyone as a say

In every team, some have more “strength” when it comes to affirming their opinion or selling it. What happens, whether everyone wants it or not, is that their ideas seem more important or better, and are more prone to being use, even if it may not be the best idea.

By having a team environment where conflict are well-managed and accepted, people will be more comfortable sharing their opinion instead of letting the others talk.

Indicates something is wrong

If people disagree on something, that means that something may not be clear enough, or several solutions are available and the best one must be used. Either way, it suggests that your attention is required, and a decision must be taken.

If their were no conflict, it would mean that only one true path is available all the time, and no problems whatsoever are present; that wouldn’t be much fun 🙂

In conclusion

Conflicts have positive outcome when managed correctly. It can easily become negative, es

pecially when the team is new, so it’s important to keep that in mind.If you have any stories related to conflicts, please share!

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Project plan VS project schedule


Photo credit: Wikipedia

Those two terms are amongst the many that bring a good amount of confusion. So let’s try to clarify everything!

Project plan

The project plan is the mother of all documents for your project, the one that documents everything from initiation to closing. It includes several subsidiary plans gathered from all knowledge areas, including the schedule.

The project plan is the go-to document to manage your project until the very end, and it’s the document you want to refer to if you inherit an ongoing project.

Project schedule

The project schedule is part of the project plan, and includes all your project’s important dates, including milestones like a BETA deliverable for example.

The format may vary from a bar chart, to a Gantt chart, to a calendar, but the important thing to remember is that the schedule = dates!

In conclusion

The confusion between those two terms can bring conflict between two colleagues if one asks for a project plan and simply receives a schedule, so it’s important that those terms are the same for everyone.

Hope this helps!



Keep your schedule updated!


Schedule (Photo credit: Marco Buonvino)

Scenario: You take an hour or two to create a schedule for the project. A week after the project was supposed to start, the kickoff meeting with the client is still being postponed so you adjust your schedule. Eventually, the meeting occurs, and at the end of the meeting, it seems some requirements have changed, so it will take longer to do.

You changed the schedule again to find out three weeks later that the client will need more time to send his content than what was previously planned. At this point, you decide that the schedule doesn’t need to be updated again, it’s just the content delivery, and at some point, you just stop updating it until the end of the project… Sounds familiar?

Maybe, maybe not, but it happens! And it may seem to be justified to stop updating the schedule, but it guides the team, sets clear objectives with specific dates, which without, the project can go on and on, and people become confused and unmotivated.

So it’s simple, always update the schedule!

Quick tip: Make sure your schedule can be changed quickly. Avoid schedules that include an hour of beautiful design work around it just so it’s more classy. That may be good for preliminary schedules included in offers made to clients, but when it’s time for execution, keep it simple.

If you’re only pushing farther away some dates, it should take 5 seconds. If you’re adjusting it, it still shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes unless you are redoing the whole thing. That way, you’ll be more motivated to keep it updated all the time.

So have you had to update a schedule over and over again? Or did you have to work with an un-updated schedule?


What does it take to be a great project manager?

Inside every agency, many different types of people manage projects everyday even if they are not project managers; some because they were told to, some because they had nobody else to do it for them, some because they wanted to try it and were given a chance.

However, what does it actually take to be a good project manager? To be someone who can make sure projects run the way they should, someone who will bring added value to those projects? Everyone has different opinions on the subject, and a lot of skills are required for this role, but here is my personal top 5 soft skills:

Empathy: It may seem strange for some that this is first, but hear me out. A project manager spends an average of 90% communicating with many different clients, team members, and external resources. This means that you need people skills (2nd point) but to be able to manage the different kinds of personality you encounter, not to mention in many different situations (some involving more stress than others), is hard, and beyond being able to communicate, you have to be able to put yourself in the other’s shoes to try to understand them, and communicate accordingly.

For example, it’s easy to politely refuse a request from a client, and most of the times, but it’s all in the words you use, and in trying to find an alternate solution to the client’s problem. Your reflex should be to think “This client needs this or maybe his boss won’t be happy, maybe another solution could do the trick?.” and avoid thinking “Stop asking me to add features or pay up!”.

That’s why, in my opinion, empathy is really important.

Interpersonal skills: As mentioned above, 90% of the time is used communicating, so it’s natural that being able to communicate is very important! It complements greatly “empathy”; if you can understand the others but can’t talk to them, it’s not necessarily really useful. You must be able to be clear and flexible in your approach, and have the capacity for conflict resolution of any kind.

Leadership: There are a lot of articles out there that talk about management VS leadership, I do not want to get into the details of that here, but want to mention that there is a very large difference between managing a team, and leading one.

A project manager may tell people to do their tasks, but a great project manager will help/motivate the people to do them. A leader shows the way (makes the path clear), rather than simply pointing the way to go. This will raise team motivation, efficiency, and morale when they work with this project manager.

