Slow down and FOCUS!

Lately I have been multi-tasking like a champ. Unfortunately, that is only coming across as a positive in my mind. The reality is that so many aspects of my life are suffering because of my partial-attention they are being paid. I’m realizing today the value of true and singular focus. 

A big part of my PM / Leadership blogs has to do with listening. This is a perfect example of an area that has been suffering due to my multi-tasking. And to those who I am “listening” to while checking my smartphone, it is painfully obvious (and insulting). 

Just using the listening / smartphone example, please take this blog to heart even for half a day and try to “uni-task”. Not sure if I’m officially coining that term, but I’m trying this week to go the extra yard to eliminate potential attention temptations like email and focus on ONE THING at a TIME. Every productivity study out there will scientifically support the incremental value and overall efficiency that this will result in. You will see it yourself (and I hope I do too!)

You (and those in your life – both personally and professionally) are worth it. Give them 100% and it’ll pay off in many ways. Multi-tasking may have its places, but it can be as bad a habit and addictive as caffeine and cigarettes. Take a careful inventory of your current multi-tasking habits and see if you can’t take a half day or better this week to slow down and FOCUS. It’ll take practice, just like jogging, but you will get better and stronger and reap the rewards. 

When it’s time to NOT skip a step

During most projects we will have developed a plan often involving processes. Typically each of these processes can be broken down into a step by step method for achieving some outcome. Where things get complicated is when projects have many of these processes and steps taking place at the same time. Basics.

As we improve our skills, we begin to see steps in each of these processes which could be completed in a different, more efficient order. Occasionally, we will find ways to combine or eliminate steps entirely. This is where I would like to emphasize caution today.

These processes, no matter how well established, were likely born out of some depth of experiences. Before you twist a knob in the processes, you need to ask yourself just how many times have you observed this process in its entirety? If the answer is less than 5 – than now might not be a good time to skip a step. Along the lines of “listen first” I believe that it is highly important to sit back and the process play out before you criticize it. Highly probable that it has interim steps designed as safeguards against unintended consequences and that although you may see the conclusion on the horizon that these interim steps may insure your project’s success.

Please keep the “listen first” mentality in mind before you look to skip a step next time. That step is probably there for a reason and, despite your proclivity for innovation, you may want to sit back and let the process play out a time or two before cutting it up.

LifecycleCosts – The Value of Doing it Right the First Time

Scope Creep is a fun catchphrase for all young Project Managers to learn and learn to fear. Often PM’s can maintain their steely focus of meeting project schedule and budget that the idea of adding a dollar today to save ten tomorrow is out of the question. I’m not trying to discuss the importance of quality control today, although that is hugely important. I’m trying to highlight the opportunities that are often missed by inflexible PM’s who miss out on huge opportunities for their organization.

Of course, the counterpoint to this are the millions of projects who have been “gold-plated” or over-sold only to arrive over budget with a Cadillac which was never wanted nor needed. The PMBOK scripture regarding scope creep was borne out of many a failed project and should be ingrained as a firm line against change without approval. It is only through this approval or some combination of experience, wisdom and judgement that you will begin to see these scope-change opportunities rather than 100% evil.

Please just take this brief blog as a reminder to take every question or suggestion as an opportunity. Such scope change is not an invitation to circumvent your change processes, but it shouldn’t be stifled immediately as unfeasible or a detriment to your project.

Change is hard but it’s not always bad…that applies to your scope as well. If it hasn’t physically been constructed, it might not be to late to do it right the first time!

Keep Your Composure…calm always wins

How many of you have been exposed to the confrontational manager. Many come off as bullies, but many simply feel like they are “doing their job” by setting deadlines and putting team members on the spot for their achievements or lack thereof. So many managers are hard-driving personalities which, among the many pressures of their positions, often comes a bit of emotion. This is where you lose your team. 

I have to admit that I have had success with this hard-driving approach in the past myself and I have seen it implemented successfully many times. Leading to a false-positive sort of conclusion with regards to its effectiveness. Fortunately, I have also seen this style over several long-term trend instances as well as several counter-examples sufficient to prove its fallacy. Conclusion – calm always wins. 

That is not to say that emotion is unwarranted. I don’t believe that are achieving all that you are truly capable of if you are excluding or suppressing you emotions within your workplace. But there is a fine line between controlling those emotions and letting them control you. This is an area of Leadership and Management which truly can be taught and learned. Begin keeping this near the forefront of all of your interactions with your team members and co-workers. Exceptional project teams will be faced with many, many challenging, emotionally charged situations. Your ability to remain firm yet calm; concerned yet optimistic will win the day. 

