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4 tips on how to make the project manager shut up

Mouth

Source: chilombiano

This article is intended to be usable by project managers so that they can send it to their team members, in hopes that it will help communication! Also, bear with me when I write about shutting up PMs, I’m a PM myself ūüėČ

Project managers are perceived differently depending of where you work, what’s the work environment, and also what’s the project management maturity of the company. How the project manager or the team members act on a daily basis also has a great influence. But it’s not unlikely that they are seen as these little irritating creatures that sneak up on you, and are always asking questions or telling others what to do.

Well guess what? It’s their job, can you blame them? Now, how do we get them to shut up knowing all too well that they are trying to get things accomplished, and they can’t just ‘stop’? Here are some quick tips:

1. Have your work done

One thing that ‘forces’ PM to poke around with follow-ups is the fact that they want to make sure the work gets done. So, if they know the work will get done, they will simply wait to receive it.

So it’s simple, gain PM trust by making sure your work always gets done. If you are in a situation where it is impossible for you to finish what is asked of you, flag them as soon as possible (not at the last-minute!). Once that trust is gained, they will know there is no point in doing a follow-up since you will communicate with them when the time is right.

This also applies to anything you committed you would do, whether it’s simply answering an email or anything else.

2. Answer

Believe it or not, if they email you or Skype you, and you never (or rarely) answer, they will have to send you even more follow-ups, call you, or go see you in person. So if you don’t answer because you think they are irritating or ‘you don’t have time’, you’ll end up with even more noise!

If answering requires you to check something or do something before, at least give them a heads up of when you’ll get back to them, and they will stop pestering you.

3. Ask questions

Too often, when team members are missing elements, or have questions, they switch to another task (or project), and if they are asked a status of their task, only then will they flag they need something. So what happens in these cases? Well PM will make a mental note to always ask resources if they need anything because they want to avoid people skipping some tasks without flagging.

The tip is simple: if you need anything or have a question, ask! The PM will know that if you are not asking him anything, it means you don’t need anything, and he will stop pestering you.

4. Send needed info

Typical follow-ups or request for information turn around schedule, budget, scope. Meaning PM will ask you if you are on time, how much effort (hours) is still required, and if you have any questions or if anything is missing. So it’s simple, they won’t ask if they already know, so depending of the tools used within the team: update your tasks’ % complete, send them a little “I have everything I need”, communicate proactively and the PM won’t have to ask you anything.

In conclusion

It’s a PM’s job to make sure communication happens, if it doesn’t, they’ll make it happen. So communicate, and they’ll bug you a lot less!

Have any other tips you want to share?


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4 tips to reduce reluctance with change

Stop

Source: xenia

Changes are part of life, we live them in our personal life, and in our professional life. If you work in IT, changes are ongoing, and if you don’t adapt quickly, you fall behind within months. Unfortunately, the human nature is to be reluctant to changes, so here are a few tips that will hopefully help you make changes happen:

1. Make it simple for them

No matter the change, whether it’s a new technology, a new process, a new methodology, etc., the steeper the learning curve, the fewer people will be onboard.

So how can you make it simpler? There are a couple of ways:

  • Build tutorials: Any guide whatsoever will simplify the learning curve. It can be very simple to more elaborate depending of the size of the change. Avoid anything long or boring. Go with quick and easy, like cheatsheets, or something interactive.
  • Available help: Let people know that you (or someone else) is available to help them. Obviously, make sure it’s true, and appropriate help is given when needed.
  • Plan the change: If the change is structured and iterative, people will be introduced step-by-step to the change instead of forced into all at once. That will greatly reduce the fact that people are generally scared of changes since it’s not moving too fast.

2. Show how it’s helping THEM

This tip may not apply for all the changes we want to execute, but amongst other types of changes, let’s say you would want to change a tool that a team uses for projects: The initial reaction would be that it’s either “just another tool added with the others” or “why are we doing this?” or something to that effect.

You want to make sure that people are aware of how the changes are good for THEM, not you or management, THEM. In my example above, you could tell them it’s going to make their overall work easier by having a faster tool, or that this tool has a great set of notifications that will greatly reduce the number of things forgotten.

By focusing on that when you brief the others, they will also focus on that while they are juggling their emotions towards the change. As they fight the reluctance, they can remind themselves how it’s helping them, and it will reduce complaining.

3. Ask “why?”

This tip can be applied once reluctance is being detected. It’s easy to insist on something, or even to force it on people, but by simply asking why they are reluctant, you may find out that it’s because of silly reasons, or justified ones. Once that is identified, you can work towards eliminating those reasons. You may even find out that your idea is not as good as you thought and it’s you who may have to change!

By asking why, you’ll receive valuable feedback as long as it’s constructive, which is always something you want to encourage inside your team.

