Blog

Celebrating success in virtual teams

One thing that I’ve been talking a lot about lately is how to manage and celebrate project success when you’re working in a virtual/remote team. In my previous projects we tried to arrange onsite meet ups towards the end of the project so that we could do a lunch/dinner together but this isn’t always feasible or an option. If you’re a Project Manager to a virtual team you could consider doing some of the following that is mentioned below:

I asked on Projectmanagement.com and Twitter what others did to celebrate success and it was great to see the reaction and responses from the Project Management community.

Ways to celebrate success:

1) Team “video” closing parties
2) Sending cakes/cards/little momento’s to say thank you/ good job!
3) Congratulation /thank you emails to the team

2018-11-28 20_34_37-ProjectManagement.com - Messages on Celebrating Project success in virtual teams2018-11-28 20_32_35-ProjectManagement.com - Messages on Celebrating Project success in virtual teams2018-11-28 20_37_03-ProjectManagement.com - Messages on Celebrating Project success in virtual teams

2018-11-28 20_38_53-.png

 

How to make it applicable to your project:

There are a few things that i’d recommend to make these examples relevant to your project:

  1. Look at the size of your project and don’t do too much or too little to acknowledge your team
  2. Consider the company culture/ team culture in what you decide. Would an email to them with their boss in CC be appropriate/ appreciated?
  3. What’s your budget? It’s fine to have grand ideas about flying everyone in to the Project Closure Meeting or giving everyone bottles of wine but if your budget cannot stretch to that, then you might need to consider something else
  4. Talk to your peers. What do they do to recognise success? What has/has not worked for them?
    1. This is vital if you are new to an organisation or want to try something new. It can be useful to see what has already been tried and what was successful or not.

Why is celebrating success important?

This may sound odd but there are a lot of Project Managers and organisations that do not celebrate success. They do not look at it as something that is important in a project and I’ve started a crusade to try and convince Project Managers to make an effort to celebrate their projects, teams and on a wider level. It is not just about celebrating your teams’ achievements but also about recognising the work that you have done, the value that you have delivered and what you’ve been able to achieve.

Communicating within your team – Advice from within

During a recent conference, one question that came from attendees was: How can I improve and become an effective communicator within my team? and I wanted to spend some time to answer this question and also share some knowledge from my experience.

What can you do to become an effective communicator?

1.Listen!

This may sound counter intuitive but to be a good communicator you need to listen to what you are being told but also what you are not hearing. Listening and being an active listener is one of the most important skills of being a Project Manager and it’s something that you cannot underestimate.

2. Be concise in your communications

When you are communicating to your team, don’t waffle! Be clear, concise and use appropriate wording. You need to understand who your audience is and make it appropriate to them. If you’re working a lot with Senior Management, it may not be appropriate to go into technical details.

3. Have a plan

One of the core competencies of a Project Management is having a good communication plan. Are you looking at everyone that you need to be talking to? What should you be telling them? when should they be informed? I’d also recommend getting colleagues/ PMO input to make sure that you’re including everyone that needs to be communicated to and that it’s at a frequency that they will appreciate.

4. Communicate effectively

Have you ever been in a presentation and thought: What on earth am I seeing? or getting frustrated because the presenter hasn’t understood the brief or audience that they are presenting to? When I start a new project, I like to ask the following questions:

  1. What format would you like to receive the project updates?
    1. Examples being: Face to face, emails, presentations etc.
  2. When would you like to receive these updates?
    1. Examples are: Weekly, bi-weekly, monthly etc

Once I have this information, i’m able to create a plan that will allow me to communicate to the right audience and with the right form of communication

5. Make time for your team

One big complaint that I often see from Team Members is that their Project Managers are too busy and they feel bad for talking/ interrupting them. I have an open door policy and will regularly be available at lunch/during breaks to talk to my team and be ‘open’ to them. This may not always be about work but it could also be about personal things but it will also help to build your communication within your team.

