Your opinion/ feedback please

I am working on ideas for a webinar and would appreciate feedback on topics that interest you in the areas of Project Management, Project Portfolio Management, Lifecycle Management and Process Improvement. I admit I am tempted to build on topics I have written about such as the full lifecycle management from concept to realization of benefit or how Portfolio Management can improve project or PMO performance. I also appreciate ideas for blog topics. Thanks for your feedback!

Improving Efficiency through Improved Meetings

In a discussion about meetings the other day, I was reminded about how I became a promoter of efficient meetings. I will never forget the client who bragged that he and several of his colleagues worked well into the night because they spent their days in meetings! And how much value came out of the meetings? I have found that conducting efficient meetings and inviting only the people who need to attend has helped in my popularity in leading people. People don’t want their time wasted.

Here is my list of efficient meeting rules: 1. Send out agenda. 2. Only invite people who need to attend (either they contribute to the meeting or they need to know the information provided in the meeting). 3. Keep the meeting as brief as possible (we have work to do! a little socializing is ok but is not the purpose of the meeting). There is the method of stand up meetings to ensure the meeting is kept short and on point. 4. A good Leader, Manager or Project Manager should be able to determine how often the meetings are needed so that information is exchanged in a timely manner but we aren’t all spending our days in meetings. 5. Stay on topic, parking lot disagreements. 6. Start and end on time. Have you heard of the management method of locking the door after start time – to encourage people to arrive on time? 7. Prepare Meeting Minutes and follow up action items. If you can’t summarize what was accomplished in the meeting and what will result (actions) from the meeting, what was the point to the meeting?

We have to collaborate and conduct meetings and should have some fun at work. But we don’t have to have inefficiency keeping us from getting the important things done . Your thoughts? Any other Meeting best practices? What other things do you think cause a lot of inefficiency in business?



Order to Chaos – the Importance of Project Management

When I first joined a mid sized business that had no processes and procedures, I thought I had gone to heaven. It seemed like such freedom after working in companies with a good deal of processes, procedures and bureaucracy. Within a short time, I realized that I needed to drive establishment of sound processes. Our customer satisfaction depended on this! We needed project management to resolved quality and productivity issues. Another time, I was brought into a project that had started over a year earlier but little had been achieved while they waded through red tape holding back necessary first steps. While this was called a project, it was not being run as a project. The customers knew nothing about the cause of the delays. They only knew that when they asked a project team member a question about status, they received nothing but blank stares. Seeing this issue, I organized the project into a true project so that we could prioritize on tasks and phases, keep the customer informed, move forward and show progress.

Positive Thinking: Positive Results!

The other day, I was thinking about a situation as one of those “lemons” in life – figuring I needed to turn the lemon into lemonade. This led to thoughts about another cliché: seeing the glass as half full or half empty. Perhaps the ultimate positive thinker can always think of the glass as half full no matter what the situation (or to use one more cliché, find the sliver lining). If we really can turn the lemon into lemonade, was it really a bad thing that we encountered this issue. Isn’t that how we grow. Which, of course makes me think of one more cliché “what doesn’t kill us makes us better”! While we tend to learn a lot from problems and issues it certainly isn’t easy to look at things quite this positively when we are in the middle of the dilemma. But if we want to be a real positive thinker, we need to work on this ability, to realize that problems do get resolved and we learn something from them. So now for my corny New Years resolution: to be more positive in 2012. I have tried this resolution before and it usually works best when I have less problems, issues and drama in the specific year but hey, I will keep on working on it.

Your thoughts on this? And did I leave out any cliches?

Motivating during difficult times

When leading a team on a difficult project, it is important to keep the team motivated and continuing to resolve issues. However, motivation is more difficult when working on a project that is full of problems and potentially headed for failure. Team members tend to give up when they see a project as hopeless. This can be overcome and bring great rewards as illustrated in 3 examples from my past:
• On a project where we had a late start and a long list of issues, concerns and uncertainties, I took the project team to a motivational seminar about ownership (of everything you do). We had the team goal of stopping a division shutdown by successfully completing he project. As a team, we “owned” the success of the project. Considering that we had to work many nights and weekends to complete on time, it really helped to have this motivation. We had team members that didn’t get along, huge pressures to resolve problems and were much overworked but our dedication to successfully achieving our goals trumped all that and the project was a success.
• Later in my career, I was hired to lead program that was one year late to start. Despite the start delay, the customer wanted the solution now (that’s not unusual!). It was difficult to manage both up and down the organization. The customer was unhappy about the late start and the team was disgruntled about the schedule that they saw as unrealistic. I found that thinking positively and keeping a sense of humor helped me to motivate the team to complete activities as quickly as possible. Of course the team did think I was nuts for being so positive under the dire circumstances but this method worked.
• I joined an organization as a Project Manager only to find that I would be leading Engineers who had never worked with formal project processes and didn’t like them. Their projects were very difficult as we built custom equipment per the internal customer’s schedule and budget. We were not allowed to do a feasibility study to determine if the project should even be started. Prior to bringing in methodical Project Management, the division’s management had micro managed the Engineers to try and get the job done based on a very lose plan. I had always believed in empowerment. It took time to convince the team members about the power of good project management but empowering them made a world of difference in motivating them to work hard, resolve problems and work as a team. Empowerment beats micromanagement any day!