4. Don’t give up

Stay positive, and keep it up. Don’t quit at the first “no” that is thrown at you. If one strategy doesn’t work, try another approach. Only stop once justified reasons have come up, then adjust yourself, and try something else!

In conclusion

Changes everywhere; some like them, some hate them, and some make them happen. No matter what, there will always be reluctance, so do your best to fight it.

Share your tips and stories! I’m certain a lot of you are facing challenges with changes inside your teams.

PMI - PMP


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PMP certification quick tips to prepare

PMI - PMPFor those who want to dive into the PMP exam and feel like they don’t know where to start once they applied, here are some quick tips to help guide you:

Avoid setting your exam date too quick

This may vary depending of how much free time you have in your schedule, but give yourself at least 2 months to study, some even need 3 to 4.

Plan your studying

You want to avoid studying at the very last minute, like most of us are most likely to do. Build a weekly study plan that includes every detail to how many pages of the PMBOK per day you’ll read, to how many quiz simulations you do.

It may seem overkill for some, but it works if you stick to it, assuming your plan is realistic towards your schedule.

PMBOK doesn’t have to come first

The PMBOK guide is great but not necessarily “fun” to read. Sometimes, it even lacks proper examples or context, and states too bluntly what should be done. This being said, although not mandatory to actually read it, it’s good to go through it once, but read an alternate book first like Head First PMP or Rita’s course. The PMBOK will then be easier to read and understand.

Do several test simulations

The more you answer questions, the better. What’s important here is to review your answers once you have your score,¬†that’s what will help you learn.

It’s also suggested to do at least one real 4h simulation with 200 questions, so you can see when you need to rest or how long you need. After that you can adjust your speed accordingly.


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5 types of phonies to clear away from your projects

Keep out

Source: jppi

When you are looking for someone to add to your team or you have somebody “forced” into it, you want to make sure that you can depend on that person. Although some will hide very well the fact that they are not productive or simply do not have the required competence, there are some signs you can use to spot those people.

Keep in mind that these signs assumes it’s with someone you do not know. If it happens with someone you know and trust, it may very well not apply. Also, it’s important to note that theses different examples are taken from real experience, nothing is fake!

1. The one that doesn’t get anything done

That one may seem obvious at first, but what’s tricky here is that they will camouflage the fact that they did not do the job. Typical excuses will be: I wasn’t properly briefed, I needed something from someone else, I didn’t have time, etc.

The trick here is to test them with small tasks here and there, tasks that you know without a doubt that they have all necessary assets & time to do, and see if they do it without having to tell them 3-4 times.

2. The one that estimates unknown work

This one could be spotted even before you add someone to your team. The one that estimates the work, and has no idea what the work is nor does he seem to show any interest in knowing what it is either . You think it can’t happen? Oh yes it does! Luckily, this is easy to spot, and should be a deal breaker right away. Heck, I’ve even come across a whole agency who sent out estimates of projects that were still unknown!

Here is an example taken from a real-life experience: The PM got into contact with a Front-end developer freelancer for his project so he could ask for an initial estimate. He sent a JPG of the new layout for an existing web page by mail explaining that a page already exists and should be changed to the new design. The freelancer replies that he hasn’t looked at the design but it should take 3h… how can he possibly know? Well guess what, it did not turn out too well the freelancer since he didn’t know what he was doing and someone else had to pick up the work.

3. “Don’t worry answer”

This one is my favorite (although less favorite phony): the confident “Don’t worry about anything” team member. The first thing you want to do when you hear this is…worry ūüôā

Don’t get me wrong, a colleague can tell you not to worry, and well….don’t worry! This particular case is for when the team member does not answer questions like “are you almost done” or “how much time do you need”, or anything similar to that. Since they don’t actually know what they are doing and cannot truly answer, they will tell you not to worry so you go away.

So if you ask questions and receive that answer, ask your questions again, make sure you get your answers. You may quickly notice that he cannot answer or the answer will not make sense.

4. CTRL-TABer

In case you do not know, CTRL-TAB (or CMD-TAB on MAC) is a shortcut to quickly switch between opened applications. Useful if you want to be productive or….if you want to switch back to Facebook when someone walks by.

If you have a feeling that your colleague’s windows changes every time you arrive at their desk, then use a little stealth to have a look at their screen before you start talking to them and they notice you. You may find out that they don’t actually work half of the time.

5. The cow-boy

I’ve had old colleagues calling them that, but it’s basically someone who can do the job very well, but he’s in it for his own personal gain, so he does what he wants, how he wants. What will typically happen with those team members is that you will receive something different from what you asked for because they thought it was ‘cooler’, or they will gold-plate your project just to try out a new framework, and you’ll be left with a dead budget.

