- How to Write Status Reports that are Worth Reading (8/16/2018)
Status reports are a critical part of project management. We all write them, but hardly anyone reads them. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a stakeholder claim to not know something that was in a status report…on the front page…in bold…with arrows pointing at it saying, “This is very important.”
Okay, that last bit was an exaggeration, but the rest wasn’t.
I once had a client who refused to pay a bill because he “didn’t know what we were doing.” After reviewing months of status reports, he agreed to pay the bill.
I wrote these reports not to cover-my-tuchus, but so that the client would know what we’re doing and be aligned with it. How do we do project reporting in a way that increases project success? And how do we communicate appropriately to different types of stakeholders?
There are some stakeholders who want to be involved in every decision, to know what everyone is doing and why. There are others who just want to know what, but don’t care about why. Some are obsessed with dates; others with dollars. Some like written reports; others prefer phone calls. You can’t do meaningful project reporting without understanding what motivates your stakeholders.
In your meetings with the stakeholders, listen to what they care about and make sure your reports cover those issues. Asking is useful but listening to their questions often gives a better indication of their concerns than their answers. And be prepared for their focus to change.
Related: The Two Styles of Project Leadership
I once had a customer that started out caring only about schedule and halfway through shifted their focus to cost, possibly because someone above them on the food-chain started caring about that.
If your stakeholders prefer verbal updates, that’s fine, but you still need to put something in writing in case there’s a disagreement later. That might be a full written report that you review over the phone (preferred) or it can be meeting minutes that you send to your stakeholder immediately afterwards.
Tools like LiquidPlanner can help by providing easy access to which tasks have been complete, what tasks have been added, how much budget you’ve consumed, and how recent discoveries have changed the plan.
One reason status reports are often not valued is that they sometimes aren’t actionable. As a PM reporting on the state of your project, think about the actions you think should be taken and what information your stakeholders will need to justify that action.
For instance, if you’ve discovered a new risk, and you’re considering your mitigation options, your stakeholder might need to approve these mitigations. You’ll want them to understand well what’s going on before you approve it. If you need support from another team that will require re-assigning resources, the stakeholders should be alerted to the when and why of that in advance.
Separate out the Critical from the Deep Dive
This is probably the most important part of project reporting. There’s lots of information that you might want included, but you need to separate what your stakeholder has to know, from what you want them to know or what they want to know.
Related: How to Write a Killer Status Report
There should be a section that’s above the fold on the front page that if they just read that, they would know everything that’s critical. The rest of the report can contain more details or less important issues. If you’re emailing out your status reports as a separate document, then paste this critical information into the email. That way they can see the most important information even if they don’t open the document (as unfortunately will often be the case).
Delivering your reports on the same day of the week that look the same every time helps your stakeholders efficiently absorb the information. You don’t want them to scratch their heads ever week to figure out “what does this mean” or “where is the budget status that I care about.” A good status report will not solve the problem of an unengaged stakeholder, but if you’re doing your job well they might start to look forward to your weekly updates!How to Write Status Reports that are Worth Reading was last modified: August 16th, 2018 by
- Will a Project Management Certification Help Your Career? (8/14/2018)
Let’s say you’re well-qualified in your technical skills—be it Java, programming languages, infrastructure, networks or system administration. Qualifications take time and effort, but as well as learning useful skills, you’re also building confidence—your own and the others’ confidence in your ability to do a great job.
But what if you’re switching from a purely technical role to one that involves managing projects?
Or, having managed IT projects for a while, what if you want to formalize your experience with a relevant project qualification?
The Certification Option
There’s a fair amount of choice when it comes to project management credentials. The big one that you’ll hear mentioned again and again is the Project Management Professional®, otherwise known as the PMP. It’s the de facto standard for many U.S.-based businesses and it’s also highly sought after around the world.
However, it is worth researching other choices. The project management professional body in your country will have qualifications they can offer, normally at different points on the career path so you can choose something that suits your level of experience.
There are also courses run by training companies that will give you a certificate, or you could go the whole way and sign up for a Masters in Project Management at one of the top business schools. All these routes involve some degree of commitment and cost from you and your company.
