90 Percent

Project management, productivity, change management, and more!


Leave a comment

5 tips to give great project briefs

Briefing your team on the new project is a very important step and one that will give your team a good/bad first  impression on how things are going to go until the closure of the project.

Recently, I wrote about a few examples on how to give a very bad first impression ( and headaches) by giving very bad project briefs, now let’s concentrate on how great ones are given:

1. Think of it as a story

A colleague of mine gave me this great tip and I couldn’t agree more! A story is built so that anyone can jump in and understand what is going on by reading it; the same should apply to your project brief.

Setting

Describe the context of the project so that anyone can understand what they will be working with. In other words, describe  the current situation and summarize why things are as they are.

For example: a website has been build 8 years ago, back when  responsive design did not exist, and no CMS could be afforded. Today technology has evolved and CMS are more affordable with open-source platforms.

Conflict

What is the issue or what causes this project to exist all of a sudden? If we use our website example, then the issue could be that the website is not mobile friendly and the client cannot make any simple modifications without the need for a developer.

This creates the need, and gives birth to the project just like it would with a story.

Plot

Explain what will happen so that the project can be completed. In other words, list deliverables and what’s expected for each. For example: the team will deliver a concept idea for a new contest, than layouts of the contest, and then the team will develop it.

Characters

Talk about all stakeholders (team, client, third-parties, etc.) and everyone does.

2. List clear, measurable objectives

The objective of the project will guide the team towards the right path. If one of the objectives is to “create brand awareness” then the social media campaign they build will differ from a campaign that used to gather emails to send future promotions.

Make sure the objectives are measurable, if they are not, then they will be open to interpretation and you will not be able to assess properly if they are met or not. A good example of measurable would be “Gather 5000 new fans on the Facebook page” versus “Gather new fans…”.

3. Make sure it’s clear who does what

Here you want to make sure to explain what the team will be doing; is it a website? social media campaign? Mobile app? Is it more than one thing?

Within this, list what needs to be done is not implied/guessed; list it clearly.

Keep in mind that third-parties or clients are also stakeholders that have responsibilities within the project and listing their responsibilities is important to the team; both to make them understand the full context and also to know who to talk to during the project.

4. Answer all questions

The team will ask questions when they are briefed, that’s practically inevitable; you have to make sure all questions are answered. If you cannot answer right away, list all questions  so that you can speak to who you have to in order to get the answers as quick as possible.

If you do not answer your team’s questions, how can you expect them to deliver what is needed?

5. Keep it simple to read

Just like every document you create, if it’s too long and hard to read and nobody uses it, then even if all important information is available, the goal of the document will be skipped. Makes sure it’s well formated including proper titles, use lists, you can even highlight key information, and keep sentences as short as possible.

In conclusion

How a project starts gives a good idea of how the project itself will be throughout it’s life-cycle which is why it’s important to give good project briefs so that the team can be confident the project will go well. This will not only make sure they know what they are expected to do, but also it will motivate them to deliver.

 

If you have more tips, don’t hesitate to share below!


Leave a comment

4 reasons you should set clear objectives

Funny Signs

@Doug88888

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

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

Helps achieve goals

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

Avoids stretching work

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

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

Makes progress measurable

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

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

Sets the team on the same track

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

In conclusion

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

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

Ambiance


Leave a comment

Why and how to clear your mind

Ambiance

Source: earl53

One day or another, everyone feels like their head just do not have any space left for new information. This feeling is generally accompanied with a lack of sleep, more stress, a reduction of efficiency, and we tend to forget more often. Yet, we try to fill our head more and more, thinking it’ll pass. The reality is, it won’t.

Fortunately, there is a way to clear your mind and make room for more “thinking” and that is to transfer the information elsewhere, via writing. Many methodologies like GTD mention this but are generally more task oriented and how to note everything. In this article, I want to help to clear your mind of more than just what you need to get done.

Why you should clear your mind

Think of your mind as a box. Like any box, you can fill it up with anything, but at some point, you can’t add more stuff in it. If you need to add something else, you either first remove something from the box or use another. In our context, we’ll concentrate on removing stuff from the box rather than using another box which could be the equivalent of getting an assistant.

If you do not remove something from your mind, you will have a hard time learning/remembering/thinking. Having your head cluttered like this is not good for you, so avoid it.

How to clear your mind

As mentioned above, by writing, you can clean up your head, it’s actually quite underestimated. There are different “types” of information you need to clean from your mind and different approach:

Knowledge: Everyone good at what they do wants to share valuable information to others, it’s in our nature, so why fight it? If you feel like you have knowledge, tips, information, anything that should be shared, share it! How? Years ago, writing books was almost the only option, but today, you can write a blog, use social networks, commenting on various platforms, etc.

