Want Better Project Communication – Make Your Project The Center Of All Things

Projects are rarely simple local events anymore. Teams are global, multi-culture, multi-lingual, and more complex than ever before. The ease of co-located team communications has been lost with the advent of time and distance. Keeping the stakeholders and team members engaged is essential, so project managers have had to find new and state-of-the-art ways to make project communications happen.

Enter the practice of Social Project Management. Social PM mixes the best elements of traditional project management with digital collaboration and communications tools. It provides an agile way to manage project data and information flow in an accessible, transparent, and secure manner.

The way I do this is by making the project, not the data or the communication medium, the center of all things; the project is our ’email hub,’ the ‘inbox,’ the ‘file archive.’ The project portal (aka the digital project center) is where all data and information flows. The project is dynamic and takes on its own vital life as the glue of the team. The benefits are vast. The PM is no longer a roadblock or taskmaster in the center of communications. Status is immediate.

PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY: A positive benefit of using social tools is personal accountability. Social communications by its nature makes every team member’s work transparent, and visibility forces accountability (at least on my projects).

THE PROJECT IS THE THING: When the project is the center of everything, everything is organized around the actual work tasks and not the tools used to communicate (email) or store information. This is true projectization. The beauty of working using social tools on a project is that the work assignments are clear to everyone (because they are written), each team member sees what other team members are doing (because the applications are universally visible and available), the team gets out of ’email jail’ (because activity streams are fluid lists), tasks are maintained and supported in a collaborative manner, and, most importantly, working in a social manner allows people to determine the appropriate level of engagement that they need to get their job done.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM CO-LOCATION

Don’t get me wrong, there are many positive things about having your team in the same physical space. When teams are co-located they have a degree of team awareness. Most people don’t realize the amount of constant communication and sharing that goes on in the day to day office environment. When you are face-to-face you have visual cues and other benefits that make a team cohesive. For example, many teams eat lunch together. They spend time whiteboarding, brainstorming and sharing ideas, both good and bad. Many times, they play outside games (bowling, softball) as a team (wearing team t-shirts). Team members know the state of the project they are on because, as a team, they live and breathe it every day, sometimes 7 days a week

As the size of my teams grew and projects became global, multicultural, and more complex, time and distance between the team members hampered team awareness. The co-located dynamic that made us feel like a team was gone. I noticed that communications started to become more and more compartmentalized. People seemed only to pay attention to THEIR tasks and were less concerned with the project as a whole. Information flow became a battle and email overload was common. It was getting harder and harder to get dispersed teams to perform at the same high level of delivery as when they were co-located.

WELCOME TO SOCIAL LOCATION

In the interim period, when teams were being globalized, before collaborative tools were common, there was a definite period of communication breakdown and a loss of team cohesiveness. This was killing delivery and productivity. Around 2007, with major shifts in technology (Apple shipped the first iPhone, Google launched Android, and IBM develop Watson), many of us started to leverage social media and social collaboration software, mixing the best elements of traditional project management with digital collaboration and communications tools. Some called it ‘Social Project Management,’ others were calling it ‘Project Management 2.0,’ but regardless of a name, by leveraging social tools on projects we kept the team, as well as stakeholders, up-to-date through active information streams and ambient online status updates. “This is what put the ‘social’ in social project management.

It was social networking services, like Twitter, that gave us a different paradigm when it came to information updates on our projects. No longer did we need to receive, open, read, engage, respond, and then archive an email. With small bursts of information (Twitter’s original 140 characters), we kept in touch with precise, to the point, informational snippets, where we learned what was going on in the project in real time from the team players. By reading a stream of information (think Facebook News Feed) my teams are able to know what is going on from the larger distributed team as things are posted.

AMBIENT AWARENESS: One of my goals on every project for the last decade has been to continue to improve ambient awareness for the team. “Ambient Awareness is the idea of being “ambiently aware” of another’s actions, thoughts, and experiences without having to be near them physically.” My teams are constantly ‘in’ the workflow and distributed processes of the project moment by moment. It is our ‘collective present.’ If you harness it, you will be surprised at how data-driven information can elevate your project team to a new level of communications.

Are you connecting with your teams and clients using social media or social collaboration tools? How are you leveraging your ‘collective present?’ What have you found to be the best way to keep distributed teams connected? Let me know. And remember to keep up the good attitude.

