Author: Cesar Abeid

Cesar Abeid

About Cesar Abeid

As the host of the popular Project Management for the Masses Podcast, Cesar Abeid reminds you that life is a project, and you are the manager. A certified Project Management Professional® with a degree in Electrical Engineering, Cesar has over 10 years’ experience managing projects in Canada, the United States, Brazil and Peru. His most important project, however, is raising his children Laura, Adam and Lucy—a job he gladly shares with his wife, Amy. Cesar and his family live in London, Ontario, Canada. Visit and subscribe to his podcast at http://pmforthemasses.com.

5 Project Management Tips for Manufacturing Teams

Taking a product from concept to production is a complicated undertaking. There’s a lot at stake, and a lot can go wrong along the way. For example, there’s time-to-market market and quality control issues; you have to consider supply chain, global teams, international trade issues, regulations, product development phased and more. And still, I’m constantly surprised to see how many teams still manage all of these moving parts using static spreadsheets. And even when there are systems and tools in place to build schedules, they tend to be too inflexible, and can’t account for the amount of uncertainty that permeates today’s global market.

manufacturing teams

Project Management + Manufacturing = Perfect Match

Manufacturing can, however, benefit greatly from project management ideas. I believe that there are few things in life that cannot be projectized. Even life itself has a beginning, middle and end, and creates something unique. The manufacturing environment comprises a lot of beginnings, middles and ends. After all, a single product is made up of a multitude of projects, and considerations, including:

  • Design of a new, industry-designing product
  • Production preparation
  • Managing a change order
  • Improving a process
  • Shortening time-to-market

Every one of these considerations benefits from some basic project management best practices.  Or course, it can feel a bit daunting if you’re thinking of your entire process; instead, start with something do-able, bite sized pieces.

Here are five tips to start incorporating project management processes in your team:

1. Establish Requirements

One of the first activities in any project is to define what the project is, and everything that needs to be done. This is achieved by collecting requirements which include details of the deliverables, timelines, quality expectations, etc.

Setting goals and establishing these requirements is the first step for any project to go forward, regardless of methodology.  This will also encourage your team to get together to think about the work ahead, define milestones and deliverables, and think about deadlines.  Be as detailed and thorough as you can during this exercise, as it will help you manage the project later on.

Every project, whether in a manufacturing environment or any other, will involve requirements and goals. Creating a goal-oriented culture is important, and it is the first step to incorporate project management into your team.

2. Choose a Methodology

Now that you have well-defined goals, you will need a game plan to achieve them. The problem is, once you set a goal or destination, there are many ways to get there. That is when methodology can be helpful.

A methodology for managing projects is a well-defined approach for how you and your team get things done.  You can create your own methodology, or adopt existing frameworks—from Agile and Waterfall to Critical Path and Lean. You can also check out the methodologies proposed by the Project Management Institute in the PMBOK Guide.

In today’s agile-focused landscape, there are many who dismiss methodology as something limiting. Some postulate that freeing your team from methodology will allow for more flexibility and agility in achieving your goals. I believe that there is still a place for methodology, as it provides your organization with a framework to approach work that is familiar to all.  A method, or process for managing work helps create a culture of people who can fearlessly tackle projects and get things done, and it fosters a common language with which to talk about how to achieve your goals.

There are many methodologies and approaches to use to manage projects, and all of them are being used by manufacturing teams. There’s no right choice here: use the approach that makes more sense to your team and is more in line with your organization’s way of approaching work. For example, organizations well versed in Lean manufacturing tend to adopt a lean approach to project management. Other manufacturing teams are already familiar with Waterfall; those relying heavily on automation and IT systems, might choose Agile. Six Sigma is another popular approach to managing work, focusing on process improvement.

Choose a methodology to implement, and don’t let it constrain your work. Instead, use it as a recipe that you can change to meet your organization’s shifting needs and objectives.

3. Use a Project Management Tool

Once you have chosen an approach or methodology, and you have a good grasp on your requirements and goals, the next step is to choose the right tool to help you manage it all.

The right tool will help you through all the processes of your project, and can help you and your team collect all of the requirements, build a schedule, create a budget, track your progress, manage your stakeholders and resources, and ensure you will complete the work on time and within scope and budget.

When choosing the right tool, ensure that it is easy enough for all on your team to learn. Because manufacturing is such a dynamic environment, choose a tool that will be flexible enough to change as your circumstances change. LiquidPlanner is a great example of a tool that is dynamic and also with a track record of helping manufacturing teams.

4. Track Progress

One of the important benefits of project management involves the monitoring and controlling of project work. This process has to do with checking your progress to make sure you’re on track to deliver on time and within scope and budget.

When teams don’t accurately track their work progress, the results can be truly catastrophic. Planning your work ahead of time gives you a roadmap for when you’re actually performing the work. If you don’t track how you’re performing, you won’t know if you’re going off-course; as a result, you won’t know what adjustments need to be made. Strong project plans and reliable schedules alert you to when you’re going over your budget or deadline before it’s too late to do something about it.  In manufacturing, when time-to-market and costs can determine whether your product will succeed in the marketplace, poor planning can sink a project.

Using project management software with  time tracking features is a powerful way to track project progress. These tools make it easy for you to judge how well you’re doing when it comes to reaching your milestones and goals.

Once you start tracking your progress, you’ll quickly see all the opportunities to fine-tune your approach to managing your project: your manufacturing projects will progressively get better, while you develop your own internal flavor of project management that fits your organization’s culture and way of work.

5. Implement a Risk Management Process

In manufacturing, risk management is absolutely imperative. The projects your organization and team will manage have a direct impact on your main business objectives and key results like time to market.

Risks are issues you identify before they become reality.  Risk management is coming up with a plan for what to do if the worst happens, and then handling issues if and when they do become real.

