90 Percent

Project management, productivity, change management, and more!


Leave a comment

How to give bad project briefs

Briefing the team to start a project is an important step contributing to the project’s success. How the brief is handled can be very indicative of how the project will
go.

However, even if it is very important, some remain unaware of the impact it has on the team to have an unacceptable project brief.

Here are below a few examples of bad project briefs. If you are guilty of anything similar to this, please review how you brief your team, I know you can do better than this. 🙂

1. The “Pass-by” brief

Situation:

  • You happen to pass by the person you need to brief on the project;
  • You stop him in the middle of the corridor and start briefing him on the project right here, right now; and
  • You give him a very high detail description like “It’s a mobile app”.

Result:

  • The brief takes 5-10 minutes;
  • No notes were taken;
  • No next actions were listed nor discussed;
  • The proper team members were not included; and
  • The person being briefed doesn’t necessarily have time for this today and now is stuck with a “surprise” new project he was not aware of.

2. The “Catch it” brief

Situation:

  • You go speak to the person and tell him a project is starting for a client and he should take care of it; and
  • You leave saying you don’t have more information for him…

Result:

  • The person is left completely clueless as to what to do; and
  • He knows he can’t ask questions since you have no more information.

3. The “high…very high level” brief

Situation:

  • You need to have an estimate done for a project;
  • You brief the person who will handle the estimate by informing him that you need an estimate for a “A micro-site”;
  • The person asks for more information; and
  • You answer… “Well it’s a micro-site!”

Result:

  • The person has no idea what to estimate and is frustrated by the lack of information.

4. The “New service” brief

  • You need to have an estimate done for a project;
  • You brief the person who will handle the estimate by informing him that you need to estimate a “Parade Float”; and
  • The person replies by saying “We do web here…” (which is true)

Result:

  • The person has no idea what to estimate; and
  • The person feels confusion around the new “service” we suddenly offer.

5. The “Client approval forward” brief

Situation:

  • You work hard to win a new client, not involving the team in any steps;
  • After much effort to win this new client, he decides to go forward with the project and sends his written approval in a mail;
  • You forward the approval mail to the team asking to start the project;
  • That’s it…

Result:

  • The team has no idea what is going on;
  • They are also discouraged by the “project brief” they just received.

6. The “When can it be done” brief

Situation:

  • You are in a meeting with a client who just agreed to have his websites done by your team;
  • Happy, you fetch the person responsible for production to meet the client;
  • Knowing he is completely clueless of the websites, you ask your colleague: “When can his websites be done?” while the client remains there, smiling, eager to know the answer.

Result:

  • Your colleague is put in a bad position where he is surprised, cannot answer, and must stay professional in front of the client; and
  • Gives a bad impression to client to see how his project started.

7. The “Client wants something else” brief

Situation:

  • Client gives you detailed information of what he needs;
  • You feel the client needs something else than what he his requesting; and
  • You brief the team according to what you think the client needs, and you do not share the original information the client provided to you.

Result:

  • The team is never able to satisfy the client, no matter how hard they try;
  • They are confused by the difference between what the client feedback says and what you say; and
  • Not only frustration build up, but so much time (and money) is wasted because of this.

In conclusion

Project briefs are the first impression of a project to your team, make sure it’s done right. Not only that, can you imagine if the clients knew how bad their project was transferred to the team? They would not feel confident the team could handle it, and they would be right.

Have you ever received a bad project brief? Share your story!

Freeze


Leave a comment

One great tip to help control scope

Freeze

Source: mparkes

As project managers, controlling scope can be very challenging.

You’ll want to avoid scope creep but if managed properly, scope changes can mean more budget. At first glance, this seems like a good thing, and in a way, it is. But there are a few others aspects to verify.

Be careful

For example, you can negotiate more time to the schedule, but this can result in the project dragging over a long period of time, and actually never end.

Another aspect to watch out more is as scope changes, team motivation diminishes. People need to close down projects and move on to the next challenge.

