Blog

#PMICon18 – Ask the Experts 2018

I am really excited to announce that I will be returning to the PMI Global Conference as one of the Global Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to share knowledge and add value to the community! Being given this opportunity by the PMI is a great honour and something which allows me to share my experience with others.

This year I preparing myself by bringing along some artifacts and examples that I can share with others. I’ll also be making sure that I can sit in and add some value with the other Global SMEs involved.

Let's connect!

If you’re coming to #PMICon18 and want to connect with me, you can sign up here!

PMI Netherlands Summit #PMISUMNL

I’ve just got back from the PMI Netherlands Summit held in Spant! Bussum (near Amsterdam, the Netherlands). I attended with several colleagues and this year’s conference focused on: The Human Factor in Project Management. This is a really important topic for me and one that I really appreciate the PMI NL Chapter taking the time to devote on this topic.

emthepm2

The conference was held in the great conference centre of Spant! and I was really impressed by the professionalism of the organisation and how slick the team were! The girls from CKCSeminars really did excel today. There were a series of keynotes throughout the day sharing a lot of valuable knowledge and insights.

emthepm3

During the first keynote called: “It is all about MONKEY BUSINESS – why dealing with human behaviour is key to survive in a changing world”. Patrick van Veen presented some really funny insights from the animal world and how it applies to our lives in projects. There were some really interesting tit-bits such as: “Females are the strongest as they connect and bond to each other…” and that “…a low stress environment is a precursor to personal happiness…and it’s a community action to achieve it”. I spoke to some attendees after this session and it really made a lot of us think about the importance of the team and ‘working family’.

Over lunch I spoke to several people about how they could implement and use the knowledge that we’ve learnt during the morning and a lot of people mentioned how we work with our team and the importance of the ‘non meeting’ interactions.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to talk and present a topic about the “Questions you should be asking your team”. This is one of my favourite topics to present as I love hearing what questions the audience ask and what they think of the changes that I suggest.

emthepm1

Speaking to attendees after this session they told me that one reason why my session was so invaluable to them was because the changes were so easy to perform and implement in their projects.

This is really a good conference to attend if you’re in the Netherlands in September and I highly recommend you including it on your list!

Things that I’ve learnt from my toddler

When you’re a Project Manager and a lifelong learner as I like to be, you find lessons and improvements everywhere! From the supermarket shelves to interactions with neighbours, I try to find the areas where I can improve or use this knowledge in my wider career. I’m so lucky that I’ve got a daily ‘lessons learned’ in the form of my two year old.
She is a firecracker, full of energy, enthusiasm and love of life but just as any parent knows, the daily parenting struggles are real. I was in a job interview a while ago when they asked me:
“Do you have a lot of patience?”
I replied: “I have a toddler!”. The interviewer laughed and said: Ahh, I understand. It was a common understanding that when you’re being challenged several times a day, you become incredibly resilient and patient towards other aspects of your life.
This is a list of some of the things that I’ve learnt from my Toddler.
38246168_10100775572844610_1480034142379835392_n
1) Try again, try different, try new.
I think this one could be split into three but one of the amazing things that I learn from my toddler is not giving up. Always trying to deliver the best project and the best product to the end customer.
When I come across an issue, I’m already in firefighting mode. Whether this is against her sandwich that fell on the floor or a critical outage at work. I’ll always be planning and looking for the different options and our plan A, B, C and D.
One thing that we all tend to do is not look to trying new things. Humans are traditionally creatures of habit and it can tough to remember to try something new. I’d like to recommend following my daughter’s example and keep trying new things. Whether that’s a new flavour of juice at the supermarket or a new way of conducting your meetings. Keep searching for that ‘new’ thing.
2) Explore
One thing that I’m constantly amazed by is my daughter’s ability to explore the world around her. A tree isn’t just a tree, it’s leaves, bark, twigs are all unique and watching her observe these things really makes me appreciate my own efforts to explore. I like to explore learning new methods and ways to do things. I like to explore and travel to broaden my appreciation of other cultures.
3) Persevere and practice makes perfect
When I was younger, I was told: “If at first, you do not succeed, try, try, again”. It’s something that I often say now but in a lot of different contexts! Are you struggling with learning specific methodologies; try again. If you’re struggling with team development and formation; try again.
It’s not just the initial practice that will help you but it’ll be the continued practice that defines you as an excellent Project Manager.
4) Patience is the key to a successful day
How often do you get irritated by your colleagues? The sniffers? the weird eater? the loud phone talker? I know that I came to hate working in open plan environments because it was so difficult for me to concentrate and focus. Instead, I like to try and be more patient, put my earphones in or zone out to concentrate and look
5) Always smile.
It can be difficult to always remain positive and smile but it’s been shown that those who smile are more likely to be happier overall. When I am having a stressful day, I like to make a point of “resetting” myself and smiling. It could be at nothing in particular but the act of smiling in itself is enough to regenerate me.
What have you learnt from your children that you’ve managed to transfer to your professional career?

