Project managers spend most of their time communicating. In fact, up to 90% of a project manager’s time is spent on communications. When we hear this statistic, we often tend to think of Project Managers communicating outside the organization. In other words — to external stakeholders. A good part of this communication should be taking place within the organization as well. The internal communication is just as important, if not more so, than what goes out externally.
I recently downloaded Dave Ramsey’s new book “EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches.” In the book, Mr. Ramsey provides GREAT practical knowledge and insight on starting a business and being in business in general. Many of these same business understandings can, and should, be used in any project management endeavor. What really struck me was his insight on internal communications.
Effective internal communication keeps the team moving in the same direction. Mr. Ramsey asserts most business are horrible at internal communications. I would argue that many Project Management Offices have the same trait. Large Project Management Offices and dispersed teams do not make communicating internally any easier. Mr. Ramsey points out ineffective communications makes the right hand not know what the left hand is up to. When the team is not on the same page they are nothing more than individuals working in the same office without a common purpose. Many organizations fail because:
- Communication is not a priority
- Leadership is fearful so they intentionally un-communicate.
Modifying Dave Ramsey’s formula slightly:
Great Communication = Great Organizations
How do we get there?
-Communicating internally needs to be a priority.
-Dedicate time to get everyone on the same page.
-Trust your people, don’t keep information secret. If the team does not have information, they will make it up which will get everyone disjointed.
-Be forthcoming with the bad news. It tends to get out anyway and if it does not come from leadership, will cause distrust among the team.
Taking some time and performing an internal communications audit can have a lasting affect.
One of our readers, Ron, sent us a guest article recently reminding us that Project Managers and leaders affect us all when they do not stick to their schedule, or change meeting times at the last minute. Thanks Ron! You will receive a free coffee cup for the article – we really appreciate it!
In my experience one of the hallmarks of a good leader is their ability to manage their schedule. Whether that is through their extraordinary effort or that of a seasoned assistant does not matter. How others judge our leadership ability will always be the sum of our personal leadership ability and the skill of those we surround ourselves with.
Two years ago I read a great article written by Mark Suster on Both Sides of the Table detailing the right way to cancel a meeting. Many of the points Mr. Suster makes about the importance of maintaining your obligations to business colleagues concerning scheduled meetings apply well to your relationship to your subordinates in regards to scheduled meetings.
Nothing tells your subordinates that they are unimportant more than constantly rescheduling staff meetings. Infrequent cancellations and delays are part of doing business, but when they become the rule rather than the exception, then the perception that your staff is unimportant becomes reality.
Your staff works their schedule around the meetings that you schedule with them. They might schedule where they are physically or if they will even be in the office that day. If you are scheduling a staff function or meeting on their regular day off and expect them to be there, then you had better start on time and never cancel.
With a little manipulation of Mr. Suster’s rules for canceling a meeting, here are my rules for sticking to your office schedule:
1. If you need to reschedule do it a few days in advance – Whether you do your own scheduling or whether you have an assistant, a polite email to reschedule the meeting accompanied with an actual explanation for the delay is usually prudent. Knowing your audience/staff and whether they are traveling or shifting days off to attend is critical. Write this information into the calendar entry so that you or your assistant know it and can question whether it is best to reschedule.
2. If you have to make a change the day before or day of the meeting it should be for a very compelling reason – It happens and we accept it, but the amount of time wasted by this type of rescheduling can become crippling. Wasted resources are an issue but may be subordinate to the loss of interest by your staff. When you frequently reschedule in this manner you undermine the importance of the meeting itself and eventually the staff will regard any meeting you schedule as unimportant unless it is a personal meeting.
3. Within an hour of the meeting or rescheduling for a third or fourth time – The sky better by falling. Just don’t do it.
If you cannot manage your time throughout the day and keep your schedule on pace then you should consider hiring an assistant to help. If you have an assistant and you are still unable to execute the basic leadership skills of time management, you have two options; hire a new assistant or look for a different line of work.
If you have thoughts on how to improve the working enviornment for the “Monkeys in the Middle”, send us an article at email@example.com. Then you too will receive a shiny new Save the Monkey in the Middle coffee mug!
John Estrella’s “Lessons learned in Project Management” Is a straightforward and simple book. Don’t let the term simple fool you. It’s clear cut approach provides sound program management advice from many successful project managers covering “140 topics in 140 words or less.” Ingeniously, Mr. Estrella solicited comments using Twitter. Due to the limited character count via Twitter, each topic gets to the point immediately.
Some of my favorite tips:
- Tip 1. Focus on the terrible triplets: risks, plans and business case. No matter what the project, how often do we get thrown off course on these?
- Tip 11. Two ears and one mouth; use them in proportion. How many of you work with people who could benefit from this advice?
