Blog Archive

  • A Cheat Sheet for Project Manager Knowledge Transfers (4/17/2018) by Andy Makar

    Project methodologies often have a template to initiate a project or checklists to ensure a project is ready to pass a tollgate or a formal project milestone. If you look at your company’s own methodology, you will likely find a lot of templates for your project.

    Despite all these templates, few methodologies have a checklist for project turnover. Project turnover should be minimized, but project manager changes are a reality.

    I’ve seen project managers get promoted, moved to different projects, quit or simply be replaced. When I was a business analyst working on a strategic HR systems project, the director replaced the project manager three times! If you find yourself having to transition a project or inheriting a new project, I found it helpful to have a PM Knowledge Transfer cheat sheet.

    The cheat sheet is grouped into several areas:

    1. Project Overview 7. Project Financials
    2. Project Stakeholders 8. Project Quality
    3. Project Scope 9. Project Log
    4. Project Team 10. Project Document Management
    5. Project Governance 11. Vendor Management
    6. Project Schedule 12. Advice

    1. Project Overview

    This section speaks for itself, however, if you have a project charter, be sure to review it. Many organizations lack a quality charter but the key is to review the purpose of the project, high level goals and expected benefits. By providing the “big picture” view, it helps to provide context. Without this context, the incoming project manager will have to stumble through the same points you did when you started the project. Why not make it easy on the new guy?

    Get a PDF version of this cheat sheet here.

    2. Project Stakeholders

    Every project has stakeholders ranging from the Big Boss (i.e. sponsor) to the Little Guy (individual team members). Identify any key stakeholders, their influence and expectations on the project. Who are the stakeholders who will help remove roadblocks? Who has influence over the project outcome? Who is just a pain in the @#$?

    Related: How to Build Strong Relationships with Stakeholders

    3. Project Scope

    What is the project actually delivering? What deliverables have been explicitly called out of scope? What deliverables might be creeping back into the project? What are the project constraints (budget, time, mandatory deliverables)? Are there any assumptions or dependencies to be aware of?

    If the project is in execution, scope has likely changed from the original scope statement or original agreement. I’ve inherited plenty of projects where I reviewed the original scope and the team explained how scope changed. I’ve always found a context diagram to be a useful tool to convey all the people, vendors, and organizations involved with the project.

    4. Project Team

    Every project has its own unique cast of characters, politics and social dynamics. Understanding the personalities, strengths, challenges and idiosyncrasies with each team member will help the new project manager significantly. Be sure to identify the key team members that the project manager can count on as well as any team members who need that extra helping hand.

    5. Project Governance

    How is the project being managed? What is the sequence of meetings throughout the week that collect status, communicate status, track issues and report schedule progress? How often does the project communicate with mid-level management, senior management and / or the executive leadership team? Are there any formal milestones, gate review or PMO expectations for the project? This checklist item includes reviewing the communication plan but it also includes all the governance processes to ensure the project is executing correctly.

    Related: Project Governance for Distributed Teams

    6. Project Schedule

    Hopefully, the project schedule is up to date and it reflects current progress to date and any new forecasted end dates. If you haven’t updated the schedule in a while, remember to update it and walk through the schedule with the incoming project manager. Identify the sections of the schedule that are still developing based on changing scope or priorities.

    7. Project Financials

    Review all the actuals to date and cost forecasts as well as any outstanding invoices from vendors. Ensure there is a clean financial hand off to the incoming project manager. If the new PM doesn’t have a clean financial view, the person will waste a lot of time chasing down unpaid invoices and working with Finance and Accounting to clarify past costs.

    8. Project Quality

    In software projects, project quality often refers to software testing and defect management. In manufacturing projects, it is also important to review any outstanding manufacturing defects or unacceptable variances. It is important to understand how quality is being tracked within the project so requirements are implemented and verified throughout the process.

    9. Project Log

    The project log is another source for current and past challenges within the project. If there are open issues, risks, change requests or outstanding action items, ensure the project log is kept up to date. Project managers can become easily engulfed in project execution that some of these administrative tasks can get lost. If the project manager has the project log review built into the project governance and status reporting processes, the administration is handled weekly.