Agile Success in 8 easy steps

There are times when Agile can be seen as very complex and mystifying but if you break it down into some simple steps then every project has the potential to be a success. agile success

Incorporating success in your working life doesn’t’ need to take massive steps or activities! It can be as simple making simple changes to your working style or practices.

The 10 golden rules of being a Project Manager

Let me begin by saying, that there is no sacred list that you get given when you become a Project Manager (it’d be so easy to be one if that was the case!) but when you’ve run a lot of Projects you get to know that there are a few things which remain true, no matter what project you’re in, what industry and regardless of team members involved.

  1. Communication is key.

Clear, consistent communication is vital for a successful project. There’s a statistic that says 90% of a Project Managers’ job is communication and that is true. You need to make sure that you have your stakeholders clearly identified and then you can communicate the message to the right audience. This includes making sure that you’re adjusting your message according to the audience too.

2. Poor planning leads to poor execution

A lot of Project Managers tend to rush this step and it’s one thing that’s due to lead to issues during execution. You need to make sure that you’re spending enough time on the execution of your projects. I’ve recently written a blog post on estimating in projects and this is an area of planning that I think a lot of people sadly underestimate.

3. Stakeholder Management is critical

Do you know who makes decisions in your organisation? Do you know who really has the power in your organisation? How many times is it someone that you don’t know? When I begin a new project, I spend some time to work out the ‘project landscape’ and who I need to know. This includes everything such as: who can get me information on the schedules of the Steering committee? Who does the CIO Listen to? Who is for this project? who is against it? Creating a ‘power interest grid‘ can really help you understand who your stakeholders might be.

I’m planning to write a blog post soon on how to manage stakeholders and this will be something that I’ll be explaining further.

4. Risk Management is a daily activity. Not a task for the start of the project!

A lot of Project Managers make the mistake or simply forget to continually check their Risk Registers and few continue to do adequate Risk Management. I’ve recently written a blog post on Risk Management that you might find useful for keeping track of your risks and what’s the most important things to consider. Risk Management really needs to be a daily/weekly activity and make sure that you’re looking at the opportunities and not just the threats in your projects.

5. Stress Management is vital

I will talk about a taboo subject now; mental health of Project Managers. How often do you take time for yourself? How often are you responding to emails outside of work hours that isn’t really necessary? How many times have you answered your phone on holiday? Creating a healthy work/ life balance will ensure that you can remain a Project Manager for a long time rather than working yourself into the ground for a few years, delivering exceptional Project Management and then burning yourself out.

This is a very important topic for me and it’s one that I often coach Junior Project Managers on. Being able to manage and handle your stress will ensure that you can be a long-term successful Project Manager and finding what works for you is key to this. I enjoy running, so I’ll regularly be running to release stress but I know peers that play squash, sing karaoke (yes, really!), go for long walks.