5 Tips To Survive The Holidays For the Work Addicted

Do you dread sitting hour after hour socializing with family and friends when there is so much work to be done?  I do. Holiday time is stressful, especially for those of us driven by delivering outcomes daily. In a work culture that can be all encompassing,  pushing for more of our time and energy every minute of every day, many of us suffer from a work-life imbalance. The good news is that the holidays are a perfect time to practice taking back control and learning how to relax.

I find turning my head off, shutting down before all my work is complete, leaving things on my desk (or in my inbox), delaying project tasks, almost physically painful. And holiday celebrations, many in the middle of the work week, can make me sweat when I think about how I am going to get everything done.

Do you feel lost if you are not being productive?  You are not alone. Work Addiction is a common problem for those of us in the project management profession. Psychologists have studied this condition and, though it is the most societally acceptable of obsessions, it still needs to be managed. Work Addition is grouped with other addictions, like drugs, and gambling. It’s called Adrenaline Addiction: being addicted to stress, in this case, work stress.

Signs of Work Addiction

  • Feelings of guilt when idle
  • Obsessed with things that are left undone
  • Strong compulsion to always be doing something
  • Afraid something will go wrong if you don’t do it personally

Steps Toward Management of Work Addiction

Fill in the blank: It is not always easy for me to step away from _______ (WORK, SMARTPHONE, FACEBOOK, etc).

First, you have to believe you deserve to be happy outside of work. According to Dr. Tom Muha, a psychologist practicing in Maryland, “if you really feel that you deserve to have a good life, then decide to make that the main gift you give to you and your family this year.” Give them the gift of your time and presence.

Second, is really hard. You need to face the discomfort that plagues you when you’re not being productive. You might have to fool yourself at first, but here are some things that can help:

  1. Get some exercise first thing in the morning.
  2. Plan your day around pleasurable activities.
  3. Engage in conversations chock-full of curiosity.
  4. Ask other people what would make their day terrific, and then do whatever you can to help make that happen.  (This works really well with kids.)
  5. Pay attention to what you’re seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling.  Be in the moment.

I am going to do my best to fight my ‘must finish everything before I leave for the day’ drive this holiday and focus on having a good time over these next few weeks with my co-workers, friends, and family. I challenge you to do the same.

May the joy of the holiday season be with you and may you keep up the good attitude. See you in 2018!

Soft Skills Are The Game Changer: How To Show Them Off

To select the leader for their next engagement, more and more clients are reviewing professional profiles online. They are not just looking for good technical people anymore, they want to know how you interact with others (are you a team player? a good communicator?). A recent LinkedIn article said that “degrees and credentials are important, but the development of soft skills—skills that are more social than technical—are in high demand.” Soft skills are the game changer when it comes to finding your next project. Being able to show you know how to use them makes a big difference between landing the role or not.

A degree or certificate proves hard skills.

How does one even show soft skills online or on their resume? Let’s discuss the balance between the two types of skills (hard and soft) and then I will give you some tips on how to include them in your digital profiles.

 

Hard Skills Gets You In The Door

Hard skills are easy to define and measure. That’s why resumes are full of them. They are how you do something: a procedure, a best practice, a method. They are proven by the measurement of training and knowledge that you acquire in a specific skill set (PMP certification or Bachelor of Science degree, for example). You spend years learning hard skills in school or on the job (i.e.: machine operations, computer programming, data analysis, a foreign language).

Hard skills are controlled by the left side of your brain. This side controls logic and your ability to perform a task. Common left brain professions are Mathematicians, Statisticians, Computer Programs and, of course, Project Managers. PMs usually have a long list of hard skills that they are good at – strategic planning, requirements analysis, Waterfall development methodology, building work break down structures, and so on.  I am sure your resume is full of good details on your hard skills.

 Soft Skills Gets You The Position

Soft Skills are your personality qualities, habits, attitudes, and even social graces. Unlike hard skills, which can be evaluated by a logic intelligence test (IQ), soft skills tend to use your heart and are evaluated by an emotional intelligence test (EQ). This is right brain stuff – artistic, creative. This is where you solve problems. These skills are harder to measure and difficult to prove.

Some examples of soft skills are: anticipating risk, motivating others, teamwork, innovating, listening, communicating. They are things that you hone and improve with a lifetime of trial and error. They are subjective. These are the skills that make you unique in how you do what you do. You can take classes to develop these skills, but it is your innate personality and strengths that ultimately determine which soft skills you excel in.

