December 22, 2016

The Desiderata for Projects

You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
(from “The Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann, 1927)

My brother Jim gave me a poster with the Desiderata poem on it for Christmas when I was a kid. The poem was quoted by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when his government lost its majority in the 1972 federal election; he said, “The universe is unfolding as it should.”

Morgan Freeman told Oprah Winfrey that the Desiderata shaped his life.

If you are in the middle of a project or two, the Desiderata has some good advice for projects, as well, such as:
  • Project Risk: Do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. (Remember the Utility Theory of Risk.)
  • Project Communications: Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others.
  • Project Integration: And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. (Useful to remember when we’re keeping the project together.)
  • Project Human Resources: Enjoy your achievements, as well as your plans. (Remember to build in those recognitions and awards and never forget project planning!)

December 08, 2016

Where's the Project Manager?

Yesterday a friend told me the story of a house under construction. The carpenter arrived to install kitchen cabinets but discovered the drywallers' work wasn’t complete. She also learned the electrician hadn’t completed his job either, so she left the site frustrated. She had not been notified and her crews were already tight with the schedule. Subsequently, she heard a few days later the painters showed up (likely on schedule) but, because the drywallers hadn’t been able to work, they also had to leave.

This experience - poor coordination, planning and communication - left her asking, "Where is the project manager?"

What could have been done to avoid this situation? A schedule outlining who was doing what work would have helped. Maybe this was done but clearly it was not communicated to all of those involved. A communications plan - showing what needs to be communicated to whom, when, and how - would also have been useful.

And what could be done at the point where the project was going off the rails, possibly due to lack of communications and planning? In this example, there was obviously a lack of monitoring and controlling. The carpenter could have let the person who hired her know what was happening, hopefully prompting them to get a grip on the project. Without this prompt, who knows how long the project manager would be unaware of what was happening (or not happening in this case)?

Let’s say the project manager decided a few days later to check in on the site to see how the work was going. Upon inspection they see no one is working as expected and, of course, no progress has been made. At that point, it is easy to see that the project is prone to disorder and delays. A review of the situation and plan, along with some risk analysis, then timely communications with the various trades, would help mitigate time loss.

Schedules not coordinated and communicated can result in extra costs and time for a project. In this example, it also leaves the tradespeople in a position to possibly lose money on a job when their scheduled work can’t be completed in the timeframe they allotted for in their estimate. On top of this, the lack of communication in this case caused some of them declare they would not work for this builder again.

Project management prepares a leader and tradespeople with the skills required to successfully manage projects and navigate through inevitable disruptions.

Good luck to you in all of your projects!

December 01, 2016

Stakeholder Engagement

Recently I went to a luncheon hosted by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, which my company was proud to sponsor. (See our logo on the banner to right of stage above.)

The topic of the luncheon was “What’s Up, Halifax?” and four panelists represented major projects in beautiful Halifax.

The panelists, Alex Halef, President of BANC Group of Companies, Dov Bercovici, President & CEO, Discovery Centre, Bob Bjerke, Chief Planner and Director, Planning and Development, Halifax Regional Municipality, Steve Snider, CEO & General Manager, Halifax Harbour Bridges, were asked questions which had been pre-submitted to the moderator. Several questions were about improving our city for businesses and residents.

What struck me with the questions and answers was the emphasis on stakeholder engagement, not only from resident and business to the government and developers, but also among the city and developers.

From the answers, you could see that communication was obviously good between the city and development representatives. They communicated in front of over 100 people and were willing to answer the audience’s questions and discuss topics among themselves in the open.

It was also heartening to see that both parties were open to further increasing their communication and stakeholder engagement.

According to PMI, a stakeholder is "an individual, group, or organization who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project."

Knowing who the perceived stakeholders are can be the most difficult part of identifying stakeholders.

For the cities and towns we live in, we are all stakeholders, and I know the government is conscientious in my area to seek input from residents and businesses. But there can always be more input and improvement on engagement.

Is that a bad thing? No. Projects are continuously improving all the time, and we should expect that to be so.

I have observed over the years that, as project managers, we often don’t realize how much project stakeholders want to be involved in a project. Sometimes we might think we are bothering a client or user, other times we think they don’t really want to be engaged at a certain level of depth. Should we assume how much stakeholders want to be involved? Well, no. We should ask them. The answer might be surprising.

Involving stakeholders is a key, and valuable, tenet of project management.

November 25, 2016

In "the Biz"

Recently, I fell into a new project – getting a TV series produced. It's amazing how much project management is involved in the entertainment industry.