6. Don’t lie/ exaggerate

One thing that I often tell to Project Managers that can be a little insecure is for them not to lie/ exaggerate to their team. This is vital for building trust within your team and having an ‘honest’ Project Manager will also help your reputation in the company. Don’t be afraid to say: I don’t know or I’m not sure. You can note it down and work it out and come back to them.

What tips do you have to becoming an effective communicator? What do you do to ensure a smooth communication exists within your team? Let’s chat!

Know the signs

I was recently asked: “What makes a successful Project Manager” and it took me by surprise.  Of course, there is the obvious “Delivering successful projects” but a more subtle one is about knowing the signs when something is going right/wrong. During this blog, I want to give you a few ‘signs’ that you might want to consider and see if they apply to your projects/ organisations.

1. Lack of involvement/ general disinterest about the project/ activities

One of the biggest indications or signs that the Project may be headed for trouble is where team members or specific stakeholders are not attending meetings, contributing to agreed tasks or providing sign off for their responsibilities. I’ve seen this happen in several ways and more often than not, it’s a sign of poor change management within the project. General disinterest could present itself as not contributing during team meetings or being late/ not attending the meetings at all.

If you do find team members/stakeholders that you feel are starting to become disinterested, then I suggest discussing this with them privately. Try to understand if this is the case and then start working out why they’re disengaged and then go from there to resolve their issues or escalate accordingly.

2. Rumour mill / stories

I’ve previously seen a sign where there could have been issues in the project when the rumour mill within the team/company starts churning. Rumours about the changes in the project, changes in leadership, issues within the project being escalated higher than they actually are. When the rumour mill starts, I try to listen as this can be a goo indication of where the ‘concerns’ are within an organisation and then I try to identify where the rumour came from to be able to tackle the issue directly.

As a Consultant, I often see certain types of companies (normally with very rigid hierarchies) becoming victim to the rumour mill and this can seriously damage the reputation of a project and ability to perform their role.

3.Gut instinct

One great instinct that I think is very underrated is about Gut Instinct. It’s a feeling that ‘something isn’t quite right there’. It is one skill that comes with experience and it’s very difficult to learn as a Junior Project Manager. Having gut instincts and knowing where issues could arise can help solve issues before occur. To try and build your gut instinct, I like to read through lesson learned reports and discuss with other Project Managers about the issues that they’ve seen in their project and what could be done to resolve it.

4.Meetings suddenly become difficult

I’ve heard this one from colleagues that have worked in projects with very complex stakeholders. During general meetings, there can be a lot of disagreements or ‘non’ issues appearing that come across as major issues that need to be investigated/resolved. An example from a colleagues project was during their regular status meeting, there was a 30 minute discussion on why a certain action was taken that had already been decided upon and was already known for several weeks.

5.The Metrics indicate that something is going wrong

This is perhaps one of the most ‘obvious’ signs. If you have project metrics that indicate that your velocity is not as high as expected or alternatively that your team is not performing as well as it should be (based upon the history of the project metrics).

I try to do a regular (monthly) review of the metrics and I also use this to verify if my gut instinct or other signs are correct/accurate. Metrics are very black and white though, so they may not show the entire story.

6.Management having ‘secret’ meetings/longer meetings

One indication of a wider issue within your project s organisation could be management taking longer meetings/ holding secret meetings where the outcomes are not discussed. This ‘hidden’ element can lead to #2 (rumour mill running wild). This may not be a strong indications for issues within your project but it could indicate problems in the wider company.

Summary

In general I like to try and keep an open mind when it comes to all of my projects and give everything the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. I do like to look at the possibilities and opportunities that we can have to learn about projects and potential signs that we may not have seen yet.

What signs do you use in your projects to know when something might be going wrong?

 

Drama should only be on the TV and not in your projects

Have you ever had it when there’s been some massive drama in your project and you’re having to deal with it? Either with inter-personal conflict or people turning up the conflict unnecessarily?