They may be very competent, but they are very unreliable, so be careful with those. What’s really tricky is that since they are good and they are testing new technology or work differently, they create a dependency towards them since others may not be able to pick-up their work (play in their code for example). You have to make sure they are watched closely.

In conclusion

If you are lucky enough to spot them before they are added to your team, then simply select someone else. If you are stuck with this team member, than confronting them, or changing resource may be your best option.

Another trick, if you have the luxury of being able to do that, is to have these people do mini-tests before they join the team. For example, a developer could have to develop a simple login to have access to a secured page, and then you can have a look at the code. It’s a real eye-opener and can filter 90-95% of candidates before you add them to your project. Really!

One thing is for sure, don’t wait to act or to prevent, these people can have disastrous effects on your projects.

Have you ever been stuck with a phony? Share your story!

Documents


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IT projects: The challenges of documentation

To complement a previous article on 7 tips for well documented projects, here is a more in-depth view on challenges we face with documentation and how we can face them head-on.

Documents

Source: imelenchon

Laziness with updates

Let’s be honest, updating documents in not fun, especially if we update it 5 times in one day because lots of changes occur. Furthermore, depending on the available¬†documentation (documents, software, etc.) and how fast/efficient it is to update it, we tend to justify our laziness with the fact that it wastes too much time.

What this causes is that all the documentation becomes unreliable because nobody knows what’s good and what’s outdated, so nothing will be used.

To reduce as much laziness as possible, it’s important that the documentation can be updated very quickly, without too much of a hassle. This can be done by taking into account the next items below in this article.

Too much information

Just like speaking, the document must communicate a message that must be received and understood by the receiver. If that is not being accomplished then whatever was written becomes useless. Amongst other factors, this can be caused when there is way too much information available, and people can’t find what they are looking for quickly. If someone talks a lot, and way too fast, he may have given you all the necessary information, but if you didn’t understand it, then it’s not successful communication at all; it’s the same with documents.

Imagine this scenario: you have spent hours accumulating information, and documenting everything in a nicely done 35 page document. You are so happy it’s done because this document can now be used by everyone to execute their work. What typically happens? People will open the document looking for information, then they will see that there are 35 pages filled with information. What happens then? Most of the time, they will close the document and ask you for the information instead. That is when you will go have a look, and since you need to answer your colleague, you will spend 30 horrible minutes trying to find the information, and once you find it, you will email it to your colleague. All this could have been avoided if your colleague knew how to find the information quickly.

So how can we make it better? 2 things:

  • Keep documents short and sweet: avoid long sentences when 2-3 words could be used; and
  • Keep in clean: Put aside information that is not relevant anymore and make sure only the needed information is available right away.

Scattered information

The more people are involved in a project, the more scattered the information will probably be. It could be inside mails, chat, documents, software, while speaking, etc. All this information becomes hard to find, if not lost, and the probability of error is enormous.

To avoid or reduce this, the solution is to gather information very few strategic locations and avoid duplicates of information. Whether it’s in several documents in the same folder, or inside a software; all important information should be stocked somewhere easy to find.

At the same time, avoid the previous item (Too much information), so make sure you keep everything clean when gathering everything. Keep in mind that this may use up time, especially if you are gathering information from various mails everyday, but if you compare to the time wasted searching for the information when it’s scattered, not to mention the time wasted on errors/confusion, you’ll notice it’s all worth it.

Lack of standards

Many agencies have to face this, whether there is a PMO or not, there are lots of cases where each project manager can manage the way he pleases, with some (or none) constraints like for example which software to use. However, when it comes to documents, it may be a little more loose, or they will use the same templates, but not use it in the same way.

This may create confusion and negate the possibility of developing good habits. Team members will tend to ask PMs for the information since they don’t know where to find what they since it’s never the same with the different projects or PMs.

By working with the same tools, and using same practices, people will be able to create great habits that will be timesaving. For example, if they know that the schedule is always available in a software, that all necessary milestones are identified there, and it can always be quickly opened for every project, with every PM; they will create a habit of checking the dates themselves instead of having to ask the PM 4-5 times during a project’s execution.

That’s just one example, but lots of habits can be created for the whole team in various places if documents are done the same way, and available at the same place.

In conclusion

Documentation is important for every project but it’s not always easy having the best documentation ever, and having everyone using it just like they are supposed to. Keep in mind that the more you fine-tune it, and communicate with the team to receive their feedback, the better it will get.

Have you ever faced other challenges with documentation?

List


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7 tips to help you with your to-do list

List

Source: xololounge

To-do lists are great to keep track of everything that we need to do, but it gets flooded and we get lost in it, it can actually be counter productive.