Still in the subject of team members, depending on how your organization work with resources, team members may not be available past the initial deadline planned. This may result in resource switches that add risk or cost to your project.

Projects should have goals too, and often goals are tied to a time-sensitive subject like an event, a new product, a contest, etc. By dragging these projects, the project goals may not be met.

So the tip? Negociate a scope freeze!

A great way to protect the project is to negotiate a scope freeze with stakeholders. This means that nothing gets changed until the current scope is completed. This doesn’t mean that planning for the next phase cannot start prior to the first one being done, it’s even suggested to start planning phase 2 while phase 1 is being completed, assuming you can secure the necessary resources of course.

Not every stakeholder may approve of this, they might feel secure with the idea that they can ask for any change any time, so it will be important to be diplomatic when discussing this and avoid forcing it upon them. Focus on the success of the project and the dangers of allowing constant changes.

Keep a backlog

If changes are requested or mentioned, it doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Anything that his discussed, even if a scope freeze was negotiated, should be noted in a backlog and reviewed when planning for a future phase.

It would be a great waste to forget all of those ideas.


Leave a comment

Continuous improvement – Part 4 – Tips

find-ideas

Source: ratch0013

In case you missed Part 1Part 2, or Part 3,  don’t forget to read the articles!

To end this 4 part article about Continuous improvement, here are several tips that will help you overcome the challenges that you may meet while trying to bring change in your team or agency:

1. Create a habit out of it

Just like everyone can get stuck in the routine of doing everything the same way all the time, you can create a habit of listing ideas, grabbing feedback, or adjusting/fine-tuning anything you can.

For example, every 3 months you can set yourself a reminder to ask people if they have feedback on a tool, or ideas to improve how everyone uses it. As time goes by, pay attention to the evolution of the feedback as it may change from “Everything is great” to “I found out about a new tool…”.

2. Gain buy-in from managers

If you do not have any power to use resources to make change happen, than sell your ideas to people who do have it. If they agree and make available the necessary resources for the change, then you will obviously have a better chance of making it happen.

To gain buy-in, there are several ways to convince someone:

  • Show the monetary gain of the change;
  • Show how things can go faster;
  • Show how better quality will be produced;
  • At the same time, you can use the current situation and show how slow, inefficient, or low quality things are at the moment;
  • Show people’s feedback;
  • Show are things are being done elsewhere and the result;
  • etc.

3. Accept mistakes

One of the reason we don’t want to tackle change is because we are scared of making mistakes. The thing is, you will learn a lot from your mistakes, and what’s important is to adjust right away when it happens.

If a new process just doesn’t work, either fine-tune it, or go back to what it was. Just don’t let it stop you, learn from it and let it bring you even further.

4. Find others

Usually, you will be able to find others who feel changes needed. Discuss with them, gather their feedback, their ideas, and get them on board to help you bring that change to life.

If you think you are alone thinking things need to change, you are wrong. Although at first it may look like nobody wants things to change, a lot do but are scared or just don’t think they can have an impact. People will join in, and make sure to include them as much as possible throughout the process of the change.

5. Think small / Think big

Changes can be very small and they can also be big. Do not neglect the small changes that can fine-tune your big changes into something even better. Just like sometimes the biggest, toughest changes are the ones that are going to bring the best results.

Vary the sizes of the changes you tackle. Even a small change sometimes keeps you motivated for the next change, just like finishing a small task during your day.

6. Think of others while planning

Unless the change is only going to affect yourself, think of others when planning how the change will impact everyone. The others will make your change live or disappear, if you neglect them, they will surely make your change revert to its original state.

How? Simple, talk to them, ask them what they like, don’t like, what’s their opinion on the path your change has taken, if they agree or disagree, ask them to test whatever your doing, involve them. Avoid doing this behind everyone’s back and then imposing the change suddenly without the proper training/support; your change will surely fail and everyone will just keep doing what they were doing before.

