Four Ways to Manage the “Project Grapevine”

Four Ways to Manage the “Project Grapevine”

Ever heard the song “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”? Were they talking about the project grapevine at your company?

The “grapevine” is a great metaphor for the way informal and unofficial news travels from person to person. Official news comes through official channels. Informal news, rumors and gossip travel though the grapevine.

In a project environment, the circulation of unofficial information and rumors can be disruptive and destructive. Your communication plan addresses the formal communication content and paths, but it can be hard to manage the grapevine. (Click here for a free Communication Management Plan

.) The following tips help stop the confusion and manage the grapevine effectively.

1 – Become Part of the Grapevine

People love talking about what goes on within their work environment. As a project manager, you cannot monitor and manage the grapevine unless you can be a part of it, or at least aware of what is being said. Sometimes it is hard for a manager to be a part of the staff grapevine – but try. Assume the projects you manage are one part of that conversation, insert yourself into it and ask people what they are hearing about your projects. Then be sure to add your own facts into the mix. A little bit of accurate information never hurt anyone.

Tip 2 – Combat Negative Messages

Negative communication sometimes gets spun into a mile-long email thread. Inaccurate information and intensity of emotion continue to escalate the longer the email thread grows. The best antidote to negative communication is to get the facts out as quickly as possible. Compose a thoughtful and precise message with a handful of relevant facts to get everyone in sync. Ask your team members to carry the message forward in their grapevine discussions.

Tip 3 – Stop the Bad Press

Much of the talk on the grapevine is harmless babble, primarily serving as an interesting diversion during a long day at work. However, sometimes the message can be very negative and detrimental to the project. In this situation try to track down the source, and discuss the situation with the person formally. The rebuttal is much more effective if the person that started the bad press is also the one to put out the correction. Even if you cannot find the source, put out a positive rebuttal to the people that can carry the message forward in the grapevine.

Tip 4 – Fill the Vacuum

You may have projects that aren’t impacted by negative communication. However, you may then have a vacuum of communication. It’s up to you to fill this void with positive and factual information about your project. Send out pertinent emails, give appropriate updates at company meetings, and have one-off conversations. That way, people will have something positive to talk about when your project gets tangled up in the grapevine.

The grapevine has been around since the time the 3rd person walked on this Earth. There’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening, so include it as part of your unofficial communication plan. You’ll notice a big difference with the buzz on your projects.


An Optimized Portfolio “Pivots” Quickly to Respond to Change

An Optimized Portfolio “Pivots” Quickly to Respond to Change

Agile portfolios are flexible and can respond quickly to changes in business needs. This ability to change directions quickly is referred to as the “pivot”. (“Pivoting” is also a basketball term. It refers to planting your foot (the pivot foot) and then quickly changing directions.)

How quickly could your organization react if there was a sudden change in your business direction? What you should do is to start approving new projects that support the new direction. How do you staff these new projects? One way is to steal resources from other projects to work on the new priorities. This stretches out the current projects but it allows you to start the new ones. You could also cancel projects to free up resources, but this has the disadvantage of losing the business benefits of the projects that are stopped.

The better approach is to maintain an active portfolio of projects that is staffed optimally to start and finish in as short a timeframe as possible. This may seem obvious but most portfolios have too many projects in-progress. This results in projects being resource constrained. Resource constrained means that a three-month project might take six months, and a five-month project takes ten months. Since projects are not ending frequently, sponsors don’t want to wait until resources are available. Instead they want their projects to start now. However, starting projects by stealing resources from other projects makes all the projects stretch out even further.

Optimizing the staffing in a portfolio starts with realizing one key point – you don’t obtain business benefit when a project starts – but when it is completed.

This is an important concept and I will repeat it again. The business benefit derived from projects is not based on when the project starts – but when it ends. This means you should determine which projects are most important (prioritization) and then staff the highest priority projects so that they complete as quickly as possible. Having too many active projects delays the completion of the most important projects since they are sharing resources with less important ones.