    10. Project Document Management

    Where are all the project documents stored? If there are documents on your laptop, ensure they are stored in a central location such as a file server, DropBox, Google Drive or any shared document collaboration repository. Hopefully, the project has good document management otherwise it is another administrative challenge to figure out who has the latest copy of the project schedule, status report or requirements document.

    11. Vendor Management

    Review the key vendor contacts and any statements of work. If the contract has specific service level agreements, review the steps to ensure the vendor is performing according to the service level agreement. More importantly, discuss the quality of the vendor relationship, personalities and any nuances that influence the vendor relationship.

    12. Advice

    The previous 11 sections all provide a framework to convey project knowledge, however this section is useful to identify any parting words of advice or any hidden pitfalls the new PM might encounter. If appropriate, provide the current project manager’s forwarding contact information. In the past, I’ve had to reach out to the former project manager to answer new questions about old problems.

    If the PM is staying within the organization, this is easy to do. If the PM is leaving the organization, it may be harder to get the contact information. But, I haven’t seen anyone turn down a LinkedIn request if the transition is a positive one.

    What if the project manager isn’t there to transition?

    Working with a transitioning project manager is actually a luxury versus a guarantee. I’ve inherited several projects where the “project manager” had very little documentation and even fewer project management artifacts.

    If you find yourself in this situation, use this cheat sheet as a guide to ask all the probing questions to make you a success on the project.

    Even if you’re not transitioning your project, you can use this cheat sheet to confirm you have all the key project management processes up and running within your project. Download a PDF version of cheat sheet here.

    A Cheat Sheet for Project Manager Knowledge Transfers was last modified: April 13th, 2018 by Andy Makar
  • 6 Real-World Benefits of Using Project Management Software in Manufacturing (4/12/2018) by Sam Sauer

    When Rob Welsh, a Development Process Manager at Lake Shore Cryotronics, went searching for a new project management tool, he was in the market for something that would help his team deliver projects on time and on budget. He wasn’t expecting a tool could do that and cut his admin time by two-thirds.

    But, in 2016, he implemented LiquidPlanner on his team’s projects, and that’s exactly what he got.

    The Road to LiquidPlanner

    Before adopting LiquidPlanner, Welsh used Microsoft Project and Microsoft OneNote to track progress and collect status updates from his team of 50. It was time-consuming, and things often deviated from the original plan rather quickly. He also lacked visibility into all of the work being done.

    Without all work being done by the team captured in one place, we had little visibility to what sustaining engineering efforts were underway, who was working on them, and how that work affected new product development efforts and timelines.

    – Rob Welsh, Development Process Manager at Lake Shore Cryotronics

    He wanted a cloud-based solution that offered “a priority-based scheduling engine, a project portfolio solution, and accessibility for all team members to enter and update tasks.”

    After experimenting with a trial of LiquidPlanner, it was obvious he had found a solution.

    Why LiquidPlanner

    LiquidPlanner provided functionality that included:

    • Priority-based scheduling engine
    • Cloud-based, with access for all team members
    • Visibility across the project portfolio
    • Integration with Lake Shore Cryotronics’ time tracking system
    • Powerful data and analytics

    LiquidPlanner is our first project management tool that actually helps everyone plan and organize their work and get things done.

    Benefits of LiquidPlanner

    Welsh has seen a number of benefits since adopting LiquidPlanner, including cutting his administrative work by two-thirds. Here are his top 6 favorite benefits of LiquidPlanner:

    1. More Realistic Task Estimation

    Ranged task estimates, a key feature of LiquidPlanner, make it easier for users to estimate the time it will take to complete their tasks. Many of their tasks have a lot of variables, especially tasks related to research or testing, so LiquidPlanner is a natural fit.

    2. Faster Project Delivery

    The use of LiquidPlanner results in better decision making and faster task and project completion. Resources know what they should be working on and project leaders have visibility into what each team member is working on.

    3. More Accurate Completion Dates

    When the project schedule is accurate and matches what is actually happening in the project, it’s easier to make more accurate estimates.

    4. Less Wasted Time

    For Welsh, the priority-based scheduling engine in LiquidPlanner is a huge time-saver. Welsh estimates that, in the past, he spent 75 percent of his time collecting and maintaining project data. This left only 25 percent of his time to focus on other responsibilities, such as process management. Today, it’s the other way around, with Welsh only spending 25 percent his time on project management.