7. Ask these simple questions: “How can we be better?” or “How can this be better?”

The title says it all; just by asking yourself (or others) this question, you can be surprised of how many ideas can come out of it.

Do a brainstorm session and use those questions to start some discussions, and you’ll see there are many ideas that will pop out.

Also, ask these questions even if things are going well; just because a tool is great or a process is going well, doesn’t mean it can’t be even better.

In conclusion

This concludes the 4 part article on continuous improvement, I hope you enjoyed. Do share your ideas or stories of when you brought change within your team.

Where to start?


Leave a comment

Continuous improvement – Part 3 – Where to start?

Where to start?

Source: Stuart Miles

In case you missed Part 1 or Part 2, don’t forget to read the articles!

So you want to tackle continuous improvement, you have many things that could use an efficiency boost, you have people willing to help… So where do you start with all this?

Treat continuous improvement as a project

It’s the same core idea as changing a website, it’s a project! So if you keep this in mind, you will have an easier time figuring this out. Just like you would with your project, start planning.

First you would normally gather your client’s needs. Here, your clients are probably your colleagues, or maybe even just you. You need to gather requirements and create a list of all the ideas to improve anything around you.

To help you, gather feedback and ideas from others, don’t limit yourself to your ideas only. Although I’m sure you have many great ideas, you will find that most ideas you will want (or need) to fight for will come from others.

From there, just like managing a project and it’s many tasks, you have to prioritize, and assign people responsible for those tasks.

This can be tricky if you have no authority or power inside the team. If this is the case, than gaining managers’ buy-in can prove to be very useful. Show them the list you made and explain how it can positively affect the team to improve certain aspects of your daily lives.

This buy-in will help obtain the resources needed to make the improvements.

Once improvements have been clarified and resources are available, set objectives of when they can be done, just like you would when managing your project. Here, you’ll want to create a schedule. Note that it’s not impossible that creating the schedule may come before finding resources, this can actually be a tool to gain buy-in by showing that the change can be done within only one month for example.

By the way, as the work gets done, you will probably have to adjust that schedule too, just like you would a normal project, maybe even more, as mentioned, it will often be pushed aside by other projects that are considered more important, so you have to work around that. It’s nothing new in the project management world, so adapt to the circumstances, do your best, and keep communicating to your team until you are all done.

Also, you can even throw-in some risks management in all this, just like any projects, there can be risks that could be mitigated. For example, the new tool you plan to use could have a similar functionality to the old one but with a very distinct difference that may frustrate your team members; so mitigate the frustration by making sure to point it out in training and showing how to use it differently as opposed to letting them hit the issue and complain.

Making the change is half the work

As you work improving something, one important thing to keep in mind is that releasing a new tool, changing a process, or adjusting anything can be relatively easy; the next big step is maintaining it, which means, plan for what happens after. This includes training team members, giving support to the team who needs to adjust, or even having to make changes to adjust to feedback or issues faced.

The change/improvement cannot be simply “released” hoping that everything will go perfectly, it must be supported and maintained just like you would a mobile application for example, and you need to “fix bugs”.

So again, threat all this as you would when managing a project. Here, you would manage stakeholder expectations, plan maintenance, plan post-launch fixes, etc.

An important thing here is too always keep gathering feedback and improve the change with it (yes, you will need to change the change!). Mobile apps developer use the precious feedback given in the app-store and update their mobile application accordingly; this makes their app much more popular amongst the users. Here it’s the same thing, don’t think feedback was important only before the change, it’s just as important after as it will help people keep the change rather than requesting to go back to what it was before.

 

Stay tuned for part 3!

Are you too busy to improve?


Leave a comment

Continuous Improvement – Part 2 – Why not?

Are you too busy to improve?

In case you missed Part 1, don’t forget to read the article!

Continuous improvement seems obvious to consider, why doesn’t everyone do this all the time?

Continuous improvement is great and should be practiced on a regular basis, but it does come with its set of large challenges:

Improvement means change

The natural tendency around change is to be reluctant.