This brings us back full circle. Optimizing project staffing allows projects to complete more quickly. Having projects that are ending within any given timeframe allows you to “pivot” quickly. As new priorities arise, the new projects can start quickly because there are always current projects ending and resources available.


Eight Characteristics of a High-Performance Team

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.

Start Your Project Off Right with a Kickoff Meeting

Start Your Project Off Right with a Kickoff Meeting

The purpose of the kickoff meeting is to formally notify all stakeholders that the project has begun and made sure everyone has a common understanding of the project and their role. Like all formal meetings, there should be an agenda. 

There are a number of specific things you want to cover at this meeting:

  • Introduce the people at the meeting.


  • Recap the information in the Project Charter, including the purpose of the project, scope, major deliverables, risks, assumptions, etc.
  • Discuss the important roles and responsibilities of the project team, clients and stakeholders. If there is confusion about the role of any person or organization, it should be discussed and clarified now.


  • Go over the general approach and timeline of the project. This gives people a sense for how the project will unfold. In particular, you will want to ensure that people understand what they need to be doing in the short-term to support the project.


  • Answer any outstanding questions. The purpose of the discussion is not to rehash the purpose of the project, but to allow people to voice specific questions or concerns they have as the project begins.
  • Confirm that the project is now underway. If the project has not started yet, it should now be ready to start immediately.


In general, the project team, sponsor and major stakeholders should be in attendance. If this results in too many people for comfort, you can consider having only the major players attend. You can then meet with others in subsequent mini-kickoff meetings or you can send the relevant meeting information to the people who could not attend.

Although most kickoff meetings can be conducted in an hour or two, others might require a day or two. The longer kickoff meetings are especially important if the project is very complex or controversial.

It is said you never have a second chance to make a good first impression. This is true with the kickoff meeting. You are using the meeting to help set expectations for the project. If the meeting is unorganized, chaotic or a waste of time, the participants will probably carry those perceptions into the project as well. The project manager needs to make sure that he has prepared well for this meeting and that it goes smoothly.

Agile 101 – Story Points Lead to Velocity and Rhythm

Agile 101 – Story Points Lead to Velocity and Rhythm

One of the unique aspects of an Agile project is that the workload for each iteration is determined at the beginning of each iteration. In other words, the workload is not laid out months and months in advance. There is only a need to plan for the current iteration. This allows the Agile project to be very flexible.

At the beginning of every iteration a meeting is held between the product owner and the project team to determine the workload for the new iteration. The product owner owns the product backlog, and prioritizes the work on the backlog. The project team owns the work of each iteration, and pulls off the next set of user stories that are of the highest priority. The level of effort for each user story should have been assigned when it was added to the backlog. There should either be an actual estimate of effort hours, or more likely a number of “story points”. Story points are numbers used to estimate the relative size of a user story.

During the planning meeting, the project team takes on as many story points as they can complete within the iteration – in priority order. In this way, the product owner is always assured that their most important needs will end up in the final solution.

It is important that the project team determine quickly how much work they can complete in each iteration. This will allow the workload to stay relatively constant from iteration to iteration. If the project team finds that it was not able to complete all the work in the prior iteration, the team can agree to take on less work in the next iteration. Likewise if the team realizes that they could have done more work in a iteration, they should take on more work in the next iteration. This pace at which the team can complete story points from the backlog is known as the team “velocity”.

User stories that are selected for a iteration need to be completed in that iteration. In a traditional project, you might delay a milestone or implementation if all of the work is not completed. However, in an Agile project it is important to stay on a steady iteration cycle If the story is not ready when the iteration is ready to move to production, the code needs to be pulled out so that the code from the iteration can be released on time. There are no delays to the iteration completion date. The team picks enough work so that it can all be completed in the iteration. The team then focuses on hitting that end-date over and over and over again. This steady pace for each iteration is also known as the team “rhythm”.

Story points, velocity and rhythm. These terms are unique to the Agile model. Now you know what they mean and their importance to a healthy Agile project.