The main question to ask yourself is: Will it be worth it? Here are some things to consider while you’re working that out.
Does My Boss Require It?
This question doesn’t necessarily apply to your current manager; but consider the manager who will be hiring you for the next job in your career progression. If having the letters PMP after your name is going to open doors and get you a great new IT leadership job, then certification makes perfect sense.
However, careers typically aren’t that straightforward. Just having a project management certificate doesn’t always make you a whole lot more hireable than the last candidate the manager saw. You will get your next job through a combination of being a good fit for the team, technical expertise, qualifications and, most likely, luck.
Does My Job Require It?
Are you managing the kind of large projects that demand that you put professional processes and documentation into action? Or, it is more important that you have an effective working relationship with your team and good organizational skills?
Some technical jobs do involve managing large pieces of work—whether you’re a project management professional or an IT professional who manages projects. Knowing how to plan, manage and monitor progress is important and can make the difference between meeting your goals for the year and not.
Project management skills will certainly improve your ability to hit deadlines, but you can get them without having the certificate. The answer to this question might reside in whether or not you feel like you have the skills and know-how at your disposal to get the job done and keep progressing in your career goals.
Who’s Paying for It?
If your company is footing the bill and giving you a study leave to take the exam, then I would definitely advise going for it. If you have to fund it yourself and use up your annual vacation allowance to attend the exam, then you need to come to terms with that and have confidence that the end result is going to help your career.
Remember to factor in the cost of the training, the exam fee, travel to the exam center, and any books or study materials you need. Then, if you have taken a credential offered by a professional body you might want to pay for membership, or be required to do ongoing continuous professional development. PMI requires this for PMP holders through their Continuing Certification Requirements Program and you could easily find yourself paying for additional courses and materials to keep up.
There are ways to continue your professional development at low or zero cost but you have to spend time and energy seeking them out. In the end, you’ll make the investment that feels right for you and your career goals.
What Benefits Will I See?
This depends what you’re looking for. For me, the benefits of getting qualified in project management were being taken seriously by my peers and colleagues. It formalized and ratified my experience, and because I don’t have any other business qualifications, and yet work with people who have PhDs and degrees from business schools, it gave me a much-needed confidence boost.
Going through the process to become a Fellow of APM in the U.K. was a great learning opportunity as well. Not only was the application process rigorous, but I had to prepare a detailed portfolio of the projects I had worked on and the contribution I had made to my company and the profession. That was an eye-opener, to look back and see what I had achieved.
Related: Solving the Top 9 PM Challenges
I remember a huge light bulb going on when I was learning about blueprinting on a program management certification prep course. The approach to planning ahead, creating a vision and knowing more or less where you were going made perfect sense; it was a practical tool that I could put into use as soon as I got back to the office.
Credentials Were Worth It for Me
So choosing a qualification and preparing for your exam will let you reflect on your professional career to date and help you learn new tools and techniques. Plus you’ll understand more of the jargon related to project management which will let you communicate more effectively and be the bridge between the technical teams and others in the company who don’t have the same IT background.
I found having my credentials extremely worthwhile. But before taking them on, I weighed up all the questions above, and also, with the benefit of hindsight, I feel my project management qualifications have definitely helped my career in multiple ways.
Of Course, Everyone is Different
I can’t say whether you personally will find having a project management certification worth it. But in a competitive marketplace, with the pressure for IT teams to be innovative but with fewer resources and more time pressures, it certainly isn’t going to hurt your career path in any way.Will a Project Management Certification Help Your Career? was last modified: July 26th, 2018 by
- 10 New Books to Add to Your 2018 Fall Reading List (8/9/2018)
I’m not sure when summer got the reputation for being the least stressful time of the year. I, for one, find the endless heat and sunshine exhausting. There are so many social events to coordinate, and there never seems to be enough time to just relax.
