Blog Archive

  • How to Stay Motivated When You’re Working on a Never-Ending Project (2/14/2019) by Team Liquidplanner

    Completion is satisfying. Being able to cross an item off a to-do list, mark a task done, or deliver a finished project is a big part of being fulfilled at work. That’s why projects that stretch into a far-off horizon are challenging for even the most seasoned project manager.

    Whether you’re managing a mammoth IT project with a delivery date that is two years out or working on one that’s been delayed due to scope creep and other problems, staying motivated is a natural challenge. Like any long-distance event, you have to pace yourself and find creative ways to stay engaged and perform at a high level—even when you are so over it.

    Here are eight ways to stay motivated on that never-ending project.

    1. Focus on small, meaningful wins.

    Bite-sized accomplishments are the key. Give yourself one meaningful task a day, something you can find satisfaction in at day’s end. To up the ante, make it something the stretches you a bit. It doesn’t have to be around the project either.

    Examples include having a conversation with your boss or team member that you’ve been putting off or talking to the customer about how to bring this project out of the sphere of infinity. Take a run or walk at lunch; catch up with a coworker or another team member. Give someone a high five (it only takes ten seconds, and you’ll make their day). Clear out and update your bug queue or fit-and-finish folders.

    You might have to redefine your wins, but whatever they are commit to them and revel in them.

    2. Make a game out of keeping the project aligned with business goals.

    It’s easy for complex, long-term projects to lose connection with the original goals and objectives that were laid down months and months ago. Big projects are like epic stories; it’s easy to forget the beginning of the narrative when you’re a year into it and there’s a lot more to write.

    Put on your project manager’s historian hat and do some project archaeology. Study the project schedule to see if the work completed and the tasks left to be done are consistent with the goals and deliverables agreed to on Day 1. Make sure your priorities are up to date, and if not, start communicating, updating, and reworking the project plan.

    3. Cross tasks off your list!

    If you’re waiting on dependencies, change orders, or decisions to be confirmed on the part of the customer or stakeholder, it can be tempting to rework an existing project task into the ground to keep yourself from being idle. Unless something really needs to be updated or improved upon, however, let it be and mark it done. Keep your eyes on the road ahead of your and make it a goal to find something essential that everyone else has missed. Then, grab it!

    4. Reassess your goals.

    If you’re facing a project stall, dipping back into your career goals and job commitments are always useful and could be inspiring. You might be able to cross off some goals, update them, or use them to help solve some problems or answer some lingering questions that exist on your current project. This exercise also reminds you of the big picture you’re heading toward as you get mired down in the details (or lack thereof). If you’re struggling through a project, give yourself goals of what you want to get out of the experience. This will bring purpose to your frustrations.

    5. Give yourself side assignments.

    It’s important to feel like you’re accomplishing something every day, but when your project feels like it’s sprawling into no man’s land, it’s hard to get that satisfaction. Make yourself useful in other ways. See if you can contribute to other projects. Reach out to other teams or team members and see how you can pitch in. Offer yourself up as an objective eye or ear or to be an extra welcome resource. If you’ve ever wanted to be a mentor or volunteer in your professional field, this could be a great time.

    6. Keep your team members challenged.

    If you’re a manager, pay attention to the mood of your team and see if you can distribute completable work items. Otherwise, keep those live minds engaged by asking questions and delegating work that challenges people in their roles and prepares them for the next level of their career. Some fruitful questions might include “What do you think is holding us back the most?” “How would you speed up the schedule?” and “If you were the customer, what would you want?”

    Ask for advice and recommendations; you never know what you might learn.

    7. Learn something new.

    If your enthusiasm is flagging or you’re feeling burned out, what would get you excited? Make a list and follow through. Ideas could include learning a new skill or training to become a leader or a mentor inside or outside your organization. Ask your manager for ideas. It’s hard to feel bored or restless when you’re learning.