During a recent coaching session, I was supporting one Project Manager who is having this conflict at the moment. They are working in a large, multinational company and there are A LOT of complex stakeholders involved. One particular stakeholder wasn’t happy that they weren’t being included “enough” in the project and decided to spread rumours that were false about the project status and how certain team members were getting ahead in the project/organisation. All in all, a very unproductive use of their time and something which was causing the Project Manager to lose a lot of sleep and spend a significant amount of energy resolving.

This is what I suggested that they do and how they handle this situation:

  1. Identify who is spreading the gossip and ‘fake news’
  2. Understand why they are behaving like this and what their motivations are
  3. Look at what you do to mitigate the issue and rumours
  4. Go on a PR mission to resolve and get the Stakeholder on side
  5. Get your stakeholders aligned and onside.

In this example, the stakeholder in question felt that their position in the organisation was being weakened through this project and they wanted to ensure that they remained ‘important’. I coached the Project Manager on what they could do to bring that person onside and what they could to try and mitigate any further issues from appearing.

Then we took on the PR mission and what we could to resolve the rumours from being spread further or causing more damage to the projects reputation. This involved getting key stakeholders on board and supporting the project openly and vocally. This wasn’t an easy thing to achieve.

It wasn’t easy.

What would you have done if you were the project manager? Would you have tried other ways to diffuse the conflict or situation?

Coaching Session: Stakeholder Management

I really enjoy coaching as it stretches me to think about things in different ways / possibilities. Most recently, it’s been about Stakeholder Management.

Stakeholder management had always been one of those things that I never really took any notice of. It was more of “something to do on a checklist” rather than: what does it really look like? How does it work in reality? So when I was asked to support a friend who was struggling with it in their project, I jumped at the opportunity to help.

What does the Matrix look like for you?

There’s a lot of different formats which are used for Stakeholder Management. I’ve said that it doesn’t matter which format you use, it has to be one that’s fit for purpose and suitable for your project!

2018-11-13 13_48_11-Sample stakeholder Register and Power matrix - Excel

What input is needed for the “Power Interest Grid”?

There are a few things that you need to gather before creating a power / interest grid. I’d conduct a full stakeholder analysis with your team to make sure that you’ve included everyone (don’t forget vendors, third parties or other interest groups!). Once you have this, you can either choose to do the analysis by yourself for how powerful each stakeholder is or you can work together with your team to come to a common consensus. I often do this task by myself and check a few of the uncertainties with peers/ the team.

2018-11-13 13_51_40-Sample stakeholder Register and Power matrix - Excel

How do you get this input?

The friend who was struggling with their project didn’t really know who was involved in the project so didn’t know their power/interest so I suggested that they make this a living document and update it along the way once they get to know the team and the dynamics.

It’s important to remember that both Power and Interest for a project can change during a project (both positive and negative).

How to build relationships with people you’ve never met and will never meet?

This can be the most difficult part of Stakeholder Management and one that i’d recommend that you spend some time to work out:

  1. What’s feasible? Is it possible to spend some time on this? Could you arrange face to face to help build the team?
  2. What’s right for the team/ stakeholders: This one can be difficult to assess but you need to understand what’s best for the stakeholders that you want to build a relationship with. Are they someone who just wants emails and that’s fine? or are they someone that you should be making an effort to have a lunch/ catch up with?
  3. Have a look at what’s important and then go from there to know how you can build your relationship.

Some ideas for building remote relationships:

  1. Consider using video conferencing to ‘bridge’ the gap
  2. Look at what onsite meetings you can use to check in and spend some time on team building activities when you get there
  3. Ask them! Ask them how they want to be kept informed. what’s best for them and what they can expect from you. This can also be a great exercise on building relationships within your project.
  4. Try to bring the remote team members into the ‘onsite’ project. This could be with secret santa, silly jumper day etc. Anything to help show them that they are in the team.

Stakeholder management can be a difficult thing to master and it’s one thing that you will need to adapt for every project and group of stakeholders. There is no “one fits all” solution but you can reuse some of the skills you have in other ways.

What are your tips for effective stakeholder management?