I am daydreaming of Fall—when I can enjoy a bit of sweater weather and a good book. Looking ahead at all of the great reads releasing in the upcoming months, here’s what made my list:
Dear Founder: Letters of Advice for Anyone Who Leads, Manages, or Wants to Start a Business
Maynard Webb, with Carlye Adler. St. Martin’s, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-25019-564-7
On Sale: 9/11
From former Yahoo and eBay executive Maynard Webb, Dear Founder serves as a great source of wisdom for people at any stage of their business career: from start-up to stagnant. Through 80 different letters, Webb delivers advice that is both relatable and easy to digest. This is a perfect book to pick up when you have a few free moments. Clear a spot on your bedside table for this one!
Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History
Keith O’Brien. Dolan, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-1-328-87664-5
On Sale: 8/7
Amelia Earhart may be a household name, but this novel highlights four of the other barrier-breaking ladies of aviation alongside our “Lady Lindy.” As well-researched as popular historical novels like The Boys in the Boat, Fly Girls is an adventure from start to finish.
If you thought you knew the history of flight: think again. Hailed by The New York Times Book Review for his “keen reportorial eye” and “lyrical” writing style, O’Brien’s work has already been featured across publications like The New York Times and various NPR radio shows. Get inspired to reach new heights in your career… Too much? Okay.
Small Fry: A Memoir
Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Grove, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2823-2
On Sale: 9/4
How better to gain an intimate look into the life of the late Steve Jobs than through the eyes of his own daughter? n this memoir, Lisa Brennan-Jobs weaves a vivid of coming-of-age story that will bring new perspective to both those familiar and unfamiliar with Jobs’ story.
Through the question of her paternity, to her eventual relationship with Jobs and, ultimately, his death, Brennan-Jobs does not shy away from making the reader feel the emotional depths of her journey. She adds a touching personal element to his life and their relationship, making the read surprisingly relatable to anyone with a tumultuous relationship with a parent.
Leadership: In Turbulent Times
Doris Kearns Goodwin. Simon & Schuster, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9592-8
On Sale: 9/18
After dedicating her career to American history, Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin seeks to answer the question: are leaders born or made? Finding common strengths of four great American leaders (Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson) reveals a path for readers to emulate in their own leadership careers.
Goodwin’s previous novel Team of Rivals, was the basis for the 2012 Academy Award-winning film Lincoln, and this follow-up will not disappoint: Leadership promises to be one of the most interesting explorations of the US Presidents published this year.
Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World
Scott Harrison. Currency, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5247-6284-1
On Sale 10/2
A page-turner of a redemption story, Thirst is a great book for those who are feeling emotionally taxed by their current situation: Harrison weaves a narrative about his journey from club promoter to hospital boat worker to eventually founding the nonprofit charity: water.
Focusing on the idea that it is “never too late to change your life,” readers will gain insight into how one of the most innovative social entrepreneurship companies got its start. Need more incentive? 100% of the author’s proceeds from Thirst will go to fund charity: water projects.
Temp: How American Work, American Business, and The American Dream Became Temporary
Louis Hyman. Viking, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2407-0
On Sale: 8/21
In every point of someone’s career, there is a question of job security. While it is easy to blame technological advancement for a job becoming automated, Temp explores the history of America’s workforce stability to reveal this is not always the case. From the perspectives of business people of all sorts—executives to line workers to, well, temps—Hyman explores the historical effects on “work” dating back to the 1940’s. Why do businesses run the way they do? And, more importantly, how should business run?
Dear Mrs. Bird
AJ Pearce. Scribner, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7006-5
On Sale: 7/3
Ok, ok, I am breaking all my own rules and this book has technically released already—but, you’re going to thank me. Dear Mrs. Bird is the new Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and you won’t want to miss it! Set against WWII London, the novel follows Emmeline Lake, a young woman dreaming of becoming a war correspondent, only to end up running a secret advice column under the nom-de-plume Mrs. Bird.
She maintains a positive and humorous outlook, even in the face of Nazi takeover, and serves as a good reminder to readers that sometimes the best way to be happy is to be kind.