By writing that knowledge down, you’ll make place for new knowledge, and if you forget anything, you’ll know what to read to remember it. Teachers or coaches may interact with people to share information, but they still write down their plan before (if not, they should).

Things to do: People are more familiar with this one, but the basic of this is to note what you need to do. Have the information easily accessible (apps, cloud, computer). If you do need such accessibility or it’s just simple “today” lists, you a good old paper and pen. The idea is to never leave actionable information inside your head only. It’s also important to check this information at a reasonable interval, if you don’t, you’ll have a tendency to want to remember everything by heart, and it beats the whole purpose of the thing. You need to be able to trust your system.

Meetings/reunions/etc.: I separated this one from “Things to do” since they are more dependant on a specific time, so here you want to note in anything that can notify you of that date approaching. A calendar for example, or reminder apps. If you trust your tool to inform you when the time is right, you will liberate your mind of that date, and yet, you won’t forget it! The probability of you being on time for your meeting is much higher than if you depend on your mind to remember at the right time (which it probably won’t)

Emotions: This one is tricky compared to the rest, and depending of how you feel, writing will not do miracles, but it will help at the least. Clearing your mind of emotions is not new, people have been writing personal journals for years, so give it a try.

Keep in mind that what is key here is to never share this with anyone, it’s for your eyes only. That way, you will not hesitate to write what comes to mind exactly how it comes to mind, and that’s the trick. If you are scared that someone may read it afterwards, than burn the paper, delete the document, erase everything! Nevertheless, you’ll have freed your mind of it. It may feel awkward at first, but keep writing, and then, explore what you are writing/thinking, and write some more! If you feel like some information could be shared or should be noted elsewhere, then do it immediately and come back to writing how you feel right after.

In conclusion

Freeing your mind lets you stay focus, efficient, and makes place for new information. Do it and you’ll feel better, and will accomplish so much more.


2 Comments

“Everything is fine”

As you manage your projects, you need to know the status of particular tasks. Depending of who you work with, you will (or have) come across the “Everything is fine” answer.

Chances are, not everything is fine, because the definition of that word is different for everyone:

Varies with what you do

As a project manager, your definition of “fine” concentrates on all aspect of the project (at least it should!), but for a colleague, a developer for example, his definition of “fine” probably concentrates on his part, a feature he’s currently developing for example, and not the feature he hasn’t started yet but should have done two days ago.

Ask the right questions to make sure you receive the right answers.

Varies with experience

People with less experience or less confidence may be scared of your reaction if they tell you that are having problems, so they tend to cover it up until the very last-minute.

To avoid this, you want to make sure your colleagues know the impact of doing this, and to flag anything wrong as soon as possible.

Varies with how close you are to “clients”

Some roles are closer to client communication then others; which makes it easier to be in its shoes. Others never even see clients, so they are not aware of how it works, how clients have expectations, or how they can react when something goes wrong.

It’s important that everyone be aware of the client’s point of view so they can consider it when working, and when they give you a status.

For example, a box that is displayed 5 pixels too much on the left using IE may not be important, so it may not be mentioned, but for the client, who is using IE, he will notice, and won’t like it.

In conclusion

Make sure you receive a clear status of what you need to know, and know that “everything is fine” is a sign to dig deeper.

If you still have any doubts, then verify yourself, or have your colleague show it to you, and you’ll can come up with your own status. You can avoid awful surprises like this.


Leave a comment

4 tips when you inherit an ongoing project

If you are starting a new job as a project manager, chances are, you are going to become responsible of projects that others have started.

If you are lucky, the previous project manager will be available for a week or two, or maybe permanently, but what may happen is that you have to do your best to take control with limited help, if any.

Here are some tips to help you with that:

1. List/use available resources

Resources may vary from documents to people that may have information. It is important that you know what’s available as a source of information concerning the project so that you can gather everything and either talk to everyone or read everything available.

2. Clarify everything

Being new on the project, you have a clear unbiased point of view of the available information, therefore, it should be relatively easy for you to spot what’s clear and what needs clarification. If notes are unclear, fetch information, verify the project, and clarify those notes. Same goes for a schedule, plan, or anything else for that matter.

3. Update the team

After those 2 tips, the project should be clear enough for you, now, you must make sure it’s clear for the team. Either by having a team meeting or by transferring the appropriate documentation, make sure the whole team is up-to-date and that everyone, including you, are on the same page.

4. Positive attitude

The state of the project you will recover will vary from stable to completely fuzzy but hang in there, be pro-active, never assume anything. Think of it as a chance to prove yourself to your new employer (if applicable).


Leave a comment

5 tips for good “Lessons learned” meetings

Lessons learned are an important part of any person/team’s evolution, it’s how you assess what happened , and identify clear ways to become better.

This meeting is often underestimated, even skipped, which prevents people from learning more than they should.