- Tip 52. Do not be afraid to speak up. It’s easy to keep your mouth shut and get on the road to Abilene. What’s hard is to speak up and sell your idea.
Weather you are learning or just knocking the cobwebs out, this book is full of knowledge. Bottom line… A great short read well worth the time and money.
Lessons Learned in Project Management (2010) Estrella, John A. Agilitek Corp; Markham, Ontario, Canada. 100 pages.
Project schedules can be can vary from extremely detailed to extremely high level. Depending on the purpose, both can be useful. What type of project schedule is best for management to give them a sense on how a project is progressing? That is the million dollar question. There are so many hours in a day. If leadership spends too much time analyzing a detailed project schedule, they may miss the big picture. Also, the time spent in the weeds analyzing details could be better spent doing more productive management tasks. A project schedule at a too high of a level could miss mark on the message you are trying to send. Some things to think about when presenting a project schedule to management:
- Keep it simple (K.I.S.S) and easy to understand
- Make it visual vice just words and dates. A Gantt chart will present a good visual representation.
Here at Save the Monkey in the Middle we are HUGE fans of Clark A. Campbell’s “One Page Project Manager“. One Page Project Manger is a fantastic tool to brief management on project status. Using this technique, one page can provide:
-Project status listing tasks accomplished and upcoming tasks.
-Party responsible for each task.
Get any of the “One Page Project Manager” books to get more information. They are easy reads and they may change the way you communicate your project status with management.
What makes a good project manager? Is it the Master’s degree in Project Management? How about obtaining the Project Manager Professional (PMP) certification? All this formal education and theory definitely help especially when projects are valued at millions of dollars and all the neat little tricks are needed. But I’ll argue great project managers can be cut from many cloths and are often overlooked. As an example, how about the local guy who owns you favorite pizza joint? Not only does he cook the best pizza in town, he also has to ensure all the supplies are available to make your order. Another good example may be a wedding planner. Wedding planners track a lot of critically important issues which all come together at once making for a wonderful experience.
Recently, I experienced a life-changing event. About 4 months ago, my first child was born; a baby girl. If you were to perform an analysis of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) of my wife and I rising out daughter, you would find my wife accomplishes 95% of the tasks, the other 5% are accomplished by me. I often tell my friends the 5% I am responsible for is difficult. I stand in amazement of how my wife manages most of our daughter’s upbringing. Before bed there is a bath, bottles and formula for the nightly wake-ups are in her room, cloths are laid out for the next morning, laundry is done throughout the day, daughter is fed lunch, dinner is made for the family… Cost Variance (CV) and Schedule Variance (SV) are also always under analysis… and these are just a few things. So, in essence the title “project manager” is not fitting. At the very least, she is a “multi-project manager” but if you wanted to keep it simple “program manager”.
I have a new appreciation for moms. Throughout our journey to parenthood we have met many great moms (project managers) who have taught us so many things. To LW and TLM… thank you for being an example for us. My advice to readers, take a look around and find a good mom you can learn from. You may be surprised what at the knowledge you will acquire.
How do you eat an elephant? The most common answer is: One bite at a time. A concept tree will help you break the “elephant” of a project you have been given into smaller pieces that are much easier to digest. A concept tree simply shows the relationship between things or ideas and will help you visually break down a large task at hand into a more manageable form. Concept trees can be used in a variety of ways. Students might use them to study for major tests, scientists might use them in their research, a Lean Six Sigma guru might use them in the brainstorming process, and Project Managers can use this tool to clarify the required tasks. I think it would be useful in developing the initial Work Breakdown Structure for a program or project.
A Project Manager is often assigned a project with little or no direction on how the project is to be completed. They are given a list of requirements, perhaps some limitations such as funding, schedule, or environmental constraints. Beyond these boundaries, it is up to the Project Manager to successfully accomplish the project. The concept tree will not only break the project down, but it will also help the PM see various ways to accomplish a task and will allow a given idea to be extrapolated out to allow for realization of what taking that path will really mean for the project.
In the image above, I have made a very simple concept tree for building a garden. The concepts that have been fully explored are colored in green. The rest are incomplete in the name of space. You can easily get the idea though. Perhaps at the beginning of a project, the team would go into a conference room and do this exercise on a large white board. Imagine for a large communication system, you would have bubbles for logistics, software, hardware, documentation, testing, regulations, system engineering, training, etc. Each one of those bubbles when extrapolated out could lead to very detailed concept trees of their own. Eventually, the trees will get to a level the program manager will be comfortable with, and resources can be assigned to the smaller tasks that will roll up much like a WBS. The WBS can be created from this chart which will begin to provide a more detailed funding estimate and schedule for the project, as well as the resources you will need to get going.