Presenting at DITAEurope

I’ve had a great morning presenting at the DITA Europe conference. DITA Europe is a content management conference bringing together the best minds and solutions to provide strategies that you can use directly in your daily work.

The conference was held in Rotterdam with great views of the city! The conference venue was really well set up and the room/ environment was really conducive to a good learning day. There were a series of great talks and also a ‘technology test kitchen’ which had some really great session like: DITA Adoption: How to involve non-technical authors and how to make metadata great again. I find it really fantastic that the audience was a mix of technical team and management.

2018-11-06 14_02_07-Emily Luijbregts (@Em_The_PM) _ Twitter

I was presenting a topic called: The Questions you should be asking your team. This is one of my favourite topics to discuss and it’s great to share knowledge with different groups of people.

The audience was slightly different to the normal people that I present to, which gave me an alternative viewpoint and insight hearing from team members themselves. What was most important for me during this workshop was seeing how they could use the information in the presentation to adapt their working day and the information that they are giving to their management/ leadership.

2018-11-06-14_01_39-emily-luijbregts-em_the_pm-_-twitter.png

During the lively Q&A, I got to learn how other teams celebrate success/ improvements and also some more constructive areas (e.g. how some managers highlight success/ failure). One of the audience mentioned that:

“In a previous company, our management had a massive screw and they used to give it to the employee who screwed up that week”.

One of the areas that gave me ‘food for thought’ was how teams respond to the different motivations and what’s important for them in starting and opening dialogues; “I didn’t like my Project Manager trying to force their planning on us when we knew that it was inaccurate”.

2018-11-06 14_01_13-Emily Luijbregts (@Em_The_PM) _ Twitter

After the session, several people came up to ask questions and as a follow up i’ll be emailing them with ideas such as:

  • How to work with French teams and how you can orientate your questions working in a French environment
  • What’s the best way to manage your mental health as a team member being involved with a difficult team
  • How to work /orientate your questions when you have multiple cultures/nationalities in your team

It’s been a great day and I can’t wait to connect with others on this fascinating topic.

Something’s gotta give.

This is going to be a different sort of post than one I’d normally write. It’s about being a mother and a professional woman and the difficulties that we face. This post isn’t about the inequality that exists within our workplaces but more about my experience and what I’ve learnt along the way.

My daughter is now a little over 2 years old so I don’t have the experience of other women, this is just my humble experience and what I’ve found since becoming a mother and trying to combine this with a successful career.
38246168_10100775572844610_1480034142379835392_n

Life before Mum

Before I became a parent, I was a Project Manager and serial marathoner. I’d be found during the week at my desk and at the weekends running multiple marathons with friends all over Europe. This in itself was a great achievement and I loved my weekends exploring and running through many different areas.
After reaching 100 marathons and looking for another challenge, I switched up my training and spent more time at home than travelling. I then became pregnant and had the prospect of being a mum added to my list of responsibilities and names.
FB_IMG_1540976356898
Being a mother is the most valuable role that I’ll ever play and it’s so much more important to me than any job. Raising a child is definitely one of the most rewarding and stressful jobs you’ll ever do!

What does it mean for work?

Working in the Netherlands entitled me to 16 weeks maternity leave (4 weeks before, 12 after). I managed to negotiate a little more but I found myself back to work after a very difficult birth when my daughter was 6 months old and it broke me in two months. After a few months of trying to persevere, I discussed with my husband about taking a break and spending time raising our child and then returning to work after. This was an extremely daunting prospect for me as I’ve heard the stories of women trying to return after a career break and what it entails (reduced salary, difficult conditions, difficult to return to similar positions, lack of professional development). I was also in the position of “career fatigue” and was started to get frustrated with my projects and my role.
It one of the best decisions that I made for myself as it gave me the ability to fully recover from the birth as well as learn how to be a mother. I know that I was in a privileged position but I’m fortunate that we had the right circumstances to be able to support this choice.