Organized: A project manager manages a lot information, spread through several projects at a time. A great amount of money is at stake, and a lot of people follow him. One missing word in a message can change it completely and break a project.

Therefore, it’s important to be very organized in everything: documents, messages, emails, schedules, etc. The project manager must be able to control all the project’s information, to the last detail, and by being organized, he will be able to find the necessary information quickly when needed.

Calm: Whatever happens during the project (angry client, conflict between team members, task to do for yesterday, etc.), the project manager must always remain calm, and resolve everything that comes at the project.

Being calm will help him resolve conflicts, find solutions in times of need, talk to the client politely no matter what’s being said, and so much more. The team will look up to him and will even more motivated to stick with him than if they see him panic.

There are many other important aspects of a great project manager (pro-activity, positive, curious, etc.) but this is my top 5 attributes for a great project manager. What is yours?

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“What’s YOUR Teamability?”; here’s mine

The Gabriel InstituteSeveral weeks ago, I attended a webinar hosted by The Gabriel Institute on what they call their “technology on teaming”, A.K.A. “Teamability”. To sum it up, they divide people into specific “roles” that people have in an organization. Those roles have nothing to do with what you do (which is what we are used to), but instead they are related to your personality. Furthermore, each role as a description on how to communicate with it, how to manage it, how to keep it happy, which type of job they should do, with what type of roles they should work with, etc. There are two types of report, one for the manager, one for the person.

My thoughts on the experience

It’s strange at first, but it’s a very interesting way of separating people and forming teams, rather than simply grouping people by what they do.

By attending the webinar, I got to do the test for free to find out what’s my “Teamability”. They give you 10 different stories, and for each, you have to read all 10 persons’ descriptions and check whether it fits you or not, or if people you know would think it fits you or not. You have to select one person for each option. Since they used radio buttons, it took me 5 out of 10 stories to figure out you could check two options for one person… First time I saw radio buttons for multi-selections… I actually wanted to change my answer when the 2nd radio got selected instead, and I couldn’t figure out how to remove any of them. Fortunately, the 5th option (None of the above) unselected the others.

Honestly, I thought the experience was boring, it’s a lot plain reading and no interaction, no pictures, nothing! The interface is very basic, and offers very little conviviality. While I was reading, I wished I could select a “maybe” option so that when all 10 descriptions were read, I could just review those, but I couldn’t, so you have to note on the side or try to remember.

If you add the outdated website that jammed the 10 descriptions into a small box taking only half of my screen’s height in which I had to scroll, none of it seemed appealing. What kept me going was to find out what the result was! Nevertheless, as I was going story to story, roughly knowing what to answer, I wondered if the result would be any good.

My result

After answering the 10 story, the following message was displayed:

Thank you for your time in successfully completing TGI TeamabilityTM. You may now close your browser tab/window.

I had no idea what to do next. Fortunately, I checked my emails and received one from them with the report attached (a clearer message could have been a good idea).

It seems I am a “Vision Mover“, here is part of the description:

You can be forceful and aggressive in how you approach other people. Once you are given a mission or decide upon a goal, you try to be very determined to reach that goal. Your job, as you see it, is to take a Vision and start the process of deciding how to get it done. It helps that you are an ‘idea person’. In the military, you could be the classic lieutenant, the number two person, the one who is responsible not for DOING the work but for making sure the work gets done. Your style is to try to work out best HOW it will get done and then attempt to make sure it DOES get done. Perhaps people sometimes get annoyed with you for being too ‘bossy’ but that is the way you accomplish your goals. The Vision Mover is very like the handle of a lever and the Vision is what is being moved.

As a project manager, I think this fits me quite well!

The report includes self-development suggestions, characteristics towards a team, best “role” to work with (the Vision Former for me), and other miscellaneous information.

In conclusion

The experience is boring but the report you get at the end is actually great. I was surprised that it described me very well when I wasn’t sure what to answer throughout the experience.

It seems that I get things done, and work well with someone who finds something to get done!

If you want to try it, I think the fee mentioned in the webinar was 80$ (US I presume), it may not necessarily be appropriate for a personal use, but for an organization who wants to fine-tune their team, or the people they hire, it can be interesting to try it.

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4 reasons you should track time

The Passage of Time

Photo credit: ToniVC

Time is precious, especially when it comes to using the very little that’s available to do all the work that’s in front of us, or in front of the very limited resources we have for our projects.

So why not try to manage it a little better? Tracking time is a very good start, and just to be clear, I do not mean just tracking how much time you spend on a task, but also track how much time is available while it’s being used. For example, if a developer enters “4h” for a task, that’s great, but it’s even better if he is informed that 10h are left for that task.

