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Project management, productivity, change management, and more!


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The project went well, why bother talking about it?

English: Symbol "thumbs up", great

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Many waste great opportunities to gather very valuable information by taking projects that went well for granted. A typical saying is “The project went well, why bother talking about it?”, which is important to prevent, otherwise you may waste precious lessons you can apply elsewhere.

Projects that went well means that events/actions/etc. occurred which made it go well. So what exactly helped here? Identify all the positive elements of the project and make sure you get to the root of that positivity. By that, I mean, avoid being vague like “we had a great team working on this”. The root of this might be that the team has worked a lot together in the past and communicate greatly.

Once all this is gathered, figure out what can be applied to other projects, and make sure it’s actionnable.

For example, if a project went well because the client supplied everything on time, and you identify that the client was reminded weekly, with a simple list of what to deliver and when, then how about applying this technique with other clients?

Have a lessons learned meeting even for positive projects;Ā they are just as important as any other lessons learned mettings where you can make sure to learn from the project.


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To “Project plan” or to not “Project plan”, that is the question

books

Source: lensfusion

Project management plans are more often than not, either scattered documents/emails, completely not existent, or too huge. The result: it’s not being used properly, or not even useful.

Let’s have a look why, and what we can do about it:

Scattered documents/mails

A project plan is actually a combination of several subsidiary plans, carefully stored/combined so it’s easily found/accessible. If all those documents do not have a common location, then they will tend to be scattered on a network, or locally on someone’s computer. Even worse, the information will be scattered through mails that the team will waste time finding again and again.

What’s important is that everything is combined, whether it’s inside one document carefully tailored to the needs of the project, or several documents well stored in one folder, each well named and identified by version. It may do the job to scavenge through mails, and if you manage one or two small projects at a time, then fine, but usually, it’s not efficient at all. You will raise the percentage of confusion, errors, and waste of time if you leave things scattered.

Simple: all at the same place!

Completely not existent

A common practice is to simply “go with the flow” thinking it would be a waste of time to gather it somewhere safe when it’s been forwarded in a mail. What happens then? Some changes occur, some questions rise up, you look at the mails, send more mails, look at even more mails, etc, etc, etc…. You get the point!

Avoid all this. Start a plan, but always keep simplicity in mind; if you feel it’s getting complex, than it’s probably time to take a moment and try to simplify before it gets out of control. If you are unsure whether it should be part of plan or note, have it in, but it aside so it doesn’t get in the way but you know it’s there, and as you gain experience, you will get the hang of identifying useful VS not useful information.

No plan: No good!

Too huge

I left the best for last! In my opinion, this is probably one of the main reason people avoid project plans or are scared of them. Why do I think this one is the worst of the cases? Because an actual plan was done (yay!), all the good intentions was there, and a lot of work was put into it, only to have it rendered useless! Imagine how the PM feels when all the work/effort is going to waste.

Here, what is happening is the plan becomes a big ol’bucket of information. Whether it’s pertinent, used, old, new….Everything is there! The more, the merrier, right? NO! Why does that happen? When people open a blank Word sheet, their fingers just start typing SO MUCH words that a simple website objective becomes a large paragraph that nobody wants to read. So if you scale this to a whole project’s plan, then you have yourself a dictionary, ready to be read by…No one!

This being said, to avoid all this, are here some tips:

  • Use a quantity limiting tool: Instead of having big blank pages for you to fill, use Excel for example. The fact that you are limited to cells that make it hard to put in a lot of formatting will automatically make you create lists or shorten the information. Yes you could still fill it up as much as you want, but hopefully it’ll help you work on that.
  • Archive old information: Versions and old information is good to keep for reference purposes, but if they are not stored properly, by that I mean out-of-the-way, then it will clutter the pertinent information and people will less and less find the information they need.
  • Clearly separate the information: Tabs in excel, several well named documents, etc. Anything that prevents everything to be dumped at the same place. That way, if someone is looking for a particular information, he should be able to navigate quickly to what he is looking for instead of painfully searching through all the information.
  • As mentioned above, keep it simple!

In conclusion

Many reasons may give the illusion that project management plans are not necessary, and there is also a decent amount of chance that the project can go well without it if it’s small and if the PM doesn’t have too many projects on his desk, but the plan will make your life easier and the project’s life easier. So why not?

Got any more tips? Experience to share?


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5 tips for those many many mails you send

Nuvola-like mail internet

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Emails have been a very popular and practical way to communicate with people from all over the world. We use it everyday to send information to people, but are we using it wisely? Like any kind of communication, the objective is to make sure information is received and understood, but most of the times, our emails are unread, or misinterpreted, and our objective is not achieved.