My ‘pause’

So, I took my career break but decided to continue volunteering and get back to the type of projects and activities I like to do. This was a life saver for me to make sure that I remained relevant to the industry but also to keep myself informed about the latest information or trends.
When I returned to work, I was exceptionally choosy about what role I took, what the conditions were and how flexible they were to working mothers.
Returning to work has not been easy. It’s been described to me as “mum guilt”. You feel guilty that your child cried when you leave because you work, you feel guilty that you can’t be there for meals because there’s traffic or a late meeting. You feel guilty that you can’t be superwoman and get everything you want done. In short, something has to give.
This article isn’t to pass judgement. It’s to acknowledge that sometimes we really have difficult choices to make about our career, our family life and our own personal happiness. We need to work and find a balance for all 3 to be able to be happy.

What could this mean for you?

  • What about working from home so you’re not stuck in traffic for a day a week?
  • Could you hire someone to give you and your partner a hand around the house?
  • Are you making the time that you do have with your kids as valuable and uninterrupted as possible? (Get off the phone/TV/internet!)
  • Start a discussion with yourself about what makes you happy? And what can you do to get it?
  • Look at everything you need, what you want and then see how it tallies up.

Some tips:

  • So, if you’re thinking about a career break, why not look at what you can do to stay relevant (e.g. volunteering).

 

  • If you’re returning to work, look at what you really want to do and what you need to do to get there.

 

  • If you’re in your career and just want to excel and succeed further, look at what you need and what you’ll do to get it.

 

  • When you’re looking at trying to achieve the impossible, be kind to yourself. Sometimes, something has to give and don’t let that be your sanity. My ‘me time’ is going for a run with the dogs. It may be at 6am in the morning or it may be later but having that time where I can feel like ‘me’ again makes the world of difference.

 

There’s an impossible choice that we make and there’s no golden answer. It’s about making the decision work for your family, your career and most importantly: you.

PMICON18 – A summary and round up

I’ve just come back from a great conference in Los Angeles. I took part once again in the Ask The Experts area for PMI and I’ve had one of the most inspirational and thought provoking conferences yet!

Ask the Experts is a forum provided by PMI and Projectmanagement.com where attendees to the conference can sign up to 20 minute slots for advice, career advice, project support or simply to gain information and a different perspective on what they’re doing. The days were packed! and there were a lot of drop in’s which also made us think on our feet! We had people from every career, every walk of life and from every stage of their career which really made it interesting! I find it one of the most valuable parts of the conference and I really appreciate the PMI investing in this!

I loved seeing and meeting other Project Managers and sharing advice and insights. The people that I saw spoke about a wide variety of topics including:

– How to become a PMP

– How to maintain their credential

– How to set up a PMP

– Career advice (changing careers)

– Career advice (transitioning to different industries)

– How to run effective workshops (including risk workshops)

– How to share knowledge within teams

– How to work with international and virtual teams

– How to work with a difficult team/ boss

Each session was 20 minutes but if I could, I’d try to spend more time if needed. Being able to have some individual coaching sessions has enabled me to help and support lots of people over the course of 3 days.

PMI check in

As part of my role as an Expert, I needed to write some blogs about what I was up to, what was going on and trying to bring the conference to those who couldn’t be there in person.

pmicon18.PNG

One of the lasting things from the conference for me has been the focus and thought about how I handle change within my projects and what I can do to make it better and more efficient for my daily life. One great aspect of this conference is being able to share knowledge with other PMs so I used this opportunity to ask how they would approach certain situations or handle difficulties within the Project environment.

Since I returned from the USA and been back to work, I’ve really jumped on some of the finer aspects of Leadership that I’ve learnt at the conference. You can read all about it in the blogs I’ve highlighted above but in summary they are:

  • Change is part of our daily life as Project Managers and we need to live that change and be the change that we want to see in our projects
  • Resistance is human nature and we can use this to our advantage when talking about our projects
  • There’s no such thing as “Too much communication”
  • We need to “find the links” in how we can make change palatable to our stakeholders.

Most of all, I’ve found that I really want to keep on this momentum and find some more connections and how I can further develop as a Project Manager.

What tools do you use for change management? What works for you?

#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!