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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.


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Risk management in a nutshell

Risk management is often overlooked, or done unofficially. Some practice it scarcely without even knowing that’s what they are doing. To add a little clarify to all this, here is a quick overview:

Risk management in a nutshell is

  1. Taking the time to identify potential risks in the project
  2. Identifying the impact of the risks should they happen
  3. Plan next steps regarding those risks before they happen
    1. Execute those next steps
  4. Monitor current and new risks till the end of the project
    1. For new risks, you go back to step 2 and 3

False assumptions about risk management

  1. Involves only the project manager
  2. Risks are only associated with technology (so the tech team)
  3. Is only done once at the beginning of the project
  4. Adds useless overhead to a project
  5. Risks are always negative
  6. Doesn’t require a particular budget

Reality about risk management

  1. Involves the whole team
    1. Everyone can contribute in identifying risks
    2. Anyone can be made responsible for monitoring and preventing a certain risk
    3. Mitigation plans can include building prototypes (amongst other examples) which involves team members other than the project manager
  2. Risks can be anything from the weather preventing to work, to team members leaving, to new technology being used. It is anything that can affect your project which was not planned.
  3. It’s done throughout the whole project
    1. new risk can be identified during the project
    2. the status of current identified risks can change, which can require to review the mitigation plan
  4. Can actually reduce project costs. If spending 100h on a prototype can prevent 250h of unplanned changes in the future, it’s a 150h reduction in the end.
  5. Risks can actually be positive but are called “Opportunities” in these cases instead of a “Treat”, see Risks: not always negative
  6. Risk management requires time. If no budget is planned for it, than the immediate reaction is to ignore risk management. Should risk management be done without budget, it will automatically be considered overage, and can then be perceived negatively. Risk management should have its own budget which gives a clear guideline when it comes to planning risks management and taking decisions on how you are going to act on each risks you identify.

In conclusion

This is a summary of course, there is much more to risk management, but hopefully this will shed some light for those who are still confused by the idea of risk management.

Call this a cheat sheet 😉


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Project management trend: Collaboration

Trends-2014

Source: Efi

There are several trends in project management that will only get stronger in 2014 (resource management, distributed teams, cloud, agile, etc.), but one that I particularly thrive to bring forward is ‘collaboration‘.

All trends are important, but this one is my personal top priority, as it affects the whole team’s synergy, and a project manager doesn’t get anything done without its team.

More and more tools are available to help teams collaborate by making project information available to everyone, and adding options that simplify communication. For me, this is more than just about the tools, it’s about the team itself and how they work.

Working together rather than in silos

Typically, everyone works in their corners, and when their part is done, they would give it to the next one who would then do their part, and so on. Collaboration is about everyone being “together in this”, and working together while one part is being done. This means that the team is updated with the status as it goes, and are able to participate in each step to share their opinions pro-actively rather than at the last-minute when they receive the done work.

A typical example, is when design is approved, and only than can the tech team flag that half of it cannot be done but by now, it’s too late! Collaboration means involving the others while design is being done so this does not occur. Collaboration tools ease this by helping everyone to communicate and keep track of comments, discussions, and decisions.

This brings teamwork to a whole new level, which is important for the sanity of any project. But all this extra communication needs to be managed by the project manager, who can only go so far with mails, and Word documents scattered on the agency’s network; these tools help the project manager do this, and lets the team communicate amongst themselves rather than putting everything on the PM’s shoulders.

Bigger sense of involvement

As team members are more and more collaborating through every step of a project, it gives everyone a bigger sense of involvement and commitment. This adds motivation to get the work done, and done properly. It also helps everyone feel part of the team, which improves teamwork and moral.

All this reflects positively on the projects.

Live updates

All that communication can add delays to your project, but not anymore; everyone can be updated live on every step. Whether it’s an updated schedule, or a new decision taken concerning the design, no one has to find out ‘by chance’ that they’ll need to deliver something next Monday.

All those updates can also be communicated and tracked easily without having 150 more mails in the inbox.

Sharing of files

Simple yet useful, files are being shared all the time, especially if you want the others to have a look at the work being done. Sometimes, it can hard to find the right files at the right moment, and it gets worst as the project progresses because more files will be available, and more version of each files.

