Use These Six Tips to Improve Project Meetings

Use These Six Tips to Improve Project Meetings

It seems everyone dislikes meeting – except when it is your turn to call one. Your job is to keep the meeting focused and make it as valuable as possible to the attendees. Here are the six tips to help you.

Tip 1. Start with the end in mind

First understand the purpose of the meeting. Is it for status? Is it for a decision? Is it for brainstorming. Make sure you and the attendees know the desired outcome of getting together.

Tip 2. Plan wisely and use an agenda

To make sure you get the most out of your meetings, you need to plan them wisely. Your meeting should have an agenda that shows the flow of the meeting, the timing and how you are going to the desired outcome. This should be shared in advance with the attendees. There is a saying – “no agenda – no attenda”. (Regularly scheduled meeting do not need a customized agenda. They use a “standing” agenda that stays pretty much the same from week to week.)

Tip 3. Open and close thoughtfully

Open and close your meetings carefully. When you open the meeting, state the purpose of the meeting, what you want to get out of it and why it’s important. This gets their attention and sets the scene. When you close the meeting, tell them what has been agreed / achieved in the meeting and the next steps going forward.

Tip 4. Control the meeting

You need to be in complete control of the meeting to ensure that:

  • The meeting follows the agenda
  • You do not get stuck on a single issue
  • One person doesn’t dominate
  • Everyone can contribute as needed

Raise your voice a little to add presence. Jump in frequently when people talk too long. Be polite but strong. If possible, ask someone else to record the minutes to give you time to facilitate the meeting.

Tip 5. Park it

Often in meetings, a single item can consume too much of the meeting time. If the item is not related to your specific meeting goals, tell the team to park it and move on. Record the item on a whiteboard or paper and address it with the relevant team members separately after the meeting. This keeps your meetings short and focused.

Tip 6. Go short

Keep your meetings short so that they stay focused. You will often find that a 60 minute meeting can be easily compressed to 30 minutes. Thirty minutes keeps everyone focused. Try it. For the next 30 days do not schedule any meetings longer the 30 minutes. You might be surprised that you can still accomplish your meeting purpose.

Broad Advice to Be Successful Managing Projects

Broad Advice to Be Successful Managing Projects

There is so much to learn to become a great Project Manager. You have to juggle time, money, people, equipment and materials. To do it all, some people feel like they have to be a miracle worker! But it’s not the case. Just take these essential steps.

1. Plan carefully

Plan the project before you immediately jump into execution. Define the process by which you’re going to manage your project from start to finish. Be sure to adopt and define the project management processes as well as the project lifecycle processes. You will need to do the following activities.

  • Define the work, including project objectives, scope, deliverables, risks, constraints, assumptions, organization, etc.
  • Lay out a baseline project schedule
  • Estimate the cost of the project and prepare the budget
  • State how you will manage the project, including communication plan, risk plan and any other plans needed

2. Execute swiftly

The next step is to execute your plan quickly and efficiently. This is the part of the project where you are building deliverables, while at the same time managing the work itself. This is the longest part of the project, but there never seems like enough time. From a project management perspective, this work includes:

  • Manage the baseline schedule and budget
  • Focus on initial scope of work, and manage scope changes when they occur
  • Communicate and engage stakeholders proactively
  • Identify and manage risks and issues
  • Make sure quality meets the customer expectations
  • Manage the project team to get them to perform their best work for you

3. Close and learn

When you’ve produced all of your deliverables and handed them over to your sponsor or customer, you’re ready for closure. Do this by releasing project staff, contractors, suppliers and equipment. Then hold a lessons learned meeting and circulate the results so that they can be leveraged by projects ion the future.

Use These Four Steps to Gather Requirements

Use These Four Steps to Gather Requirements

Knowing how to gather requirements is a skill that every analyst, and project manager, – should know. However, it seems to be a skill that is generally lacking in many organizations. Poor requirements gathering is a major cause of project problems in many organizations. 

Gathering requirements is more than just asking a few questions and then proceeding to the next step in the lifecycle. We have a four-step process for gathering requirements that all projects should utilize to some degree. If your project is small, you will go through thee steps quickly. Larger projects may spend quite a lot of time working through the process.

