Use These Six Steps to Resolve Project Conflict

A manager once told me that they could be a better manager if they had better people to manage.

Of course, good people managers can work with all kinds of people, and don’t shy away from the challenge of working through difficulty. This is especially true when there is conflict on a project. You need to face the conflict and not ignore it. Ignoring it only makes the problem worse. The earlier you face it, the easier it will be to resolve.

Conflict can occur with your managers, your peers or your staff. Here are some examples of conflict you might experience on projects.

  • Your boss is frustrated with progress and takes it out on you openly, in front of others in your team.
  • Your colleague wants something from you that you can’t provide, or can’t do for them within the timeframe required so they get angry.
  • Your staff think you’re being unrealistic about timeframes, so they handle it badly by raising their voice and being obstructive.

When conflict occurs, take these steps:

  1. Take a time out. If you or the other person is getting heated, tell them you need to take five minutes to collect your thoughts. Even though you asked for the five minutes, it is really for the other party to cool off as well. Make a coffee or go for a walk. It might be surprising how a short walk (or a long one) can help you relax. This will help you both to calm down and reflect on what has happened.
  2. Defuse the situation. When you restart your conversation, start with a disarming comment such as “Sorry. I have been under pressure.” or “Let’s start over again.”. This will make the atmosphere more positive.
  3. Identify the cause of the conflict. Many times when emotion is high you may lose site of the actual cause of the conflict. State your perception of the cause and see if the other party agrees.
  4. Solve the problem. The nature of “confrontation” is that you need to “confront” the problem and solve it. Both parties need to work together to resolve it constructively. Discuss the various solutions to the problem and try to agree on the pros and cons of each before deciding on the best course of action.
  5. Observe body language. While all this is happening, you need to focus on your body language. Use open stances. Take your hands out of your pockets and never fold your arms. Try and use slow hand movements. Use a passive voice. Maintain good eye contact. Listen carefully and watch their body language as well.
  6. Agree on a course of action – and follow-through. This helps to ensure the conflict is resolved and also builds trust that will help defuse similar situations in the future.

You can utilize this process to turn a conflict into a team-building and learning opportunity.

Need training on project soft skills – leadership, negotiating, communication, change management? Contact us today to discuss bringing a training class to your organization.

Five Ways to Describe a PM

Here are a number of ways to describe a project manager using some unconventional terms (Not in the PMBOK® Guide.)

  1. Plain Talker (communicate clearly)
    It’s critical that a Project Manager manage expectations by communicating items that are factual, timely, and relevant. You are responsible for removing any ambiguity or confusion around a project through plain talk and crystal clear communication. A successful Project Manager also employs a variety of communication methods ranging from face-to-face meetings to chat to group presentations.
  2. Risk Averter (manage risk)
    Identifying, analyzing and managing risk is a key responsibility of Project Managers. You can have the best plan in the world, but there are many potential problems that will get in your way. You need to ensure your project remains viable regardless of these potential problems. This can be accomplished by monitoring and managing risks throughout the project.
  3. Obstacle Remover (manage issues)
    There are often real and current obstacles that will slow down your project. You cannot always prevent or foresee problems. However, once they occur you need to address and resolve them quickly.
  4. Morale Builder (manage staff)
    The project environment can be hard on team members. Things may not be going as planned and your team may be buckling. It’s your responsibility to keep morale high that they can get through tough times. This can be simple things like talking to people, telling them they are doing a good job and looking out for their interests. Use levity and humor where appropriate.
  5. Bottom Line-er (manage schedule and budget performance)
    It is your responsibility to keep your projects within budget and schedule. Projects consume resources and resources cost money. You need to be a financial steward of these valuable resources and manage them carefully. Always manage a project with an eye on your budget and deadline. When you start to drift, do everything you can to get back to baseline.

What do you get when you focus on the meat and potatoes of these five main responsibilities of a Project Manager? You become a plain talking, risk averting, obstacle removing, morale building, bottom line-er Project Manager! Who wouldn’t want to have someone like that heading up their next project?

Manage Virtual Teams

Manage Communication
Eight Steps to Manage Virtual Teams


There are some special techniques that can be used to manage these virtual teams.