Agile Implementation Combo

Is Agile right for you? Do you really understand what is involved in implementing Agile? The Agile Implementation Combo contains two great products:

20 minute e-learning session that provides an introduction to the Agile model.
A 110+ page e-book that describes a complete model for implementing Agile in your organization.

Eight Less Obvious Ways to Find Project Success

Eight Less Obvious Ways to Find Project Success

There are many techniques and processes to help you be successful on a project. Some of them, like stakeholder engagement and proactive communication, are pretty well understood. Here are some other ways to increase the likelihood of success on your project that are not so obvious.

  1. Understand both the big picture and the details

    If the devil is in the details, there is nothing more devilish than the complex and intertwining dependencies of a project. You need to be aware of the details, even if you don’t react to each detail each time. At the same time, it’s just as important to see the big picture. understanding the overall purpose and objectives of the project allows you to make decisions based on broader context. The big picture also allows you to see trends before problems emerge.

  2. Make decisions quickly

    Over analyzing and procrastination are the cause of many troubled projects. You need to use the best information you have available to make decisions quickly. Even if it’s not the BEST decision, a GOOD decision suffices in nearly all cases.

  3. Communication proactively and heavily

    You can never have enough communication. Wouldn’t it be great if your worst flaw on a project was that you over-communicated? Usually people complain about not knowing enough. Communicate heavily. Take a chance people will appreciate it.

  4. Manage risks proactively

    This one might fall into the more obvious category. But it is surprising to me how many projects do not formally manage risks. Some projects identify risks but don’t put a plan in place to manage them. Risk management does not take so much time. Do it.

  5. Manage expectations so there are no surprises

    Many project managers communicate, but not effectively. The do not realize how to communicate what is happening now and what is possible happening in the future. If you ever surprised a sponsor or customer, you probably were not managing expectations well.

  6. Make sure you get major documents approved

    Sometimes you think you are just too busy to get approvals for documents even if you know you need them. The result is often that the person tat should have approved the document ends up not approving the results, causing rework and confrontation.

  7. Involve stakeholders throughout the protect

    We should all know it is important to understand project stakeholders. But often we focus on stakeholders at the beginning and the end of the projects. To be really successful you need to engage key stakeholders all the way through the project.

  8. Cultivate good relationships with the Project Sponsor

    Stakeholder management is important, but one stakeholder is more important then the rest – the sponsor. Go out of your way to develop a good relationship with the sponsor. You will need to be comfortable with the sponsor (and vice-versa) as the project progresses.

Use all the obvious techniques for project success, plus these eight that are a little less obvious. You will have a much better chance for success.   

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

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 is 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.

You may identify a to-do action that does not need to be started today. In that case, 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.

Use These Four Steps to Complete a Feasibility Study

Use These Four Steps to Complete a Feasibility Study

A Feasibility Study is used in a couple areas of a project. It can be part of a portfolio management process to determine if you even want to approve a project. It can also be used within a project to determine in the chosen solution is feasible. The best time to complete it is when you have identified a different alternative solutions and you need to know which solution is the most feasible to implement. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Research the Business Drivers

In most cases, your project is being driven by a problem in the business. These problems are called “business drivers” and you need to have a clear understanding of what they are, as part of your Feasibility Study. For instance, the business driver might be that a customer-facing process is outdated and is causing customer complaints, or that two businesses need to merge because of an acquisition. Find out the business drivers that are important for the project and why it is critical that the project delivers a solution.

Step 2: Confirm the Alternative Solutions

Now you have a clear understanding of the business problem that the project addresses, you need to understand the alternative solutions available. For example, if an IT system is outdated, your alternative solutions might include redeveloping the existing system, replacing it with a package solution or merging it with another system. Only with a clear understanding of the alternative solutions to the business problem can you progress with the Feasibility Study.