Clients today are looking for project leaders that understand organizational values, excel in teamwork and communications, and know how to leverage their personal strengths to maximize project results. The challenge is to show not only that you have certain soft skills, but how they have and will bring value to your role.

Showing Your Value

Before you can show the value of your strengths, you need to identify what they are. There are many EQ tests and online tools that can assist you with evaluating your soft skills. Here’s a list of 28 soft skills to get you started. These life skills are the things that add value to how you work. This is what clients want to know about you – what makes you unique.

A partial list of soft skills strengths.

The way to show that you know your stuff is by using narrative (by storytelling) on your profile and resume. Take leadership, for example, someone won’t know how you applied leadership if it is just a bullet on your resume but show it in connection with a situation, and they will clearly see how you applied it.

According to Jessica Hernandez, CEO of Great Resumes Fast, the way to show your value is by incorporating the skill within the context of an accomplishment that demonstrates it.

Here’s an example:

  •  “Increased productivity of a multi-year software development project by 10 percent by improving communications across geographically dispersed teams and the stakeholder groups.”

What client wouldn’t want a project manager who could increase the productivity of the team? This bullet is impressive because it shows that the PM used her communications and teamwork skills in the context of a real client situation.

You can incorporate soft skill evidence into almost any narrative in this way.

Tell Your Story

According to career expert, Alison Doyle, “Integrating storytelling elements into resumes … can help to paint a dynamic picture of achievement.” Using story rather than a bullet list of skills on your profile and resume shows the reader that your focus is on HOW you improved a business situation, not just WHAT you did.

Don’t be afraid to tell your story, incorporate your soft skills, and show them you are capable and ready for that next great project.

Feel free to comment below and I’ll do my best to answer your questions about leveraging hard and soft skills to enhance your digital reputation. Until next time, keep up the good attitude.

 

Everything You Need to Know About Project Life Cycles

Project Management life cycles explained, based on PMBOK© Guide Sixth Edition

When dancing, if you start off on the wrong foot, you may never recover. Sadly, the same can happen if you pick the wrong lifecycle approach for your project. With the wrong approach, you run the risk of cost overruns, long delivery delays, and potentially a failed project. Luckily, there are several project life cycle approaches available to help you control and deliver your projects successfully. This post will explain the current life cycle approaches based on the recently updated A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK ®  Guide – Sixth Edition) and how they affect project constraints.

What is the project life cycle?

The project life cycle contains every phase that your project goes through from beginning to end (cradle to grave). Some projects may have only one phase, others may have many. The PMBOK ®  Guide – Sixth Edition defines the project life cycle as “the series of phases that a project passes through from its initiation to its closure.” (page 19). That seems simple enough.

What is a phase?

Per the definition, every project is made up of one or more phases, which are “a collection of logically related project activities that culminate in the completion of one or more deliverables” (page 20). Phases can be sequential (back-to-back), iterative (cyclic) or overlap (simultaneous at points). The more phases and the more overlap, the greater the risk to the constraints of time, scope, and cost.

What is the life cycle approaches?

The PMBOK ®  Guide directly calls out two life cycle approaches: predictive and adaptive. Then it subdivides the adaptive life cycle approach into multiple phases that they call development life cycles:

  • Predictive
  • Iterative
  • Incremental
  • Adaptive
  • Hybrid

To help me decide what approach to use for a particular project, I focus on how the life cycle approach handles the project requirements, constraints, stakeholder feedback, and resources.

What is the generic life cycle?

Rarely is anything generic, but the PMBOK ®  Guide defines four generic phases in a lifecycle as

  1. Starting the project
  2. Organizing and preparing
  3. Carrying out the work
  4. Ending the project

(Figure 1-5 from page 18). The important things to know about this generic life cycle are:

  • Cost and staffing levels will continue to increase until they peak while carrying out the work
  • Risk and uncertainty will decrease over time
  • Cost of changes significantly increases over time

“All projects can be mapped to the generic life cycle” (page 19), so make sure to know them if you are going to take the PMP® exam.

Why do I care about the different types of life cycle approaches?

When there was only one approach, Waterfall, we needed to develop workarounds and try to contain and control everything within that fixed model (what a challenge). Today, with multiple approaches available, you can find the most flexible, cost-effective, time-sensitive way to deliver (what a relief). Below I detail the approaches mentioned in the PMBOK ®  Guide – Sixth Edition, but there are dozens more you can investigate and choose from, each having their own benefits and drawbacks.

