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Project management, productivity, change management, and more!

Pointing direction


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To lead, or to manage?

Pointing direction

Source: Ricorocks

This is far from being a new subject, the comparison between manager and leader is something that’s been discussed for quite a while now.

Still, here below is my personal comparison/preference:

Manager

  1. Power given officially: The manager is an official role that has power associated with it which people understand. Therefore, people must follow the manager;
  2. Follows process: The manager will make sure process are followed by the team;
  3. One of many: Many managers share the same types of personalities, skills, experience, making them many capable of being in the same position;
  4. Focused on short-term: Managers will focus on what needs to be done right now to have results to report right away;
  5. Will follow the way things are: The manager will accept, and follow the way things are, making sure everything runs smoothly as they are;
  6. Doesn’t take risks: Generally doesn’t go towards risk, and will work more inside a comfort zone;
  7. Typically more respected by upper management who want things to run smoothly, or by people who love their routine.

Leader

  1. Power not given officially: A leader’s power is not given by anyone other than by peers that decide to follow the leader;
  2. Follows what needs to be done: The leader will want to aim towards getting things done, regardless if it follows process or not;
  3. An exception: A leader is generally different, it’s hard to find others that are the same;
  4. Focused on long-term: The leader has a vision, and will work hard today for the days to come;
  5. Will challenge everything: Unsatisfied by the way things are if they can be different for the benefit of people. He will challenge, and adjust everything;
  6. Takes risks: Ironically uncomfortable inside his comfort zone, taking risks and trying new things;
  7. Typically more respected by people who want things to change for the better.

So which one is better?

Neither. I always think a good balance of everything is the best. If you are too much of a manager and not a leader; people will only follow you because they are forced to, and you won’t get things to happen. If you are the other way around, you may go outside what’s accepted/tolerated, and your attitude may be completely rejected.

By being both, you make sure everything gets done the right away, all the while making sure everything is going towards the right path. People will want to follow you regardless of if they “have” to follow you because of your role.

Rusted wheel


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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!

hand


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5 tips when resources disappear

hand

Source: KellyP42

Resources come and go, whether it’s just for a day when you need to get work done for tomorrow, or a week because people are switched to another project, or permanently because they leave the company, you will have to find a Plan B, even C or D!

Here are some general tips that can help various situations when resources wave goodbye!

1. Manage client expectations appropriately

If resources are switched, or even temporarily absent, chances are, your project will slow down. This means that you may not be able to meet a set deadline. Your client must know this right away, and you may not know when the deadline can be met.

In these cases, do not commit to a specific time and give yourself more time than you think you will need. Instead of “next Monday”, commit to “mid next-week” where you will have some flexibility.

Also, except if it’s a very small “set-back”, you may want to avoid spilling out the reality like “your resource got fired” or “somebody’s sick and we don’t know when he’ll be back”; that will only worry the client and bring absolutely nothing constructive so simply state that you need more time.

2. Switch resources around pro-activaly

If you need someone right away and ask who’s available, chances are everybody will be busy, and those available may not be able to take the task you need done. So you cannot surrender right away, there is often a solution when you move things around taking several projects into consideration. This means different things depending of the situation:

  • Check if other projects have more flexibility, and can lend a resource, even if that project as to postpone a delivery; or
  • Trade resources between projects so one can free another that could do your specific task;

You may have to use diplomacy, but avoid simply asking around “Do you have time?”, start with that, but if it doesn’t work, start trading!

3. Prepare a backup plan in advance

One thing you can do to plan ahead is use the “Hit by a bus syndrome“, I invite you to read my article on the subject.

4. Have your documentation simple & updated

If you are going to switch to a new resource at the last-minute, you want that resource to be up and running very fast. This means that the information you will give him must get to the point and must be reliable. Every minute may make a difference.

Avoid piling up 30 pages to read, give him only what he needs to know, go right to the point.

5. Stay positive

If you start to whine or panic, you are not going to get anything accomplish, nor are you going to be diplomatic when trying to deal resources, so stay positive and go forward.


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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 🙂

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!


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Risk or issue?

There seems to be much confusion between the two but it’s really simple so I will try to shed some light on this topic.

A risk is a specific event that may happen. If it does, it will affect your project negatively or positively , so you want to prepare in order to make sure your project goes well.

An issue is something that must be dealt with. A risk, wether identified or not, becomes an issue.

Here are some examples:
Risk: There may be too many users visiting the website, and the server may not handle it.
Issue: Too many users visit the website and the server crashed, we have to add resources.

I hope this helps!


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Risks: not always negative

A common thinking about risks is that they are all negative and should be mitigated or avoided as much as possible. That common thinking is wrong!

A negative risk is a treat, but a risk can be positive and considered an opportunity so instead of mitigating or avoiding, you’ll want to exploit or enhance.

A good example is the risk of having too many visitors on your brand new website on the day of the launch. Having lots of visits is positive, so it’s not a treat unless it’s poorly planned and can crash the server, so you have to take it into consideration.

You may want to enhance the risk (plan a marketing blast to attract even more visitors) or exploit (use cloud hosting that can adapt resource accordingly, or have more resources ready for the server so you can welcome more visitors). You could simply accept and make sure the website simply displays a temporary message if too many people are visiting at once.

Risks are not all that bad, and even positive ones shouldn’t be ignored.