  • Elicitation. The Elicitation step is where the requirements are first gathered. To elicit accurate requirements, the analyst must ask the right kind of questions and then listen carefully to the answers. There are a number of techniques for eliciting requirements and your project may need to use multiple techniques depending on the circumstances. This includes interviews, facilitated sessions, prototypes, questionnaires and more. 
  • Validation. The Validation step is where the “analyzing” starts. The purpose of validation is to make certain that the information conveyed during elicitation accurately represents the needs and expectations of the clients and stakeholders. The work here includes consolidating requirements, rationalizing them, looking for overlaps and gaps and creating models to help visualize processes.
  • Specification. During this step, the analyst prioritizes and formally documents the requirements in a Requirements Definition Report. The requirements are also numbered in a way that allows them to be tracked through the rest of the lifecycle. Finally, they are checked to make sure that they can ultimately be tested.
  • Verification. The final step in the requirements gathering process is verifying that the documented requirements accurately and completely communicate the needs and expectations of the customer. The requirements are reviewed and formally approved. During this step, the analyst can also develop acceptance criteria and start to write test cases for the final solution.

The truth is that all team members need to appreciate the value of good business requirements and should have some fundamental skills in gathering them. Gathering good requirements up-front saves time and money and improves the overall quality of your product.

Five Ways to be Try to Turn Around Marginal Performers

Five Ways to be Try to Turn Around Marginal Performers

One problem that many project managers never get comfortable with is dealing with poor performers. Some people are such poor performers that they ultimately fire themselves. Maybe the bigger challenge is trying to improve marginal performers. These are people that constantly disappoint. The miss a high performance bar, but when you lower the bar they miss that as well. In spite of these marginal performers, you still have to complete your project successfully. You should look at a number of possible causes for marginal performance.

  • Does the person have the right skills and experience? Sometimes people do not deliver up to expectations because they do not have the right skills to do the job. For instance, you assign a person to complete the analysis for a new set of reports, but he is not sure how to ask the right questions or frame a discussion with the clients. If anyone falls into this category, you need to decide whether he could do the work with the right training or whether he should be replaced.
  • Do they understand your expectations? If people have the right skills, ask whether they really understand what the expectations are. For instance, sometimes when a team member misses a deadline, he might come back and say that he did not think the work was due at that time. If there is some confusion on the expectations, you can have the person confirm back to you in writing his understanding of the expectations for deliverables and dates.
  • Are they motivated? Some people are not motivated to do a good job regardless of the assignments and skills needed. You can take one shot at trying to motivate the person. but after that you would need to being this to the attention of the person’s functional manager. 
  • Can you assign them other work? Perhaps the person could do better – perhaps excel – if they were assigned different type of work. Look through your schedule to see if you have flexibility to assign work that is valuable to you and that they can do well.  
  • Are there extenuating circumstances? Another area to consider is whether there are any business or personal factors that could explain a person’s performance. For instance, a member of your team may not be very motivated to work if his spouse is very ill. If you can find a cause, it will give you some ability to respond or at least acknowledge the cause.

If people have the right skills and the right expectations, then the project manager’s options become more limited, and you start to enter the realm of the performance management. It is possible that some team members are not going to do be able to perform up to expectations. They may not be willing to do the job, or they may not be able to do the work regardless of the training and support you provide. If you feel you are at this point, you need to get the appropriate functional manager involved. 

It is difficult and frustrating to work with and rely upon people who do not come through. After you look at the problems and try to determine the cause, you may just decide if there are things that you can do as a project manager or if there is a performance problem that needs to be brought to the attention of the functional manager. 

Three Steps to Formally Close a Project

Three Steps to Formally Close a Project

A project does not end when you implement or launch your solution. Terms like “launch”, “deploy” or “implement” are project lifecycle documents. A project does not formally end until project management “close”. Project closure allows you to ensure all the work is done and all of the project components are put in their place. It is a way to formally “tie a bow” around the project before walking away. There could be a lot of loose ends to tie up, including the following.

Section 1: Validate Completion Criteria

Before you take action to close the project, you need to determine whether all of the project closure criteria have been fully satisfied. For example:

  • Have all the project objectives been completed?
  • Has the project resulted in the stated benefits?
  • Have all of the deliverables been produced?

You will need to perform a review of the project to determine whether these criteria have been met.

Section 2: Close Outstanding Items

If you’re confident that the project has met all of the completion criteria, then the nextstep is to list any outstanding items. These are typically activities listed as incomplete on the schedule, outstanding issues, punch-list items or general items that require attention. As you list each outstanding item, identify the actions that are needed to fully resolve them as well as who is responsible. Since the project is ending, these outstanding items are usually transitioned into operations/support to be completed.

Section 3: Complete Closure Actions

After determining that the project is ready for closure and listing the outstanding items, you can now complete all the actions needed to close your project. These actions may include:

  • Handing over the final deliverables to operations or the customer
  • Collating and filing all project documentation
  • Terminating all supplier contracts and contractors
  • Releasing project staff, equipment and materials
  • Communicating the closure of the project to stakeholders.

Once you have completed the three sections above, you’re ready to formally close the project.