This creates confusion and frustration in a team. Great online collaboration tools will make sure files are categorized, versioned, tagged, and in the end, easy to find. Sharing files and receiving feedback can become easy, and help out the team all the way to the end.

Everyone can pitch in

As everyone is involved more and more, the whole team can pitch in improving how it works. This is where it can get very interesting; everyone can improve their communication, their work, their habits simply by discussing and gathering feedback.

Continuous improvement is always important, and a must in a competitive environment where everything becomes bigger except budgets & schedules.

In conclusion

Collaboration is very important and tools are making it easier and easier. Teams must embrace this and work tighter together more than ever, there is no more excuses!

What is your favorite trend coming up in the future? Share!


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5 tips to handoff your project to someone else

Leaving on vacation and need someone to take care of your project? Want to make sure you come back and it’s not wrecked?

It all begins with how you handoff your project; the more you guide your colleague properly, the higher the chance he has of properly maintaining that project.

1. Quality over quantity

If you swarm your colleague with 50 pages of document about EVERYTHING, chances are he will be lost more than useful, or he will take control of your project very slowly, which will affect your project. Don’t forget, he as to pickup an ongoing project in one day, something which you may have gradually learned/planned in 1-2 months.

Guide your colleague with easy “next-step” lists. If documents must be read, guide him towards specific parts of documents, or even better, create a cheat sheet of those documents. For example: “read page 2 and 6 of document X right away”.

In this context, by quality, I also mean accuracy. Guiding your colleague towards a document that’s not updated will result in your colleague not trusting (so not reading) available documents. Or worst, he will read them, and manage your project with outdated information, which could damage your project. So make sure you update documents, or tell your colleague not to read them, and give him the needed information instead.

Result:

  • Your colleague picks up your project faster;
  • Less “training” time occurs on your project’s budget;
  • Fewer errors;
  • Sentiment of trust/control from your colleague;
  • Overall team stress/moral will be in a better place.

2. Transfer your ‘radar’

In this context, by ‘radar’, I mean, what you know to pay attention to. They may be details, but details that will make a difference in the outcome of your project. For example, it could be a colleague in the team that is always late. It could be a deliverable that has a very important element to verify before sending to client because it was requested as something very important. It could be anything, but it’s probably not written anywhere, or if so, it’s information hard to find.

Even if the information is found or transferred, if it’s not made clear that it must be in your colleague’s radar, then he might not think that it’s as important as it really is.

For example: “Before sending document Y, make sure to verify Jim’s text, he always makes horrible typos and the client hates that regardless of the quality of the document’s content.”.

Result:

  • Everything you thought was important will be checked just as if you were there;
  • Reduces chances of errors.

3. Clarify expectations

During transitions, there is nothing worst then unclear expectations which results in one person thinking the other will do it while the other thinks the same thing. The result is that no work gets done.

During the transition, chances are the team will communicate to both to make sure the message gets across, by mail for example. For each of those messages, it’s important that you tell your colleague if you’re taking care of it or if you’re trusting your colleague to do it. That way, expectations are clear, and if your colleague doesn’t feel comfortable to take care of the request, he can communicate so, and you can help him in doing so.

Expectations towards the team is important too, as I mentioned, they will probably communicate to both, or even only to you, so it’s important that the team knows they need to communicate to your colleague directly.

Result:

  • No request will be left unattended;
  • Information will be sent to your colleague and not to you only;

4. Follow-up

Project management can be hard as it is, and no matter what we think, it’s harder when it’s a project handed off to us rather than one we are in control since the beginning. Therefore, it’s important to do a couple of follow-ups if you know a milestone is coming or something specific must be done.

For example: “We’re suppose to be sending document Z tomorrow, was it verified today? Let me know if you need help”.

Result:

  • That follow-up may grab something that was going to be forgotten;
  • Your colleague will appreciate the backup;
  • This can prevent the feeling of projects being “thrown” to your colleague’s face rather than handed off.

5. Be available

Questions will come, and it’s good that you stay available to answer those questions or even help your colleague in the transition. Depending of circumstances or project, it may be good to be available for 1-2 weeks.