  • Establish team objectives. The team members need to know and understand what it is that they are doing together. If people only understand their own role and their own work, they will always just be individual contributors.
  • Remind everyone they are a team.  If the team members think they are all working independently, they will act independent.  If they know they are part of a team working on common objectives and deliverables, they will tend to feel better about their work and be more active in their collaboration with other team members. 
  • Obtain the right technology. The technology is there to support virtual teams – there is really no reason to be without it. This includes fast access to the Internet, audio conferencing, videocams, collaborative software, shared directories, etc.   
  • Look for opportunities to “socialize.” Team members located together have opportunities to socialize throughout the day. Virtual teams don’t usually have this same opportunity to interact with each other, so it is more important for the project manager to look for ways they can bond.  This might include getting everyone together one time in a face-to-face setting – perhaps a Project Kickoff meeting. 
  • Be sensitive to cultural difference. It is possible that your virtual team all thinks and acts the same way. However, more and more virtual teams consist of people from multiple countries and multiple cultures. If you are the project manager on this type of team, make sure you have some appreciation for the differences in how people work and how they behave.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.  The project manager needs to be extra proactive in his communication to make sure everyone understands what is expected. People can start to feel isolated if they do not receive regular communication. It is hard enough to keep everyone informed on a “regular” project.  The communication lines on a virtual team must be opened up especially wide. The project manager can provide this steady stream of communication.
  • Adjust and compromise on time differences. The project manager needs to recognize that what is convenient for the project manager is not always convenient to the team members. For instance, if you are a manager in a global company it may not be practical to start all project meetings at 9:00 am. That may be convenient to the manager but it can result in resentment from people in other global locations that need to stay very late for these meetings.  
  • Give people shorter assignments. This is not the time to give people long assignments and hope that they are completed by the deadline.  Instead of assigning a six-week activity, for instance, the project manager should assign the work in three two-week activities. In the former case, you would not know for sure if the work was done for six weeks. In the later case, you can tell every two weeks if the work is on track.

These techniques will help your virtual teams be as successful as your co-located teams. 

Use These Five Tips to Manage Your “To Do” List

There are many tips and techniques to help you with personal time management. However, the one that seems to be universally recommended is the to-do list. It is hard to take control of your day if you don’t have a plan for what you want to do. These to-do lists can be completed daily, weekly, monthly or longer.

For now, let’s focus on the daily to-do list. Here are five tips to help you manage this list.

1. Consolidate on only one list

If you have lists on your desk, in your car, or on post-it notes, merge them all into one list. Then group the items in your list and put them in a logical order. As soon as you’ve done this, you’ll immediately feel like a weight has been taken off your shoulders, because one list seems easier to manage than multiple.

2. Be aware of the target dates

Just because an item is on your daily to-do list, it does not mean the work can be done in one day. It is okay to partially complete an item and then check it off for that day. For example, it might be that an activity is worked on over five days and completed at the end of the week.

You may identify a to-do action that does not need to be started today. Great, you can add it to your to-do list a few days from now. It is okay to have to-do lists for the coming days as well.

3. Set priorities

You don’t want to complete 19 out of 20 to-dos, when the 20th is the one that is really most important. Be sure to identify the most important work for the day. You can do this by listing the to-dos in priority order, or perhaps placing numbers on the high priority work. For me, I simply place an “*” next to the to-dos that are the most important.

4. Be aware of dependencies

Sometimes you get fired up to start a to-do action and then you realize something else needed to be completed first. The work on your to-do list should not be so complicated. Be sure to think about the work and recognize any to-dos that need to be done first.

5. Manage your list

As you complete your work each day, check off the work as it is completed. This gives you the sense of accomplishment. If you do not finish all of the to-dos, carry the remainder over until the next day. Tomorrow, start the process over again.

There are many other elements of time management – personal organization, eliminating time wasters, removing clutter, etc. The daily to-do list is perhaps the key. Use it and use it wisely.

Could your organization use coaching on how to get more work done in a day? Contact us today to discuss how to identify and remove time wasters to allow you more time to get your work done.

Eight Characteristics of a High-Performance Team

Have you ever been on a project team that had everything going right?  The team members all got along; they all had the right skills; they had the right processes; everyone worked hard and pulled together to get the project done.