The Big Three Steps to Manage Project Quality

The Big Three Steps to Manage Project Quality

Being a Project Manager is a tough job! You not only have to produce the deliverables on time and within budget, but you also need to ensure that they meet the quality expectations of your customer. To do this, you need to define and execute a quality management process.

By implementing a quality process within your project, you will not only be able to control the level of quality of your deliverables, but you can also provide your customer with assurance that the project will result in a solution which meets their expectations.

Formal quality management is hard to implement. It takes time and a lot of work. Fortunately there are not a lot of elements to a quality management process. In fact, there are three.

Step 1. Create a Quality Plan

Before you begin to manage quality on your project, you should first create a Quality Plan. The Quality Plan describes how you will understand quality requirements and expectations, quality tools, quality roles, how to measure quality, how to validate process acceptance, and more.

In particulate, the Quality Plan describes the overall quality control and quality assurance steps you will implement to ensure quality.

Steps 2: Control the quality of your deliverables (quality control)

Quality control (QC) activities are those that focus on the overall quality of the deliverables being produced. Quality control is usually the responsibility of the project manager and the specific person responsible for a deliverable. Examples of quality control activities include:

  • Deliverable reviews (also called peer reviews)
  • Product checklists
  • Appraisal
  • Testing

Quality control is also called “inspection”. The deliverable must exist in some form to validate its quality level through inspection.

Steps 3: Assure the quality level of your deliverables (quality assurance)

Quality assurance (QA) refers to validating the processes used to create deliverables. It is especially helpful for managers and sponsors. Managers may not have the time or expertise required to validate whether deliverables are complete, correct and of high quality. However, they can discuss the processes used to create the deliverables to determine if the processes seem sound and reasonable.

Overall, project quality is obtained through quality planning, having good work processes (QA), and checking the results to be sure (QC).

Three First Steps to Deploy Project Management Practices

Three First Steps to Deploy Project Management Practices

Project management methodology is a framework that allows project managers to successfully manage projects of varying sizes. Many organizations do not follow a formal, consistent methodology of any kind. How do you start with an initiative to introduce project management practices within an organization?

From a project management perspective you would probably start the project by identifying stakeholders and formally planning the initiative. But let’s assume that work is done. Where do we start in the actual work associated with this type of culture change?

Step 1. Current State Assessment

When you are planning to change organization behavior it is usually good to understand the current state. This gives you the perspective and baseline to understand what needs to change. The Current State Assessment looks at project management practices, enablers, barriers, roles and responsibilities, tools, skill levels, portfolio processes, etc.  You can uncover the nature of the current state through a formal assessment. The assessment could involve talking to many people in the organization and reviewing evidence from current projects. The assessment could also be as simple as a workshop discussion with a cross-section of staff members that can form a consensus of the current state.

Step 2. Define the More Desired Future State

While you are looking at the current environment, you also need to ask what the future vision would look like. This is usually not so difficult in may areas. For instance, if the current state shows that project managers have weak skills, the future state will probably be that all project managers have a basic skill level, and perhaps a certification. Seeing the weaknesses of the current state will help paint a picture for the more desirable future state.  

Step 3. Define the Gap Between the Current and the Future State

Many change initiatives start off by trying to define what the future vision looks like. However, describing the future state of project management in your organization is not the major deliverable at this point. The ultimate deliverable is a Gap Analysis that shows what you need to focus on to move the organization from where it is today to where you want it to be in the future. This is important because you do not want to spend your time implementing in areas where your organization already does well. At the same time, you don’t want to implement a number of changes and still see your effort fail because you did not address other important areas as well.

Next Steps

Once you have the Gap Analysis, everything else flows from there. You can describe the work required to close the gaps, the resources needed, the priorities and timeframes, etc. You can also define the organizational change management components that are required to move to the organization to your future state. You now at a point where you can move forward with the deployment project.

Use These Six Tips to Feel a Presenter

Are You a Nervous Presenter?
Use These Six Tips to Feel Confident.

It is said that all people fear two things – death and public speaking. Having to present in front of others can be nerve-racking – even for experienced speakers. You are not going to find the answers in your project Communications Plan. Here are some tips to help you feel more confident.

1. Prepare

Nothing gives you as much confidence as being prepared. Of course, you need to know the content, but you should also understand the structure of your presentation and how you will move from point to point. You don’t need (or want) to memorize the presentation, but you don’t want to forget things either.

2. Rehearse

You should rehearse the presentation multiple times. This could be in front of a safe audience, or even saying the words to yourself. You don’t want to read content from a slide, but having the overall session framed by some slides with bullet points can keep you on topic and make the presentation more comfortable.

3. Relax

Get yourself mentally and physically prepared.