Manufacturing teams that are not practicing risk management—or practicing it poorly—may be faced with problems that could range from delays and quality problems to canceling production. Even established companies like Boeing have been caught mismanaging risks on major projects.

Practicing risk management will get you to sit down with your team and go through the exercise of identifying everything that could go wrong. The next step is to prioritize risks by impact and importance, and most importantly, assign an owner to each risk. Planning for issues is a fantastic way to get you and your team talking about project management, especially as you decide on a course of action to take in case your risk becomes a real issue. As with other project management processes, a collaborative project management tool can help you and keep your entire team on the same page while planning and managing risks.

Projects and operations can coexist beautifully! Where operations and manufacturing focus on mass production, the art of starting the production of a new product, improving on processes, implementing better communication among manufacturing silos, and even ending the production of a product are all projects. By implementing project management in your organization, your processes, product and work environment will all greatly improve as well.

Could your project management process be better? Find out! Our 9-question multiple-choice quiz will diagnose the health of your project management tool and/or process.  Take the quiz!

Take the quiz!

The Top 10 Mistakes Project Managers Make

There are so many moving parts to a project—requirements, stakeholders, risks, team members, good news, bad news, deadlines, budgets—it’s no wonder that things have a tendency to go wrong. The good news is that mistakes are part of the learning process—but knowing what to do and how to respond to project mistakes is crucial.

Project managers Mistakes

I love that the most important reference textbook in project management is called a “body of knowledge.” Project managers learn by sharing their knowledge with each other, and that’s a fantastic thing.

When I started working on this article, in keeping with this sense of crowd-sourcing, I reached out to my PM for the Masses Google+ community and asked them, “What are some of the top mistakes that project managers make?”

Adding my own thoughts on the matter, here’s a list of project management mistakes.

1. Not identifying all stakeholders

A project, by definition, is a group effort, and will only be completed successfully if the team and all those involved are considered. One of the worst mistakes a project manager can make is to fail to identify everyone who’s invested in the project and affected by it. If you fail to consider the interests of even one important stakeholder, this could cause the undermining and ultimate failure of a project.

2. Not being 100 percent clear on requirements

Projects are about turning ideas into reality. You will not successfully complete a project if you cannot compare what you have done to the original idea.  Being clear on your project requirements is essential to project management, and should be a topic that is always central to project work.  If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.

3. Not taking Risk Management seriously

When I wrote my book Project Management for You, I asked a number of experts what the most important aspect of project management was. To my surprise, many mentioned Risk Management. And after doing more research, I completely agree with them. Often, unless you are part of a very sensitive project, there’s no need to overthink this: Simply get together with your team, create a list of potential roadblocks or risks your project might encounter, come up with a simple action plan in case these risks become a reality, and assign a team member to “own” that risk.

The owner will have the job of watching out for it and raising a red flag if they see any of the identified risks coming. It’s a simple exercise that will make you better prepared and also give you peace of mind during the planning and execution phases of your project. (And if you have a project management tool that surfaces risks in your plan, all the better!)

4. Not learning lessons

In the heat of the project, when you and the team are trying to stay on schedule, scope, and budget, many project teams forget that promoting lessons-learned exercises is fundamental. These pow-wows are around lessons that are being learned during the course of the project. Too often when lessons-learned sessions are held, many times they are done only at the end of the project. Too late. A good practice is to hold lessons-learned sessions or meetings on a regular basis so you and your team become used to the process.

5. Not investing time and effort in hiring the right team

There was a time when hiring team members based on their resume, cover letter and interviews was enough. Today, besides having the subject matter expertise necessary to perform the work, team members need to be, well, members of the team.  As the project manager, I would recommend you ask yourself two questions before hiring a new person:

Companies who take these questions seriously and take a methodic and careful approach to finding right candidates are creating amazing corporate cultures in which employees are happy and excited to work.

6. Not getting buy-in

Have you ever tried to give a child a bath when they’re not in the mood?  That’s what it’s like to manage a project without buy-in from those involved. When looking at getting buy-in, typically we think of getting it from high-level stakeholders who have the formal power to have a negative impact on the project. While that’s important, it is also just as important to get buy-in from the rest of the team. You want everyone who’s involved in actually doing the work to be 100 percent behind the idea and purpose of the project.

7. Allowing scope creep

Scope creep is serious, and if not dealt with, could really turn a project into a failure.  As the old Arabian proverb says “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.” Keep that camel out of your tent before it creeps in. The best way to keep scope creep from happening is, in short, by making a big deal out of change requests. Create a process that acts both as a deterrent for impromptu change requests, and also analyzes the impact on both timeline and budget for them. Treat scope creep with care and nip undesirable changes and increases in scope in the bud.

8. Keeping bad news to yourself

We all have the tendency to keep bad news to ourselves. We often justify it by thinking along the lines of, “it’s just a small issue, why get everybody worried?” While this approach may suffice when you are in a project by yourself, it doesn’t work when a team is involved—and an organization’s well-being depends on the project going well.

All team members are working on different tasks and work packages, under the assumption that all is going according to plan. Your “small issue” might play a part in some other team member’s work in a way you can’t predict. Also, this issue might be included in the risk register as a potential problem, and you might not be aware of it (or it could be in someone’s personal risk register that they haven’t communicated either). There are many other reasons why clear and transparent communication regarding issues, even if small, are extremely important.

9. Not using integrated tools

Projects generate tons of documents; they require meetings, sharing of information, tracking of changes—all the while requiring that a record of activities (once called a “paper trail”) be kept. Using the wrong tools can quickly turn a project into chaos. But even when effort is put into working with good tools, a silo mentality may prevent the team from thinking about how these tools will integrate with each other. When choosing tools, ensure that they integrate as much as possible, so information can flow freely through the team and records are kept.