Predictive Life Cycle (Fully Plan-Driven aka Waterfall) – During the previous 30 years of the last millennium (the ’70s, ‘80s, ‘90s), the Waterfall approach was the gold standard for all projects. It is a fully plan-driven approach where the 3 main project constraints (time, scope, cost) are all determined at a detailed level at the start of the project. You need to know your requirements going in and the scope is fixed at the onset. Each phase is then laid out sequentially and managed carefully.

Over time, to allow for more precise planning, the approach has allowed for “progressive elaboration” or “rolling wave planning” (page 185). Remember that scope and planning are two different things. Progressive elaboration doesn’t change the scope. It allows you to roll out the schedule into shorter passes. I measure all other approaches against the benefits and failings of this traditional approach (maybe because it is the first one I learned). Waterfall was great when I managed the very controlled and predictive development of a new hard drive at IBM. The project spanned years and didn’t require much stakeholder involvement (mostly at beginning and end or when we had scope changes that needed approval). The downside is that Waterfall is pretty inflexible when it comes to changes late in the project and therefore leads to significant cost increases when rework is needed. This is why I believe people started coming up with more adaptive approaches.  But Waterfall is still a good lifecycle approach if you have the development time and you know what you want to deliver. Don’t disregard its benefits.

Iterative Life Cycle – As timeframes for delivery got shorter and requirements got less clear, we needed additional lifecycle approaches that could handle the changes faster and less expensively. We found that when you broke large and complex projects down into smaller phases (aka cycles) it gave us more control (decreased risk and cost of rework). As the name implies, you execute the project in small iterations, giving you the ability to better define requirements at the start of each cycle. The PMBOK ®  Guide (page 19) recommends that you still define scope early in the project, but that you modify time and costs after each iteration since you will understand them better.

The iterative approach is like a bunch of small waterfall cycles with the customer verifying the work at the exit of each cycle. This gives you more flexibility and a better opportunity to address changes and reduce risk. You detail the scope for the next phase when you are done with the previous. I’ve used the iterative lifecycle approach when developing software updates. My iterations spanned 3 or 4 months at a time as part of a longer project.

Incremental Life Cycle – Many times you will see the incremental approach grouped with the iterative. They are similar but also different. The incremental lifecycle approach develops a product through the implementation of incremental steps which have predetermined timeframes. Each increment delivers additional functionality for the product and is repeated until the final deliverable is produced. Like with the iterative approach, customers signoff at each exit point. This approach is great when you want to do prototyping and reduce change risk along the way.

Adaptive Life Cycle (change-driven aka Agile) – Everyone wants rapid development these days, so when you need to execute a project fast, Agile is the way to go. This approach was built to handle changes and reduce inherent risk. The new PMBOK ®  Guide provides a whole appendix (Annex A3: Overview of Agile & Lean Frameworks, page 99) on the Agile/Lean approach. I highly recommend you read this Annex to better understand the concepts. Teams deliver software updates in weeks instead of months.

Adaptive projects are quick and time bound with two critical success factors:

  1. The customer must be intimately involved in the process and
  2. You must be able to define incremental requirements at the start of each iteration.

If requirements are not well known, like when you are developing a first of its kind application, the adaptive approach works nicely.

In addition to iterations being sequential, interactive, or overlapping, they could also run in parallel.  But don’t forget, especially when you are going at the speed of light, that each iteration should still be a complete cycle of Plan, Develop, Evaluate, and Learn. (Good project management process is all the more critical when you are going fast.) Iterations usually last 2 to 4 weeks at maximum.

To get a deeper understanding of all the concepts involved in Agile delivery, read the Agile Manifesto.

Hybrid Life Cycle – As it implies, the Hybrid takes the best of all approaches. You can use a predictive approach for the elements of the project that are known and an adaptive approach for the elements that will become apparent over time. “Hybrid methodologies accept the fluidity of projects and allow for a more nimble and nuanced approach to work,” says Jason Westland

Hybrid approaches are not new to project management, but they are definitely gaining acceptance as a way to solve life cycle problems in the 21st century. There is software coming on the market that allows you to blend approaches so you can manage different life cycle approaches all in one application. How neat is that?

Look for future posts on tips for choosing the best project life cycle approach. Feel free to comment below and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Until next time, keep up the good attitude.