Here are some tips for a better “Lessons learned” meeting:

1. Take notes throughout the meeting

While you manage your project, you will probably wished some events went differently. It could be how you made your schedule, how the team developed a particular module that went wrong, or anything else.

It’s important to note them as they happen so you do not forget them, and note any ideas you might have right away to make it better next time. Don’t worry if some elements do not have solutions associated with them, what’s important is to be able to go through those items with the team while you are doing your meeting so they can contribute.

2. Plan the meeting not later than 10 days after the project

The idea behind this tip is not to wait too much so the team can remember what happened enough to contribute.

What’s important about having a specific objective (10 days), is that it will prevent you from postponing the meeting or simply not doing it because “you don’t have time”.

3. Make it clear

I may sound like a broken record with the “clear” thing, but, that’s how you can make your projects better!

Here, what’s important is to find clear actionable tasks that must be done (or not done) to improve.

Let’s take a scenario where many users complained about errors on a website and you want to list how we can avoid this next time:
Bad way: Test more before deployment
Good way: Plan 2 testing rounds, one to find errors so you can fix them, a second time to make sure everything was fixed probably

See the difference? One can be planned, done, and then improved again. The other one is too vague, which will either be done incorrectly, or not done at all in the end.

4. Include everyone who participated

Use your judgement with this one, if you have a 40 people team, you want to avoid overcrowding your meeting.

You want to make sure you gather as much feedback from every role as possible, and avoid including just managers. So if you have a large team, you may want to plan more than one meeting or include key people who could gather some information from their colleagues before the meeting.

5. Associate solutions for everything

Sometimes, the team may not have solutions for every element right away, but you want to avoid the problem from recurring so you must find solutions for everything. If it’s impossible during the meeting, assign someone the task of doing a little research, and never leave anything without solutions.


Leave a comment

Why clear roles are important in a team

Clarity prevents so much trouble, and although having clear roles seems obvious, there are many out there who work inside teams where each’s responsibilities could use a little tune up.

Here is how to clarify everything:

1.List responsibilities per role
First thing’s first, if you want to make sense of every responsibility and role, you must start by listing everything your team or company’s needs in terms of responsibilities to be accounted for.

Once you have this, You’ll be able to identify which types of people (roles) that you need.

By doing so, it will force you to think what you expect of each role, and assign every responsibility.

Adding descriptions, and expectations to wrap those responsibilities, and you have clear roles.

2.Make an organizational chart
Now that you know who does what, you can plan the hierarchy of the team. This clarifies relationships across the whole company and amongst each department/team.

3.Never let responsibilities unassigned
As time goes by, some tasks will pop-up that may not have been assigned to a role. It is easy to “throw” it to any free resource on the moment but it will eventually pop-up again, so it’s wiser to assign it to a role as soon as possible.

Here are some advantages of clear roles:

1.Helps focus
If your role is clear, then you know who you are top the team, and you know what to do; no questions asked. When a lot of work must be done in little time, your role will help you focus on certain tasks while others take care of the remaining tasks.

It will prevent confusion, errors, and thus, save time. It’s also a great way to keep everyone motivated.

2.Controls expectations
Expectations can destroy teams, projects, or even the best thing that could happen to you if your expectations are completely different.

Inside a team, there are always expectations amongst colleague. You expect the developer to develop, right? Sometimes responsibilities/roles are black & white (developing/developer), but it’s not always the case.

An example is the responsibility of communicating new costs to the client, assuming no change control board is available, sometimes it’s unclear if the account manager or the project manager is responsible for this.

This can cause conflict between colleagues, because each expects the other to do it. These tasks may even be left undone in the confusion, and that could affect your project.

3.Helps delegation
Now that there is a clear list of responsibilities and an organization chart, managers can easily delegate because they know what their power is, and who there are responsible for.

If they can delegate more easily, they’ll be better managers overall, and they will build trust with their team.

4.Prevents frustration
Overall, people will get frustrated and tired of the confusion or undone tasks. All this will be prevented, the team will be happier, and it can even prevent valuable resources from leaving the company.

Calculator


2 Comments

7 tips when estimating a project

Estimating a project is a very important part of your project, and can often be taken lightly. Truth is, if you avoid having good estimates, you will likely have a hard time staying on budget, and during your project (or after), it may be hard to analyze why you are outside your budget.

There are some key tips that can help you with that:

1. List what is being estimated

Seems obvious at first glance, but bear with me. Listing what is being estimated is more than simply writing: Programming = 40h. If you review your estimate 6 months later, you will have absolutely no idea what was included inside that 40h.

It is important to list each specific item of your project (home page, contact form, shopping cart, login,etc.).