Balancing a Strong Plan and an Open Mind

It is exciting and fun to blog about innovation and the value in always keeping an open mind in your projects. The smallest idea from the least likely of sources may lead to toward incremental value and innovation or truly substantial change. But somewhere along this path of continuous improvement, you need to find the lines in which to hold your project team. That is where your various management plans and PMP will come into play.

The time spent developing a collaborative PMP with your team will help them come to understand the constraints and goals of the project. Without having to reign in their creativity too often, their buy-in up front will pay dividends from that standpoint. It is also important to encourage them to use the PMP guidelines as a tool just like any other. Without stifling their problem solving capability, you have to keep things within reason. Your PMP will help to guide the team, but like all guides, they are meant to point you in the right direction only yet let the team decide where to take each subsequent step.

At the end of my decision making process, I will typically err on the side of an open mind. Whether your style as PM is to start with strong project controls and definitions and then relax them as needed or to firmly make every decision within the agreed-upon constraints of your PMP, your approach can work well. My style is to innovate along the way using every possible resource. Without a doubt, I have found at times that I would have been better served to have adhered more diligently to the original course. However, more often than not, I have found that a great team can handle change if they want to; that is, if they believe in the innovation or change, and you do to, then make it happen. Period.

Every PM is going to be caused to find the balance between their delivery constraints and goals and their desire to maximize value through innovation. This balance will be unique to every PM and perhaps on every project. There is no right answer, but it is a balance that every PM should be conscious of because managing this balance is a large, unspoken role of a great Project Manager. Good Luck!

Take a Dive once in a While

As a project manager, negotiations may be a daily occurrence for you in one form or another.

Are you negotiating with a stakeholder the terms in which an element of the project must be contained? Are you negotiating with a team member the manner in which their input will be incorporated? Are you negotiating with your senior management for the resources your team needs to succeed?

These negotiations may take many different forms and often play out in many different forums. In a number of ways, we are trained as PM’s to set ourselves and our teams up for success through strong strategic planning and tactical execution of our Plans. However, one often overlooked element of negotiation or overall project management is the need to give a little from time to time. You will find yourself in a situation soon enough where you have an opportunity to let your position relax in the face of another. We all know the hard-charging, never-take-no-for-an-answer PM. Overall; do their success rates trend higher than your own? What is your style?

Your ability to instantaneously assess the pros and cons of standing down on occasion may well be determined by your ability to evaluate and capitalize upon the value of the goodwill your concession will earn. Try to involve the consideration of what positions you might sacrifice on equally as deeply as your consideration of the items on which your position must prevail. Once you have this in mind, take a dive once in a while.

You may find that upon receipt of this goodwill that opposition for what you truly desire has vanished. And even when it hasn’t, the truly exceptional PM will be able to leverage that goodwill for far more than had it not been earned. So take a step back before you rush in and consider where your pawns lie in every conversation. Don’t trade them away for nothing, but don’t let your project go off track because of your inability to compromise!

Nanotechnology Innovation

I have had the very good fortune to be involved in some highly innovative projects, breaking paradigms and implementing technologies and concepts never before seen in the region. Exciting, attractive stuff that makes headlines. In the process of sharing the successes of these projects with others and highlighting the innovative decisions which were made and led in large part to our successes, I have found myself back in the weeds, considering the smallest choices which were made and led to the grand innovations. Searching for the next little idea to contribute to incremental change and ultimately a transformation.

That is where I wanted to focus your attention for today; not always reading blogs online regarding the most nationally exceptional, leading edge industry innovations, but rather, contemplating the most simple and most near, next decisions on your project…and how your team can find incremental innovations and value in that singular next step. The big picture isn’t for everyone. It can be daunting, annoyingly over-simplified, and excessively dramatic toward the negative or the positive. Such extremes often can lead project managers and organizations as a whole to steer clear of innovation base in large part on the extrapolation of the inherent possibility of failures that innovation includes. As an antidote to that anxiety and a suggestion on how to stimulate innovation at the smallest levels within your project team, ask them at your next meeting to propose three alternative approaches or solutions to their current task. The smaller the task the better and the less dramatic an alternative approach the better. Simply asking them to take that baby step toward the outer edge of the box will get everyone more comfortable in that region. The next step may just be to the outside of the box and that is how you begin to create a culture of innovation!

While the big, sexy projects are fun, they all started with nano-steps and some frustrated innovators looking for incremental improvement. Never lose sight of the true origins of your success and when you are looking for the next big thing, turn your hat around and look for the next little thing first!