  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Eat a healthy meal
  • Try to free your schedule, so you’re more relaxed
  • Before you present, spend 15 minutes going over your presentation one last time. You should have a copy of your presentation that you can review.
  • Relax

4. Get started

The hardest part of presenting is getting started. Talk slowly and breath. Smile. Once you get started, you will likely feel better and get into a groove.

5. Be confident

Much of your message is relayed through your body language.

  • Make eye contact with people
  • Appear confident using an open stance. Stand tall.
  • Smile and let your personality shine
  • Walk around a little
  • Vary your voice and use slow, open hand gestures.
  • Speak slowly and carefully, but passionately. If you’re enthusiastic about the topic, then your listeners will be as well.

6. Interact

Encourage interaction with others during your presentation. When others talk for a few seconds, it takes the focus off you and lets you clear your head and focus on the key points ahead. Interaction also keeps the audience engaged.

Public speaking is one of the hardest things to master. If you prepare carefully, have a great mindset and are enthusiastic, you will deliver a great presentation.


Three Steps to Identify and Address Poor Team Member Performance

Three Steps to Identify and Address Poor
Team Member Performance

Project managers encounter team member performance problems all the time. In many cases you don’t feel like you have the authority to address these situations. However, usually you do have some options. You can at least better understand the nature of the performance problem. Depending on the severity of the problem you might also be able to address it.

Step 1. Gather the Facts – and examples

The first step is to collect facts that help you understand the nature of the performance problem. You should write down instances where the performance did not meet your expectations. You will need these examples to start a performance discussion. They should not be hard to gather. You would not be trying to resolve a performance problem if there were not specific instances to you can document.

Step 2. Have a preliminary discussion

Once the factual examples are ready, the second step is to have a preliminary performance discussion. This discussion will make the employee aware of the perceived performance problem. You will also get the employee’s feedback and response.

In many cases, the manager jumps to the conclusion that there is a performance problem, pure and simple.  However, there may be other reasons why the employee’s performance may not be up to expectations. For example, the performance problem may be the result of a skill gap. The problem could be caused by competing non-project work. The problem could be caused by a personality conflict. You need some insight into the nature of the problem before you can move head to resolution.

Step 3. Create an action plan for improvement

Once the projects manager and team member discuss the situation, he will be able to create the right action plan. Perhaps just bringing the performance perception to the team member’s attention will help to resolve the situation. The short-term plan may require work from both the manager and employee. The plan should also include a time to get back together again for a progress report. It is important to get back together to determine whether there has been any improvement in performance.  If there has been, then perhaps the situation just needs to be monitored from that point. 

As a project manager you have some ability to provide performance feedback when work is not up to your expectations. However, you do not have total control. If your preliminary three-step approach does not work, or if the team member is resistance to working with you, you will need to get the person’s functional manager involved and address the situation through a more formal performance management processes.

Three Ways to Ensure You Collect the Right Metrics

Three Ways to Ensure You Collect the Right Metrics

Most companies want to collect more data to be used for fact-based decision making. However, companies struggle actually implementing a strong metrics program. There is a reason – it is really hard! However, there are things you can do to ensure you collect good metrics without going overboard.

1. Make Sure Your Metrics Add Value

Identifying, gathering and leveraging the right mix of metrics are ways to add value to an organization or a project. The value can be quantified in a number of areas including:

Improved performance of the overall project fulfillment and delivery process

Improved estimating for future projects

Validation of duration, cost, effort and quality objectives for the project

Identification and communication of best practices

Metrics provide a more factual and quantitative basis for understanding how you are doing and the things that can be done better. Without at least some basic metric information, all discussions on performance and improvement are based on anecdotal evidence, perceptions and guesses.

2. Use the Metrics that You Collect

You don’t want to collect metrics just for the sake of collecting them. That is just a waste of time. If certain metrics are required by your organization, collect them. In addition, you should collect any other metrics that are needed by your particular project. However, if you don’t have a purpose for the metrics, or if your project is not long enough that you can really leverage the information, these customized project-specific metrics are not worth collecting for your project.

3. Compare the Cost of Collecting a Metric vs. the Benefit

There is a cost to collecting and managing a metrics process. In many cases, the cost to collect and leverage a certain type of metric is prohibitive. These metrics should not be pursued. Other metrics are interesting, but do not provide the type of information that can be leveraged for improvement. The bottom line is that the cost to gather each metric must be balanced against the potential benefit that will be gained. Start by gathering metrics that are required by the organization. Then add metrics that have the lowest cost and effort to collect and can provide the highest potential benefit.

In summary, metrics collection and analysis is hard work. All organizations should make fact-based decisions based on supporting metrics. However, make sure the metrics provide value, are used effectively, and are not too costly to correct.