Those are just some of the characteristics of a high-performing team.  High-performing teams can sometimes form by themselves, perhaps even in spite of a manager that gets in the way.  It is also possible that a manager can facilitate a team through a process that leads them to become high performing. The following actions can help the team’s growth.

  • Set common objectives.  Teams will have a hard time performing at a high level unless they are all striving toward a common set of objectives.  Even if members of your team do different jobs, a set of objectives can usually be written that will encompass all of them.
  • Establish good internal work processes. You cannot build consistently good products, or deliver good services, with poor work processes.  The high-performing team has a set of internal processes that guide how members act and react in particular circumstances.
  • Instill good work ethic. High-performing teams find the challenges associated with their work and work hard to complete their assignments within expectations.  Members get more work done in a typical day than their counterparts.
  • Keep everyone focused.  Team members understand the work they have on their plate today, as well as what the remainder of their work is.  They don’t get sidetracked by rumors or politics.
  • Maintain a high level of motivation. The high-performance team relies on both self-motivation as well as a reinforced motivation through the entire team.
  • Keep organized. Team members know where to find the things they need to do their job, and they know where to put things when they are done.
  • Strive toward a balanced set of key skills.  A high-performance team has the skills needed to complete the work on its plate. People understand their strengths and weaknesses, but they also are willing to work outside their comfort area when needed.
  • Foster mutual respect. Team members have mutual respect for each other and trust that the others are working as hard as they are.

In the right circumstances, a manager can take the lead to move a team toward high-performance status.  It takes time. If it were easy, every team would be high performing, instead of the one or two that you may have worked on in your entire career.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help you strengthen your project, portfolio and PMO processes.

Quality Cost and Benefits

The Cost of Quality

Building quality steps in the schedule adds a certain amount of effort and cost to the project. However, these incremental costs will be rewarded with shorter timelines and reduced costs throughout the life cycle of the solution. Examples of the cost of quality include:

  • Deliverable reviews. There is a cost associated with the time of the people attending the reviews. This includes any preparation, the actual review time for all participants, and the resulting follow-up work from the review.
  • Creation of the Quality Management Plan. The time required to plan quality into the project and the solution, including identifying completeness and correctness criteria.
  • Client approval. The time and effort required for the client to review interim and final deliverables and formally approve them as being correct and complete.
  • Testing. Testing is a part of the project life cycle and it is done to ensure the solution meets requirements and quality standards.
  • Quality control standards. The time and cost associated with defining relevant standards utilized throughout the project and/or the organization.
  • Audits. Audits are opportunities to have an outside party review the processes used to create your deliverables. Third party auditors provide a fresh perspective and unbiased opinion on whether good work processes are defined and are being followed. However, there is no question the audit takes extra time and effort on the part of the project manager and the person doing the audit.
  • Checklists. These are usually used to validate that all steps of a process were completed or all the components of a deliverable are in place. There is a cost to create them and a cost to fill them out.
  • Quality Control and Quality Assurance Groups.  If your company has distinct groups that specialize in quality control or quality assurance, their costs are part of the overall costs of quality for the organization.
  • Gathering metrics. Metrics are normally gathered to show the status of a process and to correct or improve the process if necessary. Collecting metrics takes time and there is an associated cost.

The Benefits of Quality

The costs of quality must be weighed against the benefits of providing a quality solution. Whereas many of the costs of quality show up in the project, many of the benefits of quality show up over the entire life cycle of the solution. The benefits of quality include:

  • Increased client satisfaction. Fewer defects mean that the client will be more satisfied. Higher service quality will also make the client experience much more pleasant. If you are in a “for-profit” business, this will result in goodwill and may translate into additional sales, or higher margins on future products.
  • Higher productivity. Fixing errors and reworking previously-completed deliverables are a drain on productivity. In fact, they contribute to negative productivity. If the deliverables are produced with higher quality and less rework, the overall project productivity will go up.
  • Lower costs / shorter duration. Although there is an initial higher cost to a quality process, this is more than made up with less rework toward the end of the project. This will save time and cost on the project.
  • Higher project team morale. Team morale suffers if there are many errors uncovered during the project. People feel bad when errors are uncovered and it can be frustrating to have to correct errors repeatedly. Team morale will rise (or at least hold steady) if deliverables are created with fewer errors the first time.
  • Fewer errors / defects. Higher quality shows up over the life of the solution with fewer defects and errors. If you are producing a product for sale in the marketplace, higher quality means fewer returns, less warranty work, fewer repairs, etc. If you are creating a long-term solution, this means less support and maintenance problems over the life cycle.

