Sunday, October 28, 2007

October 29, 2007 – Dealing with a Newbie, Part 1

Starting at a new place can be very daunting. It represents a clean slate. Few, if any, people know who you are, what your past is or what your capabilities are. Whether you are looking to clean up your act or just re-establish yourself in a different environment, it can be intimidating.
As a manager adding new people to your project or organization you need to be aware of the newbies in your midst and how to make them part of the team. This week we’ll take a look at some general ideas on how to make them feel at home. Next week we can address nuisance newbies.

Make the introductions. Take them around the office and introduce the team. The two most important sets of people to meet are management and the keeper of supplies. The supplies person is obvious, but the management is vital. The worst way for someone to meet management is by making a rookie statement during a meeting.

Give them the overview. Talk them through the purpose of your department or the scope of the project. Paint the big picture and where they fit in. Build them up by telling them why they were selected for this specific position. They don’t need to know that the first two recruits turned the job down.

Hand over the documents. Give them the Charter for the organization, the Statement of Work for the project or any other defining documents that they need to understand the environment. As you brush the dust off to hand it to them, you may want to take another look at it yourself.

Tell them where the pot holes are. Back before California, in Ohio and New York, there were two driving hazard seasons: the Orange Traffic Cones of road construction (May to October) and the car swallowing Pot Hole months (November to April). Point out the hazards in your work place. If there are people or topics that need to be handled with caution, let the newbies know. Without your warnings they could blow a tire or land upside down in an open trench.

Get them what they need. During the first day at my new job, Carmen showed up at my desk with pens, paper, paperclips, tape, stapler and a bunch of other essentials. In most of my previous entries I had to find these myself. Sometimes I was lucky enough to get the name of the keeper of supplies, but rarely a full stock delivered.

Solve their problems. In one of my previous lives a newbie was having a problem. Her name was misspelled in the mail system and it was causing issues with her login and with people trying to contact her. When she asked the admin staff they pointed her somewhere else which led to someone else and back so many times that she was getting dizzy from the run around. I used her phone and made a couple of calls to put her in touch with the right person. In addition to solving her problem, I showed her that she was a priority part of the team.

Let them make mistakes. People learn by making mistakes. The ideas above set your newbies up for success, but if they aren’t allowed to make mistakes they won’t be able to achieve greatness. Establish an environment that encourages strong effort but recognizes that errors occur.

I have developed the Newbie Card system to break the ice and help overcome the fear of failure. Drop me an email or register at the Cutting’s Edge and I will send you a copy.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

October 22, 2007 – Relationship vs. Task Oriented Management

Within project management there are two main types of personalities: Relationship oriented and Task oriented. It is fairly easy to tell the two apart. Aside from having a detailed project schedule, the Task oriented manager has a separate list of things they need to accomplish today and they feel great when all of them are checked off. The Relationship oriented manager’s schedule is really a guideline and they are more likely to have a list of people to call today.

Relationship Oriented managers are great at building a cohesive team. When planning out projects they take in the big picture and appoint people or groups to handle the details. Consensus is a major tool in their arsenal. One of the first artifacts they put together is an org chart and inevitably there is a spreadsheet with contact information posted close at hand. It probably even has birth dates written in. They make their teams feel comfortable. Deadlines are important but don’t seem to get in the way of progress. A good day for a Relationship oriented manager includes resolving conflict and holding productive meetings.

Task Oriented managers are good at directing people and moving the project forward step by step. On any give day they can tell you the status of each subproject, confirm if the project is on schedule, brief you on the budget and give you a graph of the progress. They know their team’s strengths and weaknesses but might not be able to remember last names. A productive day for a Task oriented manager probably doesn’t include too many meetings but does involve completing multiple things.

If you find yourself on either extreme you aren’t alone. Frankly, both types of project managers can be quite effective. Rather than telling you to be more like your opposite, I would like to encourage you to play to your strengths. You aren’t going to be able to change your stripes, so don’t kill yourself trying. Instead, invest in Personality Offsets.

Much talk has been made about using "carbon offsets" to pay for your global warming sins. Faulty as that logic may be, you can use "personality offsets" to keep the project warming to a minimal. Find someone on your team that can balance your weak areas. If tracking the project is not your thing, get a coordinator to handle the schedule. If your focus is "getting-to-done," put someone in charge of handling the touchy/feely aspects of the team.

This is not a free license to ignore your counter character traits. Give your "offset" the responsibility to tell you when to switch gears and take the appropriate actions. For the Relationship oriented this includes focusing on budget and schedule issues; discussing certain topics in meetings; and making decisive decisions when necessary. Task oriented managers need to be reminded to "socialize" certain ideas instead of dictating them; to recognize the efforts of team members; and to spend more time interacting with the team.

Your personality has successfully gotten you to where you are. Don’t abandon it, balance it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

October 15, 2007 – How am I doing?