This being said, here are several tips that can help with that:

1. Shorter is better

If you want to make sure people read your mails, you have to make sure they are quick to read, otherwise people will scan half your mail or maybe even ignore it. It’s simple, people generally do not like to read so consider these constraints:

  • Maximum 2-3 questions
  • Few sentences, no long paragraphs
  • Use bullet points or other formatting

2. Use attachments

If you really do have a lot of information to send, create a well formatted document that you attach to your mail. That way, people will read your email quickly and will be able to store that document instead of forgetting your very long mail amongst 200 other mails. That same document can also be updated, shared or stored with much more efficiency.

Also, keep in mind that pictures can really help receivers understand what you are saying. Try attaching some images and mentioning in your mail which image to check for which statement you make; that will clear everything up. Those image could simply be screenshots where you added an arrow or a red circle, anything to give visual aid will raise the probability of your message being understood.

3. Avoid chatting

Sometimes it’s just hard to explain something in a mail, in can be interpreted differently, or raise many questions. What that causes is a back & forth of mails, and a complete lack of effectiveness. If you have more than 3 mail exchange concerning the same subject, pick up the phone or use a chat.

4. Do not resolve conflict

Mails are to transfer information, and must never replace a conversation. Resolving conflicts can be tricky as it is, and using mails that open so many doors to interpretation, will amplify your conflict and may cause frustration or serious damage to the relationship. Conflicts are best resolved face-to-face or at least on the phone.

5. If urgent, pick up the phone

Have you ever sent a mail to tell someone to do something “now!”? Just to find out 3 hours later that they still haven’t read your mail? Well that’s because people don’t (or shouldn’t) look at mails every 5 minutes (it’s counter productive!), so if something is urgent, call them or go see them in person.

To clarify, “urgent” is relative, but here I’m aiming at anything you want known within the next 15-30 minutes tops.

In conclusion

Emails are very useful but can easily become counter-productive if you fall into the trap of using them for everything and not paying attention to how you communicate.

If you have other great tips, please share!


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3 reasons to work as ONE team

Team victory

Source: gracey

All organizations are formed by the combination of many teams of people, grouped by roles, or projects. Each team’s size may vary from very few to a lot. Although these are logical ways to separate people, in can also cause those teams to work in “silos” amongst one another. Here I want to emphasis on that one unique team which is actually everyone put together into one single large team. Think about it, even if 15 teams are separated, they are still all part of the organization, that one big team on top.

For example, in a matrix style organization, where resources from several teams are used to collaborate on a specific project, people working on the same project will collaborate as they are offered the opportunity to do it, resulting in them sharing their knowledge, and growing as a team while working on the project. While that happens, the other colleagues are mostly ignored since teams are each busy with their own work, and nothing is forcing them or giving them an opportunity to collaborate.

Here is why it’s important that the people keep that one big team in mind:

1. Knowledge sharing

Knowledge sharing is valuable for everyone, it gives everyone an opportunity to teach others, but also to evolve with the knowledge that others share with us. A typical scenario, as mentioned above, is that the sharing will be amongst the people working on the same project. When projects are done and new teams are created, then at some point new knowledge will be shared here and there.

However, what about the knowledge that could be shared with the others with who we have no project in common? Here is an example: A small team composed of a designer, a front-end developer, a back-end developer, and a project manager. Each of them will collaborate since they are linked with the project, but what about the sharing between the front-end developer and the other developers? Yes they may (may!) ask for help when they need it or may discuss a subject or two while eating, but no real continuous knowledge sharing will be done, so each developer will not necessary learn from others as much as they could.

It’s important to the most knowledge possible gets transferred on a regular basis, not just partially.

2. Better understanding of the organization

More often than it should, a lot of people are unaware of why certain decisions are made within the organization. That lack of understanding can bring frustration or destroy motivation, resulting in people leaving the organization.

On the other hand, if everyone is considered part of the same team, and this kind of information is shared with everyone, then a better understanding of the organization will be developed, and again, valuable feedback and knowledge can be shared. While the frustration and lack of motivation can be avoided, everyone will feel more part of the organization, resulting in higher moral.

3. Better productivity overall

If you have more knowledge shared, less frustration, more motivation, higher moral, and one big happy family, what happens? Everyone is more productive! This can result in great innovations, higher project success, higher quality in people’s work, etc.