When I was in St. John's last month, my friend Anne Marie told me that the romantic comedy series she had submitted to a producer could use a boost to get going. People who saw the write-up liked it, but things weren't happening. Hmm, I thought, we have the wherewithal to get this on the go. So, that's how our project together started.

First, we talked with a friend who was in "the biz" here in Halifax. He generously gave us an indepth view on the process for getting a series started and what type of key players would be needed.

Seemed to me this effort required a lot of project management - creating a workable plan, coordinating resources, and keeping stakeholders engaged, among other things. It became clearer and clearer to me that those project management principles will help us keep this project on track.

Wish us luck! If you have worked in the TV industry, and have some advice (or contacts!) to share, please drop me a line.

November 16, 2016

Managing Projects the PMI Way

Most projects have many moving parts. When you’re in charge of all those parts, you need to stay on track and be organized.

I am very proud to have taught the three project managers referenced in the Halifax Chamber's Business Voice magazine this month. Knowing how to manage projects 'the PMI way' helps projects large and small. Continue reading this insightful article (pdf).

November 09, 2016

Contract Improvements

This week I had some contract issues to look at regarding an agreement with a supplier. Several areas concerning deliverables needed to be examined.

I called the supplier to get more insight on what had happened. They said they would investigate and get back to me.

Then I sought out my trusted advisors, who gave good recommendations. But something was still gnawing at me, so I called Bob, my older brother who has run a very successful business for many years.

Bob said, "Thank the supplier for their work - everyone needs more thanks." He went on to say there will always be challenges in business, and that’s when we improve. This advice resonated with me. Yes, take the high road and learn from the situation.

Doing so was definitely the best option for my business, in several ways. It would keep the business relationship (which is what a contract signifies), and would also keep me and my associates in a positive frame of mind. This last part, I believe, being the most important part of the lesson.

October 19, 2016

The Best Kind of Goal for Managing Change

I attended a workshop recently which was about change and how people deal with it. My goal in attending was mainly to learn more about myself and how I react to change that I didn’t originate (that is, a change imposed upon me).

I learned much from this workshop. One key point was to focus on learning instead of on performance during such a time of forced change.

Here is a tip I found useful: If your first reaction to something unfamiliar is, “I can’t do that,” instead say, “How do I learn to do that?”

The course taught*: “When facing a challenge, some people adopt performance goals which focus on demonstrating a certain level of competence. Others adopt learning goals which focus on increasing their capability. Learning goals are generally more helpful than performance goals during periods of change.

People with learning goals tend to see setbacks as information about the effectiveness of their strategies and become motivated to keep trying. They understand that learning new skills often requires going through a phase of awkwardness, confusion and failure.”

Knowing that on the other side of confusion and awkwardness is the learning, keeps me keeping on learning.

I hope you found this useful. Please let me know how you implement it in your work.

* excerpt from Developing Resilience During Change by Gregg Brown, Tidal Shift Inc. - for more info contact

October 14, 2016

That's When We All Win

I have been reading about the upcoming American election with some interest. So much so that I only recently realized we were having a local (Halifax, Canada) municipal election and voting at the polling station is on Saturday.

One of the things that elections usually centre on is change for the better. Citizens take responsibility by electing officials who will represent them to take action.

I believe in the power of the democratic process. But related to that is our own power to change our own world. Two songs that I enjoyed about taking self-responsibility are Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror and Nickelback’s When We Stand Together.

September 28, 2016

Breaking It Down

Sometimes when I look at an important project I am about to start, I get overwhelmed with the idea of it. It feels like, "It's just too much." Then I remember there is an easy way around this - break it down!

When I was in school, I won some contests for writing. One key to writing is the same principle - breaking the idea down into smaller parts. Even though we didn’t use the term 'mind map' then, as my kids do all the time in school now, that's what I did. I took the idea and broke it into its subcomponents and then further subdivided. Working on each part was much easier than trying to throw ideas willy-nilly at the whole.

When creating a training course, it’s the same principle - break it down. Looking at the topic of project management as a whole can be a bit daunting because there is a lot of information. The key, again, is to break the main idea into parts. What are we doing on Day One, Day Two, and so on? We want to make sure each topic is covered in the right amount.

So, if you have a big idea that's confusing you (I know when this happens to me, it's when I ignore the idea, pushing it to the side because it's "just too big" to think about), try this: take a quiet moment and write down the 'parts' of the idea. Then, put them in order as to the weight to be given to each part.

I hope this makes you feel better and breathe a sigh of relief because you are on your way to achieving your goal!

This breaking down process is really what the work breakdown structure (WBS) is all about. The WBS has been reported to be the most valuable tool by 74% of project managers.