Here is why it’s important:

1. Makes us realize the truth

How many time have you heard “in will only take two minutes”? Or maybe you are the one who has a habit of saying that! By tracking your time, you will quickly realize that the “two minutes” needed is actually 10-15 minutes. What if you think it’s 15 minutes? Well it’s probably more 30-45 minutes.

Unless we actually track time and pay attention to the time we spend on our work, no matter the time we think we need each time, we’ll need twice the time in the end, if not more. Tracking time makes us aware of all this. That’s when we can estimate the time we need accurately for our tasks, and that’s when you can really have control over your schedule.

Also, once you and your team know the real time you need for your tasks, your project estimates become more accurate, and that’s when it becomes even more interesting!

2. Gives us clear objectives

The objectives are set when specific amount of time are set for each tasks. It’s important to note that estimates need to be realistic for this to be efficient, or people will stop taking the time available seriously.

By paying  attention to the time left for a task, we have a clear objective of the time we are supposed to spend for a task (To develop a specific module for example).

Clear objectives of time gives you better focus so you will be more efficient and will avoid “stretching” the time you spend on the task. Also, you will make different decisions while executing your work so you can stay within the allocated time.

Furthermore, by knowing right away you should spend 5h on a module, when you thought of spending 20h, will immediately raise questions on your part, and you will be able to validate if you understood the task correctly, or if maybe you were going to gold plate the project. Maybe it’s the other way around, and the time estimated is not enough; the project manager can be informed quicker that way rather than if he finds out when it’s all over. It can then be managed proactively rather than reactively.

3. Gives us valuable information for estimates

When estimating projects, it’s important to be able to validate it by comparing our current estimate with previous estimates for similar projects. It can also be used for quick analogous estimates. By having no time tracked whatsoever, than all estimates are pure guesses, and can have horrible consequences if the projects are signed.

For example, if you estimate a website at 30K, and you compare with a previous similar website done, and realize that you need 50K, you want to know before it’s too late! If you find out at the end of the project, imagine the money lost! Even worst, if you do not track time, you won’t really be able to tell that you went over budget, which is worst.

4. We can analyze results and make important decisions

This is where in can become fun! Once you have accumulated a lot of projects time sheets, you can start to analyze the results. That can be a real eye opener.

For example, you may find out that all our projects were over budget when it comes to design. You can than decide to raise your design budget in general because the work in underestimated, or instead, have the design process optimized to reduce time spent.

You can also find out that all your projects categorized as “Website development” are the ones that have a bigger profit margin. You can than identify “why?” and improve your other types of project. Or maybe you will decide to have a greater percentage of website developement in your portfolio from now on.

There is a lot of information that can be analyzed here, and the more time sheets you gather, the more analyzing you can do.

In conclusion

The very little time it takes to track time will give you more than enough valuable information to make it worth your while.

Tickspot Time Tracking Software

There are many time tracking tools out there, one that I particularly like is Tickspot which also indicates the percentage of time left for each tasks as you enter your time. All the team members can know right away the time left, without having to do anything. It’s also a very fast and easy to use software that includes mobile applications, and a desktop time tracker too.

Do you track your time? How do you use the results?


How to survive in a chaotic environment

Chaotic environments are not as rare as one would think, and depending of who you are, it will be hard to go through the days without feeling discouraged or frustrated. There are some tips that may help you during those hard times, but please note that overall, a chaotic environment should be eliminated, it is by far the worst type of environment you could work in. Unless it’s a temporary situation to fight through, finding another place to work at may be your best option.

Types of chaotic environment

Different situations create the chaos, here are some of them:

  • New organization: Completely new organizations have much to plan and organize. What happens sometimes is the execution of project is being favored to make sure “things are getting done”, and organizing can “come after”. Unfortunately, there is no “after”, there is always work to do, and if the company’s services are any good, more work should be coming. This situation will only worsen as the company evolves, the lack of organization will become more and more apparent, and have a bigger impact, especially if the company gains bigger projects. As people join the team, things will get more and more chaotic as the impact will multiply.Another situation with a new organization may not be the lack of prioritization, but the lack of knowledge. People may not know how to properly build/manage a team or organize a company. The result will be the same, but in this situation, if newly added team members bring new knowledge, although it may be too late to apply it easily, at least management is less reluctant to making some important changes. This situation could be temporary, but may very well be permanent, making it hard for the organization to grow as much as it would want.
  • Rapidly growing organization: This is a risk with a good situation; when the opportunity for large projects or many small ones becomes available, and the team must double within a month. A plan to have a 20 member team VS a plan for 40 people team can be completely different. Therefore, the result may be that all of a sudden, no actual plan is available. Also, the new team members may have a different view of how to work compared to the already available team, and opinions may clash. This situation is normally temporary, people have to fight through, and the opportunities generally available can be worth it if the company keeps growing.
  • Poorly managed organization: This is an unfortunate situation but it can happen. When the top of the hierarchy does not know how to manage an organization or a team, it affects everyone under, no matter how hard-working they are. Even with the best of intentions, it will lead to disaster unless management learns to work differently, or management is changed.This situation could be temporary or permanent, and is the one that brings the most frustration out of the people who are the most invested in the company but cannot do much.