    5. Full Visibility Into Resource Utilization

    Before adopting LiquidPlanner, Welsh relied on spreadsheets to estimate where and how his team could spend their time. Now, he can easily see each team member’s planned work across all projects and tasks. Greater visibility also means that everyone on the project team has higher confidence that they’re doing the right work at the right time.

    6. Improved Communication and Collaboration

    Welsh says, “Many team members are using the commenting features in LiquidPlanner to communicate and provide task updates. In the past, these project artifacts would have been buried in emails, with little in the way of organization or visibility. Now, comments are tied directly to the tasks and items they’re relevant to, in a way that provides visibility to everyone on the team.”

    Our use of LiquidPlanner easily saves us dozens of hours each month, which is time that can be redirected toward design and development work.

    Want to start seeing results like Welsh and his team at Lake Shore Cryotronics? Start your free LiquidPlanner trial today.

    6 Real-World Benefits of Using Project Management Software in Manufacturing was last modified: April 12th, 2018 by Sam Sauer
  • We Learn More From Failure Than Success: Lessons from the Kobayashi Maru (4/10/2018) by Andy Silber

    We have many words to describe a project in trouble—from “things have gone sideways” or “off-the-rails” to more graphic descriptions like “crash and burn.” The military has been a source of some lovely descriptions like FUBAR and SNAFU. The reason we have so many terms for projects not meeting the stakeholders’ expectations is because it happens so often. So, what do you do when your project goes off-the-rails?

    Kobayashi Maru

    The Kobayashi Maru is a no-win scenario at Starfleet academy to see how cadets deal with failure (see The Wrath of Kahn). As a project manager trying to develop cutting-edge products, I’ve seen my share of setbacks (and outright failures) and have learned much more from things going wrong then when things go smoothly.

    If you take on challenging projects, you will eventually fail; probably several times. The key is not to never fail (though wouldn’t that be nice), but to always learn from your missteps and outright failures.

    Kirk said he reprogrammed the computer that allowed him to successfully rescue the Kobayashi Maru because he doesn’t believe in a “no-win situation.”

     

    I also believe that there is no such thing as a no-win situation: as long as you keep learning (and no one dies) then that has value. For instance, if a project fails, but the stakeholder learned that what they wanted to do is not possible given the current technology, then that’s a win. They can monitor the situation and restart the effort when technology can enable their vision.

    Don’t Set Your Team Up for Failure Because of Someone Else’s Mistake

    During an interview I was once asked what I’d do if the development team estimated a project would cost $1.5 million and then the sales team sold the project fixed-bid for $1 million.

    I responded, “Oh, you’re asking me the Kobayashi Maru question.”

    Luckily, I was being interviewed by a fellow Star Trek fan. She smiled and said yes. My response was to let the leadership know my goal would be to only lose $500,000.

    Don’t let someone else’s failure (the sales team in this case) cause your failure. If I had tried to manage the team to the budget they didn’t set, it would have created an incredible amount of stress and a low chance of success.

    Change the Rules

    Kirk succeeded in the Kobayashi Maru challenge by changing the rules. In project management, that might look like working with stakeholders to change requirements, delivery dates, cost, or other constraints.

    What you don’t do is release something that’s unsafe or violates the law. My rule is not to do anything you couldn’t justify to a reporter, a judge, or my mother. If you follow that guidance, you’re unlikely to change a rule in a way that you regret down the road.

    Never Give Up—or At Least Not Right Away

    If you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, there’s a good chance that, at least once in the project, it will feel like your project is out-of-control. A risk became an issue; a critical team member gave notice; a requirement was added that will require a complete restart.

    Investigate the challenge and focus on what success looks like now and make a new plan toward the new success. Always focus on the way things are, not the way they were or the way you want them to be, and the path forward will be clear.

    Be a Mensch

    When you screw up, own it. I’ve seen lots of examples of a minor mistake leading to larger problems because someone tried to hide or deflect an issue.  And if you’re going to learn from your mistakes, you first have to acknowledge that they happened.

     

    When your project is going poorly, the stress on the entire team can go through the roof. The pressures to meet commitments you wish you hadn’t made are real and they aren’t going to go away.

    But just because your project is FUBAR is no reason to be a jerk. Focus not on why the mistake happened, but how to make the situation better. Always be solution-focused.