10. Communication breakdown!

And finally, we get to communication. All of the nine topics above really come down to communication. Whether it’s not using the right tools, or keeping bad news to yourself, allowing scope creep, not getting buy-in, failing to hire the right people, not learning lessons, avoiding risk management, being unclear on requirements, or leaving out stakeholders, it’s a lot easier to avoid these problems by being a better communicator.

The great thing about being a better communicator is that you can learn and improve on it every single day on the job. Make it a priority, learn from your mistakes and you’ll soar.

 

If this article tapped a few buttons and you’d like to dig deeper into their solutions, download our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

 

top 9 project management challenges

 

8 Best Practices for Managing DevOps Projects

One of the hottest trends for managing software and technology projects is DevOps—a method that uses Agile and lean principles and brings operations and development engineers together throughout the entire lifecycle. I recently interviewed solution architect and ArrestedDevOps podcast co-founder Matt Stratton for my Project Management for the Masses Podcast. I quickly realized that the future of project management lies in the DevOps approach. Since then I have been researching the topic with keen interest.

devops

If you haven’t used a DevOps approach, or are trying to transition over, how do you set your team up for success when managing DevOps projects? Here are eight best practices to help you get started.

  1. Start with small projects

When starting a new way of managing a project, it’s a good idea to start small. Let your team get a sense of how this new DevOps approach works in the real world. The best way to accomplish this introduction—even better than reading books and taking courses—is to try it with a small project.

This approach is especially effective if the team is well connected and has been working together for a while. This maximizes the chances of success and will create the right environment to start implementing some of the other practices explained in this article.

  1. Minimum Viable Product

Even within the context of a small project, if you haven’t yet started using this approach, the concept of the minimum viable product, or MVP, is extremely helpful. One popular industry belief is that the MVP is a critical and necessary part of any DevOps project.

A minimum viable product focuses on high return and lost risk projects, and can be measured and improved upon with each iteration. Putting this into action is a way to create fast, small products that can be deployed quickly and measured for feedback. A well-run DevOps environment can take full advantage of what is learned in these short cycles and do small, Agile course corrections along the way.

  1. Use the right tools

Because DevOps is all about collaboration, communication, the removal of silos and unnecessary overhead, it’s extremely important to use tools that will facilitate these principles. Success in DevOps is typically very much connected to the tools used.

When considering tools for your DevOps project, look for solutions that will simplify aspects of configuration management, application deployment, monitoring and version control.

  1. Eliminate silos

If there’s one bad word in DevOps circles, it’s the word “silo.” Silos and DevOps do not go together. The reason is simple: DevOps has to do with flow and integration, which means development and operations move quickly and in a horizontal manner. Silos, on the other hand, are vertical and walled in.

But how do we break down silos and the silo culture? According to a Forbes article by Brent Gleeson, some of the best ways to break down the silo mentality are to create a unified vision within the organization so all stakeholders and team members understand that they are all working towards a common goal. Additionally, it’s important to motivate and incentivize flow and integration not only in the context of a single project, but across all aspects of work.

  1. Reduce handoffs

Some of the most wasteful aspects of any project are handoffs. This is work that is completed by one person or team, and then packaged and handed off to the next phase to be completed by another team or person. This process turns any project into a sequence of discrete steps.

DevOps projects, on the other hand, sees projects as a continuous flow from beginning to end. By minimizing handoffs, discrete steps tend to disappear, facilitating a DevOps culture.

  1. Create real-time project visibility

This is very important: In order to maximize flow and integration, everyone who’s part of a DevOps system needs to know where the project stands. While access to progress measurements can be useful, in a DevOps environment it’s paramount that all team members have access to the status of the project and its many indexes of progress.

Creating real time project visibility can be done by using the right tools and encouraging all involved to engage in a centralized way. Consider using collaborative project management software that everyone can access, and one that shows updated schedules every time a change is made.

  1. Reduce overhead

There are many ways to maximize collaboration and productivity. Reducing company overhead is an interesting approach that many don’t consider. Work and resources saved from processing overhead can be redirected to increase productivity and collaboration.

For example, overhead can be reduced by:

  • Cutting back on meetings (duration and number of)
  • Eliminating status reports
  • Minimizing company turnover. By investing in your team, you will motivate them to stay with the company and do good work.
  • Give employees the option to exchange some commute time for work time.
  1. Manage change collaboratively

Effective change management can be a struggle for any project. Having a systematic way to approach change management is critical.

In DevOps, dealing with change management is even more important. In an effort to maximize flow and collaboration, dealing with change effectively can only be done when the team collaborates and works together.

The first step is to understand and communicate the need for a change management culture. Then, using the tools mentioned earlier, create procedures and processes to manage these changes in a transparent and collaborative way.

DevOps is a fascinating topic, and will become more and more mainstream. (Target just announced its moving to DevOps.) If you want to get in on more DevOps discussions and insights, I highly recommend the Arrested DevOps podcast.

If you’re interested in adopting a DevOps approach, then mastering an Agile process is a must. To learn more, download our eBook, Agile for Everyone.

LPblog-Agile-for-Everyone

What Do You Do When Your Project Stalls?

stalled project

I remember when our technology and consulting company started a project to develop a system for automating a key process for one of our biggest clients. This system was going to save our client a lot of money, plus, we would potentially be able to offer this solution to many other clients in the same sector. This was an exciting prospect!

And then . . .

After months of research, the client’s interest dropped and the project stalled. It wasn’t cancelled; it didn’t fall behind schedule. It just kind of . . . stopped.

When you work on a project that you’re really excited about and then stalls, it can leave a hole in your heart. Plus, it’s hard to know what kind of actions to take when the client or organization has lost steam. What do you do? The stalling of a project doesn’t mean you have to give up, or that it’s over. You just need to know how to get it back on track and save it from falling through the cracks.

Here are seven strategies to use when your project stalls.