One of the key points of formal quality management is that if you spend more time and cost on the QA and QC side of quality management, you will be able to save substantially on the internal and external failure costs. In fact, the savings for external failure costs can be substantial. In some case you might deliver a product that your organization will utilize for many years. If you build a poor quality product, the support costs (external failure costs) could be substantial. On the other hand, if you spend more time focusing on building a better quality product during the project, the cost of operating and supporting the product long-term may be dramatically reduced.


Practice These Three Key Ways to Control Project Politics

What happens when your project sponsor wants a different outcome for the project than your other management team and stakeholders want? The answer is that each party tries to influence the project to get what they want. This is one way you get into project politics. The result is that the team is constantly pushed in different directions, trying to keep everyone happy, but not really doing what they were originally asked to do. The project team becomes stressed, confused, de-motivated and inefficient. It’s your job as a Project Manager to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Having a well defied set of project management processes will help you manage politics. People will know they can’t go around the processes to get done what they want. However, project politics can’t be solved by processes alone. You need to first work on the people element.

Step 1: Build relationships

It is easier to resort to office politics if you do not have personal relationships with the major stakeholders. It is possible that you have a relationship with some or all of them to start. It is also possible that you don’t know any of the major stakeholders very well.

When a project starts, you can reduce the politics by building relationships with the major stakeholders. Building relationships makes it easier to work in a friendly and transparent manner. This starts off with stakeholder identification and stakeholder management, but goes beyond. Stakeholder engagement is about building relationships. These relationships will help when there is conflict and can keep you from getting into the dark side of project politics.

Build close relationships by meeting each stakeholder regularly to find out what they need from the project and why they need it. By listening to their needs, you’re securing their buy-in and you may be able to save unnecessary conflict in the future.

Step 2: Create a Project Board or Steering Committee of key stakeholders

One way to get competing stakeholders on the same page is to create a Project Board or Steering Committee. This allows the key stakeholders to agree to the same project scope and objectives. The Project Board should include your sponsor, major customers and other people that may influence the project. The purpose of the board is to set direction, resolve issues, control the scope and make sure that specific targets are set and achieved.

By forming a Project Board, you create a space where the senior stakeholders can thrash out the politics themselves and come to a consensus. You then have one common group to manage. If you include all of the “influencers” within the Board, you can task them with giving you a single, consistent vision. That way, there is no confusion as to what must be done to deliver the project and people are not pulled in different directions all of the time.

Step 3: Manage Change

A big risk to a project is that the goal posts move, causing continuous change to the project scope. This is a breeding ground for project politics, because every stakeholder will have their own wants and needs to be met—and they may not all be consistent with one another.

You need to manage change carefully by putting in place a formal process for managing it. Your change process should involve documenting each Change Request, why it’s needed and the impact to the project in implementing it. The Change Request should then be presented to the Project Board for review and approval. You need to make sure that when it’s approved the board also approve the extra time, money and people needed to implement it.


Building relationships, creating a Project Board and proactively managing change  will help you cut through politics to ensure your project success.

Do you need help assessing a project to see where it has gone wrong and what is required to save it? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization choose the right projects.

Use This Five Step Approach to Manage Project Finances

Some projects have a large budget and require rigorous management and tracking. Other projects don’t have a budget component at all. When you do have project finances to manage, think about these simple steps.

  1. Estimate expenses

The first step towards managing your project finances is to estimate the costs. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You need to forecast the total amount of people, equipment, materials and other expenses needed to deliver the project. You then need to estimate the costs of these resources and when in the project plan, these expenses will take place.

  1. Set the budget

Estimating the costs is not the same as setting your budget. The budget shows how the money is allocated according to your company’s financial rules. The budget shows the expense accounts, allocates capital versus expense dollars, shows when funds are allocated to your project, etc. Ultimately you need to manage project costs according to the budget.