    You learn more from failure than success. The lesson may be expensive, so you might as well pay attention.

    We Learn More From Failure Than Success: Lessons from the Kobayashi Maru was last modified: April 10th, 2018 by Andy Silber
  • Master the Art of Persuasion with these 5 Must-Reads (4/5/2018) by Maggie Penn

    Managing a project comes with the unique challenge of leading, without being the boss.

    How do you lead without holding authority?

    The answer is persuasion. Mastering this skill can be hard, but here are a few of the best books to read in order to make the most of your power.

    Read on to unlock your most convincing self:

    Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

    FOR: The PM who has to justify every decision to their team.

    Based on Sinek’s TED Talk (a.k.a. the third most popular TED Talk of all time), Start With Why lays out the basics of its assertion in the title: “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

    This book is a great foundation for understanding how to build your persuasive argument.

    Pressed for time? Focus on part IV. Want to dive deeper? Sinek has an interactive WHY discovery course available for those wanting a step-by-step guide.

    Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

    FOR: The PM who has too much on their plate already.

    It is difficult to have a list of social psychology books and *not* include one by Malcolm Gladwell. A New York Times best-seller for over a decade, Blink is one of his most relevant books for mastering persuasion.

    Learn how to take advantage of the split-second of attention your audience may give you, and take away insights such as, “but in the end it comes down to a matter of respect, and the simplest way that respect is communicated is through tone of voice” and, “the key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding.”

    Have an extra hour? Watch this video of Gladwell sharing his strategies.

    Related: How to Get Executive Buy-In for Project Management Software

    Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath, Dan Heath

    FOR: The PM who gets shushed in meetings.

    Speaking of Malcolm Gladwell, these Stanford grads’ take on The Tipping Point outlines how to make your ideas “stick” with six basic principles: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.

    If you know you will only have a few key seconds to state your case, this read will teach you how to make your ideas unforgettable.

    Watch Chip Heath’s keynote for the full hour breakdown, or hop to the end of this book for useful advice and an in-depth reference guide.

    The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals about Our Power to Change Others by Tali Sharot

    FOR: The science-minded PM.

    This neuroscientist’s take on persuasion aims to “reveal the systematic mistakes we make when we attempt to change minds.”

    While keeping the content accessible and engaging, Sharot weaves in the science behind how influence works in even the smallest, emotionally-driven ways.

    Read this book if you want to sharpen the nuances in your communication skills—and feel free to borrow some of her techniques for use beyond the workplace.

    Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

    FOR: PMs preparing for that talk with the Executives.

    I’m not saying being a project manager is as high-stakes as being a CIA agent, but both do strive to “understand and exploit the human cognitive processes” in their day-to-day jobs.

    That’s right, this book by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman is on the CIA’s “must-read” list, and it is now on yours, too. Thinking Fast and Slow teaches you how to understand the environment of your argument, in order to better communicate your wants and needs.

    For the purposes of learning to be a more convincing arguer, focus on part IV, “Choices,” which discusses how to frame arguments, and how best to anticipate risks. Knowing tidbits like, “when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution” can help you ensure you have the conversation you are meaning to.

    Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss, Tahl Raz

    FOR: The PM who feels like they’re negotiating with a brick wall.

    From the mind of the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator, Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference prepares readers to combat any argument. Focus on the first few chapters (“Be a Mirror,” “Beware Yes, Master No”); the end of the book takes a more extreme turn that (I hope) would not be necessary for the workplace.

    Related: How to Get Buy-In for a New Project Management Tool From Your Executive Team

    Maximize your influence with these five books, and see that you don’t need the same level of authority as the executive team—just a finely tuned ability to persuade.

    Master the Art of Persuasion with these 5 Must-Reads was last modified: April 5th, 2018 by Maggie Penn
  • The Real Impact of Emotional Intelligence in Project Management (4/3/2018) by Alison Coleman

    Emotional intelligence, or EQ as it is also known, has become something of a bellwether for effective leadership. Various studies have highlighted a link between understanding emotions and leadership and team performance and success.

    When EQ first entered popular mainstream, sceptics dismissed it as pop psychology; a fad that would slide out of fashion like other fads before it. However, from the publication in 1995 of Daniel Goleman’s book, “Emotional Intelligence,” EQ has increased its credibility as a key leadership skill in the business world.