1. Ask why.

The first step to resolving your problem is to understand why the project has lost forward momentum. There can be a lot of reasons, and knowing what’s behind the stall can set you up for what to do next. Consider any of the following considerations:

  • Is there a change in leadership?
  • Are there a lack of resources, or did another project become a higher priority?
  • Is there confusion or disagreement over the final goal?
  • Is this project still relevant?
  • Do we care that it’s not moving forward?

Asking why lets you know how to approach the dip in momentum—from communicating the value to a new project lead, to offering a solution to a specific issue. And, you might realize that instead of trying to get the project moving again, the best is to drop it, or put it on hold for a later time.

2. Check your client’s engagement

I’ve found that the root cause of a stalled project is often traced to a stakeholder’s low level of engagement. In other words, the stakeholder, client or manager might not care enough about this particular project, for a number of reasons. It could be a project outside of her immediate area of expertise; one that’s imposed on her for reasons of compliance, or an admin-related project that is not exciting. As project managers in charge of ensuring that a project moves forward, it is in our interest to ensure that all stakeholders are being considered as decisions are made and milestones reached. If you see there’s a lack of enthusiasm, and your manager is willing to give you the reins, take them and get the project out of its rut.

3. Check for scope creep
what to do when your project stalls

There’s a overwhelming feeling brought about by scope creep. The increasing number of features that get added on, without proper adjustment in budgets and schedules, will eventually make teams feel like the more they work on the project, the farther away the finishing lines moves. If your team is working on multiple projects, the one with the scope creep issue will tend to be avoided, causing it to fall behind or even stall.

The best way to deal with scope creep is through communication. When a new feature or requirement is requested by a stakeholder, be clear about the impact this will have on the project—from resources to deliver dates. Explain that to maintain your budget and timeline, you will have to drop another feature in other to accommodate the request. If no other feature or requirement can be dropped, then talk about the updated timeline you’ll need to complete the project. If a deadline is firm, then explain that the budget will have to be increased.

When stakeholders are clear about how increasing scope affects project costs, chances are you’ll receive fewer requests for changes (or more reasonable ones). This will empower you and your team to focus on the real work ahead and keep moving forward.

4. Consider another approach

Adopting new project management methodologies can be a scary thought. It’s particularly true if the switch happens halfway through a project.

If your project is either stalling or failing to meet milestones and deliverables, a fresh approach can bring a breath of fresh air into your project environment. There are countless case studies that document, for example, the transition from Waterfall to Agile approaches, with very positive results. In this particular case study, written by SearchSoftwareQuality, the same project was managed by the same people twice: first using Waterfall, and then again using Agile. The results were very interesting, leaving Agile as the clear winner.

Sometimes looking at the same project through different methodologies can help get the wheels moving again.

5. Reignite your champion stakeholders

Projects often launch because of the vision and support from a few stakeholders. These folks are excited about the project, possess the influence, and have been champions for the initiative from the beginning.

For many possible reasons, these champion stakeholders might lose interest or focus as time goes on. And in many cases, once your project loses the vibrancy from these key people, it also loses the fuel that was helping it move forward.

Check in with your champion stakeholders and see if you can rekindle the spark that will help your project move forward. See what kind of actions you can take to get them excited about the project again. You never know if there’s an action item they’re procrastinating on that, if alieved, would charge that project forward again.

6. Recommit to managing your risks

Here’s a common tale: Poor risk management will result in a project plagued by issues. And there’s nothing like an endless sequence of issues to bring down the morale of your team and stall your project.

Risk management is one of those necessary yet oftentimes neglected aspect of projects. When I interviewed risk management expert Carl Pritchard on my podcast he shared what I considered the best advice when it comes to risk: It doesn’t have to be complicated!

Here’s what you do. Together with your team, create a simple list of risks that are both important, urgent, and likely to occur during your project. When that’s done, make sure each of the risks has an owner—someone appointed to look out for that risk before it becomes an issue.

Do this exercise on a regular basis and the likelihood of your project stalling because of unforeseeable circumstances will drastically diminish.

(Or, use project management software that’s going to take all of your data and alert you to incoming risks.)

7. Re-engage in monitoring and controlling

And finally, many projects will stall because there’s no one at the helm. Recommit yourself to monitor and control the execution of your project. Be present. Manage by walking around. Ensure milestones are being reached. Show that you care about the project and you care that it’s moving forward as it should.

As it turns out, the project I mentioned at the beginning was dropped. As we tried some of these approaches, we realized that it was not in line with our core services. and the time and resources to complete the project were not available to us at the time. It’s important to understand that even dropping a project is a way to complete it. It needed to go, and it went.

One way to keep your projects from stalling is to give them realistic estimates that everyone can stand behind. Our eBook, 6 Best Practices for Accurate Project Estimates gives you six important principles to sharpen your estimation skills. 

The Cover to the Book 6 Best Practices for Accurate Project Estimates

 

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10 Steps to Manage Your Budget When the Scope Changes
Stop Thinking So Hard: Multi-Project Scheduling is Easy!
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How to Be a GTD Person in a Waterfall World

I’ve been with the same cell phone carrier for over 10 years. My money has been kept in the same bank since I moved to Canada many years ago. By all accounts, I am a very loyal person to any product, service or system that works for me. Project management and all of its principles—like Waterfall—is one of the systems that works for me, and I’m loyal to.

CBP1028688

So when I first picked up the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, I wasn’t ready to change my approach. However, the more I read the book, I felt like Mr. Allen was speaking directly to me. His principles, which are based around a personal productivity system, made so much sense that I begrudgingly had to give it a try.

At first glance GTD and Waterfall seem like opposing strategies for getting things done. GTD is a personal system that tackles incoming items one at a time; Waterfall is a way for teams to manage a sequential process. Instead of being in opposition, I believe they beautifully complement each other. Applying both GTD and Waterfall into a powerful system will let you manage whatever comes your way; they will help you deliver outstanding projects and deliver on your promises.