6. Adapt or die: Training for Project Managers

So, you’ve got your certification! Congratulations! But if you think that your learning ends there, then you are mistaken! The current market for Project Managers remains so competitive that you need to be continually learning, adopting new techniques and ways of working to fully utilise and make yourself the best Project Manager that you can be.

7. Listen.

Are you a good listener? This answer will separate you into being a “good” Project Manager to being an “excellent” one. Sometimes it’s not just listening to what your team is saying but also listening to what they are NOT saying. Listening to your team and translating them into meaningful updates will give the opportunity to present the most accurate information to all of your stakeholders. Be that Chameleon!

8. Assuming things makes an ASS of U and ME.

I was in a meeting several years ago talking about requirements with a customer and one of their team was getting exasperated regarding what was being presented and stood up and said: “When you ASSUME things you make an ASS out of U and ME” (thus making the word Assume if it’s not clear). It made me laugh but it was a very clear reminder to me to never assume when it comes to requirements gathering and project information. Check and align that we’re all on the same page and then avoid any misunderstandings.

9. Change Management is everyone’s responsibility

It’s a difficult topic to discuss as a lot of people have very different understandings of what constitutes change management and why it’s their responsibility. At the start of the project, I always lay down some “ground rules” for my project and this is one of the things that I put down. Every change that we make during the project is everyone’s responsibility to make a success. This isn’t so much about organisational change management but rather the key pillars of what makes a project a success or not.

10. Who’s in your team?

Have you ever heard the phrase: There’s no I in team but there’s a ME if you look hard enough? I think that it must have been created by some Project Managers that I’ve worked with. The project is a team activity and this means that as a Project Manager, you may be in control but you also have a team to work with and who can help you … so you should let them! Delegate to your team, delegate activities to your Project Office (if you have one). Working on everything, all the time will not help you with Nr. 5 Stress Management. Focus on what’s important and what you need to achieve and then move forward towards a better, more productive use of your time.

team

Accurate estimating in Projects

How do you estimate time needed for a project? Do you work with the resources involved and look at the activities? Do you do a scientific calculation? Stick a finger in the air and use your experience? What’s the best way for you to get reliable and realistic estimates? And how often do they remain the same as the original estimates?

Estimating with any sort of accuracy can be exceptionally difficult because there are so many changing factors and possibilities which can cause a project and estimate to change or be wrong. When you become a PMP you work on accurate estimating through project documents, expert estimating, analogue estimating, parametric estimations, three point estimations and so on but when you get into the practicalities of project life, you’ll see how the cone of uncertainty really becomes a reality when working in any project where environmental factors play a role.

cone of uncertainty

Sourcehttps://www.promptworks.com/blog/why-cant-we-tell-when-software-is-done

When I try to explain to the Steering Committee about estimates, I often use a diagram similar to the one above to convey why our estimates initially should be taken with ‘a pinch of salt’ and why we need to wait until we have got further into the project to make firm and accurate estimations due to the nature of change. Working in an agile mindset, means that this discussion is often a lot easier to have because they understand that requirements may not be fully clear/detailed.

Working in a waterfall environment can lead to a more difficult discussion but I wanted to take some time to explain how I go through this discussion as this is often a question that I get asked.

1)      I start by using terminology that they understand rather than specific project management terms. I talk about the end goal of the project, what needs to be achieved and the business objectives that this project will meet

2)      I then discuss the level of detail that is currently known in the project. Normally, it is never detailed enough and I use this to explain why misunderstandings can occur or why when it is fully detailed that you can only get a good feeling for how long that it’ll take to deliver.

  1. We often do not spend enough time at the start of the project working through the requirements and real ‘needs’ of the project and this can cause issues and is a major risk that requirements are not clear enough for projects.

3)      Furthermore, I go through why it’s completely normal for us not to know everything immediately as there are always unknowns in a project and then explain how the ‘enterprise environment factors’ play a role, always making it specific to the organisation and project. The next step is to explain the importance of contingency to ensure that the deviations are acceptable to the Steering Committee.

