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4 ways processes can prevent efficiency

Rusted wheel

Source: dhester

When working in teams, especially as the team is bigger, processes are what guides everyone, and helps everyone work together towards the same goal.

But have you ever felt as if the processes in place seem to add complexity rather than help? Here are some ways this might happen:

Who does what

Processes is not only what should be done, but by who, and sometimes, that’s just no clear enough, which creates expectations that are not met, therefore confusion, frustration, and conflicts rises from this.

In a struggle to get this clear, sometimes so much detailed/granular instructions will be given at the same time that people will get lost or confused in it.

Billable VS Non-billable hours

Tracking productivity by calculating & monitoring how any hours each spend on projects VS hours spent on internal tasks is important to make sure people are working on what brings in the money.

Non-billable hours include anything that’s not going to get a bill out of the door, meaning amongst other things: working on tools, template, processes, or any other ‘internal’ work. This is as still very important work since it affects all the work that’s going to be considered ‘billable’.

If no importance is given to those non-billable hours, then everyone will avoid to contribute on any of the above elements, and nothing will get fixed or improved.

Another negative effect this can have is how people enter their time; since non-billable hours have no value, people who need to work on internal stuff will be reluctant to do so, or even worse, they will enter their time in projects so that they seem to work on billable tasks. This adds a whole level of lying and deceiving that you want to avoid.

Tools

Sometimes it will be part of processes to use specific tools, whether it’s because of reporting, or more typically, because ‘people are used to it’. These tools are not always the best, and when forced to use them, will only slow people down, reduce motivation, and even completely prevent some to do their job.

Inappropriate for certain projects

Big chain of processes can be great and even absolutely necessary for big projects, or projects with typical deliverables. However, when you are tackling smaller projects, or retainers, well then processes should be adapted. You don’t want to spend your whole budget on internal processes and have nothing left to do the work!

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5 tips to delegate appropriately

Delegating is a skill that can be a very important part of your role, or it can simply be useful when you need help. Regardless, there is different ways to do it, and here are some tips to do it right:

1. Give a heads up

Depending of the environment where you work, people may be busy on a regular basis. They plan their time, and commit to deliveries all the time according to the tasks they have. If you do not give a prior notice, and delegate at the last-minute, they may not be as capable of committing to your request, or they may have to break other commitments.

Let them know before that you will have a request for them, and give them a high level idea of the request or time required so they can add this to their list of tasks.

2. Avoid barking orders

Delegating may very well be expected of you because of your role, or it might be because you need help. No matter the reason, respecting your colleague by asking them nicely is simple, and makes all the difference in the world for your colleague’s moral. A higher moral will raise motivation which also raises chances that your request is done properly in time.

So instead of “Do this!”, how about a “Could you please do this?”. And no reason not to add a smile on top of that šŸ™‚

3. Explain why it should be done

There is nothing that de-motivates more than not knowing why you are doing something. You question the request, you complain about it, you slow down or switch to another task, and it will probably not get done properly.

When you send someone a request, how about a simple explanation of why it needs to be done, and why it’s urgent, or important!

If you send your request saying it may be a good chance to obtain a new contract with a client, they will take it more seriously than just sending them “Do this report”.

4. Give clear expectations

This is important in all the communication you have at work, but when delegating, if you want to raise chances of receiving what you need, then it is important that your expectations are clear. If your colleague is guessing what needs to be done, chances are you will not receive what you needed.

For example, if you ask for a “maintenance report” for the client, well you may receive an Excel spreadsheet with hours per role (designer, developer, etc.). However, it’s not what you wanted to send, you wanted to send a PDF file listing tasks with hours spent for each. Well, simply state it, it doesn’t take much more time to tell, and will prevent wasted time from your colleague, and even yours.

5. Give a due date

Give a measurable due date, is it in 3 hours? Is it for tomorrow end of morning or tomorrow first thing in the morning?

By the way, ASAP is not a due date! Everything should be done ASAP, it’s like saying everything is ‘high priority’ which means that nothing is high priority.

If you don’t give due dates, don’t expect to have it done exactly when you need it. Furthermore, the team will have a hard time prioritizing all their tasks and confusion may rise.

In conclusion

If you delegate properly, you raise the chance of receiving what you need, so there is no excuse not to do it, and people will respect you for doing it properly.

Do you have any more tips to share?


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Back off! 3 things to consider when pressuring team members

Covering eyes

Source: hotblack

In project management, we often (maybe too often) have to work with tight schedules, surprises, scope creep, etc. What happens, especially when less experienced, is that we become stressed, and will transfer this stress to the team members through pressure.

Is that good? Sometimes, it can be, in others, it’s not. There are several things to consider:

1. Dosing is important

Too much pressure is never good, but the right amount can give your team members the boost they need to get the job done. Make sure everyone understands what needs to be delivered and how important it is, but use that opportunity to motivate them that can do it, rather than what’s going to happen if they fail. If you stress them too much, their productivity will diminish, and some may even not be able to work at all.

2. Everyone is different

Some work great under pressure, some not. Get to know your team members and how they react, and dose pressure accordingly:

  • Some love pressure: Those who are great under pressure will be at their greatest with just the right amount of stress. This means that you can emphasize on the delivery being very close, and how important it is to be on time, but you still need to avoid overdoing it.
  • Some hate pressure: Others just don’t react well to pressure. This means that you want to avoid completely adding in kind of pressure whatsoever. However, it is still important to let them know if any deliverables are due, or if anything if late so you want to use a different approach depending of the situation: talking to the whole team at once will reduce adding the pressure on only one or two person and that will make it easier to accept, and also, the tone of voice and your body language will have a great influence on how the members will react, this is important when communicating all the time with everyone, but it is also very important to be careful when you know the pressure will make your team member go berserk!

3. Pressuring & disturbing is different

It’s easy to get caught up in asking colleagues for statuses every half hour because a deliverable is due any second or is even late, and you want them to feel pressure to get the work done ASAP. This only makes matters worse:

  • You slow down work: By asking for statuses, you disturb team members, and prevent them from working on what you want. Even if they are disturbed for 1 minute, consider that they lost 15-30 minutes of momentum & concentration depending of what they are doing. Furthermore, the time they are spending to give you a status is also time they could be spending on finishing the work.
  • You irritate: If your team members are working on a deliverable that is due any second, you can expect that they are also stressed, which means they have less patience. Asking them for statuses will irritate them more easily in these cases, and could create conflicts. Also, he will focus less on his work, and more on how you are irritating him which will reduce his productivity. One thing you always want to avoid is to stand behind them while they are rushing the work, nobody likes that, go sit down, and wait for them to come see you.

In conclusion

Pressure can add focus and speed, but can also reduce it. Be careful of how you add it, and who you are working with, everything has to be considered carefully.

If you have anything to add, don’t hesitate to share!

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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 šŸ˜‰

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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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 availableĀ 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?


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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?