Let me outline how this can work.

Can GTD and Waterfall coexist?

To break it down in simple terms, GTD is something you do alone; Waterfall is something you do with other people. The faster you understand that GTD is for you and that Waterfall is for your project, the faster you’ll see how perfectly they fit together.

GTD allows you to quickly collect and give order to every item, or input, you receive as you go about life. These items can include an email, a text message, a request from your boss, a piece of snail mail, or even a thought you have in the shower. You later process these items and classify them in different ways. Some of these pieces of input will require you to take action, and they have a required result that will demand that multiple steps are taken to achieve it. David Allen calls these results “projects.”

Moving projects forward in GTD style

In the GTD world, a project is simply a desired outcome requiring more than one task to complete. In that context, the planning process is to simply think of the subsequent action. When that action is taken then you think of the next action after that. This process is repeated until the project is complete.

If you’re a trained project manager, you might be twitching as you read this. You and I know that it takes much more than simply thinking of the next action to properly plan a complex project. Interestingly, David Allen knows that as well. He often explains that his system was created for every type of person; he says that folks who actually need better tools for planning complex projects already have them. In my opinion, he’s talking about you and me, project management professionals (and anyone managing projects), our methodologies, frameworks, and information systems.

This is exactly where Waterfall—and virtually any other project management approach—fits in. I postulate that if you’re a trained project manager, you can substitute Mr. Allen’s project planning approach with Waterfall. Instead of thinking of a desired result and simply planning a next action, clarify your requirements and plan it like a project.

In other words, GTD is a horizontal system for your life. Waterfall is a vertical system for a single desired outcome or deliverable.

Although Waterfall is much more involved and complex to pull off than GTD, in my view it can be seen as subset of it. Many people master project management approaches. Many people master GTD. Not as many people can couple GTD and waterfall in this powerful combination.

Cross pollinating GTD + Waterfall systems

GTD and waterfall are complementary but they also cross-pollinate. For example, as the result of a team meeting, you may end up with a number of new items in your inbox. They may be related solely to one particular project. But you as a singular person, will have to process them. The result is that these items will compete not only with other project work, but with other dimensions of your life as well.

Try not to fall into the trap I call “system sprawl,” which is when you have multiple places and containers for your tasks and to-dos, and end up trusting none of them.

The context of the project will also provide you with many opportunities to flex your GTD muscles. For example, most project management information systems (PMIS) will provide you with a location for project documentation; and most project management software lets you attach documents to work items. This is a great way to store and file materials for reference. Project management tools also typically let you create tasks and tag them. Using the GTD approach, you can tag items as “next action,” “on hold,” or “someday/maybe,” following David Allen’s nomenclature. If you’re concerned about having documents and items outside of your personal GTD system, some systems will allow you to create URL links to documents inside of it that you can reference from your own personal GTD system.

A word on meetings

In meetings, when discussing a particular aspect of the project, always direct the conversation towards “next actions.” Ask yourself and your team:

  • What is this we are talking about?
  • Does it require action by anyone? If so, by when?
  • Who will act on this?
  • What is the next action to be taken?

When you ask these questions, you’re training your team to apply a GTD methodology that incorporates itself into a Waterfall process. You will also find that meetings take less time when these questions are asked frequently about the topics covered.

Conclusion

GTD and Waterfall make a powerful combination. If you master the art of stress-free productivity as proposed by David Allen in a broad, horizontal way, and then use your project management knowledge to tackle individual projects in a vertical way, your project will deliver on its promises. And, you won’t lose your mind in the process.

Cesar Abeid’s upcoming book is “Project Management for You.” To learn more about it, and preorder a copy, visit his website Project Management for the Masses.

 

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The World Is Changing and So Must You: “The Power of Project Leadership” Book Review

When Susanne Madsen told me she was going to write a book on project leadership, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I was lucky enough to get an early copy of The Power of Project Leadership: 7 Keys to Help You Transform From Project Manager to Project Leader, and I devoured it in just a few days.

If the last few years have shown a shift of focus from processes to soft skills in the project management industry, Susanne’s new book is the manifesto that finally makes sense of it all. Mostly techies by nature and by trade, project managers are known for being extremely comfortable around hard facts and spreadsheets. As leadership and other softer skills are now expected of project management professionals, we lacked a go-to resource that would guide us Susans bookthrough the transition.

No longer.

Susanne is brilliant in her strategy with this book. She first makes a case for a changing world, and places the project manager as uniquely equipped to not just endure these changes, but lead them. From there she takes us through what motivates and drives us as individuals, in a clever attempt to unveil who we really are. When we figure that out and see that we are placed in a changing world in search for leaders, she is there and ready to hand us the seven keys that we need for the transformation.

More keys include: Lead with vision; Improve and innovate; Empower the team.

As Liz Pearce, CEO of LiquidPlanner, puts it, ‘Enabling transparency across the project team and understanding what other teams are working on can mean the elimination of costly redundancies, the identification and exploitation of powerful new ideas and the facilitation of powerful cross-team collaboration’.

Starting with what I believe to be the most important point of the entire book, key number one is “Being Authentic.” Project managers deal with constraints, deadlines, conflict, change, and many other sources of stress that push us to act a certain way in order to maintain a sense of control. In the process, it’s easy to forget who we really are, and present a business persona to our team which is far removed from our true self. By confronting that issue right away, Susanne convincingly asks us to start looking inwards and sets the pace for the following six keys and the rest of the book. She also talks to other leaders and gets their insight, including LiquidPlanner’s CEO Liz Pearce.

