November 28, 2013

I thought I was a good listener...

I always thought of myself as a good listener. But recently I realized I wasn't the great listener I thought I was.

In the middle of answering a question in a class, I realized I hadn't really listened. If I did, I would have asked more questions to understand what the person was getting at. I wasn't satisfied that I provided the best answer.

So I decided to focus more on listening. Something most of us do every day - and something most of us don’t take courses in, unlike speaking or even writing. Research (my focus group of my kids) seems to say that most of us think we are pretty good listeners.

I was a bit surprised to find out that there is an International Listening Association. Pamela Cooper, vice president of the association, said:

"There's a misconception that when we hear, we listen, but listening is really hard work, and it takes a great deal of concentration."

Malcolm Gladwell said that listening well is a gift and that listening is difficult because the more you listen the more unsettling the world becomes.

I would agree. The more I listen, the more I think outside of my comfort zone. The more I focus on listening, the more I realize I have much to learn, and that there is much to learn from everyone’s point of view.

So - here’s to listening and learning.

November 22, 2013

Make Sure Opportunities Find You

I recently conducted a global webinar for over 1300 participants and received some great feedback and questions. One repeated question was: "How do you ensure opportunities do not pass you by?"
  1. You need to ask. Easy to say, difficult to do. We seem to hesitate for fear somebody will say no. But if you don't ask, it is a definite no. Believe in yourself, your capability, and that confidence will prompt you to ask and open up opportunities.
  2. Focus on your strengths. It is easy to let our weaknesses hold us back. A weakness is only defined because it is somebody else's strength. I'm not sure why - just because somebody is great at something, that defines us? Define yourself, focus on your strengths, and tell everybody.
  3. Learn to say YES. We all have opportunities that come before us and many times it is easy to make excuses as to why we cannot partake. Although these excuses are valid short term, they will hold you back long term. This implies that you need to raise your level of risk tolerance but your increased confidence from focusing on your strengths will offset that.

November 14, 2013

Managing Your Multiple Projects - Get the Exec on Board

Project Managers know that executive support is crucial for successful projects. But did you know that senior management support and organizational culture are especially important for those project managers who manage multiple projects?

A study done on team culture in managing successful multiple projects found that organizational culture was more important, by far, than the culture created by the project managers and teams. This may seem a bit counter-intuitive. Wouldn't you think that it was the environment created within the project teams that made the most difference towards the success of the project?

Commitment, communication and rewards for performance were the signifiers of a strong organizational culture. In organizations with a strong culture, project team members felt committed to their projects, contributed strongly to project development, communicated with each other to transfer information and knowledge, and were recognized and appreciated for performance beyond expectation.

Senior managers are usually the ones who lead the development of organizational culture. To create this multiple-project-supporting culture, the study found that senior management established a group-oriented organizational culture. That is, they supported project teams and valued working in groups as opposed to individually. They “walked the talk” in leadership by setting in motion policies for team rewards, as opposed to individual ones, and supported group decision-making techniques.

Senior managers developed a collective sense of mission and good relationships with those who followed them.

Organizations that support teams in policy and action = strong success for multiple projects run by one project manager. If you are an executive, are there policies for rewarding group performance that you can introduce? If you are a project manager, how can you incorporate the strengths of the organization, for example, in relationship building or how teamwork is supported, to improve the success of your projects?

Thank you for the research done by:
Managing a Group of Multiple Projects: Examining the Influence of Team Culture and Leader Competencies, Peerasit Patanakul and Zvi H. Aronson, Stevens Institute of Technology - Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management, January 23, 2013

November 07, 2013

Unglamorous work?

Bill Gates is famous as the founder of Microsoft. Today, he spends much of his time and considerable money on the eradication of polio in the underdeveloped world.

With his great help, polio has been eradicated in India. This effort has taken a lot of hard, unglamorous work. All by his own choice. The man who has enough money to do whatever he would like.

Most of us have nowhere near Bill Gates’ money. We imagine, if we did, how we would buy a castle or travel the world a few times over, or some such lofty indulgence.

However, Bill Gates has gone from Head IT Manager to working for the underprivileged.

If we think we are doing something not as significant in the world, it might be worthwhile to think about what Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” says:
The truth is, few people are working on the most glamorous things in the world. Most of them are doing real work - which means that most of the time they’re doing a heck of a lot of drudgery with only a few moments of excitement. The real work of the economy gets done by people who make cars, who sell real estate, and who run grocery stores or banks. One of the great findings of this study is that you can be in a great company and be doing it in steel, in drug stores, or in grocery stores. 
The basic message is this: Build your own flywheel. You can do it. You can start to build momentum in something for which you've got responsibility. You can build a great department. You can build a great church community. You can take every one of these ideas and apply them to your own work or your own life.
Bill Gates built his own flywheel a few times over. But we can all do it.