September 23, 2016

Sully, the Risk Manager

I went to see Sully last week, a movie based on a true story. Sully - Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger - performed a great act of risk management.

An airplane pilot, Sully made a quick decision when his plane hit a flock of birds, lost the use of both engines, and was in danger of crashing. He was flying above New York City when this happened, with approximately 150 passengers on board.

Sully decided to land on the Hudson River instead of trying to make it to the nearest air field.

Afterward, the landing was investigated by the US Transportation Security Administration. During the investigation, flight simulations seemed to prove that Sully could have made an airfield landing, instead of on the river as he did.

It hits Sully that there was one element missing in the investigation: the inclusion of the human factor. After all, making this type of landing was something he, a pilot with 42 years of experience, had not done before. When this factor was taken into account, he was proven right - landing on the Hudson River was the best option.

While making the decision to land on the river, Sully encountered a risk and dealt with it. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a risk is an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurred, would have a positive or negative effect on the project's objectives. Decidedly, flying into a flock of birds was a negative risk event, as was crashing!

Sully and his co-pilot followed the steps they were trained to do (the risk response plan) when the bird collision occurred: they notified their air traffic controller. But the solutions offered from ground control weren't viable in the situation - they didn't have time to get to the nearest landing field. So Sully made the decision to land on the Hudson River. This was their work-around, their solution to an unanticipated problem.

At the time, training for duel engine failure wasn’t something pilots usually did. (

What was going through Sully’s mind as he was making the necessarily quick decision? I think it would have to do with the probabilities of the different scenarios being successful, and the impact if they weren't. So he did what had the highest probability of success and the lowest impact of failure (loss of life) - he performed an on-the-spot risk analysis.

The story ended well (as my favourite movies do!) and Sully was regarded as a hero. His knowledge and quick thinking saved the lives of all who were on Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport that day.

September 08, 2016

Who is a Successful Project Manager?

My manager at Motorola, Jim, was one of the most successful project managers I have known. His projects completed as planned, but he was successful because his team got the work done happily. He hired people to do a job and he let them do it. Now that I am teaching about project management, I take some of the knowledge that PMI (Project Management Institute) gives on project management and apply it to Jim’s approach.

As a successful project manager, Jim was:

1. Inclusive: He made everyone on the team feel like they were the project manager. Once responsibilities were accepted, Jim let you do your job. But he didn’t ignore you – we knew any time we needed to communicate with him the door was open.
This is related to the PMBOK (the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge) in that roles and responsibilities were assigned, and everyone knew who was doing what on a task. We knew our RACI (chart for who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed.)

2. A delegator: Jim told us to figure things out ourselves. He didn’t take on our jobs, and he had faith that we could do what we were lined up to do. When I asked Jim a question about a software model, he said, “Read the book, that’s what I did.” It might have sounded gruff, but I got the point. And I was also encouraged that he thought I could do what he did.
The PMBOK says, “Successful project managers have strong leadership skills.” Jim was a good leader and set an example.

3. A communicator: He provided structure to the team. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do. We met weekly. We were never “lost” about what to do or what was expected of us.
We had: the RACI, mentioned above; a schedule with milestones; a communications plan; and project ground rules – these weren’t necessarily named using PMI terminology, but followed the standard.

4. A leader: He gave direction in a clear manner.
We always knew where we were in the project schedule and what we had to do. The team was led by Jim and the work was managed, monitored and controlled to stay on track.

Jim died a number of years ago from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Right up to the end he maintained his attitude and approach, and continued to lead and be insightful.

If you are interested in learning more about project management, our needs assessment at will help you determine which type of development would benefit you most. There are opportunities for learning about the fundamentals of project management, advanced project management applications, and PMP certification preparation.

September 01, 2016

The Top 10 Factors for Project Success

Are your projects successful? A study determined the following factors lead to project success:
  1. Clear goals
  2. Support from senior management
  3. Adequate funding and resources
  4. A realistic schedule
  5. End-user commitment
  6. Effective leadership and conflict resolution
  7. A flexible approach to change
  8. Clear communication channels
  9. Use of lessons learned
  10. Effective management of risk
Numbers 6 and 7 are my favourites. Six because leadership and conflict resolution are lumped together. Seven because of the flexible approach. In any case, this list can give all of us who manage projects a checklist for review.

Best of luck with your projects!

August 25, 2016

The Focused Florence Foster Jenkins

A few nights ago I went to see the movie about Florence Foster Jenkins. I was inspired by how she carried through on achieving what she set out to do. Another thing remarkable about Ms. Jenkins was her ability to ignore what was going on around her while achieving her goals.