But the true genius of The Power of Project Leadership is not Susanne’s ability to make a convincing case, but the fact that she took a subjective, hard-to-define topic, and broke it down into manageable chunks. By deconstructing leadership into seven key items, she effectively speaks to every project manager who is perhaps afraid to become a leader but understands requirements and milestones. In fact, she presents us with the tenets of a very nebulous, blurry-edged soft skill, all in the form of a checklist. Reading her book made this project manager feel both challenged and at home at the same time.

The Power of Project Leadership captures the essence of leadership, and serves it in a way that project managers are ready and eager to digest. It is a meaningful compilation of what you need to know if you want to move away from simple project management and into project leadership.

 

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6 Essential Skills for Project Managers

Years ago I was in Brazil managing the installation of a monitoring system for a large construction project. As I told the chief electrician how a piece of equipment was to be mounted, he raised his eyebrows and said: “You’re the boss.”

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I knew what was happening: Because I was the project manager, the chief electrician didn’t feel he could disagree with me, even though he did. In this case he was right, I was wrong, and the result was a loss of time and resources.

Technical training in project management does not prepare you for dealing with such nuanced circumstances. As a project management professional, you’re a change agent working with teams that are made up of complex individuals in many different roles. Somehow you’re supposed to be a leader, and know how to read body language, negotiate, and be a master at myriad other skills. How do you do it all?

Here is my short list of six must-have skills for project managers, and some books that will help you get there.

1. Communication

Did you know that 90 percent of a project manager’s time is spent communicating? It’s essential that project managers can effectively convey vision, ideas, goals, and issues—as well as produce reports and presentations, among other skills.

Communication is a broad topic, so it’s difficult to approach it from an all-encompassing angle. A good place to start is by improving your presentation skills, which translates into everything from a kickoff meeting to a pitch to clients and stakeholders. The best resources I’ve seen on this are the works of Nancy Duarte. Her books, “Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences” (free on iBooks) and “slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations opened my eyes to the power of an expertly executed presentation  As you read through the books, watch for different insights you can use in presentations and other aspects of your work.

2. Leadership

Leadership is the current buzzword in the project management industry, and with good reason: If you can lead, you can deliver. But most importantly, leadership is often what is missing in the project manager’s arsenal of highly developed technical skills. If you’re a project manager, I can guarantee you have felt the need to improve yourself as a leader at some point.

Thousands of resources exist that promote better leadership. Susanne Madsen, a project management and leadership coach, who also writes for this blog, has a new book out that’s a must-read for any project manager interested in developing leadership skills. “The Power of Project Leadership: 7 Keys to Help You Transform from Project Manager to Project Leader”  is filled with actionable information you can implement immediately to become a better project leader.

You can also listen to Susanne talk about leadership my podcast interview with her.

3. Team management

Besides leading a team from a strategic perspective, project managers also need to manage from an operational point of view. An effective team manager excels at administering and coordinating groups of individuals by promoting teamwork, delegating tasks, resolving conflict, setting goals, and evaluating performance. Leadership is about inspiring others to walk with you; team management makes sure your team has the right shoes.

As part of the Harvard’s Pocket Mentor Series, “covers all the basics on team management, including insight on how to create a team identity, resolve conflicts, address poor team performance, and many other areas.  It’s a short read and will get you thinking about the right topics when it comes to managing teams.

4. Negotiation

Going back to the communication skill—a lot of this communication has to do with negotiating the use of resources, budgets, schedules, scope creep, and a variety of other compromises that are unavoidable. Knowing how to negotiate well so that all parties are satisfied is a key skill for the successful project manager.

I read “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” a couple of years ago and was impressed at how authors Roger Fisher and William Ury were able to explain the inner workings of negotiations, and how to make the most out of this unavoidable experience.

5. Personal organization

Have you ever heard that you cannot give what you do not have? How can you get things done and organize work for other people if your own personal life and projects are disorganized and going nowhere?  Get organized personally, and you will immediately improve as a project manager.

I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” a few years ago, and that was a pivotal point in my life. I was already a project manager then, but was going nowhere with my career, and my work was not up to the standards it is today.  This book helped me get my life and my commitments under control.

6. Risk management

During my “Project Management for You” podcast series, I interviewed top-notch project managers and asked them about their go-to project management tool or technique.  I was surprised to see them suggesting risk management. They are absolutely right: If you can predict and create solutions to issues before they arise, you increase your chances of delivering projects successfully.  Risks by definition are not urgent; as a result, many project managers fail to consider risks as seriously as they should.

Managing Uncertainty: Strategies for Surviving and Thriving in Turbulent Times” by Michel Syrett and Marion Devine is a great introduction to navigating around risky environments in project management.

Project management is a job that demands a varied and vast skill set. Start by honing your practices in each skill set, and keep adding and incorporating them into your work.  I hope you continue working on becoming the best project manager you can be.

Building the best project management skills takes practice and commitment. To learn more, download our eBook, “5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.”

5 Practical Habits for PMs

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4 Tips to Get Promoted As a Project Manager

The first questions I ask project managers who listen to my podcast and connect with me by email is this: When it comes to your career in project management, what are your desires, pains and needs? After communicating with hundreds of project management professionals, the answers often seem to gravitate around this one common topic: getting promoted.

project manager promotion

So how do you get promoted as a project manager? Here are my four tips.

1. Treat your promotion as a project.

Project managers tend to look at everything as a project. Why not use some of your skills and treat your promotion as a project? The following ideas will help you get started.