Certain signs

There are different signs of a chaotic environment, here are some amongst others:

  • Everyone working for themselves: The absence of teamwork is a very good sign. Everyone wants to do “their job” so they can leave at the end of the day, not caring for others, nor the projects. It’s like everyone is in “survival mode”. This will become very hard for the project manager as his job is to make sure the projects run smoothly, and it’s particularly hard when people are not committed, and stop caring.
  • Stress: A higher than normal stress level can be detected. That does depend of who you are, but if it does not affect you, you may notice it affects people around you. More stress means people will be unhappy, fatigued, and therefore the overall team’s health will lower with time. You may feel that higher than usual tension between colleagues is present.
  • Lack of resources: When resources are poorly organized, the work comes in, but it doesn’t come out. Another very hard situation for project managers that want their project to go forward. A very good sign here is the fact that projects are often under-sold just to keep work coming in, which results in no budget to find outside resources, making the situation even worst since you are dependant to the internal resources which are not available.
  • Overtime: This complements the point above. Overtime is part of our lives, and that’s fine; sometimes it’s even crucial for project deliverables. However, when overtime is part of a normal schedule, there is a problem. And if more work keeps coming in while everyone is already giving their 120%, then that’s definitely a sign that something is wrong.
  • Employee turnover: If you barely have time to learn people’s names that they already left, than that’s a good indicator that the workplace is not all that great or too hard. Although it does take some time to be noticeable, it’s an easy one to spot at some point. In this situation, people will stick around for a couple of months, but will rarely stay above six. How people leave will be an indicator too; for example, if an employee simply ‘disappears’ one morning, and you have to call him to find out he’s quitting, that’s not normal. I’ve actually witnessed a case like that!
  • Absence of client recurrence: You may think that your situation is known internally only, but the chaotic environment will give out a vibe to clients who pay attention, and they will also see a difference in the execution of their project. The result is that they will be less willing to work with you on a second project. What this does is that the company needs to find new clients all the time, which costs more than clients who come back for more. It makes it also harder to build a solid relationship with them, meaning that projects are a little tougher to manage since clients are always new.
  • Confusion: When everything is chaotic, and everyone is stressed as mentioned above, confusion rises. People will ask 3-4 times the same questions, or you will have to remind them several times to have a task done by tomorrow. A lot of information will be said but will get lost, many meetings will go on and on without anything constructive being decided, some people will receive requests from multiple people at the same time and you will cross your fingers that yours will be done as asked since they won’t know who to listen to or what’s important. It’s hard to spot this at first, and you may have a tendency to think it’s you who is confused, or that it’s a few isolated cases, but if you pay attention, or better yet, openly talk about it with your colleagues, you will find out that others feel the same way.

What can help

Here are some tips that can help you a little; if the situation is temporary, it will help you fight through it. Note that some tips may (or should) be applied even in other types of environment, they simply become even more important in this case.

  • Document/note everything: It’s a tip that should be applied in any situation while managing your projects, but here, go past any laziness or lack of motivation you may normally have. If you have your documents ready, you will avoid a lot on confusion, and you will develop a good habit of properly documenting your projects. Make them clear and efficient to avoid confusion.
  • Do only your best: The word “only” is key here. When someone is really invested in a company, he will try to do more and more, thinking that it’s never enough since it’s always chaotic. That added pressure will lead to more stress and eventually, a burnout. You cannot do more than your best, so don’t try it. Sometimes others may impose that pressure, so it’s important to say “no” accordingly. Read my article on the subject.
  • Prepare for the worst, hope for the best: The worst may often happen more than it should in chaotic environments. By always preparing for the worst, you’ll be ready for anything. It may take some extra time, but you won’t be sorry. It’s important to continue hoping for the best, it will keep you going, always stay positive! 🙂
  • Clarity: If you already read a couple of my articles, then you know I’m always saying to be clear. It’s twice as important to be clear when everyone is confused, and if people are bombarded by requests, they will be more tempted to execute what’s clear for them so you have a higher chance of having your tasks done, and your colleagues will appreciate it.
  • Share ideas: If people tend to work in silo, try to bring them together and share ideas on what could help. They may not be major changes, but anything can help in these situations. Plus, the added teamwork that is being done while sharing will help solidify the team through the chaos.

In conclusion

This type of environment is hard to work in, but if you fight through, great opportunities may arise. And also, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! Just be careful, pay attention to how you feel, don’t burn yourself out. If the chaos seems permanent, then looking elsewhere is your best bet.

Have you ever worked in a chaotic environment? Share your stories!