  1. Determine if you can get contingency funding

Project estimates are rarely 100% accurate. A contingency represents the estimating uncertainly. Even if you think your estimate is 90% accurate, this means you have a 10% uncertainty. A contingency budget represents this estimating contingency. For example, if you estimated your project to be 100,000 with a 90% confidence, you could also ask for a 10,000 contingency budget to represent the uncertainty. This 10,000 is not used for risks or scope change requests. It can be tapped if it turns out you underestimated work on your project. Not all organizations allow contingency budgets. If you do not have this budget flexibility you can add the uncertainly factor back into your baseline estimate.

  1. Track weekly

The next step after setting your budget is to start tracking your spending on the project. You need to track every expense. This could be a manual process but is usually handled by your accounting system. Ask your team to complete expense forms and submit them to you for approval when they spend money on behalf of the project.  You need to pre-approved any large expenses before they are incurred so you can more easily control expenditures on the project.

You also need to track your people costs. The total cost of the hours taken by those people can be tracked on the Project Dashboard, so you can see whether your people cost is under or over budget.

Make sure you always have enough funds available to cover your spending over the months ahead. Cash flow management is about managing the cash needed to deliver your project. Make sure your Sponsor has approved the next 1-2 months of work ahead of time, and that the funds needed to manage the project have been made available. Then track the spending of that funding every week.

  1. Manage expectations

When you start spending more than your budget, you have four options available to help you stay within budget.

  • Reduce costs. This means spending less to get the same job done.
  • Reduce scope. See if your Sponsor will agree to a reduced scope, so that you have less to produce for them.
  • Use your contingency if you have one
  • Re-forecast your expenses and present a new budget to your Sponsor for approval. This is the last choice and means you have to give up on hitting the prior budget baseline.

Managing costs on a project can be difficult. It is made more difficult if the project manager does not keep up on tracking and managing the budget. Use these four simple steps to stay in control.

Do you need help with project management budgeting skills? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization choose the right projects.

Webinar: Implementing a Hybrid Agile Model in Your Organization

Over the past 15 years, Agile development models have moved from the underground to the mainstream. At the same time, the nature of Agile has also changed. The pure Agile model of 15 years ago has been refined, expanded and made friendlier to corporate America.

While it is true that many companies have successfully implemented a pure Agile model, it is more common that companies implement a hybrid. In other words, they take the basics of Agile and merge in some compromises to be able to exist within organization parameters. For example, does your Agile team create a status report? If so, you have made an Agile compromise. Does your Agile team have a project manager? If so, you have made a compromise.

Sign-up for this session to hear how many companies implement a hybrid Agile model – successfully combining Agile techniques while supporting traditional organization processes as well.

Date/time: Thu, Feb 26, 2015 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM CET
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Manage Quality

Many people find quality management to be one of the more difficult project management processes to implement. This is because quality is hard to define, and formal quality management requires you to collect metrics to validate the state of quality. The following process will help create a framework for the quality management process.

1. Create a Quality Management Plan

Develop a Quality Management Plan to identify the major deliverables, completeness and correctness criteria, quality control activities and quality assurance activities. The Quality Management Plan also describes how you will ensure that the client’s quality requirements are achieved. It is the place to describe the processes and activities that will be put into place to ensure that quality deliverables are produced. 

2. Determine the customer requirements for quality

Work with your customer to determine their requirements for quality. The high-level characteristics of quality can be uncovered during the project definition process. The detailed quality requirements should be uncovered when you gather business requirements.

3. Define a set of metrics to validate quality requirements are met

Identify a set of metrics that will provide insight into the quality of the deliverables. The project manager should already be capturing overall financial and duration metrics. The quality-related metrics need to be more sophisticated. There are two areas where you are trying to manage quality – in your project work processes and in the actual deliverables you are building. You should try to capture metrics that will measure each.

4. Execute quality control activities

Quality control refers to activities that validate the quality of your deliverables. It is also referred to as “inspection”. Ensure that the quality control activities for every deliverable are performed while the project is underway.

5. Execute quality assurance activities

Quality assurance refers to the processes used to build deliverables. It is also referred to as “prevention”. Having good processes should results in good quality deliverables.

6. Monitor and resolve deliverable quality

You need to validate the quality of your deliverables on an ongoing basis. When quality problems are found, implement a process to determine the cause and to make improvements in the process.

Using this process will help you understand, plan for and manage the state of quality on your project.