How detailed must you go? Detailed enough for you to be able to understand it in 6 months, but also, detailed enough to be able to estimate each item easily. It will be more accurate to estimate separately “Contact form, Google maps, description of each team members” than just “Contact page“.

It will also become very useful when you are managing changes inside your project because it will be clear what was included in your estimate.

2. Estimate hours depending of type of resource

Once your items are listed, you must make sure you estimate the resources needed separately. Here I mean people, although expenses should be separated too. For example, avoid something like this: Home page: 40h.

Make sure you can plan your different resources during your project. It would be wiser to separate like this: Home page: Design 15h, Front-end 15h, Back-end 10h.

3. Include the accuracy of the estimate

This one is important and can actually save you some trouble in the future. An estimate can be accurate or it can be a general idea. It is important that your estimate includes that information.

For example, someone could ask you for a quick estimate and you tell them around 30K. There is a chance that this amount will become your final budget. When the project starts, you will estimate more in detail and may have to flag that the budget makes more or less sense, and that’s when you will be told that it came from your estimate, and now it is too late. Sounds familiar?

Include the accuracy in your estimate, if it was a quick estimate to give your colleague an idea, then 50%-75% might be the range of the estimate, and instead of simply 30K, you will tell your colleague 15-45K. A more accurate estimate might have a 5-10% range instead.

4. Include assumptions

An assumption is considered a “fact” at the time it’s being identified. Thus, it justifies the estimate of the particular item and it’s important to include it.

For example, if you estimate a registration form, you assume there will be 12-15 fields. Generally those assumptions should also be listed in your company’s offer to the client so you can control scope easily if the form ends up with 30 fields.

Remember that you may review this later in your projects, you want to make sure what was estimated is clear.

5. Do not forget time for project management

You wouldn’t dare forget that right? 🙂

Generally, it’s calculated using a percentage of the rest of the estimate. It could range around 10-20% or higher depending of type of client, type of project, type of team, etc. You may also want to list all project management tasks, and estimate each of them separately if you prefer. However, it will take more time, and I doubt you know exactly how much time you are going to “talk” during the project.

If you use a percentage, it is important to take outsourcing into consideration. If you estimate 200h of work and 20 000$ of outsourcing for development, you want to make sure you include time to manage the external resources too and not only add 20% to the 200h.

Note that depending of the company’s maturity towards project management, they may challenge the time estimated for project management. In other words, it may not be understood. If that is your case, then listing/estimating each task separately may be a good idea to explain your point of view.

6. Plan a buffer

If you are lucky, you may be able to include a small budget for unexpected events, or small changes, or errors, etc. If so, a 5-10% percentage could be applied to your overall estimate.

If it is a small simple project, then a buffer may not be justified, you want to avoid costing too much too.

7. Plan risks

This applies to project that have a large risk potential. You may have to manage closely the risks, create prototypes, or execute any other mitigation plans.

If that is the case, having a budget to manage/execute all this can easily be justified and should be included.

Note that it should be avoided for standard projects that show no real risks, or where your buffer could do the job.

Fog


1 Comment

3 reasons ‘clear’ is better

Fog

Source: pedrojperez

As project managers, it is said that 90% of our time we communicate. Throughout that communication, it is important to make sure everything is clear for everyone, and that nothing is left out.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Motivates

Have you even been asked to do something and wondered why you were doing it? Not knowing why you are doing something can become a very bad demotivator and may affect your efficiency, and the result of your work.

That goes for your team too. Imagine this lack of motivation spread across a whole team of people working on your projects. It can be disastrous for your project so you must make sure the goals/objectives are clear for everyone, not just half of the team.

You may even receive valuable ideas from your colleagues!

Note that extended work conditions where you do not know why you do what you do may result in quitting the job; you wouldn’t want to lose a valuable resource for a lack of clarify.

2. Prevents surprises / scope creep

This goes for your team and for your clients.

Towards your team, unclear communication can prevent unnecessary work (or rework) due to a misinterpretation of a conversation or an email. A simple word could give an entire different description to a functionality.

As for clients, unclear communication or documentation can leave them interpreting the scope or functionality. Then what happens? Scope creep! If everything is clear right from the start, then this is prevented.

3. Creates better notes and documention

Taking notes is a must in IT projects, there is so much information going around, and the pace of the domain is fast and never-ending, you must take notes.

However, what happens generally? You take quick notes that you understand while writing, but when you look at those notes a week later, you cannot understand half of it.

We have a tendency to write notes that we understand now, but we must take notes that everyone can understand anytime.

It may require to take some more time when noting, or to review/complete our notes right after a meeting, but by doing so, we will save precious time later, either for us or for a colleague.

In conclusion

Take the extra time to clarify how you communicate, whether it’s while talking, while emailing or while documenting, it is important to be clear for everyone, not just for you.

Have you ever worked on a project that wasn’t clear? How did you react to it?