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PMBOK® and PMP® are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

Published November 10, 2017, on the IIL Blog

 

 

Communications Management: 3 Fixes for “It Should Have Been Obvious” Syndrome

“Didn’t you read my email?” We’ve all asked this question to our teams before.

communication_problems_web

Do you feel like people only catch about 10% of what you communicate? You are not going crazy, it is actually true. People grasp way less in conversations than we think they do. We assume they know what we mean and what we said, but actually, they don’t get most of it, whether verbal or in writing.

Virtual teams, lacking contextual cues that the other person hasn’t understood what we’re trying to say, often hear only too late that, “I thought it was obvious that…” or, “I didn’t think I needed to spell that out.” – Keith Ferrazzi. Havard Business Review Blog Network, April 12, 2013

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., calls this the Signal Amplification Bias syndrome (though she jests that calling it the “I’m Sure It Was Obvious” Effect would have been much more to the point. – Too Much Miscommunication in your Relationship? A Simple Fix.)

Signal Amplification Bias is really just a fancy way to say there is a  lack of communication. The tendency is for people to perceive (bias) that they have communicated (signal) more (amplification) information to other people than they actually have.

importance-of-being-social-625x350

The potential for miscommunication was bad enough when we were face to face with people on a daily basis, but now, with more virtual teams and alternative methods of communications, it is getting worse. In the past, I have posted about the lack of contextual cues created by virtual communications and today I will address how you make yourself truly understood by your virtual teams. It is better at the beginning of the project to make sure your team will deliver what you tell them to deliver, then finding out at the end that they misunderstood you when rework can cost you everything.

Here are some suggestions to help get your message across:

Check 4 Times: Ferrazzi, in his article, said that it was not enough to tell someone to “circle back with me” and he is absolutely right. When I want to make sure that my message is understood, especially when giving critical project direction, I check at least FOUR (4) TIMES with the person receiving my message. This may sound like a lot of work, but after many years of managing teams in India, Central Europe, China and other non-native English-speaking countries (as well as across the 50 States – which sometimes might as well be different countries), I have found that spending time making sure my message is understood up front is better than trying to fix a miscommunicated instruction 90 days down the road.

  • Day 1: Tell them what you want to tell them on the phone (or in person).
  • Later that day: Follow up with a detailed email of what you told them. You really need to present detailed instructions otherwise you are leaving your direction open to interpretation. For example, if you want team members to set up a database that lists all the registered participates of your study, do you want them to decide the fields in the database, or do you already have a template in mind? If you want them to do it a particular way, they can’t read your mind, you need to spell it out. Remember, that you get what you ask for.  If you are not specific, then you’ll get what they ‘thought’ you wanted.
  • Day 2: Check that they understood what you told them in another phone conversation. Though I thought, many times, that what I had asked was clear, when I hear it back from the person the next day, I realize what they heard was lacking certain information. Whether my thought process was less than full or lacking some steps on the initial contact or they were distracted, etc. etc., doesn’t really matter. The goal is a complete understanding of the direction from you to the recipient.
  • Later that day: Correct what they misunderstood from your first communication in a detailed email.
  • Day 3: Check that they understood what you said the second time.
  • Repeat the process until you are comfortable that all details are clear.

Using multiple mediums, especially phone and email, ensures that important concepts get repeated in several different ways. This helps, especially, again, for non-native English speakers. When you get directions to a location on your GPS, do you like the map view or the list view? My point is the more ways you can present something, the better chance of it being understood. I like both maps and lists so that I am sure exactly when to turn.

As a young PM, I didn’t realize my signal amplification bias (aka miscommunication) until the first deliverable from the team. It amazed me how much I did not say (or they did not hear). That is when I started using different mediums to catch what might be missed in a verbal conversation, instant message, or email. I learned that details are better sent in writing so they can be discussed, printed and edited by all sides. Today I use social platforms (like SharePoint) so the whole team can see and update the information at the same time.

Breaking communications down into smaller chunks goes a long way toward being understood. Don’t dump a million task on someone all at the same time. If you compartmentalized a few things at a time, then you have a better chance for comprehension. This way you can make sure that the information is understood before moving on to the next chunk. If the communication fits on more than two screens, it is probably too long. (Interesting tidbit: ‘Chunking” – the theory that we remember things in chunks, gives evidence that 7 chunks plus or minus 2 may be all we can handle at one time.) 

Bottom line, whenever you have two or more people communicating, there will always be some communication issues. Keep it short, keep it detailed, and check each parties understanding along the way.  If you do that… the rest should be obvious.

 

Fulfill Your Professional Aspirations at IPM Day 2017

Register today at iil.com/international-project-management-day

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See you on International PM Day!