  • Remember that projects have a beginning, a middle and an end. So does the process of being promoted. Think about your promotion not as an open-ended, vague journey, but instead make it specific and time-bound.
  • Be clear about the results you want. What is the promotion you are looking for? Are you a project coordinator looking for your first opportunity as a project manager? Or are you a project manager looking to be assigned to larger projects? Perhaps you’re a PM who seeks a promotion to program manager. In any case, picture yourself in your new dream position and make it as specific as possible.
  • Do your homework. What is the natural promotion for you at this point? Look at your current company and learn about its internal career paths. Look at others who are currently being promoted and examine their journey.
  • Break it down. Once you know and have a clear picture of where you want to move, break that transition into some milestones. You can start by answering questions like these:
    • Would it be important to have a recommendation by your current co-workers on LinkedIn?
    • If your dream promotion is to be part of another department, do you have a relationship with anyone there?
    • Do you know who your future boss would be, and do you have a relationship with him or her?
2. Learn from the past.

This is perhaps the most important exercise when looking for a promotion. Reflect back on the last time you were promoted and analyze what the process and experience was like. Did you and your boss talk through some detailed negotiations or did he promote you unexpectedly after a special project?

Then, look around at your colleagues and ask the same question: How did they get promoted? See if there are any commonalities with your own previous promotion. (And if you’re haven’t yet been promoted at your current organization, see what you can learn from your team members.)

Finally, look at your boss and the team managers around you. How did they get their current positions? Once you start analyzing how people get promoted within your company, you’ll see some common factors. It could be something as simple as having a good relationship with your manager, or knowing about positions before they’re widely advertised. Perhaps the common thread is that team mates got promoted because they met their performance goals or had a good relationship with a particular individual of influence within the company—or a bit of both.

Whatever you see as a pattern, think about how you can leverage it.

3. Think with the mind of the company.

Your level of seniority and the amount of time you put into your work only goes so far. More importantly, companies reward you for the value that you bring them, and how much it would hurt if you left.

When looking to make a case for your promotion, your company needs to see you not as an employee that is demanding or asking something of them. This can put you on opposite sides of a negotiation.

Instead, think with the mind of the company. What is the company’s mission statement? What is the company’s strategy and what are its goals for this year? Does the company value teamwork in the workplace? What are the company’s greatest challenges at the moment? Think about these issues and goals and then embody them as your own. This will make you a true team member, and someone that is on the same side as the company. Then, when you ask for a salary increase or a promotion, the company will see that as an investment in itself.

4. Invest in yourself.

Finally, as a project manager, you need to always invest in yourself. Many companies offer training for employees. If your company doesn’t, I recommend you take the initiative and create a plan for your own training. There are a number of webinars, video tutorials and online courses; project management conferences, university extension programs, books, PMI’s resources—the opportunities for learning are almost endless. Find something that works for your schedule and your learning style. And ask around, see what team members and network connections have had success with. Project management is a field that’s always growing and it’s important to keep up to stay relevant.

As a great place to start, I recommend a free video/webinar by career coach Farnoosh Brock called “5 Career Suicide Mistakes that Project Managers Make and How to Avoid Them.”

If you liked this article and want to take your PM skills to the next level, download our eBook, “5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.”

PM eBook: 5 Practical tips.

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How to Find a Job Using Your Project Management Skills

You are a project manager and you excel at your job. You communicate well, are an effective leader, have experience, and inherently know how to deliver outstanding projects. You might even speak multiple languages and have an interesting, compelling resume.

But when it comes to landing your next job, you always feel a bit lost.

find a job using project management skills

I interact with many project managers who find the transition between jobs a challenge—even if they’re seasoned veterans.

The interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that projects are cyclical and by definition have a beginning, middle and an end. Our profession is cyclical in nature. So why not apply this to rule to career transitions and have a plan in place?

Similar to a project, each job search is unique and has its own story. For the sake of this article, let’s imagine that you’re looking for work and decide to do what you do best: You approach your job search like a project and begin to manage it. Here’s what that process would look like.

First, the initiation

Before writing resumes and sending them to random companies, start with some brainstorming. As with any project, start with “why.”

  • Why do you need a new job?
  • Would a promotion suffice?
  • What kind of company do you want to work at?
  • Is this the time to start your own business?

Once you decide that you want a new position with another company that’s a good culture fit, it’s time to plan.

Plan

When people ask me for tips to find a new job, I often respond with a simple question: How did you find your last job?

Online job boards and search engines are useful, but they can also be problematic. It’s easy to think that because you created a great resume and a cover letter template, you can spend all day applying to dozens of different positions online and feel like you accomplished something significant.

Instead, think about how you found your last job. Chances are it was because of someone you knew. According to Forbes, over 40% of jobs are found through networking. So think about your history, and answer yourself:

  • How have you found jobs in the past?
  • Can you try to replicate that process?
  • How many of your friends and friends-of-friends work in companies you’d like to be a part of?

A great resource for planning your job search is the book “Manage Your Job Search” by Johanna Rothman. Johanna shares a step-by-step approach to planning a job search like a project. You can also listen to my interview with her here.

Execute

Now it’s time to get moving!

One of the best ways of finding work is through networking. So a good strategy is to meet and connect with a lot of people.

Local chapters of professional organizations are great places to meet those involved in your industry. I would recommend not only attending events, but also volunteering and participating as much as possible. By getting involved in organizations that mean something to you, you’ll start developing relationships that will turn into references and tips about positions. When you volunteer, people will see what it’s like to work with you. When you participate, you become known, liked and trusted.

Do not wait until you need a new job to start networking. Networking is necessary and absolutely indispensable in the life of a project management professional.

Monitor

Eventually you applied for a position with a company, as well as a few others.

At this stage, it’s important to follow up to ensure things are moving forward. Have they seen your resume? Do they have any questions?

Don’t neglect this important step. You might be the only candidate who follows up, which will immediately put you ahead. Communicate with anyone you know who works in one of the companies you’re considering, and let them know you’ve applied for a position. Hiring decisions are often talked about internally, and it’s important to have people aware that you’re an applicant.

Close

Let’s say you get the job. Hooray! Now it’s time to send your community a big thank you.

project management jobs
Remember when I said you should always be networking? This is especially important at this stage. You’ve spent weeks, if not months, letting the world know you were looking for work. People have tried to help. Some have answered calls from employers looking for references.