I am not so sure she was as oblivious to others' reactions -  to her singing or what was happening in her personal life - as the movie shows. Maybe she chose to ignore those things in her focus to create what she wanted?

Projects can be like that. Lots of distractions, things we could pay attention to that can lead us off our goal. I'm not saying we should always ignore distractions, but we should be aware of what is a distraction and what really needs our attention.

Thank you, Ms. Jenkins...

August 10, 2016

Bravery and Vulnerability

At a business meeting I was in recently, a senior manager asked the facilitator if he should follow his instincts to make a decision, even if people didn’t agree with him.

I thought, "Isn't that brave?" He wasn't afraid to ask a question about his leadership style in front of colleagues.

A quality to be admired.

June 09, 2016

The Project Tribe

I listened to a fascinating interview of Sebastian Junger on CBC Radio the other week. Mr. Junger is an award-winning journalist and author. His most recent book - Tribe - talks about the war veterans who return home and experience PTSD. His findings are that it is the lack of closeness they feel when they get back, as compared to the friendship they felt while serving, that causes stress.

Junger claims the individualistic nature of modern society lacks the community we have evolved to need.

Applying this to working in projects, isn’t it the good feelings we have by working together that bring out some of the best experiences of project work?

I know, for me, achieving a goal as a team is much more powerful than achieving it on my own. I believe that is part of what Mr. Junger is getting at in his book.

All the best to you and your project "tribe"!

Click here for more information on Sebastian Junger and the CBC interview.

May 26, 2016

On "The Way"

I just got back from walking part of "The Camino" in Spain with three of my grown-up children. On our route, we stopped in a few towns. There, we would check in at an information office or store to see how to get out of town and back on the trail. When we asked where the Camino was, the answer was always, "You are on it!" We thought it was pretty amazing that we were still "on the way" without realizing it.

Were we guided? Probably - it felt like it.

It got me thinking that, with a route to follow in our projects (a project plan), we are also on the way to a destination. If we check in every now and then (often enough), we can know what we need to do to "stay the path" and achieve our goal.

Happy trails!

May 11, 2016

The Unmet Needs Committee

I was listening to CBC Radio while driving in my car last week. With the recent Fort McMurray fire in Alberta, CBC reporters were interviewing people from Slave Lake, Alberta, who had assisted those who needed help when a fire occurred there a few years ago.

When asked what they had done to help, one of the interviewees said they had formed an 'Unmet Needs Committee'.

I had not heard of this term before, but thought it was pretty clever. It turns out, an unmet needs committee is a standard procedure in the case of disaster. This committee is generally used as a last resort, where other groups or funding cannot help with the situation.

This got me to thinking - are my projects always on the lookout for unmet needs? Sometimes it is easy to overlook or ignore unmet needs - certainly not a PMI best practice!

On a final note, I would like to extend best wishes to those who escaped the Fort McMurray fire.

April 12, 2016

Projects, Not Complaining

I was driving to Truro the other day and thought I would listen to a CD on the way. So I listened to Jack Canfield's Success Principles.

Jack's first rules had to do with taking responsibility for yourself and not complaining. This got me to thinking about project management (of course...) and how those who initiate projects do so with an "opposite of complaining" mindset. That is, instead of going on complaining about something, they take a "let's get it solved" attitude and turn it into a project.

If you are a project initiator, congratulations on your proactivity.

March 24, 2016

Mindfulness and Project Management

I was reading a book on mindfulness the other day. The author, who was also a manager, found she was always thinking of planning her next project when she wanted to be focusing on what she was doing. So she came up with a workable solution: she set aside time for planning. When she wasn't in this planning time, she would focus on what she was doing. When she was in the planning time, she focused on planning. Seems to me a good way to be efficient.

In thinking about mindfulness and project management, I did some internet searching and found this article, which I hope you like: Be a Mindful Project Manager by Kiron Bondale.

January 29, 2016

Too Busy?

I work on a few volunteer committees. This week, one of my committee colleagues called to prompt me to answer an email I had overlooked. Feeling bad about not having replied, I heard myself say, "I was very busy this week..." As I was saying it, I was thinking, "Oh, oh."

I know 'too busy' to me means it wasn’t as high on my priority list as other things which I did do on time. Or maybe I didn’t have time to think about the answer, so I left it.

My biggest and best time management tool is my Harvard Planner. Someone recently said to me, "It's unusual to see someone still using a paper-based system." But it works for me. My planner tracks all of my to-do's and lets me see them all at once. I put the activities in their place and check them off as I go. (It's not infallible, though, since I still missed that email response. Having the right tool only works if you use it properly!)