Step 3: Determine the Feasibility

You now need to identify the feasibility of each solution. “Feasibility” can take a number of forms. For example:

  • Is it feasible to complete this project for a reasonable timeframe and cost?
  • Is the project technically feasible?
  • Is the project politically feasible. In other words, do we have the internal support needed to sustain the project?
  • Is the staffing feasible? Do we have the right skills, or can we bring in the right skills, to complete the project?

Knowing if the project is feasible may require more than just mental judgments. Here are some examples of ways you can assess feasibility:

  • Research: Perform research to see if other companies have implemented the same solutions. This may tell you if the solution is practical.
  • Prototyping: Identify the part of the solution that has the highest risk, and then build a sample of it to see if it’s possible to create. This will tell you if the solution is technically feasible.
  • Time-boxing: Complete some of the tasks in your project plan and measure how long it took vs. planned. If you delivered it on time, then you know that your overall schedule may be feasible.

Step 4: Choose a Preferred Solution

With the feasibility of each alternative solution known, the next step is to select a preferred solution to be delivered by your project. Choose the solution that is most feasible to implement, has the lowest risk, and you have the highest confidence of delivering.

After completing these four steps, get your Feasibility Study approved by your sponsor so that everyone in the project team has a high degree of confidence that the project can deliver successfully.

Use Soft Skills to Resolve Personal Conflicts on Projects

Use Soft Skills to Resolve Personal Conflicts on Projects

Good managers can work with all kinds of people, and don’t shy away from the challenge of working through conflict. Conflict can occur for all types of reasons –  and conflict is not necessarily bad. Conflict occurs when different people have different ideas. There may be technical conflict, schedule conflicts, spending conflicts, etc. Whatever the reason, you need to face the conflict and not ignore it. Ignoring it usually 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.

  • You and a colleague have different ideas on the type of equipment that will best solve the requirements of your project.
  • Another project manager and you need the same resource at the same time.
  • A team member thinks you’re being unrealistic about deadlines. The person is frustrated, raises his voice and acts 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 some time 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 “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.

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

Use These Five Ideas to Build a High-Performing Team

Use These Five Ideas to Build a High-Performing Team

What exactly is a high performing team? It’s a team that exceeds the goals you set by working hard and smart as a group, not individuals. It’s a team that enjoys working together. Most teams do not reach the high-performing stage. That is why they are so special when you finally achieve this feat. You can help a team reach a high-performing state with a number of basic steps.

1. Plan What the Team Will Look Like

Before you bring on your first person, document what it is that your team has to achieve and by when. This can be done through a project charter or another document that details what the team will achieve together

. It is important that the team have a common understanding of their purpose and expectations.

But don’t stop there. Think about the team culture you want to build, the dynamics of your team and how they should work together. This can be defined in a team charter.

2. Add the Right People

Building the right team is harder than it looks. It’s easy to recruit the wrong person, and it’s even easier to build a team that doesn’t perform well. Often you cannot pick and choose each team member. When you can, choose candidates that fit the job description, align with good interpersonal skills. Bring in people that can get along well with others. I have never seen a high-performing team made up of people that want to work by themselves.

3. Create a Team Culture 

If you’ve hired like-minded people, get them working together on tasks. Constantly change the people you pair up, so that people get to know others in the team. Strengthen the relationship between the team and your customers. Find opportunities to get the team socializing together. High-performing teams share a common team culture. Try to get the team this consistent culture as soon as possible.

4. Motivate the Team – and Yourself

A happy motivated team will always out-perform an unhappy unmotivated one. And it starts with you. Are you happy and motivated? Your motivation will rub off on your team. If you are motivated, focus on motivating your team. Use team building and group rallying exercises to get them pumped up. Tell them how proud you are to work with them. Help them understand why the goals are important and how every team member contributes to them.

Step 5. Recognize Accomplishments

People respond positively to positive behavior. So you need to constantly recognize achievement when it’s due. Tell the team about an individual’s success. Make them feel proud. Spread the love—don’t focus on one team or person too frequently.

If you plan for success, recruit a great team, build a positive culture, motivate the team and recognize achievement, you’ll build a healthy project team and boost your chances of success!