February 27, 2012

Know Your Team

Posted in Project Management tagged , , , , , , at 8:21 AM by Solutions2Projects, LLC

To get bored in IT project management is to give up.  No project is ever the same regardless of the technology being implemented.  Every project requires some form of a project team which means people are involved.  Even if you work with the same team over and over, there are always new inputs, influences and dynamics that make it a new situation requiring you to adapt as a project manager.

 This is perhaps the most challenging and rewarding part of project management that applies regardless of the industry and technology.  People’s lives are dynamic which means they are puzzles to be decoded on a regular basis throughout a project.  Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, someone has a baby, gets a new boss, is heartbroken, or finds a fabulous new hobby.  All of these things change the person’s priorities which means their interest and devotion to the project shifts and as project managers, we must respond accordingly to ensure that the project is successful. 

 It is important for me to get to know my project team members as people and not just as the resources on the project.  I like to get to know them as individuals and understand what is going on with them personally and professionally.  This provides me with a personal connection and a communication path to getting information regarding changes early in the process so as to better react in the event the changes impact the project.  This sounds manipulative but it’s not.  I am genuinely interested in the people on my projects.   This is evident in that I keep in touch with most project team members long after projects have ended regardless of how tough the project was. 

 And this is the challenge…as project managers we must be genuine in our interest in the resources on our project.  People can sense when you are only in it for the project or your own personal success.  The good news is that the investment in the time to get to know the resources on the project and understand their motivations and obstacles, is invaluable for all parties involved.  The team members feel heard and valued.  The project manager gathers information to effectively manage the team.  The project can move along towards success.    And that’s what it’s all about in the end.

January 25, 2012

Staying Connected

Posted in Project Management tagged , , , , at 7:41 AM by Solutions2Projects, LLC

During a project it is very easy for me to focus on the tasks and forget about focusing on the people (other than to make sure they know what tasks they are to be working on).  I assume that everyone is working toward the same endpoint and that completing tasks is the most important thing.  I have to remind myself that part of my job is to stay connected with the people and make sure they are feeling the love.  It is easier to stay connected than to have to reconnect after a period of neglect. 

 This means getting up, walking around, getting on the phone, and giving team members and stakeholders personal attention.  In a formal team setting, they don’t always want to openly discuss issues related or unrelated to the project that could indirectly or directly impact the project.  Taking the time to give them an opportunity to feel heard is vital to the success of the project. 

 Sometimes the information or feedback is difficult to hear (which may be why I sometimes avoid it) but to be effective, I need to set aside my personal insecurities and do what’s right for the team members, stakeholders, project, and client.  I often learn things that may not be pertinent at the time but can be useful later or when pieced together with other pieces of information, begin to form the answer to a problem we might be encountering or better yet, provide us with an opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise be made obvious to me. 

 This is helpful personally as well.  While at a coffee shop this morning, I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.  She’s on a board with my husband and mentioned a meeting tonight that I wasn’t aware of.  This prompted me to text my husband to confirm that I need to be in home with the kids.  The bonus here was that I got to reconnect with a friend and, as an extrovert, replenish some energy that’s been lacking a bit lately.  She also shared with me some information about some mutual friends and community projects that I am storing for future reference (all of it good).  I had to look away from my computer long enough to have the chat but it was worth it. 

 As a goal oriented person it is so very easy to focus on ticking things off the to-do list leaving others to their own devices.  This also leaves others to their own agendas which may not match up with the goals and objectives for the project.  Making the communication a to-do list item (a high priority one at that) is critical for project managers.  The people are the keys to the success of the project regardless of the number of tasks completed and staying connected keeps the people connected to project.

January 24, 2012

The Perfect Project Plan

Posted in Project Management tagged , , , at 7:33 AM by Solutions2Projects, LLC

The perfect project plan is perfectly accurate for a nanosecond before it is no longer accurate.  The hours of discussions and effort to create tasks and dependencies, assign resources, add durations, and determine the overall timeline are not completely wasted.  The effort of bringing everyone together to understand the overall objectives and subsequent details is priceless.  The perfect project plan provides a framework for the overall project. It takes into account past experience, expectations, and reality and combined together is a guidance document for the overall project. 

 Resources and availability change.  New information is obtained.  External and internal pressures adjust priorities.  These are all elements that contribute to the immediate obsolescence of a project plan.  As effective project managers, it is our job to take this data into account to reassess and rework the plan and the plan details.  This does not mean modifying the MS Project Plan (my tool of choice) every time there is a new piece of information.  It means communicating revised priorities and tasks and expectations to project team members and stakeholders.  Experienced project managers are constantly adjusting the pieces in the project picture to achieve the overall objectives and communicating to keep the project team members moving toward the finish line.

 I use a status report to communicate tasks on a weekly basis.  It includes the barriers or red flags, work for the week with assigned resources, completed tasks, resource availability, and a high level weekly calendar.  During the status meetings we walk through each section to confirm team members are aware of what tasks should be worked on that week.  We also discuss the completed items, albeit briefly, to give a sense of accomplishment.  I like to go over the weekly calendar to reinforce what is coming up to reduce the number of surprises.  We never look at the project plan as I believe that it is a project manager’s tool.  It is available to team members but generally, no one else actually wants to look at it. 

 The perfect project plan is a project manager’s tool designed with the intention that it will be modified throughout the project.  Resources, durations, end dates, and dependencies can be adjusted to give the project manager a revised sense of what is important on a weekly basis.  In other words, the perfect project plan is flexibly designed to be modified and perfected throughout the life of the project.