4)      I conclude the discussion by explaining what we’ll do to make ‘best effort estimates’ for the current state of the project. This will include expert judgement, existing project documents available and any tooling that I’ll use for my estimating (e.g. parametric, or 3 point estimating). I find it important to end on what you’re going to do to get the level of detail that you need.

This is often a discussion that a lot of Steering Committees and management do not want to hear because that simple uncertainty is a major risk and something that they do not want to deal with but I think that it’s critically important to be open and honest if you know that you’re estimates are likely to be unreliable. One thing that I do on a regular basis throughout the project is taking the time to re-estimate once the project landscape is a lot clearer and more visible. This gives me the opportunity to analyse if I need to make adjustments or to let the Steering committee that there will be a deviation.

Personal ethics as a Project Manager

As a Project Manager and a certified PMP I operate under a code of ethics for how a Project Manager should operate. If you’ve not read them yet, please make sure that you’re familiar with these documents and try to implement them in your daily business if you are not doing it already. Let’s be clear, we’re all probably behaving ethically according to the code of conduct but are we really following it as its intended?

How often do you do this? : “When we make errors or omissions, we take ownership and make corrections promptly. When we discover errors or omissions caused by others, we communicate them to the appropriate body as soon they are discovered. We accept accountability for any issues resulting from our errors or omissions and any resulting consequences”(point 2.2.4 PMI Code of Ethics). It’s a natural emotion to not want to lose face or admit that you’ve made a mistake but to be a good Project Manager, we need to admit and embrace our mistakes.

IMG_20180810_121030

It’s critically important for me as a Project Manager that not only do I perform my job to the best of my abilities but that I behave ethically in my dealings and management. On a high level, this includes things like not gold plating, undertaking in illegal activities and discrimination. On a professional level, we have established guidelines for how we behave but on a personal level I try to also maintain my own personal ethics and what I live by every day as a Project Manager. These are not massive changes or things but it makes me sleep better at night, knowing that I’m being a Project Manager that I’d want to work with. Here are a few of my personal ethics that I try to live by:

1)      I respect others working times across time zones and do not demand extraordinary working unless previously agreed

2)      I will not contact team members during holidays or days off unless absolutely critical and I will not be annoyed if I cannot get a response. Holidays and days off are for resting and personal time and not for work

3)      I will search for the best resources on my project, regardless of their age, gender, background.

4)      I respect peoples working hours. I will not schedule unnecessary meetings or prolong meetings unnecessarily. This includes inviting the necessary resources to the meeting that are needed

5)      I will promote and be the best Project Manager that I can be. I will share best practices and support other Project Managers if they are struggling or having issues

6)      I will listen to and actively seek feedback to become a better Project Manager

7)      I will treat all clients as I’d like to be treated. This includes absolute transparency in issues and objectivity in relation to the project status.

8)      I will do what is in the best interest of the project and its objectives.

Why do I make this points explicitly? Because I think it’s very easy to forget that despite our professional obligations and commitments that we make for the projects, we are also responsible on a personal level for behaving and acting in a manner that is appropriate for you personally. When I go into situations, I ask myself several questions:

1)      Would this be how I would want to be treated?

2)      Who ‘wins’ from this? Is there anyone being ‘burnt’ by it?

3)      Could I do this better? If yes, what can I do to get this knowledge?

One thing that I would strongly recommend that you do as a Project Manager is come up with your own set of personal ethics. What do they look like? What is important to you?

The golden rules for Risk Management

Let’s have a look at the golden rules around Risk Management. Risk Management is one of the most underrated parts of Project Management that often gets neglected by Project Managers. When I’m doing a coaching session for risk management, often I hear that they know what to do but now how to do it.

Here are a few suggestions for how to manage your risk management in your project:

1)      Communicate clearly and early

All of the risks identified need to be clearly communicated and early on in the project. I would also suggest that you continue to do this regularly and make sure that you’re being clear and consistent with the message that you’re delivering. This is also relevant for when risks occur and then I would make sure that you’re escalating hard and fast to ensure that the issues are managed and resolved as quickly as possible.