    8. Remember that long projects end.

    When you’re in the middle of a big project (or any challenging experience), it feels like it will never end. But, it will! Even if it’s the worst disaster of a project you have ever experienced, you will walk away with something. If you look at work as a way to keep learning, growing, and developing, the truth is the difficult experience is the best experience you will ever have. Make it worth your while.

    Resist falling into the gaping canyon of your mammoth project and look at the beauty of its big picture. As never-ending as the project might feel, it provides many possibilities to consider everything around you.

    How to Stay Motivated When You’re Working on a Never-Ending Project was last modified: February 12th, 2019 by Team Liquidplanner
  • How to Step Up When the Project Manager Is Away (2/12/2019) by Christian Knutson, P.E., PgMP, PMP

    One piece of valuable advice I was given early in my career was to always work to make my boss’s boss look good. Another was to always work as if I were the one responsible for the outcome. These two lessons had a profound effect on my career trajectory, helping me progress through ever-increasing levels and scope of responsibility.

    They are also relevant to each of us working on a project, regardless of industry or country. One key reason is that your project manager will take leave or be away on business at some point in the project’s life cycle. When that happens, does the project go on hold? Probably not.

    How do you keep the project moving forward while making your boss’s boss look good and acting as if you were the one calling the shots? Two words: preparation and action.

    Preparing for Acting in Your Project

    This issue is relevant to me. As a program manager for an $800 million infrastructure design and construction effort, I have commitments away from the office. When I’m gone, I don’t want the program to come to a halt awaiting my return. I want my team leads to step up and keep the program moving forward according to schedule.

    No doubt, your project manager wants the same thing happening on their project. Here’s how you can prepare for action when your project manager is away:

    Define Expectations Up Front

    While project managers want team members to step up, they don’t want them to get out of their swim lane. You can prepare for your project manager’s absence by determining what their expectations are for leadership, monitoring, and control of the project during their absence. Never assume that this has been determined, because if you do not know what is expected, then it’s unlikely the project manager knows.

    Questions to ask include the following:

    • What meetings are occurring during the absence and who’s covering them?
    • What material needs to be prepared for the meetings?
    • What deliverables or artifacts are to be produced during the absence and to whom?
    • Are there any governance meetings scheduled? If so, what needs to be done to be prepared?
    • Are there any reports due? If so, what type, who produces them and what does the project manager do with them?

    The list could go on, but you get the point. To be prepared to act while the project manager is away, you need to know what the expectations are of the project manager. Never assume this has been discussed and planned in advance.

    Maintain Situational Awareness

    By definition, situational awareness is the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status. Although it comes from the aviation industry, it’s very relevant to project management.

    I simplify the definition to this: knowing what’s going on.

    I also simplify the level of situational awareness (or SA) to the 80/20 Principle, being that 80 percent of the project team members lack SA while 20 percent have it. You want to be in the 20-percent category.

    You get there by asking to attend project review meetings, asking to obtain project status review updates, and keeping a pulse on the project’s status while in production. This puts you in a great position to act in a manner that supports the project positively from day to day. It also positions you to step up in the project manager’s absence because you are already aware of the bigger picture.

    By maintaining situational awareness, you position yourself to support the project manager when they’re present by acting in advance to create positive outcomes. You also support the project manager by being prepared to step-up when they are away.

    Act “As-If”

    You won’t find the adjective “audacious” affiliated with mainstream career success advice or used in mentoring discussions. It is, however, the surest way for expanding your skills, enhancing your career success and maximizing the effect of each of your days. Applied in the right mindset, being audacious can lead you to achieving each of your goals and making your project manager (and their boss) look like a rock star.

    The concept of being audacious and acting As-If go hand in hand and are both necessary for you to advance in your project management career and perform brilliantly when the project manager is away.

    To simplify this concept, you need to act with the mindset that you are responsible and accountable for the project, even when you are not. When you’re operating with this mindset and an emergent issue arises, you provide constructive input to your team to resolve it as soon as possible. Project managers the world over want team members who are acting As-If. When this happens, they know they have backup, they have team members with skin in the game, and they can feel confident being absent without the project going off the rails.