People are scared of the unknown and this adds stress to their daily lives. If for example they are handed a completely new software to use every day compared to the old one they mastered, they may become worried they won’t master the new one, or that they won’t be able to be as efficient.

It’s also important to note that people love their routine, some more than others, and changing that can bring frustration from team members.

It requires time and it’s secondary

When it comes to prioritizing between a client project against an internal project of adopting a new process, the client project will always come first as it is considered more important.

This constraints continuous improvement a lot because it generally becomes the thing we’ll do “when we have time” and this can be very rare or even nonexistent.

It’s a long-term view rather than a short-term view

People often go for the instant gratification, and the long-term benefit is often put aside. Continuous improvement is always working more now to benefit soon or much later.

For example, if installing a new project management tool means lots hours of work transferring projects to the new tool, more hours to train people to use it, not mention the initial learning curve where everyone will be less efficient and will need constant support, this can mean 50 hours of work.

If you look at it short-term, it will look like we just spent 50 hours only to be slower. Crazy, right?

If you look at it from a long-term point of view, once everyone is ramped-up, every project going forward will benefit from the added efficiency and will be more on budget. This means you could get back your 50 hours in 2-3 projects for example, and every additional project would be even more benefit again and again.

It’s hard to know where to start

Since everything can be improved all the time, people don’t know where to start, and this infinite number of choices can make people freeze and avoid the situation completely.

No power

You may be someone with no authority inside a team, so even if you want to bring improvement, it doesn’t mean it will accepted nor that you will be able to secure the resources needed to make the change.

It can also be more challenging to have the change be adopted by everyone since they might not listen to you.

 

It’s a constant fight

Continuous improvement is challenging, and the bigger the improvement or the team, the bigger the challenge. You often feel like you have to fight your way through change, whether to create the change or to maintain it. All of this makes continuous improvement hard to adopt, but who said the best things in life were the easiest?

 

Stay tuned for part 3!

Graph


Leave a comment

Continuous improvement – Part 1 – Summary

Graph

Source: twobee

In April, I had the chance to be invited as one of the presenters of the virtual event called Project Manager Success Summit. I had selected a topic that I feel strongly about; Continuous improvement of tools, processes, our team, ourselves.

For those who missed the event, I’ll be sharing articles around the subject in the next weeks.

So what is it?

Continuous improvement is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes, without an end.

For me, it’s more than that, it’s a state of mind, a “will” to always challenge how things are currently done, how a team currently works, how we currently are, in order to always bring in more the next day.

It’s embracing changes, and also thriving to be out of our comfort zone.

Where can we apply “Continuous improvement” inside an agency or a team?

Continuous improvement can be applied everywhere around us, here are a few examples:

  • Assessing/fine-tuning our processes to make them more efficient;
  • It can also be about creating templates, improving those templates;
  • Install or change tools that are in place for ones that will make everyone’s life easier.
  • It’s about the people too: it’s about assessing the efficiency of a department, a team, or individuals; finding what could be improved to make each of them better for tomorrow.

Depending of the agency and its size, it can be challenging to bring changes, it’s more than having a “Lessons learned” meeting after a project, it’s about looking at everything that’s around us, everything that’s being used, everything that’s being done, and asking ourselves “how can it be better?”.

How can it affect project management?

Project managers are involved in all aspects of a project in order to bring it from its planning state to its closing state. This means that wherever there is improvement, their projects will be more efficient going forward.

In other words, continuous improvement affects project management everywhere.

It can be directly, for example:

  • Improved tools and templates that project managers use on a daily basis means higher efficiency from them, increasing the probabilities of bringing projects on schedule and on budget.
  • Tools, used correctly, can improve overall communication, and as we know, project managers communicate about 90% of the time; this means that any improvement to what tools are used and how we use them as a team can have a major impact on project managers’ daily lives.

In can be indirectly, for example:

  • If a department has improved the technology they used to create their part of the project, it will bring more success to the project, and potentially raise chances to be on budget.
  • If overall communication between different departments improves by adjusting a few processes, it simplifies a project manager’s daily life where facilitating communication is something that be a challenge sometimes.

