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Project management, productivity, change management, and more!

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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If you add the outdated website that jammed the 10 descriptions into a small box taking only half of my screen’s height in which I had to scroll, none of it seemed appealing.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!

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Why and how to give constructive feedback

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Source: anon

As per requested after my article on the importance of feedback, this one covers why you should always give constructive feedback, and some tips to help you do it.

In this context, we are talking about all feedback in general, whether it’s about someone’s personality, someone’s work, or anything else. It applies to any aspect of your life when you communicate with others.

Constructive feedback gets the word accross

Feedback generally is a cause for change, and our reflex towards change is to be either scared or reluctant of doing it which is why the approach you use when giving feedback as a strong impact on the receiver’s reaction.

By staying constructive, the receiver will listen more, and will avoid going on the defensive. Therefore, your message has a much better chance of being taken seriously, and you will not enter into a never-ending debate.

Few tips

  • 1. Stay positive: Avoid insults or anything that might make the receiver feel bad. For example, avoid any speech that sounds like “You do this wrong so….” or “You messed up, next time…”. All those words bring absolutely nothing to your message, so just don’t use them. You still have to get your message across so you can’t sugar-coat it too much, just be careful on the words you use.
  • 2. One-on-one: Depending of the nature of the feedback, consider giving it when you’re alone with receiver. Therefore, you will avoid any pressure the presence of others add, and the receiver will be more open. Some people are too proud and may deny everything while others listen so by talking alone with them, you’ll get them to listen.
  • 3. Everyone is different: Know the people you give feedback to. Some are open, some are less, so you may have to vary your approach between “Simple direct honesty” to “Very gentle”. If you haven’t had the chance to get to know the receiver, then be gentle, and adapt the conversation depending of how the receiver reacts. If you feel that the receiver goes into the defensive, quickly change your approach to disengage, or you may have to stop altogether to prevent frustration or waste of time.
  • 4. Aim at what the receiver wants: Although this tip is good to consider in every type of communication, it still applies very well here. The trick is to concentrate your words around what the receiver will gain rather than anyone else. For example, you could use the team approach like “If you do it that way, others will like your code more.”, but the receiver will be more receptive if you turn it around for him only like “You will have a much better time using your own code if you do it that way instead.”. Try thinking about what the receiver wants, and turn your feedback around that. It may be tricky at first, but it becomes easier as you try it.
  • 5. Be clear: Explain the feedback, whether it’s by giving a simple explanation, or using specific examples. Avoid saying “Don’t use too much blue.” and turn it around like “If you use more orange, you’ll add contrast and visibility.”. If the message is understood, chances are, it will be taken into account. However, if it’s too vague or completely unclear, the receiver won’t know how to change, or won’t be motivated to do it, or worst, may even feel irritated.
  • 6. Ask the receiver how he feels: Giving feedback must be a conversation and not a one-way street. Ask the receiver what he thinks of the feedback, and how he feels. It will get him to open up and discuss, and you may even come to an understanding better than what you hoped for. Some people will give their opinion without asking, but some have a hard time speaking, so give them a chance to talk, make it easy for them.

In conclusion

Giving feedback is important, and how you give it is just as important. Avoid blaming others for a lack of openness if you do not pay attention to how you give feedback. Adapt your approach to the person and context, and you will get your messages across.

Feel free to share more tips or discussions you had.


One of the most important question ever

There is one question that can be asked over and over again and yet, it never gets old. It’s simple, short, efficient…but what is it?

It’s: “Why?“.

I hope you’re not disappointed 🙂

It’s actually a very important question, and yet, usually, it’s not asked, therefore, it’s not answered. Here I will focus around productivity and the context of project management but keep in mind that this question can apply to every situation of your life.

Why to ask it

By asking the question, you are forced to answer it. By doing so, you make sure that what you are about to do has meaning, has a purpose, has a goal, etc. It makes sure you are on the right path.

Ignore it, and you will have a hard time reaching your goals, or your project’s goals.

When to ask it

When a suggestion is given, or a decision is being considered, the question “why?” should be asked. Often people will suggest ideas, and will even be very persuasive when suggesting it, and yet, when you ask them “why should we do this?”, you will receive poor quality answers like: Isn’t it obvious?, because it’s cool, everybody does it, I think people will like it”.

Another situation is that a team will make a decision, but then you ask the famous question…. and everyone mutters words here and there, but nobody knows why it should be done, they were just happy to do it, but they find out it would not help the project at all.

What the answer should show you

The answer for the question “Why?” should confirm if the idea, the decision, or anything else serves it’s purpose. Remember that time is money, and in your project’s budget, I’m certain you did not include a budget for “doing things with no reason”. It gives meaning and value to what is being said.

It may also show that even though it’s a good idea, it’s not coherent with the project’s goals, therefore, you should find something else. For example, you may find out by asking “why should we add a contest on our website?” that it will drive new traffic to the website, but if the goal of the new promotion is to get users to stay longer on the website, then the idea is not the right one. If you do not ask “Why?”, you may skip that valuable thinking, do your contest, and find out that the users still leave your website within 30 seconds. Generally, it’s after that failed attempt that people ask “Why didn’t it work?”. Instead of wasting time and money by asking the question after, ask “Why should we do it?” before!

In conclusion

Simple: ask the question often, it’s important, reveals a lot, and also, it’s free!