It’s hard to say no to that šŸ™‚

How can that be achieved?

As mentioned, people work in team-silos because they are busy and each focused on tasks at hand. The sharing done is generally limited to the opportunities they have to actually collaborate with others. This means that opportunities have to be created. Here are some examples that can help:

  • Knowledge sharing lunch: Order pizza and have one or more people take about a subject during lunch. It could be one lunch per week where people volunteer to speak, and others attend. This idea is easy to put together, and the trick is to have someone maintain the lunches each week to make sure they don’t stop.
  • Knowledge sharing meetings: Similar to the first idea, this one could be considered more formal. The idea is to have a monthly meeting where subjects are assigned to members, and they have to gather knowledge on that subject so that they can share it in the next monthly meeting. This idea is also great to “force” people to do some research they wouldn’t do on their own. Again, it takes someone to organize and control those meetings, and makes sure everything runs smoothly.
  • PMO: Although this idea can be harder to build if none is existent, it is a great example of a core management place that makes sure that knowledge, standards, and processes are optimized and standardized with everyone. I will not go into details of the advantages of a PMO, but I will at least mention that it gives an opportunity for project managers to receive valuable knowledge from the others with who they will rarely work with unless a project is large enough for 2 or more project managers to work together.
  • Centralized tools: By tools, I mean anything that can be used to execute tasks, whether it’s document templates, lessons learned knowledge, codes, plugins, etc. One way to help people share without necessarily actively talking or collaborating, is making sure everyone has access to a repository of those tools. By using the same tools, and having access to other’s contributions, learning can be done without actually using anyone else’s time. Furthermore, that gives an opportunity for people to give feedback on those tools, or improve them, helping the others who use them.
  • Activities: More used as a team-building technique, this can still be very useful to get people to play/collaborate/talk. Even if it’s outside the workplace, it will simplify all the sharing that can occur after that since people will get to know one another better. This will reduce shyness, and raise collaboration overall.

In conclusion

Working in teams is one thing, but everyone working together in one big team can have tremendous advantages. It may not be easy, and it’s important that key resources regularly manage this since it will not happen by magic, but what it will bring to the whole organization is more than worth it.

Have you ever worked somewhere where people were one big team? Or completely fragmented?


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Requirements for the PMP exam

PMI - PMPMaking the decision to apply for the PMP exam can be hard, and not knowing where to start can be a real demotivator sometimes, so I hope this will help you get a head start. Note that depending of your education, the requirements vary:

If you have a secondary degree

Includes high school diploma, associateā€™s degree, or the global equivalent.

  • 35 hours of project management education. There are many courses available, and some will not require to physically be in a class. The PM Prep class is a great example where you watch videos, and pass a small exam to receive your hours;
  • Five years of project management experience. If you manage two projects in parallel for 3 months, it does not count as 6 months;
  • 7,500 hours leading and directing projects;
  • Hours and time are accumulated while you manage projects or parts of them, it doesn’t mean you officially are a project manager where you work.

If you have a four-year degree

Includes bachelorā€™s degree or the global equivalent.

  • 35 hours of project management education.Ā There are many courses available, and some will not require to physically be in a class. TheĀ PM Prep classĀ is a great example where you watch videos, and pass a small exam in order to receive your hours.
  • 3 years of project management experience. If you manage two projects in parallel for 3 months, it does not count as 6 months.
  • 4,500 hours leading and directing projects.
  • Hours and time are accumulated while you manage projects or parts of them, it doesn’t mean you officially are a project manager where you work.

Tips if you are not yet eligible

  • Make a list of all the projects you manage as you go on. Note the hours you spend on each of them separated by a process groups (initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, closing). This will become your best friend while you apply for the exam; and
  • For each project, note who was your superior in case of an audit. It may be especially helpful if you have worked in different places; and
  • Once you have passed your exam, it’s important to know you will have to gather 60 credits per 3 years to keep your certification. You may want to start searching and tracking sources of PDU (webinars, books, Seminars, etc); and
  • Visit the PMI’s website for lots of resources, and if you have any specific questions, contact them; they are really helpful!


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4 reasons to have a stakeholder register

A box full of business cards

Photo credit: Wikipedia

A stakeholder register is the list of everyone that affected by the project’s outcome. For example, it could be a client. This list includes all the necessary information gathered from your stakeholder analysis like contact information, roles, influence on project, any requirements whatsoever to meet towards them, communication preference, etc.