    Respect Who’s in Charge

    There can be a fine line between acting As-If and overstepping your bounds. I’ve seen repeated situations where project team members took positive actions, only to be slammed by the project manager for overstepping their bounds. Often times, this happens because expectations weren’t sorted beforehand. Sometimes, this happens because the project manager has a large ego and lacks the confidence to let others on the project team step up.

    Your job is to make sure expectations are clear and then use your emotional intelligence to figure out if your project manager is going to crush you for acting when they’re away.

    I don’t have an answer for how to overcome a project manager with a confidence shortfall. From a career of experience, I can only offer these tips:

    • Always respect who’s in charge. Whether you agree with them or not, it’s your job to get along with the project manager, not the project manager’s job to get along with you.
    • Figure out early on if the project manager is going to have a confidence issue or not. If you have any emotional intelligence, you’ll be able to figure this out. If you lack emotional intelligence, then make sure you have clear expectations. (Usually if you can’t get any expectations from the project manager, they have a confidence problem.)
    • If the project manager has a confidence issue, then you have two alternatives: live with it and do what needs to be done to get by or find a new job.

    Understand the Project

    As a project professional, nothing makes me happier than to see a member of my team have their finger on the pulse of the project. Not only the performance/time/cost status, but an understanding of the risks, actions, issues, and other factors affecting delivery and outcome.

    You won’t go wrong by having a really good understanding of your project. By doing so, you position yourself to be named the project managers deputy when they’re away. Short of this, you are developing the knowledge and experience you need to be the project manager without having the responsibility by learning from experience.

    Don’t Wait to be Told

    If you need to be told by the project manager to do any of the things I’ve told you, then you’re not ready to be a project manager. Lean forward and start acting As-If today. Understand the performance, cost, and schedule facets of the project you’re working on. Make certain you are coherent on the risk, actions, issues, and decisions affecting the project. Know the project’s battle rhythm and pay attention to the dynamics within the team. Including the project manager’s capacity for having other people provide counsel and act.

    As a project manager, I want project team members who are situationally aware and prepared to step into the breach if I am absent. While I can direct my staff to get situationally aware and understand the project’s quantitative and qualitative aspects, it’s way simpler if they do this without prompting. The result tends to be more positive for everyone involved.

    How to Step Up When the Project Manager Is Away was last modified: February 11th, 2019 by Christian Knutson, P.E., PgMP, PMP
  • Team Essentials: Reprioritizing in LiquidPlanner (2/7/2019) by Olivia Millard

    As a customer success specialist at LiquidPlanner, my passion is to prepare your entire team for success with LiquidPlanner. In my previous posts, I walked you through the essentials of LiquidPlanner’s scheduling engine and task creation; this week, I’ll be focusing on reprioritizing.

    Let’s say your manager comes up to you on Monday and says, “Hey, I need you to get this done now.” You need to reprioritize your work to make this happen, but how?

    So you don’t jeopardize your other projects (or anyone else’s, for that matter), you can move certain project tasks to a higher folder. Remember that the higher the folder is in the stack list in LiquidPlanner, the higher priority it is given. For example, we suggest workspaces incorporate a package called ASAP. This is usually placed at the top of the list of packages in the app and is therefore given a higher priority than most of the other packages in your workspace.

    Checking Availability on My Profile

    Before you can confirm to your manager that you can, in fact, complete the task immediately, you have to check your availability. Your availability, as shown in LiquidPlanner, is when you’re free to work on project-related work. People often handle availability in one of two ways:

    • Reduce your availability to account for non-project work. (This is the way we typically recommend.) This can be anything from weekly meetings to watercooler talk to checking your email, anything that you’d consider non-project work.
    • Keep availability at 8 hours (or however long your shift is) and create ongoing tasks to track work that isn’t a part of a project.

