Project Management

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5 signs that you have a great project manager Hint: They manage well and people like them

by Colin Ellis (CIO) – Link to original Article.  

When I ask CIOs or senior managers to name two great project managers, most struggle to do so. That’s worrying when you consider that, according to Gartner, almost $4 trillion is spent on projects around the world.

Of course becoming a great project manager doesn’t happen overnight. They don’t just wake up, point at themselves in the mirror and say ‘great’ and that’s it.

Similarly it’s not something that can be taught from a textbook in a classroom. As with other leadership roles, developing a great project manager starts with the hiring process.

Forget psychometric testing and requesting copies of method certificates. Instead ask candidates how they bounced back from a failure; how they manage project sponsors; or what original ideas they have to create great teams. Future stars will understand these questions and have their answers ready.

A great project manager needs to have experienced failures and successes in order to learn what it takes to build great cultures that deliver consistently well.

They will benefit from a strong mentor who understands the stresses, strains and challenges of the role and can support them in getting better and better at what they do.

So having hired a good project manager and provided access to the right knowledge to help them grow, here are the five signs that they’re on the path to greatness.

1. They’re well liked

Remember the old saying ‘being respected is important, being liked isn’t’? Rubbish. Maybe it was true 10 years ago, but not anymore. In order to get anyone to do anything for you, you have to be a nice person.

You have to speak to people in a way that they like to be spoken to, be clear about what needs to be achieved, be interested about their lives outside work and display a little vulnerability every now and again to demonstrate that you’re human. A great project manager will do this.

They’ll always start the day with a ‘good morning’, the evening with a ‘good night’ and every question or interaction will be met with a smile and an easy going nature. The project area will be filled with good humour, chocolate biscuits (or fruit) and the table will never thumped.

Remember those projects that you enjoyed? It’s because they were led by nice people who got the job done and who made you feel good about yourself too.

2. They take all the blame and none of the credit

In an ideal world blame wouldn’t exist in our working cultures at all. However, despite my crusade to ensure that projects develop the right cultures in which to deliver, I still see the evil finger of blame pointed like a weather vane in a hurricane.

Great project managers are like umbrellas (I’m going with the full gamut of weather metaphors here). When the criticism is pouring down they ensure that the team is protected from it. They then ensure that the message passed down is presented as an opportunity to improve not a problem to be fixed.

Similarly, when the sun is out and the praise is beaming down, they ensure that the people who do the real work bask in it and are rewarded for it. When they talk about how successful a project has been, they talk about the strengths of the team and the qualities they have shown, never about themselves.

3. They involve everyone in planning

Every great project manager knows that in order for any project to succeed you need a great plan; and every great project manager knows that in order to get a great plan you need to involve everyone in the planning process.

Not everyone obviously, but they take the time identify those people who are impacted and can impact the project they’re leading and get them involved, including the CIO.

They create a productive, enjoyable environment. They want to ensure that they get the most out of the three hours because at the end of it they’ll have a plan that the team has built and believe in. With that, they know that they’re already halfway to delivering a successful project.

4. They put effort into building teams

Designing great teams takes lots of thought and time and is like completing a jigsaw (stay with me on this). Great project managers look at the team picture, lay out the pieces so that they know what they need to put where, then set about creating that picture over time.

Putting any old pieces together doesn’t work, neither does putting pieces together that create a different picture at the end.

A great project manager doesn’t accept the people who are ‘free’ or ‘on the bench’ unless they’re the right people and they’ll negotiate like a used car salesperson for the people that they really need, going to great lengths to recruit people into the vision that they have. Once the team is in place, they never stop leading it, building it, encouraging it, performance managing it and celebrating it.

5. They manage up well

A project manager can’t become great unless someone has their back. They’re prepared to take responsibility for everything concerned with the delivery of a project providing someone above them is doing all they can to support the project and remove roadblocks that may stand in their way.

As I’ve mentioned before, ensuring that this support and accountability is in a place is a project manager’s job and the great ones do this really well.

You know they’re doing it well because as a CIO you’re always informed, you never doubt the ability of the team to deliver and your peers speak positively about the project and the way it’s being led.

They do all of this because they are great leaders and respect your position and the challenges that brings.

Great project managers are rare. They’re great because they love what they do and never stop looking for better ways to do it. Do you have any great project managers? If so, what do they do that sets them apart from others? I’d love to hear your views.