2)      Expectation management

It’s important to manage the expectations and have clear stakeholder management for all of the risk identified. This includes making sure that you’re being clear what you are expecting from the specific stakeholder.

3)      Consider threats as well as opportunities

Normally, when you do risk workshops, you are mainly focused on the negative risks rather than also including the opportunities that may exist in the project. This could be a simple question that you ask to see during the workshop if there could be any benefits that we could gain from current conditions or the aims of the project.

4)      Analyse all of the risks presented

One thing that often gets done during risk workshops is that all of the risks are noted and then the highest priority ones are monitored and mitigations are investigated. One thing that I suggest is all of the risks are considered and analysed to see if there are any risks which could turn into a priority.

5)      Plan, implement your risk response

When you’re going through all of your risks, make sure that you have a plan and actually implement the risk response. This includes reviewing on a regular basis to ensure that it’s still accurate and relevant.

6)      Take out the obvious

When you do a risk workshop, I’d try and save some time and already put the ‘obvious’ risks in your project/company on the table so that the team can focus on the other potential risks in the project. This has two advantages: 1) your team aren’t spending time on ‘unnecessary’ risks and looking at the more relevant, pressing ones and 2) giving your team some examples of risks that are already known to help with their thought process.

7)      Use your skills to your advantage

If you have a great facilitator on your wider Project Management team, then consider bringing them into the session to facilitate the workshop. This can have multiple benefits: having an ‘outside’ voice can help with raising sensitive topics can help with managerial support and secondly giving someone else the facilitator role if it’s a weakness will mean a more productive workshop to happen.

8)      Own it

When you are reviewing your risks, make sure that each one has an owner and that they accept that they are responsible for this risk. This can ensure that everything keeps on track and there are no risks forgotten. You can also encourage people to ‘own’ their risks by getting regular updates during project updates.

9)      Keep it relevant: update your risk register

How many times have you seen that a risk register is updated at the start of the project and then logged and forgotten about? How often is it that some of the risks identified turn into issues? It’s a lot from my experience which is why I encourage other Project Managers to make sure that their risk registers are reviewed as part of their regular update activities. This could also include closing risks that are no longer relevant.

10)   Live risks as part of your daily life

Most Project Managers I know are doing this subconsciously! They’re looking for what’s happening next and trying to actively ‘firefight’ to resolve issues occur but they might not be updating the documentation or looking actively for the risks that occur in their projects.

Why is all of this important?

As our projects are becoming more time constrained and critical, it’s important that we also look at what we can do to make our lives easier and this is where I think managing your risks actively and thinking about how you can be more efficient in your risk identification and resolution will really benefit your project on a long-term basis as you have fewer issues escalating out of your control.

Teambuilding; it’s a fine art

One big thing that I’m currently working on is improving Teamwork and improving team collaboration. I’ve been helping some teams go through the “Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing” process and helping their organisations understand why this process is vital to go through. The process is well known by most Project Managers but it’s important to make sure that others in your organisation know about this and managing their expectations for what is realistic when a team first comes together.

I’ve been making a few notes about each stage and what are some tips if you’re going through this with your teams:

In general:

  • Allow your team the time to go through this and don’t try to force moving into one particular phase
  • Create an environment where they’re able to express their feelings and grow
  • This process would also be done when there are new members joining the team
  • Provide an opportunity for people to give you feedback
  • Guide your team through the process

Forming:

A lot of team members tend to use this phase to ‘suss’ out the other members of their team and work out the ‘personalities’ that exist and who they’re likely to be able to work with. During this phase, you need to make sure that the environment during meetings is conducive to working together and building a team.

  • Give your team the chance to bond
  • Team events and building sessions are good during this phase
  • Try not to pressure the team either to work too intensively or to work together

Storming:

This is the phase that a lot of people don’t like to go through as this tends to be signalled by conflict, tension and disagreements. You cannot

  • Present the behaviour that others need to imitate and encourage a tolerant atmosphere
  • Give the team the time to resolve their conflicts and interpersonal issues
  • Be available more during this stage

Norming:

This phase can seem like ‘the calm after the storm’. It can be useful to make sure that the team are aware that conflict is healthy and that all opinions are valid.