Here at “Save the Monkey in the Middle”, we are big believers in visual exercises when taking care of business. A WBS is a very linear product, but many people think more visually than a WBS allows. Give this a try as you begin your next large task and let us know how it goes!
Your company hired your boss because he was THE subject matter expert to get your department out of this rut. Company leadership paid him big bucks because he was the ONLY person with the right knowledge and experience. Whose smarter, your new boss or all the people working for him?
When measuring past performance, average is far from spectacular. However when harnessing the same power of average collective wisdom for decision-making, results can be remarkable. In “the wisdom of crowds” James Surowiecki argues that in the right conditions the crowds always come up with the best results. For crowds to be successful decision makers, the following circumstances must exists:
- Diversity of Opinion
- Aggregation (finding a means to collect the groups data)
Interestingly enough, the larger the crowd (sample size), the more accurate the group seems to be.
“The wisdom of crowds” is a statistical book without the math. James Surowiecki presents his hypothesis, that groups can do better than individuals, in a very well organized and easy to read manner. I would recommend this book to anyone who has the slightest inkling on analyzing how crowds work.
The Wisdom of Crowds (2005) Surowiecki, James. Anchor Books: New York. 306 Pages
Hello fellow Monkeys in the Middle! We have a treat for you today. One of our regular readers, working in the trenches, sent an article for us to share! If you would like to submit some of your relevant thoughts, we will give you a free coffee cup (if we publish it on our blog).
Day after day, I sit at my desk working in my rice bowl and random office conversations filter into my consciousness. Regularly I find myself thinking, “Is there no tact left in the world?” Those who know me may get a good belly laugh at this statement coming from me! I have been known to be the proverbial “bull in the china shop”; therefore, I will show some humility and keep my comments to three succinct points.
First, let us not forget the importance of internal customers. These are the people with whom you work each day. If it is your job to manage the calendar, then that person having a calendar question is, in fact, your customer. CS stands for customer service not customer sarcasm. Workplace attitude starts with the individual attitudes of those perceived “leaders” in the workplace. Project leads are often more influential is setting this standard than the one person in charge. Think about it…
Secondly, please remember some sort of social grace! Although most of the business world has relaxed considerably, particularly in states such as California where shorts and flip flops may be the office norm, there is still a standard of conduct that does not include fart jokes, f-bombs, and outfits better suited for the nightclub (or worse yet, the laundry mat!) It is not being fake to have a professional persona…it is being a professional.
Last, but definitely not least, please do not confuse being polite with never saying “no” or not standing your ground. This is not what I’m suggesting. I am suggesting…pleading, in fact, for the incorporation of some tact in your normal day to day activities. Saying no and being hateful are not actually joined at the hip. Nothing hurts morale faster and deeper than humiliation. Whoever said ‘nice guys finish last’ must be confusing nice with weak, which also are not joined at the hip.
Photo attributed to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/herval/376377791/
This weekend a large majority of the southwestern United States experienced substantial power outage. To make things worse, when I pulled into my driveway in the East County of San Diego, just as the outage started, the temperature was 104 degrees. Nobody knew when the power would come back on, but most people were powerless for at least 12 hours. I wanted to take a look back and see how I planned for this event and maybe how I could have looked at things differently.
Power outages in California have taken place. In the rare events, they have occurred, they last 20-30 minutes. Using a common Risk Management formula, Probability X Impact, the standard power outage would be a “low probability” and “low impact” event. So, not much planning is necessary. But what about what took place this week where most people were out of power for at least several hours? That would look more like “low probability” and “high impact.” What can you do to plan for these types of events?
The standard Probability X Impact risk formula is a good start. Using that formula, a Risk Matrix looks something like the table below:
The Risk Matrix is a good visual tool to quantify risks. So in the recent “low probability” and “high impact” event, risk is quantified as a .5. Some of the issues I faced were:
-No lights in the evening
-No way to get the latest news
-No way to cook food
-Minimal gas in the car
How could I have mitigated these circumstances?
-Have candles on hand
-Have “D” batteries on hand for my radio
-Keep a spare gas canister for my grill
-NEVER let the car go under half-tank of gas
Notice, each one of these are low cost. What if I changed the risk-management formula to account for “Cost of Mitigation?”:
Probability X Impact X Cost of Mitigation
“Cost of Mitigation” would be a number between .1-1 the lower being minimal cost. Here is what this formula would look like using my example:
.1 X 5 X .1 = .05
Accounting for the cost of mitigation gives you an indication of where the risk would fall if you mitigated (put $$$ to) all the possible outcomes of a risk event. You may find by spending little to no money, risks can be successfully “bought down.”
Here is a light hearted Project Management skit we cooked up here at Save the Monkey in the Middle for your enjoyment! Hope everyone is enjoying their Labor Day Weekend!