And while you are it, remember: project management principles will help with all that building!

Click here for more information on Bill Gates’ work on the eradication of polio. Click here for more on Jim Collins and “Good to Great”.

October 31, 2013

Nagging, Tracking, Monitoring and Control

Next week I am giving a session on Managing Multiple Projects. Tracking is a major part, so I have been researching this topic. As well, as these things go, I have had a few conversations with project managers on the topic of “nagging” (ahem... “tracking”).

Do project managers like to nag? Of course not. Do they? Very often.

The Harvard Business School and Northwestern University did a study on “managerial nagging”. They tracked project managers in 6 companies across 3 industries. What they found:

The researchers shadowed these managers at meetings, followed them around the office as they dropped in on subordinates, and sat for hours at their desks looking over their shoulders, recording their phone calls and e-mails. (Hey, talk about nagging!) They ultimately collected 256 hours’ worth of observations.

Their findings, published recently in the journal Organization Science, show that in a typical 4½-hour stretch, 14% of all communication was redundant. In other words, managers spent a fair chunk of time following up with employees to reiterate information they had already explained.

Frequency mattered more in convincing employees to get working, and managers who were deliberately repetitive from the start tended to move their projects along faster and received less resistance from their teams.

This all makes sense to me and agrees with the concept of weekly team meetings - of which I am a big fan - and daily contact, if possible, either through meetings or walk-abouts. After all, the project manager’s job is to manage. Helping the team get there is a huge part of that.

Of course, other project management practices, such as having team members define their work and provide estimates, creating a Communications Plan that identifies when, how and what to communicate with stakeholders (including team members), and creating a Roles and Responsibility matrix, also help with reducing the need to nag.

(Credit for some of this article goes directly to Go there for more information on the study.)

October 23, 2013

Small Businesses and Project Management

This week is Small Business Week in Canada. Coincidentally, this week I had discussions with a couple of small business owners who were wondering if what they did was project management. Both of my friends, who work in totally different industries, said the same thing. They asked, “I think what I do is project management, but I’m not sure. What do you think?”

Well, I said, "Do you have goals that you work toward with deadlines?" Of course they do. That was really the basis of their projects. One colleague is in the real estate industry. Every house for sale is a project. The other is an account manager. Each account has several projects.

It was interesting to talk about how project management principles apply across industries - and no matter the size of the business. Because I am a business owner myself, I knew my friends deal with budgets and schedules. They certainly consider risks. And communications is a huge part of their projects. Procurement also figured in there, as did staffing.

Another thing we discussed was our businesses’ visions and strategies. This reminded me of how projects should fit in with the organization’s vision and strategy, no matter the size of the business. I know that a few times I've gone off course from my selected vision and strategy - not a recommended practice.

So, are small business owners also project managers? Of course! It’s practically a way of life.

October 12, 2013

Reaching Project Goals and the Law of Attraction

Do you manage projects, large or small? If so, have you thought about how completing a project successfully and using the Law of Attraction are alike? Being interested in both topics, I have thought about this interaction quite a bit. And here is my view.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a project is “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.” So, our goal in a project is to create a particular product, service or result.

How do we perform this creation? One of the main things we will do is to build a picture/description of the outcome, and get agreement on it. For example, if our project is to create a website for our company,  we define the overall look of the website, how many pages the site is to include, and the site’s purpose before we get down to work. Thus, we are defining the scope of the project. When we do this, we almost always visualize the end-result and work from there.

So, how is this similar to getting what you want through the Law of Attraction? The Law of Attraction is based on the premise that if we can see and believe what we want, we will attain it. So, like in a project, we are seeing and focusing on what we want.

In a project, this focus and belief in the end-goal provides not only a focal point for project team members, but also gives motivation – the team working towards a goal. If you have worked on a project where all team members had the goal in mind, you will know the feeling of synergy and excitement that can result from this “beginning with the end in mind” as Steven Covey says.

Why not try it, if you have not already, in your work and personal life? Imagine the desired results (outcome) to get results! As you do so, ideas on how these results may come about might spring to your mind, or maybe you will find yourself doing things that help bring about the outcome. Whichever way it happens for you, please email me with your results, I would love to hear your stories.

October 09, 2013

Starting Something New?

In this day and age many businesses are working on incorporating online tools into their product portfolio. If you are, you might want to consider planning before you begin your exciting new project.