Some may be tempted to simply keep some emails from them which have their contact information in their signature, and think that this is enough. While it can do the job, here are several reasons having a real well-made stakeholder register can help you with your projects:

1.Manage the right expectations

Whether you manage expectations like an expert or not, if you do not manage the right ones, it won’t do you any good in the end. One situation that can completely devastate your project is communicating with one person throughout the execution of the project, and finding out later that your contact does not take any real decisions and his boss has the last word. What can happen is that the work, although validated by your contact, is not actually validated by the boss. If your contact regularly communicates everything to his boss, then it may be just fine, but it once happened to me where the boss had never seen the work done, and only saw the project once almost done. That’s when my contact called me to announce that it’s not at all what he expected and we had to make serious changes.

If I had known all along that another stakeholder, one with actual decision power over the project, was behind all this, I could have made sure that he was satisfied. By making a stakeholder register, you are forced to ask the right questions like “Who holds power?”, which can avoid situations like the one I lived.

2.Have requirements/preferences available

No matter how well you communicate, or how often, if it doesn’t meet requirements or other’s preferences, it will not be optimal. By including such information like “Send a status on the project schedule each Tuesday to Joe.”, you can then easily make sure he receives the status. If you have no idea, or if you do not document the information and forget, you may disappoint some clients.

3.Have all contact information in one place

If you don’t gather all information in your register, chances are, they are going to be scattered in mails, or on business cards laying around. By having all the information in one place, you always know where to look if you need to contact anyone. You save time, and most of all, you avoid losing the information.

4.Easier for a PM if the project is transferred

It may be easy sometimes only to think about ourselves when we document or gather information, especially if it’s information usually only we use, but it may be possible for you to have to transfer the project to another project manager; whether it’s because you are leaving the company or a colleague will take your place on a specific project, you have to consider that having a stakeholder register will help them in knowing who to call, whose expectations to consider most of all, and anything worth knowing to help manage them.

I once got a project transfer where there was about 10-15 people to contact, each on different occasions. Sometimes I had to contact 5 of them in one afternoon. Fortunately, the previous project manager made a list with names, emails, and when to contact each of them. At first, it can be hard to remember everyone at once, and what they do exactly, so having this list really helped me contact the right person at the right time.

At some point, you learn by heart who to contact, and when, but it’s still important to keep it updated even if you don’t use it much anymore, keeping in mind that the project may be transferred again.

In conclusion

The stakeholder register may not seem the most useful document of all. If you have a lot of work on your plate, you may be tempted to skip it. Nevertheless, in the end, it doesn’t take that much time to create (presuming you do not have 100 stakeholders) and the documented information may save your project if it helps you manage the right expectations.

Do you create stakeholder registers? Do you find it useful for your projects?


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4 reasons you should set clear objectives

Funny Signs

@Doug88888

Have you ever felt like you didn’t know where you were headed? Maybe it’s an entire organization or a team that seems to drift aimlessly? That’s probably because no clear objectives have been set, therefore, people struggle to go forward since they don’t know where “forward” is.

Here are several reasons it’s important to always set objectives for yourself, for your team, or even your organization:

Helps achieve goals

An objective is a road map to a goal ; if you have none, then you are accomplishing nothing. What’s also good to note is that the more you accomplish, the more motivated you will be to keep going while if you accomplish nothing, your moral will diminish. If this applies to a whole team, then that may break the team.

Avoids stretching work

It’s not a secret that the more time you have for a task, the more time that task will take you. Whether it’s by making different decisions that will make the work longer, or by simply working slower since ‘you have time’. By setting a specific duration in your objectives, you avoid all this.

It also prevents projects from becoming endless, which can be dangerous since they never get completed and eventually, they get cancelled.

Makes progress measurable

If you know where you are going, and for what time, then you can track your progress as you go. This means you can tell if you are halfway for example. What’s great about this is you can adapt depending on how it’s going. If you seem to be progressing slower than what you have planned, then you can take action (work harder, ask for help, etc) before it gets out of hand.

It’s also a great motivator; if you see that you are progressing, you will get that extra boost you need to keep on going until the end while if you have no idea how it’s going, you may feel the urge to stop.

Sets the team on the same track

If the objectives are set for a team, then it will direct everyone in the same direction. If no objectives are set, then everyone will drift their own way, and nothing will get accomplished. Not to mention the lack of teamwork this will bring by confusing everyone.

In conclusion

Clear objectives are like a map, they direct you where you need to go to achieve what you want. How you set your objectives is also very important, but that’s a topic for another day.

Have you ever been in an organization or team without objectives? How did it feel?