 

Stay tuned for part 2!

Surprised


Leave a comment

What’s scope creep and tips to avoid it | Part 2

Surprised

Source: grietgriet

Scope creep is a very important subject, something every project manager is challenged with.

In my previous article What’s scope creep and tips to avoid it, I listed a few tips to help people face those challenges, and that article was very popular, so I thought it would be great to add more to it and focus on the team:

Scope creep can be 100% an internal issue, so watch out!

Often we are under the impression that scope screep is something we forgot, or something the client asks for and we have no choice but to accept for whatever reason. But, you know what? Sometimes, it’s simply an internal thing.

Often, what will happen is that scope is defined in a certain why, and then, from there, you will create the estimate, and work will get started. Everything goes well, and as you discuss with team members, they sometimes casually mention some stuff like “Yeah once that is done, we’ll need ‘this’ done and then we’re good” or “we need this because we have ‘this’ and ‘this’ to do”… All the while in your mind you are telling yourself: Where does this all come from?

The reality is, no every team member will be “connected” to the budget as you are as a project manager. This is completely normal because they are focused on their own role and you should be focused on yours. The impact of this is some small tasks (or bigger) will be neglected in the documentation or even in the estimate but here and there you will find out that it MUST be done.

Why? Well, it varies; it could be a client expectation not shared with you, it could be a technical requirement mentioned absolutely nowhere…Or something else!

Regardless, this is tricky, but there are things you can do to help prevent this!

Focus on the long term

So, when it happens and you are “stuck” with the request, you may think this is the end of the world, your project is going bad because of it, and nothing can be done; whether this is true or not for your current project, you can focus on the long-term, which are your future projects. How? Well, by discussing a specific issue and adjusting for the future.

For example, if client expectations around different deliverables were not clear and were “implied” somewhere, talk to the person responsible of managing the client and explain the impact of those expectations being “hidden” from you. The thing is, that team member may have the best intentions in the world towards the client, but he may not realize the impact of the added work. So, the best way to make him understand is to explain gently to him the impact by showing underage caused by the added work he didn’t share in the beginning.

Manage team expectations

We’re always talking about managing the client’s expectations, but what about the team’s expectations? There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling team members that anything other than what’s inside the estimate will NOT be done so “be careful”.

However, it’s very important to consider that whatever you say “will not be done” may be an absolute “must” to your project. This means you have to use a specific vocabulary with your team.

Try using:

  • Are you sure we included everything we need for the project?
  • This here is what we’ll be doing, we won’t be able to afford anything else, are you sure it’s accurate?
  • Are any other client expectations forgotten here?

Avoid:

  • We won’t allow anything else than what’s included here
    • what may happen is that some “things” will come up that will literally prevent your project from being functional if it’s not done and you won’t be able to tell your client you “forgot” this
  • Saying nothing
    • people may think whatever they are holding back is “implied” in the documents

Manage team expectations… again!

Repeating myself? Well there is more to it than what’s above!

Scope creep can surprisingly be with team members spending more time on certain tasks because they thought they could so they made the design or the feature “more awesome”. It could be considered gold plating in a way.

You have a tight budget? Poor or no contingency? Well, tell your team! As much as they are not “budget focused” as you are, if they are remotely committed to the project’s well-being, if they understand the budget being tight or being in a horrible shape, there is nothing wrong with letting them know and reaching for their cooperation.

This will have a huge effect on how they make decisions or how they plan their work.

For example, a designer may take less time to search for a “miracle” image for his design and settle for one that’s just plain great. A developer may take half the time to code a certain feature because he’ll plan his code a different way.

Regardless, your team must know the situation and they will take it into consideration before taking more time than planned to do the work.

In conclusion

As you can see, the way you communicate with the team can have a tremendous impact on how scope creep affects your projects. Take the extra time to your team members, even if it’s too late for this project, it may be very positive for future projects.