Here are four guidelines:
  1. Begin with the end in mind. Stephen Covey’s maxim holds true for any project. Before you can start any venture or project, you must know what you want!
  2. Gather a support team. It is hard to work by yourself. In fact, we cannot achieve many goals without the involvement of other people. Build in support for yourself and your project. Think about whose help you will need in achieving your aims, and get in touch with them. It might take a few conversations to get the ball rolling, but you will eventually find it much easier to achieve your project goals with the right team in place.
  3. Identify everything you need to do to achieve your goal. You will want the help of your team to do this. Maybe you will have a brainstorming meeting where everyone feels welcome to shout out their ideas about the tasks required. Once you have identified what needs to be done, you can put the tasks in order and figure out how long each will take and who will do them.
  4. Document! Don’t forget to put your plan in writing. This will make tracking and keeping control much easier. As well, any decisions about your project, such as what tools you will use or who does what, should be documented.

October 02, 2013

Work Breakdown: Structure!

Last week was a busy one for me. Programs to design, questions to answer, and preparing for a project that I just couldn't get my mind around. It was too big. There were too many risks. I didn't want to face it.

So, there I was, ignoring what I have to do and feeling the subconscious strain from that. I pride myself on not being a worrier but I think this ignoring strategy got the better of me. I got a head cold - a great excuse not to use my brain.

And then it dawned on me. I was not using the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)... and my structure was breaking down. The overload on the brain of looking at the work in one big chunk was terrifying me. It was overwhelming.

I broke down the areas of the project and it was amazingly simple. As soon as I saw the work and what had to be done - and figured out the time - I breathed a sigh of relief. This was going to be easy.

Even though I teach and preach about WBS’s all the time, I sometimes lose sight of the basics. They work!

September 29, 2013

Measuring Your Personal Gas Gauge

In a matter of two weeks I heard the same message.

In Kansas City we talked about poker. You have two players, both with a pair of 7’s. One player is down to their last $10, the other has $1000s in chips. Who plays with more confidence?

When he was here in Halifax, Mike Lipkin talked about a gas gauge: there are two drivers, with one the needle is on Empty, the other the needle is on Full. Who drives with more confidence?

Here is the hard question: on a daily basis, what are you measuring? What is your gas/poker chips that define your confidence, your success? Not your bosses or your co-workers measure, your measure. You are in control of defining (and measuring) your success.

Years ago I had a director who left work every day promptly at 4:30 because he had a young family at home. Some people measured that as a fault; luckily, his family gauge, his key measure of success, was full when he left.

Hindsight is 20-20. Maybe running out of chips gets you first in line at the buffet, or maybe you are still using the old “Ran out of Gas” routine. But then again, maybe not. Go fill 'er up.

September 26, 2013

My Favourite Mentor

I was my father's favourite child. Never mind that I had five brothers and a sister.

In fact, I am the most beautiful woman in the world next to my mother. I know this because my father told me so. Okay, I know my father is a little biased but every time he said that I would laugh, and say, "Thank you!" It was great to hear the words.

My father also had five sisters and five brothers - he was the eldest child - and all of them were his favourites. And all of his sisters were also the most beautiful women in the world. Whenever any of them called, he would tell them so. No matter he had just talked with another favourite sibling.

My Dad passed away this summer. At the Home where he spent the last three weeks of his life in a shared room, his co-occupant would get his feathers ruffled because my father had so many visitors. From 7am until midnight, someone was with Dad, and often times there were five or six people there during the day. (I guess having literally hundreds of relatives helps with that.)

When someone needed a boost, they would call my father. He was a role model to many, including me. Always cheerful, always giving a positive word. And now that he has passed, my mentor more than ever.

September 22, 2013

Do I need to take a PMP preparation course to get my PMP certification?

One of the requirements for the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification is that you must accumulate 35 contact hours of education in project management. Some people read this to mean 35 hours taking a PMP preparation course. Now, I am totally in favour of people taking a preparation course to ensure they are ready to pass the exam. However, I would like to talk a bit about what the 35-hour requirement means.

Thirty-five hours of project management education is any training that relates to the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). For example, if you have taken a leadership course on motivating your team, training in procuring resources, or a session on using Microsoft Project to create a project schedule, these all count.

Any training related to working with projects or project teams would count, as well as training related to the 10 knowledge areas of: project integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communications, risk, procurement and stakeholder management.

You can also put bits of training together. For example, if you've taken 4 one-day courses and 2 half-day courses, and they all add up to 35 hours, you can input them all to represent your 35 hours of PM education.

There is a time restriction on the work experience but not for past training. This can be sometimes be confusing. Any past training you've ever taken can qualify if it's related. For example, when I did my own application, I included courses from my Bachelor of Commerce degree taken many years ago. Don't stop at 35 hours - if you have more, include them in your application.

So, there are many ways to get your 35 hours. That is not to say that you shouldn't take a PMP prep course - you don’t have to. But these courses are certainly a great way to review the highlights of what you need to know and feel confident you have all the bases covered when you write your exam.

Good luck in all of your PMP and CAPM exam preparations!