In conclusion

Handing off projects to other project managers is not easy, and our initial reaction is to “get rid of it”. Put yourself in your colleague’s shoes, and do it the way you would want it done to you. Your colleague will appreciate it, and the project will not suffer during the transition.

Let me know if you have more tips in the matter! Or you may want to share stories of how you were handed a project.

Clocks


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5 tips for proper time tracking

Clocks

Source: matei

A while back, I wrote an article that gave several reasons to track time for your personal gain. In this article, I’m referring to the whole team’s time, and want to concentrate on the effect it has on your projects.

First, let me describe what I mean by “Proper time tracking”:

  • Reliable: If hours are entered randomly by people, then the numbers are not reliable;
  • Updated: Updated information means that all information (so all the time) is available when reporting;
  • Indicative: The numbers needs to show what was done, for how much time, and by who.

In general, people are not aware of the importance of time tracking, and see it simply has a way for management to make sure people do their weekly hours. This lack of knowledge towards how the hours are used will affect how the team enters it’s time and will affect the 3 elements mentioned above.

It’s important that proper time tracking is available for you to track your project’s costs, so here are a couple of tips to have that information available:

1. Must be done daily

There are lots of team members who log their time once per week (or worst), this results in:

  • Huge amounts of time tracked at once: This can be devastating, if you did your report on Tuesday and reported your project was healthy, and one week later, 150h was added suddenly because 2 team members entered a whole week of work the next day, then your project can go from healthy to under budget quickly.
  • Drop in the time’s accuracy: People barely remember what they did at the end of a day, so imagine at the end of the week! Some add inefficiency in all this by noting their time somewhere on a piece of paper or a .txt file, and then they re-enter all their time in the time-tracking tool at the end of the week. It’s faster to simply enter the time at the right place.

Time must be logged daily, so invite people to enter their time at the end of the morning and at the end of the day, it’ll be quick, not to mention fresh in their memories.

2. Must be simple & fast

As any tools used, the simpler/fast it is, the more people will use it regularly. As for time-tracking, as mentioned above, you want it done on daily basis, meaning that the tool must be efficient.

Furthermore, if it’s slow to enter your time, then people will waste time doing this, and the idea behind time-tracking is to be efficient with those numbers, not waste time!

3. All hours must be entered

There are a couple of reasons why people do not enter all their time in the project:

  • They don’t enter overtime since it’s not paid;
  • They enter their time somewhere else so that the project’s actual costs are reduced (or appear reduce at least).

Both habits reduces the project’s real hours (on paper), and although at first glance, it may seem”okay” for some to do this, not only is it not honest, it can have a devastating effect on your project and on future effects:

  • Estimating often uses past Budget past completion as a reference, if those numbers are not reliable, then it can impact estimates using them;
  • As you track your project’s action cost, it may seem as if the project is at a better place than it really is, affecting the decisions made by you and your team, which will result in more overage.

So it’s simple, all hours spent on the project should be entered, and “excuses” to log the hours somewhere else should be discarded.

4. Must monitor time-tracking

Unfortunately, people may enter their time in the wrong place, or make errors entering them. For example, 1h on a task can easily become 10h with a simple typo. People may also confuse projects or simply “dump” their hours at the end of day without proper accuracy.

Monitoring hours means looking at hours logged by each member, and assess if it makes sense. If it doesn’t then it should be discussed with the team member, and if an error was made, then it must be corrected.

You’d be surprised how many errors can slide in your project’s actual costs.

5. Time tracked must be indicative

Often, time-tracking tools will offer a “Comment” functionality, which helps PM understand what the team member did specifically. This can also be very useful when working with retainers when reports need to be done. However, this comment needs to show something relevant, otherwise it’s simply a waste of time. Here are examples I’ve seen in the past:

  • Time entered under “Client X”, under “Project Z”, for Task “Back-end developing”, the comment was “Programming”.
  • Time entered under “Client Y”, under “Project A”, for Task “Front-end developing”, the comment was “I developed for Project A”.

You get the idea!

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!

Pointing


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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 🙂

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?