Ensuring Business Results with High Impact

Several years ago, I was hired for a position that didn’t have a job description. There was no career path for the position and the hiring manager wasn’t sure what the title should be for the position. Despite all this, it was one of the most exciting positions I have had! The job came basically with a mission. The business’ primary customer and their customer’s customer were very concerned about quality issues with their product. They were threatening a shutdown until the issues were resolved. Within two weeks, I resolved the problem of customer dissatisfaction and also sped up the process to a solution to the quality issue. This will sound simplistic but every time I am tasked with resolving an issue of customer dissatisfaction, I do one thing. I listen to the customer and seek to understand the root cause of their problem. I come to a client with my experiences to help them but also first I want to understand their true business issues. I have gone into consulting engagements after other consultants didn’t satisfy the client and I found that the issue really was that the previous consultants went in with “the solution”, with the idea that everyone needs what they were selling, not understanding the customer at all! There are no canned answers to a client’s problem. A consultant must be sure they are solving the problem that causes the customer’s pain and provides significant impact to the business. This may surprise you but the solution was for my company to become proactive. Make a plan, lead their experts to solutions around the issues and report on progress.

Successfully Managing Change when the odds are against you

What can trip up the success of any project, program or major change?

Since most endeavors involve people, process and technology, any one of these areas can cause the project to fail. Good planning and design should control technology and process issues. However, the main issue with Change Management relates to people issues. We all know that it is important to carefully plan projects and programs but sometimes there is not enough attention paid to Change Management Planning. I am not talking about handling changes to scope (which is definitely important). I am talking about how important it is to have the elements in place that will result in adoption of the change and will handle the problems and issues inherent in anything new.

To ensure success of any endeavor, you need to analyze how the change will affect the organization and produce a plan developed to handle the any risks and issues identified. As I will discuss later, the plan should be similar to a marketing campaign, where materials and communications are developed to keep the benefit of the change on everyone’s mind.

First you need a good sponsor – a high level person who enthusiastically communicates the vision and helps people understand “whats in it for me?” If the people higher up in the chain don’t support the change, this is a red flag. This often happens when a new leader comes in and believes he/ she can’t stick with anything started before he/ she took over! We have all seen this kind of activity put a halt to a major transformations already in progress. I have also seen sponsors who don’t really get the change themselves – don’t really see the point. This is like having no captain for the ship!

You also need to ensure people see progress. There is more talk these days of the criticality of modularizing projects, breaking down into 6 month or less phases for quick wins so that you achieve something every few months vs. leaving all the benefit realization to the end. This helps keep positive momentum going as people are seeing benefit as the project proceeds.

Thorough stakeholder analysis gives you a good idea of the threats to the project brought about by people who don’t want to change. Change requires using something new (system, process etc). This requires time and effort to learn something new and takes people outside their comfort zone. Count on it – some people will not want to learn something new. How to deal with this?: 1. Make sure the training is good, thorough, easy to understand and ongoing support and help is provided. 2. Make sure people understand what they can gain. We would all like to believe that it should make people happy to know that a change is going to do wonders for the company but the reality is that people really would like to relate benefit back to themselves. A leader skilled in Change Management can find the benefit or determine how to ensure there is one. For example, most change should streamline, simplify, automate or shorten processes.

The most successful change management plan I ever witnessed was similar to a major marketing campaign. A very large organization was rolling out major change globally. In essence they were “pitching” the change and its benefit to the organization to help mitigate stakeholder issues and support a relatively smooth change. The company used posters, t-shirts and other give aways and social events to promote the value of the change. While most organizations don’t put a budget behind this type of activity, we all can use the technique of clearly planning a campaign targeted at organizational buy-in of the change. Change Management activity should be included in the Communications plan with stakeholders provided with ongoing project progress as well as reminders of the purpose and benefit of the project.