    In our next lesson, I’ll show you how to keep your schedule up to date.

    Team Essentials: Reprioritizing in LiquidPlanner was last modified: February 7th, 2019 by Olivia Millard
  • Ask a PM: How to Tell a Client You’re Behind on the Project You Just Took Over (2/5/2019) by Elizabeth Harrin

    Dear Elizabeth: I have taken on an in-flight project. We’re about halfway through, and I think we need to make changes to the schedule. Specifically, we need more time. The client has already signed off on the original deadlines, and I don’t think they will take the news well. How can I break it to them?

    It’s always hard when you pick up a project midway through. You weren’t there when the original deadlines were put together, and to be fair to the previous project manager, those dates might have seemed totally reasonable at the time. However, you’ve been left in a situation where you can’t hit the published timetable, and it’s going to make you look like the bad guy because you’re the one breaking the news. It must feel like the project has “failed” on your watch.

    The way I see it, you have three choices:

    1. Hide under the bed and hope you magically make up the time.
    2. Find creative ways to make up the time by fast tracking, crashing the schedule, or descoping activity.
    3. Tell the client you need more time.

    I hope you have already ruled out Option 1!

    Let’s look at the other choices.

    Make Up the Time

    There are ways to deliver the same amount of work faster.

    Fast tracking is a technique where you make the decision to do tasks in parallel when you would normally do the work in sequence.

    If you’ve ever seen an episode of DIY SOS, this is what they do to renovate a house. All the trades pile into the house and work together and around each other. When we’ve had building work done on our house, the builders came in first, then the electrician, followed by a bit more builders, and then a visit from the plumber, until eventually everyone had done their bit. We didn’t have decorators painting ceilings while concrete was being laid for the floor, but TV renovation programs show it can be done.

    To fast track tasks on your schedule, look at what you currently have in sequence. What would be the risk of carrying out that work in parallel? For example, it could mean developing two parts of the software at the same time, and working closely together to ensure they still function adequately. It could mean testing while some parts of the development aren’t finished and making changes in a more agile way than you were expecting. Talk to your team about what you could force down the fast track.

    Crashing your schedule is another option. This is where you add more people to the project or get the existing people to work more hours. There’s a cost involved in increasing the resources on a project, and your company might be prepared to carry that if the cost of telling the client about the delay is too high. For example, if there is a big reputational risk for the firm by not hitting this particular deadline, your manager might be prepared to put some more people on the tasks to help speed things up.

    If neither of these schedule compression techniques help you save enough time, you could take activity out of scope. You’d hit the original deadline, but you would deliver a worse quality product to the client. When I see teams facing this choice, they often choose to descope testing time and cut the amount of time allocated for system testing; often that is a risky approach.

    Talk to the Client

    Ultimately, I don’t think you will get away with not having a conversation with the client. Even if you plan to fast track or crash your schedule, it is worth letting the client know now that you are taking that approach. Then, if you aren’t able to claw back enough time, they have had an early warning of the delay and know that you have already tried something proactively.

    I get that it will be a difficult conversation. Be evidence based. Go back to the original estimates. Look at what assumptions were made, because I bet they don’t hold true right now. Find reasons for the delay and craft a message that is honest but also gives the impression that you know what is happening and why it is happening. When the client asks how the delay happened, the worst possible answer is, “I have no idea.” You are being paid to manage the project, so they need to have confidence that even if it’s going a bit wrong, you still know the causes and have some solutions to offer.

    That brings us to solutions. During your client conversation, you need to set out what their options are. They could agree to descope functionality. They could agree to pay more. They could agree to a change in the date. Provide them with choices so they don’t feel you have forced their hand.

    Book this conversation as early as you can. I love this quote from Colin Powell, “Bad news is not like wine. It doesn’t improve with age.” In my experience, clients hate surprises above all. They may be able to tolerate the delay and manage around it, but only if you give them enough notice. There’s no need to wait until your next regular client review meeting. Call them up now and get something in the diary as soon as possible.

