The Value of a Plan

It doesn’t take a single week in project management until you are introduced to the all-powerful concept of the Project Management Plan. The opposite of a one line vision statement or strategy, your PMP may consist of double digit number of sub-plans, each with multiple pages themselves. Suddenly, this PMP may seem like a mini-thesis outlining how each of the members of your team should conduct themselves. The question in my mind can become, “don’t these folks already know how to deliver a project? Certainly they know better than if you tell them how to do it?”

The fact of the matter is that your team members hopefully do know how to deliver a project better than you do. That is why you chose them for your team, because they are smarter than you. So your role needs to be to solicit and incorporate their input into the PMP. Guiding them within the known constraints of the project and asking probing questions to help define the boundaries, metrics and goals. With your expert team’s full input and buy-off, you are more than half way toward success!

The problem is that this last step can be fairly involved with no rewards in sight. Many a great project has been delivered through on the fly consensus between a strong group of open minded individuals. Why put in so much effort into a PMP when it may not be needed?

This point is hard to appreciate until you see the value of a plan realized through execution. It is only well after the PMP is developed and endorsed by the Team that you often begin to see the tremendous benefits of the thoroughly understood and agreed-upon constraints, metrics and goals. Furthermore, it is easy to lose sight of these agreed-upon elements of the PMP during the interim time. Consistent reference to and emphasis of the PMP milestones will keep your team aligned and ultimately will show all of your team members the Value of a Plan.

Good Luck!


What Message Are You Sending?

I have spoken before about the spotlight that the Project Manager may often find themselves in, for better or worse. How your team members may look to you for direction in even the slightest and most obscure ways. Also, for better or worse, each of you PM’s have a boss as well. What messages are you sending them?

First let’s start with the positive. In project management, we often talk about stakeholders, sponsors, and senior management support. Are you conveying your appreciation for your senior managers’ support for your projects? Without belittling your teams’ or your own contributions to the project’s success, do you realize that all may have been for naught without the strong support of your top management? More importantly, does senior management know that you know this? It is a careful balance between “sucking up” and giving credit and respect where it is due. You will find that balance on an individual level and within your organization. The important point is that it is consistent.  Across all of your actions and statements, to your friends and to your enemies, it is important to send a consistent message at all times.

On the flip side, let’s consider the alternative. First, the subtle ways your actions can be misinterpreted. If, for instance some of your words or actions have placed a glimmer of doubt in the minds of your senior management. This glimmer will taint their viewpoint on many of your actual words and actions. Statements you make may be taken with a grain of salt or actions you take may be interpreted in a more negative way than you had intended. Simply because of the frame of mind that you allowed to be introduced. Second, the risk of an inconsistent message. Many of us may say one thing and mean the other, most commonly, we may verbalize the company line publically, but in semi-private conversations and in many of our not so private actions we are telling others that we are not aligned with the company on this topic.

Not only will your team pick up on this in a heartbeat, but so will management. You’re not fooling a soul so you are probably better off to be as transparent as possible.

Turning Humility on its Head

If you are doing a good job as a project manager, you are accepting responsibility for failure, taking constructive criticism to heart to lead to meaningful change, and celebrating your projects’ successes as a function of your team’s individual contributions. Humility in general, I believe is an important trait for a successful project manager. For every story of a selfless leader, there are ten of the arrogant, self-centered PM who is quick to blame and even quicker to take credit.

In this post, however, I want to take a moment to encourage all PM’s to look inward once again and this time with a more congratulatory approach. In our incessant efforts to improve, exceed expectations and succeed we can get a little light on our own perspectives related to achievement. This isn’t to say that we should rest on our laurels or become complacent in any respect. In fact for many, that desire or competitive spirit or simply passion is what must be stoked to reach our potential. However like refreshing a resume after a major project closeout or prior to an interview, it is just as important personally to take stock in our achievements as it is to applaud and praise our team members.

So take a break today, if even for a moment and reflect this week on your journey. All of the obstacles, milestones and successes you have experienced over the past weeks, months and years. Are you giving yourself enough credit? At least personally? Life will not be getting any easier, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. What’s just as important is that you take a step back once in a while and recognize that even though the treadmill keeps spinning faster and faster, that you are now sprinting and many of your colleagues are still thinking about breaking into a jog.


A Day in the Life…

Many of you started as interns or have worked your way up through the ranks to where you are professionally today. Still more of you have moved companies for a promotion, changed careers significantly or climbed the ladder with leaps and bounds. Good for you. Today I wanted to offer an opportunity to take a step back a little and spend some time in those long forgotten roles or positions never experienced.

As with many great suggestions within the PMBOK or other pieces of advice out there for the project manager, time often can be the great eroder of these opportunities. There is just never enough time to put the top priorities on hold for those which might add value but are truly unnecessary. For many of us who maybe didn’t climb every rank with our organization one by one, taking a step back is a tall order logistically. However, for every ounce of benefit per minute such an experience may offer you, I propose that it is actually undervalued by half without taking into account the value gained from those you hope to lead.

Having an opportunity, or rather making an opportunity to experience a day (or preferably more) in the life of one of your team members is worth every minute! You will learn more about how what the project constraints mean to these folks and how changes ripple through their purview. You will a more robust understanding of what it takes to reach these milestones which you arrogantly impose on your staff. Most importantly, if you truly embrace this opportunity, you will gain respect from your team members.