  • Give the team the chance to perform

Performing:

The last stage is where everything comes together and it’s one of the best parts of working together as a team. The clear goals from the team are known and everything is going well. The team is also taking on the authority to make the decisions that they need

  • Enable the decisions to be able to be made. This can also highlight the future ‘team leaders’ in the team
  • Look at the improvements that can be made in the team and work together with them.

Reforming:

This stage can happen when new members join, existing team members leave or there’s a new ‘make up’ of the team. What happens next depends on the changes made and the team composition. You can do a few things during this stage:

  • Give your team the time to show you what stage they’re in and give them the space to work through it. It’s likely that when they’re going through this process again that they’ll be going through them faster and with more speed. It’s important to realise that conflict between the different team members can arise a lot during this time.

 

team

We want Lasagne and all we’ve got is Spaghetti – the case for greater transparency and simplicity in our working lives

Over the past few months, I’ve been working with a few different groups of peers and we’ve all been looking at the complexity that we’re currently facing in our daily lives, both in a professional and private capacity.

It’s quite extraordinary when you think about your daily routine, your complex projects, demands on your working life that sometimes we can really struggle to maintain any sort of balance or simplicity.

This article isn’t simply about maintaining a better work /life balance, it’s also about how we can also reduce complexity in our projects and working lives. I’ve recently been working with projects with exceptional complexity. Lots of stakeholders with their own passions and commitments, complex infrastructure and requirements and differing levels of project management maturity.

The question then becomes, as Project Managers how can we reduce the complexity in our projects? My answer is that it’s pretty simple; do not make everything so complicated. Make sure that everyone is clear on the requirements, being transparent with what you need to achieve and then furthermore, ensuring that you’re constantly maintaining a high-level overview and vision for the project and where it is going and what you’re trying to achieve. It sounds very ‘idealistic’ but how does it work in reality? It could come about in several ways:

  • Setting baselines and rules at the start of the project encouraging an open environment
  • Not making your project management processes overcomplicated or by producing the same information in different formats. Keep it simple! 1 Status Report, 1 plan and 1 communication level.
  • Keeping your stakeholder management and engagement with those stakeholders as a key priority.

Looking back at the title of this post and what we’re doing in our projects at the moment, it can sometimes feel like spaghetti. We’re sharing information in different ways, our projects are complex due to the requirements and conflicting priorities or there are no clear processes and plans and everything around managing projects is a bit of mess. It’s spaghetti and spaghetti is messy to eat! Instead, we could try to imagine and visage our projects like lasagne; layers of different elements that all compliment each other and come together to make one simple, beautiful product.

pexels-photo-131979

If we look at our personal life and how complex that can be, one thing that I try to do to reduce the complexity is to use some of my project management skills! I prioritise my free time, I plan it and I make sure that I leave time for the important things and those important things can also be doing nothing! A few years ago when I was less strict with myself about my personal time, my free time was like spaghetti. I was flitting around between personal engagements, the gym, spending time with family and there wasn’t any sort of harmony. I was running around like a bee on a spring day and it was just making me more tired! So, what can you do to bring your life into a more lasagne like way?

  • Prioritise your activities and what really needs to happen (and that includes rest periods!)
  • Take time to look at how much time you ‘realistically’ have available. You may only need 1 hour to do some shopping but if it takes 30 minutes to drive there, you’ve lost an hour just getting there.
  • Iteratively look at what you’re doing and seeing where improvements could be made. Could you order your shopping online and get it delivered instead of going to the supermarket?

None of this is a simple activity or a simple thing to achieve. If it was, all of us would be excelling and projects would have a higher success rate than they currently do. It takes practice, discipline and an alignment of different elements to be a full success.