Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 21, 2010 – Communicating what Matters

Several of the brain dump entries from February center around “Communicating what Matters.” This shouldn’t be a surprise. Some have estimated that 80% of project management is communication. Others claim that 63% of all statistics are made up on the spur of the moment.

The mark of an excellent project manager is communicating the right amount to the right people in the right format at the right time: making it matter.

The Right Amount

We’ve all sat through long winded, slide enhanced meetings that completely fill the4-hour morning time slot and spill over into lunch. If you are like me, you grasped the concept, impact and expectations of the topic within the first 20 minutes, but have to endure the remaining torture. In truth, I probably delivered some of those presentations.

The purpose of any communication is to allow the audience to make informed decisions (#2 on February’s list). This is true whether you are sending an email or presenting at an executive meeting. Give them all the information they need; leave nothing important out. Summarize the content and focus on the pertinent information. You will want to have any supporting evidence or content available, but wait until they ask before inundating them with it.

Additional suggestions:

  • If asked to produce a report, verify the content and detail needed before starting.
  • At the start of a meeting, lay out your direction and ask if where you are headed is where they expected to end up.
  • Reread your emails from the perspective of the receiver. Is it organized logically? Is your main point summarized within the first two sentences? Are you being too wordy?

The Right People

Have you ever been to a meeting and thought, “Why in the world did they invite me to another one of these?”

Or what about speaking with someone for an hour only to have them say, “I’m not the person you need to talk with. You need to speak to Joe Smith in Accounting.” Why couldn’t they have informed me of that in the first 5 minutes?!?

One critical communication point is the “To:” list on your email. Check it twice before hitting send. Make sure you have only the intended audience copied. Avoid hitting “reply to all” unless you mean it or remove unnecessary names.

Make sure you have the right individual. In the Orange County chapter of PMI there is an individual named Tom Cumming. Because we are both active in the chapter, we are constantly receiving emails intended for the other individual. Making that mistake wouldn’t be too bad, but if one “Joe Smith” is the CEO and the other is the guy in accounting you wanted to contact, be careful.

Additional suggestions:

  • Mailing lists are essential. Setting one up for each project will save time when sending out communications. Then make sure to maintain it as people join and leave the team.
  • If you are not getting feedback on emails or people are not showing for your meetings, verify that they are receiving your communications.
  • When in doubt, ask. A simple phone call saying, “I’m trying to reach the individual in charge of…” can save a lot of explaining later.

The Right Format

This became strikingly clear to me on one particular project. I failed to deliver the project’s schedule and status in a format consumable by my client. The direction of the project was on track to meet our schedule. We were well within budget. The scope was being honed appropriately.

However, because it wasn’t delivered in the format that was expected, I missed the mark. Once it was sorted out, things progressed much smoother.

If you are new to the department or company, ask others to point you in the right direction. If there is a PMO, there is usually a template. Don’t reinvent what already exists.

Additional suggestions:

  • If there are several versions of a regular communication (ex. Status Report, Resource Request, Charter, etc.) in use, look to standardize it. Consistency will save time for you in creating it and for the recipient in reviewing it.
  • Templates need to be reviewed and revised regularly to make sure they are meeting the needs of the intended audience.
  • If there is a meeting, report, or template that is no longer needed get rid of it.

Presenting the right amount of information to the right people in the right format will at least you stand a chance of “Communicating What Matters.”

Friday, February 5, 2010

February 5, 2010 - PM Value Brain Dump

I am sitting here writing down all the words and phrases that come to my mind in relationship to real Project Management. Here is what I have so far.

Communicating what Matters
Informed Decisions
Change with Purpose
Monitoring Direction
Leading, not just Reporting
Analysis of Activity
Controlling the Outcome
Removing Random Factors
Risk Management
Involved Stakeholders
Enabling Management
Planning Success
Integrity in Action
Confronting Conflict
Lessons Learned
Tension Breaking
Instilling Confidence
Team Defender
Resource Motivator
Promoting Purpose
Follow Through
Critical Thinking
Improving... Self, Situation, Team, Understanding...
Challenging... Self, Situation, Team, Understanding...
Results Driven
Business Focused
Self Controlled

Pieces of this brain dump will be examined more in the next several blogs. We'll ask "What is the result of a project manager being ____?" We will also touch on ways to instill more of these in your thoughts, actions and reactions.

Until then, if you have additional ideas, pitch in by leaving a comment.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

January 24, 2010 – Driving me Crazy!

Having a GPS in the car drives me crazy. I do not operate well with directions that come one step at a time. It may be the Project Manager in me, but I want to see the big picture and know where I’m heading. Besides, at 65 miles an hour, I can’t judge “300 yards before taking the next left.” I’m not even sure if “Miss Voice” means her left or mine.

I realized this last week as I was traveling to a client site with our main sales person. She was driving and I was trying to navigate. We were attempting to go from Orange County, CA near Disney to the Pasadena area, home of the Rose Bowl Parade. The final destination was between the 60 and Interstate 10. I know how I would go and assumed the GPS would use the same route, straight up the 605.

Imagine my confusion when Miss Voice said, “In ½ mile, take exit to Interstate 5 North.” Before I could wrestle the screen to show the projected route, we had swerved onto the exit ramp to follow the directions. It was either that or face the dreaded “Recalculating…Recalculating” reprimand….or worse, the “Make a legal U-Turn” snide remark.