Not because you are trying to better yourself or because they feel like you have improved your understanding of what goes into making a better product, but selfishly (as we all are) they will feel like you now have a firsthand appreciation for how hard their days are. Ideally, you will gain a tremendous amount of understanding (and empathy) and your team will gain respect for you due to:

  1. Your willingness to TAKE the TIME
  2. Their perceived vindication

Just by taking the time, you show these team members that you feel what they do is important and hopefully, they feel like that your experience has proven to you that what they do is truly difficult and their resistance to change is justified.

The Accelerated Schedule – Know When to Say When

As I continue to blog about innovation and the creative ways to inspire your team to create more value (including time) I wanted to take a moment to consider where this point of diminishing returns is. Many of you may have examined graphs detailing the detriment of overtime on individual productivity both over short and long term timelines. This is some pretty well documented science, so as the innovative project managers that you are, you search for project solutions and finished products with that in mind. In the same fashion that you seek to complete the core function of a project within a fixed budget by cutting non-essential scope, you begin to expedite your projects by cutting deliverable milestones and interim checkpoints in search of that accelerated delivery to the finish line.

Like a Republican removing regulation to stimulate the economy, project managers should not bypass any internal milestones lightly. It is highly likely that many of these deliverables were born out of failure and have created a process which is not arbitrary nor capricious but rather fundamental and essential. While I will always continue to push that envelope with many of you, often I have found that even upon careful analysis of such internal milestones within a process, their importance to the finished product is not readily evident. Many have indirect relationships to subsequent milestones which can cause incomplete or inaccurate deliverables at a later stage.

My first piece of advice on this is to simply follow the existing process as closely as possible as frequently as possible. Pressures to deviate from the existing process in the interest of schedule should flatly be resisted in the interest of quality!

A more realistic solution may be to consult a targeted expert on the given internal milestone before you circumvent it. Others more specialized or experienced than you may be able to warn you of the unforeseen consequences of skipping a step. That may lead to a hybrid version of the milestone which will trigger the downstream items needed while taking less precious time.

This is truly the quality innovation we are all looking for. This is the Quadruple Bottom Line. Don’t cut corners. Figure out a BETTER WAY TO DO IT.

Failure Sucks. Work smarter not harder.

We often discuss the inevitability and true necessity of failure as a foundation to greatness and innovation. And as painful as this reality can be, it does seem fairly intuitive when you think about it. If the answer you are seeking was really so valuable, don’t you suppose that it would already be in use? So if we can agree that failure is in many ways, directly and indirectly a precursor to growth, let’s turn back to another point we can likely agree on, failure sucks! Putting all of your heart into an endeavor to come up inches or miles short is tough to swallow even once, much less hundreds of times before your breakthrough. So instead of beating your head against the wall one more time hoping for a different outcome, let’s consider the old adage of “work smarter, not harder”.

Nowadays a lot is made of professional athletes using the latest technology and cross training to advance their core competencies. Even going so far as to take performance enhancing drugs to better their efforts. What if we were able to gain the wisdom from failures without experiencing the sting? We’ll call this PM cross-training.

What are you doing today to get better? Are you in the trenches bleeding, sweating, and straining your way to the top? Good for you. With a little luck and a lot of blood sweat and tears, hopefully you’ll get there someday. Or are you in the trenches part-time and cross-training the rest of the time. Is it an MBA? Are you studying for your PMP? Or are you simply reading (or watching this blog)?

If all you are doing today to get better is working hard, you are probably going about it the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong though, there is no magic “failure pill” out there for you to take. You are going to have to earn your stripes, but save yourself some lumps and get online. Get back in the classroom. Learn from your peers and mentors and watch your rate of improvement increase.

What to do when you’re Flat Out WRONG

“I was wrong.” Sound familiar?

A truly ubiquitous notion and an effortlessly simple concept. Now add a dash (no, a ton) of competition and about 7 zeros to the bottom line. Now how does your response sound? The same?

Unfortunately, probably not. Let’s take a moment then to go back to the fundamentals. Perhaps some of us learned this as early as kindergarten. Others, well, you’ll get there. So any way, you’re flat out wrong…what do you do?

  1. Blame someone else
  2. Question the determination of ‘wrong’
  3. Cover it up
  4. Accept and downplay
  5. Admit and work to improve

Above is my bulletpoint gambit of possible reactions for you to choose from then next time you are flat out wrong. On the off chance that you have been flat out wrong before, perhaps recently, can you remember which reaction you chose to display? Are you even qualifying your response in your own mind right now with some extraneous circumstances?

Seriously! People talk about innovation like it is the Kool-Aid of the decade, but acceptance of our own daily and or epic failures just gets glossed over like it really did stick with us since Kindergarten. Thousands of high profile corporate examples show us that this is not the case. Admitting when you are wrong and promptly working to improve yourself is really damn hard. And innovation (specifically the cycle of failure required for innovation) doesn’t work without it!

So before you get back on your soapbox to discuss failure or innovation or both with your teams, please take a moment to consider the career altering consequences these stakes can place you in and the sleepless nights that may precede an individuals’ decision. Start by validating this anxiety. To trivialize the stakes or your team members’ desire to succeed is to basically lie. They want to do a great job and to them, this is a big deal, so yeah, admitting when you are wrong is really damn hard. Next set the stage to alleviate this anxiety by example. When you choose option number 5 in front of your team, you are sending a strong message regarding what is acceptable and what is expected.

As always, lead by example and then watch as your team becomes more accountable, less risk-averse, fails just as often, yet creates more value.