The Dinner List
Rebecca Serle. Flatiron Books, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-29518-7
On Sale: 9/11
For those who “don’t have time to read,” this one’s for you. This quick and fun novel (with a killer twist!) explores the question we all had to answer at our company icebreaker event… If you were able to invite five people to dinner, who would you choose? From the author of Famous in Love (now a series on Freeform) comes this fun, romantic, and a bit snarky look at what relationships you carry with you—and what your past can bring to your future.
Leave No Trace
Mindy Mejia. Atria/Emily Bestler Books, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7736-1
On Sale: 9/4
A novel surely fit to get you in an autumn mood, Leave No Trace is a thrilling story of a boy and his father who go missing… only for the boy to return 10 years later. Set against moody Minnesota scenes, and with characters holding more secrets than a game of clue, this fast-paced novel allows readers to explore the darker part of themselves, while Mejia guides them to the unexpected finale of the story.
THE FLAME: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings
Leonard Cohen. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-3741-5606-0
On Sale: 10/2
When Cohen stated he was “ready to die” in this New Yorker piece mere days before his passing, he mentioned an unfinished collection of poems, lyrics, and other passages he needed to complete. The Flame is just that. An emotional and soulful farewell, Cohen expresses his musings through familiar topics like love, regrets, and hummingbirds. Perfect for readers who have a only few moments in the morning, this collection sparks deep introspection and most importantly—inspires hope.
What are you excited to read this Fall? Leave a comment with your recommendation!10 New Books to Add to Your 2018 Fall Reading List was last modified: August 16th, 2018 by
- Ask a PM: How to Prioritize When You Wear Multiple Hats (8/7/2018)
Dear Elizabeth: I am a project manager for a company that builds education software. I am also the Operations Director, Customer Services Manager…you name it, I’m getting involved with it. The company is in startup mode. We’re doing everything fresh, and there is a lot of document creation and defining processes. On top of that, we’re constantly developing new offerings, onboarding new employees, pitching for work, and more.
At any given point, I am attempting to manage about 10 projects in various phases. I am overwhelmed and feel close to burnt out. Also, I am spending my time working on urgent items and important items are falling behind. I think I need a voice of experience to help me figure out where my attention should be focused. Can you help?
I think this question is applicable to many people, especially in the tech arena. So many of us are trying to juggle multiple responsibilities and job roles. These days, no one seems to wear just the one hat. We’re all pitching in to get work done. I imagine that’s even more acute in your startup situation.
So what can you do?
Crush the Overwhelm
You can’t look out for your team or grow your business if you’re burning out. The fact you say you are overwhelmed is bothering me. You’ll struggle to do your best if you aren’t looking after yourself.
The normal advice here would be to book breaks in your day, cut back on caffeine, get good sleep, exercise, don’t drink alcohol to excess, and up your water intake. These are all good self-care tips that I’m sure you’ve seen before.
But they aren’t what I do when I feel overwhelmed because frankly, who’s got time for all that when the To Do list is a mile long?
The thing that makes me feel better is to get on top of my overwhelm.
When I’ve got my tasks under control, I can spend more time on taking a brief walk at lunchtime.
Here’s how I do it.
I book time in my schedule to go through what’s on my work list. Sometimes it’s a whole day; sometimes a couple of hours. Get somewhere to work that is away from interruptions, but if you need to let important people know where you are, that’s fine. Ideally, no phone calls, no emails, and definitely no social media in that time.
I make a giant To Do list. Often, I categorize the To Do list with a page in my notebook per major activity. Right now, I’d have a page for my two large projects, and then a page for other smaller projects. I’d also have a list specifically for “personal” tasks like updating my annual objectives, filling in expense claims, that kind of stuff.
I prefer to write the tasks on paper and then transcribe into a software tool for managing work, but if you prefer to type directly into a tool, go for it.
In your case, I’d simply list each of the 10 projects. I wouldn’t list every task on each project, but if there are urgent or extremely important tasks happening on some of them, you could add those.
While you are at it, add in all the activities that you have on your mind about outside of work too. Birthday presents to buy, chores to do for elderly relatives, tradespeople to organize – these are all things that fill your head and add to the overwhelm.