    The conversation needs to be about this issue specifically, and not in a large public setting. Telling someone in the project board meeting that the project is running a month behind is not a good choice. They’ll feel as if you are springing the news on them in an environment where they aren’t able to respond freely. Talking to them face-to-face is better than over the phone, so go and meet them if you can.

    In this situation, it looks as if the dates will slip. I’m not sure that schedule compression will give you the time gains you need, so negotiate a new completion date. After that, it’s most important that you stick to it. Look back at the team’s performance and where estimates haven’t been enough. Use that information to predict forward. If you haven’t been able to hit the deadlines up until this point, where do you need to put extra time to avoid getting into this situation again in a couple of months? Do a complete overhaul of your schedule and forecasts before you meet the client, so you can present a realistic picture of what you can achieve.

    Then, manage the work tightly and keep everything on track, because the client will be deeply unhappy if you’re having the same discussion again before the project closes. Have confidence in your proposed schedule and that will make your conversation easier, but be prepared to flex your approach depending on what is important to the client.

    Ask a PM: How to Tell a Client You’re Behind on the Project You Just Took Over was last modified: February 4th, 2019 by Elizabeth Harrin
  • Seven Tips to Stay Productive During the Winter (1/31/2019) by Team Liquidplanner
    Enduring the cold winter months can be a drag, but we should remember to stay productive and motivated during this season because we’re setting the tone (and pace) for the rest of the year. Just like in a race, if you go too slowly, you’ll never get into a winning rhythm.

    Staying indoors more during the shorter days also drains us of energy, causing an increase in mood swings; however, things don’t have to be so grim!

    Here are seven tips to help you stay energized, engaged, and productive until spring arrives.

    1. Get physical. Whether exercising, going for a walk, or taking the stairs at work, physical activity will keep your mind, body, and spirit lively.
    2. Get outside. Enjoy some fresh air, daylight, sunshine, or even the grey skies, and nature will revitalize you with the reward of something beautiful. Going outside to step away from your work also gives your brain a break to reenergize.
    3. Get enough sleep. Use the cozy weather to your advantage. Since winter is cold and flu season, make sure you do one of the best things to stay healthy and prevent illness—sleep!
    4. Set exciting goals. If your resolution list is either already broken or it’s staring at you like an unfriendly math teacher, rip it up and start fresh. Write down a handful of goals that you actually want to do—things that make you excited for the weeks ahead. From creating a new presentation to having coffee with someone new each week to taking an art class, give yourself some goals that you can root for.
    5. Eat healthily. We’re tempted to slip the most during the winter months, but this is when healthy eating matters most. If you eat a lot of rich, sugary foods when you’re already feeling sluggish, you’ll be lucky to even answer an email. Eating healthily doesn’t mean you can’t have anything fun to eat; just make sure you’re getting a well-balanced meal and eating foods that give you energy. Eventually, you’ll value how great you feel after eating real food over the cupcake you’re giving up.
    6. Make fun plans. While the temptation to become a hermit is strong this time of year, don’t fall into an antisocial slump, hoarding all of your fun for summer. Take a long weekend or a tropical vacation. Make a point to see people you care about and to plan activities you’re interested in. Winter is a great time to be inside taking in cultural events that can fill your mental and emotional reserves as well. What we do outside of our working hours immeasurably affects our jobs.
    7. Set yourself up for a fun summer. Imagine being able to leave at 4 p.m. most days this summer because of the groundwork laid this winter. One extra hour at the end of the day when it’s still dark out might add up to a lot of productivity in your pocket come June. This incentive could motivate you to be strategic and productive.

    How do you get through the cold dark of winter? Let us know in the comments!

    Seven Tips to Stay Productive During the Winter was last modified: January 29th, 2019 by Team Liquidplanner
Blog Archive was last modified: April 28th, 2017 by Team Liquidplanner