Today is the real test of how well I am doing at my new job. It is payday #2. If I don’t get a paycheck it might be a good indication that I am failing. Since they are unlikely to just drop me from the payroll, I guess I need to find a better way to check on my progress.

Which reminds me of a story I have heard a couple of times. A teenager knocks on his neighbor’s door and asks to use the phone. Curious, she lets him but listens in to the conversation. “Hello, sir, my name is Jeffrey and I was checking to see if you need a hardworking teenager to unload orders and stock shelves for you…. I see. Does he show up on time and work hard? Because I could…. So you don’t need anyone right now? ... Ok. Thank you for your time.”

When the teen hangs up the phone he smiles, thanks her and heads for the door with a spring in his step. By now her curiosity has gotten the best of her and she asks, “Why are you so happy? It sounded like you didn’t get the job.” To which he replied, “I knew he already had someone because I’m the one. I was just making sure I’m doing a good enough job.”

Unfortunately it isn’t as simple to make sure you are being successful at your job. Some employers have a 90 day review but if you wait that long it may be too late. Here are some things I have done to spot check my efforts for the first month.

Assessment and Recommendations. During the first week or two I gathered information on the current state of the PMO. Why was it started? What was already in place? How long had it been in existence? Where was the opposition? Who supports it? Where was it headed?

From this I developed an Assessment and Recommendations document. In it I laid out my understanding of the Critical Success Factors, Background, Current Assessment, Scope (in and out), Development Plan and Implementation Recommendations. This served two main purposes: (1) confirm my understanding of the PMO purpose and history and (2) outline my plans for moving it forward. By reviewing the document with management we quickly fixed any confusion and reset my direction.

Documentation checkpoints. Nothing is more frustrating than turning in a document or report you worked long and hard on only to find out it is exactly opposite of what was needed. To avoid this I started establishing checkpoints along the way to make sure expectations are met. The first spot check is an outline of the document. Use the outline to talk through what each section will cover and how they will all flow together. Follow this up with an updated version that includes a couple sentences for each section to confirm the discussion. Next take a section or two and create a rough copy of them. Verify the level of detail to ensure you have enough without drilling too deep. Finally, draft the entire piece for review. The results of that review will align you for completing the document.

Talk it through. When I spend a large part of my day thinking and typing I can get to the point where things stop making sense. Fortunately I sit next to someone who doesn’t mind me rolling my chair over and thinking out loud. We are able to bounce ideas back and forth until things start to click again. These kinds of conversations usually start with “Does this sound crazy to you?” or “Am I going nuts or…?” These thought checks are great to do with a peer before taking ideas to management. Not to self: Make sure you give credit for any great ideas where it is due.

These three ideas aren’t as bold as calling your boss and trying to steal your own job, but hopefully they will get you through that 90 day review with flying colors and keep that paycheck coming.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

October 8, 2007 – MS Project Resource Baseline Fix

Creating a baseline for your project is the starting point for tracking your progress. It is your line in the sand against which you measure your success. It may show that the first deliverable is over budget/schedule compared to the baseline but the next one is under. Evaluating the variances and trends allows you to make adjustments throughout the life of the project.

The baseline should remain unaltered throughout the project unless a Change Request is approved to modify it. The temptation is to re-baseline the entire project. Unfortunately doing so overwrites the baseline for all the tasks, eliminating any variances and wiping out your ability to see the trends. Instead, only those tasks associated with the Change Request should be re-baselined.

Microsoft Project historically does not deal well with saving partial baselines. Evidently the idea of a Project Manager only needing to re-baseline certain tasks isn’t logical to them. When I asked Microsoft Support if they intended to fix the problem they referred to it as a “User Perceived Bug” and said it was coded to the specifications.

The Problem:
When a project is baselined, Microsoft moves the values in the Work and Cost (for both Tasks and Resources) to the Baseline Work and Cost fields. Re-baselining the entire project moves the values for all levels (Tasks, Activities, Phases, Resources, etc.) over. Saving the baseline for only selected tasks doesn’t.

MS Project 2002 introduced the option to “roll up baselines” to the summary tasks from the subtasks when baselining selected tasks. That was a huge improvement. They stopped short of doing the same for the Resource totals.

Let’s say that Bill has a total of 100 hours scheduled for two tasks: Write Specification (40 hours) and Create Prototype (60 hours). A Change Request is approved to double the time and those two tasks are re-baselined at 80 and 120 each. In the Resource Usage view, Bill’s baseline totals would still read 100 instead of 200.

The Solution:
Historically I have had to drop the details to Excel, use Subtotals to do the summation and paste it back into the project plan. Not a lot of fun. A friend of mine, Jon Smith (yes, that is his actual name), recently sent me a macro for Project that essentially does the same thing for the Work field without leaving MS Project. I tweaked it to add up the Cost field, too.

If you would like a copy of the macro, drop me an email at