Next, prioritize ruthlessly. Delegate as much as you can. If someone hasn’t chased up a task for a fortnight, consider if it really needs to be done right now. Postpone what’s not important. Think about what tasks you can group together. Can you do all your calls at one time? Do you have a bunch of reports to write? What meetings can you skip, or do as a conference call so you don’t have to waste time traveling?
There will be way too many tasks on your list to give you comfort, but hopefully you can start to see the patterns in the work. The big jobs will start to drop out.
Finally, plan your time. Book time in your calendar to do the tasks on the list. Literally put the work into the days that you have. If you think it’s going to take an hour to write a report, book it in the diary.
I set objectives for every day so I know exactly how much I have to get through.
Find Your Focus
When everything is important, nothing is. You can’t do everything, so you have to prioritize.
Things that are important are tasks that help you meet your strategic objectives, so in your case, activities that support software development and sales. Important tasks include:
- building relationships with customers
- strategic planning
- project work
- supporting employees
- creating a culture where people want to work.
Every day, leave some time for the urgent tasks. These are activities that may not be that important in the overall scheme of things, but are urgent and must be done right now.
Only ever schedule yourself or your team at 80 percent availability because you need to allow for urgent tasks, training and other non-billable, non-project hours in the day.
Urgent tasks include:
- things your boss asks you to do right now
- attending a meeting happening at short notice on a subject where you can add value
- answering phone calls
- some emails (It isn’t necessary to answer all emails within a few minutes of receipt.)
The tasks that should be at the top of your To Do list for any given day should be the urgent AND important tasks. Basically, these are the crises or disasters. The customer who hasn’t received what they should have received, the bug your team has just found that might delay the release–that kind of thing.
Limit Your Availability
Even if you get clarity on what it is you are trying to do, and prioritize your work, you’ve still got a lot on the go.
My top tip–and this is something I have only started doing recently–is to limit how long you spend on tasks. Work expands to fill the time, so set yourself realistic deadlines. Tell yourself that you only have half an hour to get the customer reports done, or 20 minutes to design the next step of the onboarding process for new starters.
Give yourself permission to do work at a C+ standard. Not every task has to be completed to an A+ standard. Some tasks just need to be done.
This has worked really well for me. I’m finding it easier to get work completed, and my work isn’t shoddy either. I think it’s simply having that focus and a deadline that means I am getting on with things in a more productive way.
Use Tools to Help
Finally, give yourself the environment to be successful. I know it feels like you don’t have an afternoon to spend setting up workflows in your project management software (perhaps it’s a task for your new employee then?). But once they are complete, you’ll save so much time.
Automate as much as possible. Use tools to help team collaboration, version control, creating reports for clients and more. Dashboards show you the latest tasks for you and your team. Use software to your advantage and you’ll find that some of those tasks don’t take as long as you were expecting.
I hope that has given you some food for thought!Ask a PM: How to Prioritize When You Wear Multiple Hats was last modified: July 30th, 2018 by
- Import Your Work Breakdown Structure Into LP with Zapier (8/2/2018)
In my previous article, I demonstrated how to take project requirements and integrate them with LiquidPlanner using Zapier, a web-based application integration tool. Leveraging technology to automate administrative tasks is an excellent way to reduce a project manager’s administrative burden. Zapier makes this even easier with LiquidPlanner.
In this article, I demonstrate how project managers can import work breakdown structures into LiquidPlanner using Zapier.
Work Breakdown Structure Tools
There are a lot of different ways to develop a work breakdown structure including sticky notes, outlines, Visio, and scheduling tools. One of my favorite methods for brainstorming scope and developing a work breakdown structure is with mind mapping software. For this exercise, I am using Mindjet MindManager to develop the work breakdown structure. The latest MindManager release has built-in support for Zapier integration!
In this work breakdown structure, I’m developing the scope and task list to develop Grandpa’s Cabinets, a custom display case business. Grandpa’s Cabinets is a small business that develops acrylic display cases for model ship, airplane, and other scale modelers who want to protect their models and display their artwork attractively.