    TalentSmart, a provider of emotional intelligence tests, training, and consulting, recently tested EQ alongside 33 other important workplace skills, and found it to be the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58 percent of success in all types of jobs.

    Top Project Managers Focus on EQ

    Consultant and business coach Patrick Mayfield’s research found that most project managers spend between 8 and 12 percent of their time on people-focused activities.

    However, the so-called “alphas,” the top 10 percent of PMs, spend 60 to 80 percent of their time on this type of activity.

    Related: 2018 Project Management Trends to Watch

    In assessing the skills relating to the success of project managers, Gerald J. Mount, a professor of strategy and organisational behaviour found that 69 percent of skills related to emotional competencies, with the remaining 31 percent related to business expertise.

    The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence

    But is there another side to EQ that emotionally intelligent PMs can turn to their advantage? According to Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, there is evidence to show that people who sharpen their emotional skills become better at manipulating those around them.

    And if you are good at controlling your own emotions, you can disguise your true feelings.

    John Salovey and Jack Mayer, the leading researchers on emotional intelligence, define EQ as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

    Related: The Two Styles of Project Leadership

    As such, EQ is morally neutral and can be used for bad as well as good, as Karlene Agard, Senior Risk and Value Management Consultant at ARAVUN, which works with project management teams, explains.

    She says: “Project leaders who have a vested interest in a project going ahead may use their emotional intelligence to mislead those with decision making authority on the project, including sponsors, executives or even government.

    They could downplay the realistic duration or cost of the project, either directly or by manipulating those that should provide an independent perspective, in order to get approvals that would be declined if they were fully informed.”

    Emotionally intelligent people would have the insight to present the project in the best way possible. Programme management decisions could therefore favour the emotionally intelligent PM’s project if other, less eloquent PMs fail to make the case for their more deserving projects as effectively.

    Hiding bad news is something that unfortunately does occur within projects and the emotionally intelligent PM is likely to be more successful at doing this than most.

    “This could delay effective resolution and increase the severity of the ultimate outcome,” adds Agard. “In both these situations, higher emotional intelligence could be used to present a more favourable view of the project than is warranted, compromising the integrity and reputation of the team and, potentially, depending on the significance of the project, the wider organisation.”

    In spite of its potential to influence and even undermine a project, many in the project management profession insist that EQ is critical to effective project management.

    Related: How to be a Better Leader

    “After all, as project managers we are managing people, and people are emotional,” says Erhan Korhaliller, former project manager at creative advertising agency AKQA, and founder and CEO of EAK Digital.

    He goes so far as to say that managing people without that emotional intelligence is the surest way of losing the team. “When your back is to the wall, you have a 9 a.m. client deadline, it is 8 p.m., and your team stays until the early hours to complete the task; that’s when you have your emotional intelligence to thank,” he says.

    Knowing how different people on your project team will react to certain situations or outcomes, client feedback for example, is also hugely important. The ability to identify behaviours among team members is critical for a PM when deciding who they should bring with them to a face-to-face client meeting.

    “They need the emotional intelligence to know who is dependable and can take constructive criticism whilst maintaining professionalism, as well as who can’t,” adds Korhaliller.

    EQ: A Critical Skill in the Tech-Enabled World

    While many psychology and management fads and trends have been nothing more than flavour of the month before fading into obscurity, there is reason to believe that EQ will continue to play a role in project management and the wider world of business and industry for some time to come.

    A 2016 report from the World Economic Forum on the future of jobs found that skills that were high on the must-have lists today will be less needed or disappear by 2020. Skills that have moved up the list include complex problem solving; creativity; people management; and emotional intelligence – the latter isn’t even included in the top 10 today.

    Related: The Skills Project Managers Will Need in 2025

    As a core skill for project team leaders, EI’s finest hour may be yet to come. As new technologies such as AI, machine learning, automation and virtual reality establish a greater presence in the project management toolkit, the art of understanding what motivates and drives people in a tech-enabled world, could become even more critical to project success in the future.

    The Real Impact of Emotional Intelligence in Project Management was last modified: April 13th, 2018 by Alison Coleman
Blog Archive was last modified: April 28th, 2017 by Scott Swanson