Here are a couple of tips to help you with that:

1. Tougher tasks in the morning

As the day goes by, and we work really hard, we get more and more tired, and tasks become harder. To make sure we get things done even if we are tired, it’s important to have heavy/hard tasks done in the morning. That way, you can tackle them while you have the most energy, and when you start feeling depleted, you can jump to simpler tasks that you will still be able to get done even if tired.

If you do the opposite, chances are, your heavy tasks won’t get done, or not properly, and you will end having even more work on your plate.

2. Have routine tasks

There are always some tasks here and there that we have to do on a regular basis. Those kind of tasks generally¬†could¬†be done on the same day, at the same time. The more ‘routine’ it becomes, the less energy you will actually use to execute them since it you will so used to doing them therefore you are using less energy, even next to none.

As mentioned in tip #1, you might also want to plan those tasks in the afternoon when you are more tired.

3. Limit yourself

If you want to plan what tasks will be done when, you have to be able to know what time you need. Start paying attention to the time spent on your tasks by tracking your hours. That way, you’ll be able to fit the right amount of tasks in your day.

Another limit you want to impose yourself is the number of heavy/hard tasks you set in your day. Since they will use most of your time and energy, limit yourself to maximum 3 of those tasks per day.

And finally, limit yourself in the amount of hours you plan in your day. Keep in mind that tasks may take more time than planned, or you get disturbed, or something urgent may come up; book about 80 to 90% of your time only, leaving the rest for uncertainties. Gauge the percentage depending of your work environment. The more chaotic it is, the more buffer you want. There once was a time when I booked about 40-50% of my time only, knowing that I would get disturbed enough to fill up the rest!

4. Delegate

Some have a hard time delegating, and although I won’t get into details on how to delegate in this article, I will emphasis on the fact that if you are in any position of management or leadership, delegating is part of your role and it’s very important to do or you will always be flooded with things to do.

5. Make your list clear

It’s important that you don’t waste time understanding your own list or trying to figure out what’s next. Make sure it’s well separated by taking these quick tips into consideration:

  • Due dates: Must it get done today absolutely? Maybe you have more time then you think and you can tackle something else?
  • Time required: If it’s for next week but you need to invest 40h to accomplish it, then it may be good to start before something that’s due in 2 days. Plan certain amounts of hours per day for these tasks.
  • Importance VS Urgency: If may be urgent, but maybe it’s not really important, prioritize what you should tackle.
  • Color coding: Depending of what you use for your tasks, you may want to use color coding to be able to separate urgent/important/not urgent tasks at a glance.

6. Limit meetings

Assuming the meetings are actually needed at all, and that your job role doesn’t resolve around meetings, avoid booking more than 2-3 hours a day. Meetings can take a lot of energy, making the rest of the day unproductive. Usually, meetings aren’t actually productive to start with, so maybe you can even reduce the number of meetings you have overall.

7. Use technology

A piece of paper or post-its for quick notes may do the job, but with today’s available technology, you can easily have your to-do lists available at all time. This lets you access it even if you are in a Taxi on your way for a meeting, or even lets you take some notes when you think of something while taking a walk. All of this can save an incredible amount of time, and reduce confusion looking for tasks amongst 15 pieces of paper or 25 post-it.

Also, these applications can have very useful functionalities like notifications or sharing. It may also be able to help you sort everything out with dates or colors.

In conclusion

There are tons of tips to help with to-do lists. There are also various ways to list your tasks, or many applications/platforms available today. What’s important is to find what fits your needs and your work environment. One application or technique that works for someone may very well be useless for someone else.

Pay attention if it suits you, try different options, and fine-tune all the time.¬†Don’t hesitate to share any tips you may have!


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5 reasons to K.I.S.S.

Keep It Simple Stupid

Photo credit: Hey Paul Studios

An old colleague of mine once told me “K.I.S.S.!!!”, as in “Keep It Simple Stupid“: one of the best advice I ever got, and here is why:

1. People will jump onboard

Whether it’s using your documents or your tools, if they are so simple that there are no reason to skip them, people will use it. This means an incredible amount of collaboration is added versus when you have to force people into using them.

2. Less confusing

The more paperwork, or information, or anything for that matter, that is available, the more likely people will get lost, and simply “run away” from it all. This means, keep everything clean and stripped to the minimum people need.

3. Faster

Time is money and it’s faster when things are simpler. It’s faster for people using it and also for people putting it in place. If everything is faster, that means more money!

This is also a good thing to consider when looking for a new applications, or platforms to use to manage projects, issues, or anything for that matter; the simpler it is, the faster people will be able to use it properly, the more efficient people will become.

4.Complex is not necessarily useful

As cool as it is to have 2500 functionalities in a tool, or as efficient it may seem to have written 30 pages of documentation; if people don’t use it, it’s not useful. It’s a waste of time actually and will make you reluctant to doing it again.

 

Has keeping it simpler help you in any way?