Using MindManager, I created the following work breakdown structure.
For each major section of the website, I defined several key tasks. For the Request a Quote page, I’ll need to do the following:
- Develop the Request Form
- Email Submission Results
- Store the data in the database
Instead of copying all these tasks from MindManager into LiquidPlanner, I will use the Zapier integration feature to send them to LiquidPlanner. Before I can send the zap, I need to configure the integration using the following steps.
Step 1: Login to Zapier and Make a Zap
Login to your Zapier account (http://www.zapier) and click the Make A Zap button. The Choose A Trigger App screen appears and you will need to search for the MindManager application.
Since I’ve configured zaps with MindManager and other applications before, the selection appears in the dashboard automatically.
Step 2: Select MindManager Trigger
With this Zap, there is only one option for the MindManager Trigger. A MindManager topic will be sent to Zapier when it is zapped within the mind map.
Step 3: Connect MindManager to Zapier
Sign in to your MindManager account within the Zapier environment to make the connection. You’ll only need to do this once as each connection is reusable when you create different zaps.
Step 4: Test the MindManager Connection
Clicking Continue will connect your MindManager account with Zapier and pull in a sample topic. The sample topic is used to configure the Zapier to LiquidPlanner integration in further steps.
Step 5: Select the LiquidPlanner App for the Action
The next step is to specify the LiquidPlanner application for the Zapier action. Multiple applications can be triggered from one Zap. If you wanted to integrate with LiquidPlanner and send the same work breakdown topic to a Slack channel, you can add additional actions. For now, just select the LiquidPlanner app to configure the first zap.
Step 6: Specify the Action
Similar to the previous tutorial, you will create a new task in LiquidPlanner with each Zap. You can also create a separate Zap to update existing tasks in LiquidPlanner. I’ve found once the WBS is in LiquidPlanner, you’ll want to manage the work in LiquidPlanner because the scheduling engine provides a useful forecast.
As in the screen shot below, just select Create a Task.
Step 7: Connect Zapier to the LiquidPlanner Account
If you followed my previous tutorial, your LiquidPlanner account will already be connected to Zapier. If you need to connect to a new account or modify the LiquidPlanner account, connect and test the access to the LiquidPlanner in this step.
Step 8: Setup the LiquidPlanner Task
In this step, you will configure the integration between MindManager and LiquidPlanner. For this integration, I keep it simple and map the task name to the node in the mind mapping file. By clicking on the Insert a Field icon on the right, you can select from a variety of mind mapping file attributes.
Step 9: Send a Test Task to LiquidPlanner
The Test this Step process will send a test transaction to LiquidPlanner. Ensure the integration works correctly and check your LiquidPlanner account to see if the sample task was successfully sent.
Step 10: Turn on the Zap
Enable the Zap by clicking on the toggle icon.
Step 11: Zap Your Mind Map
In Mindjet MindManager, select Advanced – Zapier and confirm the account is connected to Zapier. Then select multiple nodes in the map, right click and select Send Topics To, and select the Zapier option.
With a couple of clicks, you’ve sent the WBS package to LiquidPlanner for further schedule development.
Step 12: Build the Schedule in LiquidPlanner
Go into LiquidPlanner and check the Inbox. You will see all the nodes that were sent from the mind map in your LiquidPlanner account.
MindManager + LiquidPlanner + Zapier = Easy Scheduling
Combining a mind mapping tool like Mindjet MindManager with LiquidPlanner makes it easier to schedule tasks and build an overall project schedule. Defining work often results from a brainstorming session as teams figure out their project scope and assign action items.
A mind map is an excellent tool to gather requirements, organize scope, and communicate with visual thinking.
By integrating the tasks with LiquidPlanner, the project manager saves time and the team can start collaborating on tasks easier. Compared to traditional single person desktop tools, this solution enables team to work faster without a ton of administrative overhead.
As web-based management tools continue to grow, project managers can leverage Zapier and LiquidPlanner for more project management automation.Import Your Work Breakdown Structure Into LP with Zapier was last modified: July 26th, 2018 by
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