Let your contacts know that you found a position. Thank them. If you received multiple offers, treasure the relationships you built with these companies. Send them handwritten thank you notes, and continue to network with them at functions, conferences, etc.

Do what you can to make the people who helped you happy they did.

But no matter how complex and unique the path to finding your job might be, chances are you’ll be offered a position by a person who needs to know, like, and trust you.

So treat your job search like a project and don’t forget to do what it takes to be known, be liked and be trustworthy.

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6 Ways to Improve Client Relations: Ingredients for Success and Happiness

“Cesar, we are not happy. We need to talk.” That’s what I heard once from a client when I was left alone with him after a meeting. Sometimes your clients will come out and tell you that they’re not satisfied with how you’re managing an agency project. Sometimes they’ll hint at it. Sometimes you can see it in their body language. Sometimes you don’t know it until they’ve let you go.

Client relations

The fact is that there will be times when your client is not happy with your work. Here’s a look at what makes clients dissatisfied and six key ways to keep them happy.

Why isn’t your client happy? 

There are many reasons for client dissatisfaction. First, consider the obvious ones: scope, schedule and cost. Your project plan might be falling short on metrics. Yet, in my experience, I’ve learned that unless the project is really failing miserably, hitting milestones and staying on budget is usually not what determines the level of client satisfaction.

I’ve had clients that were very happy with me and the work I was doing, and yet, from a purely objective perspective, the project was not doing well. I’ve also had projects that were doing well but clients were not happy.

So what’s the answer?

Let me address this issue with six points. To make it easier to remember them, the first letter of each tip spells “CLIENT.”

1. Care

We’ve all heard the old adage: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” A client is a human being, with a thinking mind. According to Jonathan Creaghan, author of “Getting More Done,” the thinking mind has six core motivators:

  • Looking good
  • Sounding smart
  • Being right
  • Feeling secure
  • Feeling safe
  • Believing it’s all alone and separate in the world.

If you know that your client’s thinking is operating under these six motivators, you’ll have a better understanding of how to present issues, risks, problems and successes over the course of the project.

For example, if you know that your client is motivated by reward and recognition, this might be a cue to pay tribute to his or her contributions when celebrating successes.

2. Learn

A project is a never-ending learning opportunity—starting with knowing what motivates your client to familiarizing yourself with technical specs.

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But the more you can learn about your client and what they care about, the better off you and the project will be. When you learn more about the client, the team, the project, and the problem you’re trying to solve, you’ll start thinking with the mind of the client. And when you and the client share similar outlooks, suddenly you’re both on the same side. You’ll win together (and maybe even fail together), but either way, the client will always see you as a partner—as someone on his or her side.

3. Initiate

As a project manager, you’re also a project leader. Leaders, by definition, show and lead the way. Regardless of all the information out there about leadership, I find that if you simply take initiative, you’ll be well on your way to good leadership.

Because the client is usually the sponsor, we tend to look at them as the leaders. This is true to a certain extent, but remember why you were hired: To manage the project and lead.

So be bold, take initiative, and show the way. The client will learn that the project is a priority for you and that you care about where it’s going.

4. Engage

As we know, most of what a project manager does is communicate. I’ve interviewed many successful project managers for my podcast, which has confirmed the fact that being about to engage with your team has the most influence on the success of your project—and as a result, on the success of your relationship with your client.

I’ve also found that the best way to spark engagement is to ask questions and truly care about people. I have a personal database of my professional relationships where I keep track of key information about those I work with. I make a point of asking questions and getting to know people on a more personal level. Do they have kids? What are their passions, hobbies, interests? What are some important dates and names in their lives? I then set up reminders to ensure I stay engaged with those I work with.

5. Nurture

Your relationship with your client is like any other relationship. For it to thrive, you will need to nurture it. I have a personal rule that at least once a week I make a point of reaching out to my current clients. Sometimes there’s nothing to discuss, but I want them to know that I’m there and available.

Meeting outside the project environment for lunch or coffee is another way I found to nurture my relationships with my clients. It’s important for the client to see you as a person. The more these personal interactions occur, the more your client will understand your struggles in managing their project, and the more they’ll appreciate your hard work and competence.

Remember that the relationships that matter and thrive are the ones you take the time to nurture.

6. Thank

Gratitude is one of my favorite virtues to exercise.

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The client could have chosen a different project manager. But you were chosen.

Team members could have chosen a different project or a different company. But they chose to participate in your project.

Your project is creating something new and (hopefully) exciting! And you are at the head of it all.

Be thankful for being a part of your client’s project, even if it may seem mundane. When you learn to see the excitement in the work you do, your energy will trickle down to your team and rise up to your client.

Winning back your client’s happiness

The client I mentioned at the beginning of this article was not happy; and he was right not to be. At that time I was able to have the courage to own up to the fact that I had dropped the ball. We worked out a new game plan and to this day I’m still working with him.

In the heat of the project work, we tend to forget that clients are people too. Their thinking minds have intrinsic motivators and it really pays to invest time into being proactive and addressing these motivators.

What tip here has worked well for you and your client relations? Or, give one of your own well-tested tips, in Comments.

cesar

As the host of the popular Project Management for the Masses Podcast, Cesar Abeid reminds you that life is a project, and you are the manager. A certified Project Management Professional® with a degree in Electrical Engineering, Cesar has over 10 years’ experience managing projects in Canada, the United States, Brazil and Peru. Cesar also is writing his first book, Project Management for You, which can be ordered through a Kickstarter campaign starting late September 2014. His most important project, however, is raising his children Laura, Adam and Lucy—a job he gladly shares with his wife, Amy. Cesar and his family live in London, Ontario, Canada. Visit Project Management for You at http://projectmanagementforyou.com.

 
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