Through a comedy of errors, we managed to get back on track. We missed the 60, but found Interstate 10. Following Miss Voice’s advice, we passed the exit bearing the name of the street the client was on and took the next exit. I had a general sense of where we were heading by then and expected to head south and then east. Miss Voice, however, took us north and then west until we realized the ending address had changed.

I personally think Miss Voice was so disgusted with us that she was thinking, “Fine! If you don’t appreciate me, I’ll drive you to a back alley where you’ll get car jacked. They’ll strip this vehicle down and sell me to someone that can follow directions!”

Some project managers run their projects using a GPS. They punch a predefined address into their Charter and start driving. They fail to look far enough ahead to get into the right lane before missing the turn. Ultimately they allow the project direction to be altered without their knowledge, ending up somewhere else entirely. Even if they avoid a devastating collision, the sponsor usually ends up with car sickness.

Here are the top 10 ways to reach your destination without throwing your GPS out the window.

10. Lay out the full map. Understand where you are headed. You don’t need to know the turn by turn details, but you want to be able to sense when you are going in the wrong direction.

9. Verify your destination. Review the scope and requirements with your stakeholders and obtain their approval.

8. Keep an eye on the gas gauge. Budget, time and resources have to be planned and used appropriately.

7. Listen to Miss Voice. If you have laid out your plan and schedule accurately, follow them.

6. Track your progress. A GPS uses your current speed and position to calculate arrival time. Analyze your progress and spend rate to make sure you are on schedule and budget.

5. Look for landmarks. Set milestones in your schedule. Use them to validate your direction with stakeholders and gauge your timing.

4. Check the map frequently. Verify progress against the scope and requirements in order to stay on course.

3. Recalculate. As the project progresses, more information is available. It may be refined requirements, new technology, resource changes or other factors that impact the end product. Use formal change processes to re-evaluate and alter the direction and cost.

2. Check the traffic. Analyze the risks in your project. If it appears there is traffic ahead, take action to avoid it.

1. You have arrived at your destination. Recognize when you have completed the project’s scope. Don’t allow random course changes to be slammed in at the end of the project. These tend to be less structured, lack adequate testing and overrun the budget.

We arrived in one piece, but it is a good thing we left early.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 13, 2010 – An “OH [INSERT EXPLETIVE HERE]!” Moment

I bolted awake at 5:11 this morning…heart pounding, mind racing…to the sound of rain. Living in Southern California, it isn’t a sound I hear all that often, but it is one that strikes fear into my heart. Lest one think that I suffer from Ombrophobia, I actually enjoy a good rain storm. I miss the huge thunderstorms we had growing up south of Buffalo, NY. My true fear of rain rises from the list of my belongings sitting outside that are not intended to get wet.

Today it was the seat from our van, removed a month ago to make traveling easier for my daughter and her sprained ankle. Originally placed in the garage, it was sitting, exposed, on the patio where she had dragged it to sit in the sun.

It was indeed an “Oh [INSERT EXPLETIVE HERE]!” moment. Your mind, body and soul leave their peaceful ignorance and arrive, adrenaline pumping, heart stopping, in total awareness. I’ve had a few of those moments:
• Calculating the cost of sending my daughter to college next year
• Reading the scale the last time I weighed myself
• Opening the email telling me my team lied to me
• Checking the deadline on the project
• Realizing that my last blog was on April 6 of last year
• Getting called in to your manager’s office on the day they announce layoffs

I was reminded again that these moments are the result of choices we make every day. It usually isn’t the big decisions that trip us up. We tend to put a lot of thought into those. It is the little ones that nail us.

How many times did I walk by that seat and think, “That needs to be put back in the van” and did nothing about it? How many pieces of chocolate did I eat between Thanksgiving and New Years? Why didn’t I put either the dog or the garbage out before leaving the house?

Those haunting questions have driven me to take the Choice Challenge. By following these 5 steps, I predict you can drastically reduce your number of “those” moments.

1. Establish Priorities. Without priorities, nothing is important. You may think it is the opposite (i.e. everything becomes important), but life doesn’t work that way. Note to Tiger Woods: A moment (or moments) of excitement with a mistress is not at the same level as your family or your career.

2. Define Achievements. Set bench marks for yourself and head toward something. All great non-goal examples begin “perhaps this is the year I will…” or “wouldn’t it be amazing if….” Drop the “perhaps” and dreaming pieces and establish some real goals.

Having a happy, involved, and loving family would be a great achievement. Is it something you are going to leave to chance or are you willing to work at it?

3. Recognize Your Choices. When your phone rings, you have a choice: interrupt what I am doing or allow the caller to leave a message. Your reaction to a situation or individual is a choice: do I immediately yell and throw a fit or take time to plan my revenge… I mean response? Should I watch reruns on TV or work on my book?

Waiting until after you have eaten a candy bar to think about your diet doesn’t work. Believe me, I’ve been there.

4. Evaluate each Choice against your Priorities and Achievements. Many things are not bad, they just don’t get you where you need to go. Doing your timesheet is a good thing, unless you have a Director waiting for a report. Staying late at work to get ahead is great, unless it is your anniversary and your wife is waiting for you.

5. Make the right choice. Nine times out of ten you know what the right thing to do is. Have the courage and strength to pull the trigger on the right choice. You could avoid having another “Oh…” moment.

One of my achievements this year is to begin writing again… that and to get that chair dried off and back in the van.