Colin Ellis is a project management expert specialising in people and culture not method and task. He has over 20 years experience in the UK, NZ and Australia and his Conscious Project Management approach ensures that people with consistently great behaviours are at the forefront of project delivery. Find out more at his his website or follow him on Twitter @colindellis

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Eight Pieces of Information to Provide When Assigning Work

One of the basic responsibilities of the project manager is to assign work to team members. However, some project managers are not always clear on the work to be done and the person that is responsible. This causes uncertainty in the team and can result in some activities running late.

In fact, if you have managed projects for a while, you have probably run into this situation. For example, you might ask a team member the status of a critical assignment and they may tell you that they did not realize that they were assigned to the activity.

A good way to test whether your directions and assignments are clear is to ask team members what they are responsible for completing in the next two weeks. This is not something you need to do with every team member every week. However, it can be valuable to ask once in a while, or when a critical activity is due, just to validate whether you are assigning activities clearly. If the team members know what is expected of them, chances are that you are effectively and clearly assigning the work. However, if team members give you different answers than you expect, it may mean that you need to work on being clearer and more precise.

When you assign work to team members, be clear about the following eight items:

Activity name. This comes from the schedule.

An explanation. Describe the work if necessary.

Start-date and end-date. The project manager needs to be clear on when the activity can start (probably immediately) and when the activity is due. If the team member cannot meet the deadline date, he needs to let the project manager know as soon as possible.

Estimated effort hours (optional). The project manager should communicate the estimated hours required to complete the activity. This is usually of secondary importance compared to the due date – unless the customer is getting charged for each hour worked. If the team member cannot complete the activities within the estimated effort hours, he needs to let the project manager know as soon as possible.

Estimated costs (optional). If the team member cannot complete the work within the cost estimate, he needs to let the project manager know as soon as possible. If the activity only includes labor, the cost overrun will be directly related to an overage in labor hours. However, if there are non-labor charges involved in the activity, it is possible that these non-labor costs could be over budget.

Deliverable. The team member needs to understand the deliverable or work component (a portion of a larger deliverable) that he is expected to complete. If there are quality criteria to meet, the team member should know these quality requirements.

Dependencies. Make sure the team member knows his relationship with other activities – ones that are waiting on him or ones that must be completed before his can start.

Other resources. Communicate if there are other people or resources working on the same activities. The team member must understand if there are other staff members and who has overall responsibility for the activity.

If team members understand the work perfectly but don’t deliver on time, you may have a performance problem. However, if the team member is not clear about the work they have been assigned or the due date, the project manager may have a communication problem.

Understand These Three Estimating Concepts

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Estimate in Phases

One of the most difficult aspects of planning projects is the estimating process. It can be hard to know exactly what work will be needed in the distant future. It can be difficult to define and estimate work that will be done three months from now. It’s harder to estimate six months in the future. Nine months is even harder. There is more and more estimating uncertainty associated with work that is farther and farther out in the future.

A good approach for larger projects is to break the work into a series of smaller projects, each of which can be planned, estimated and managed separately with a much higher likelihood of success. From an estimating perspective, the closest project can be estimated more precisely, with the subsequent projects estimated with a higher level of uncertainty. When one project completes, the next project can be estimated with a higher degree of confidence, with estimates refined for the remaining projects. This technique also provides checkpoints at the end of each project so that the entire initiative can be revalidated based on current estimates to ensure that it is still viable and worth continuing.

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4 Ways to Measure Your Project Management Value

April 26, 2013

What value do you bring to your organization? It’s sometimes hard to communicate that in a tangible way to others, so the following article provides insight into how you can determine your value as a project manager…and even tell others about it.

I was recently heading back from a business trip and was waiting to board the plane. We were all standing in the jetway, the line slowly inching forward as everyone boarded the plane, stowed their luggage and found their seat. It’s always interesting to me how loud people talk in that moment. Maybe their voice echoes a little in the enclosed chamber of the jetway, but you can clearly hear people making dinner plans, talking about how abysmal their meeting was, and a host of other topics that the rest of us really aren’t that interested in.

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5 Ways to Avoid Scope Creep

May 1, 2013

A project manager was working on a small, three-month project to deliver a new piece of software. After a couple of weeks, the project sponsor decided to add some new requirements. The project manager included them. A bit later on, the sponsor made some more changes, and asked for some new functionality. Again, the project manager said that it was no problem. The changes were made. Towards the end of the three months, the sponsor went to the project manager and complained that the project was behind schedule. The project manager tried to explain that all the changes meant that there was no way that the software could be completed to the original timescales. The sponsor was not happy and the project manager was taken off that project because he was “too slow”.

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How to Monitor Your Project Progress

You need an accurate view of your progress, if you’re to deliver your project successfully. So read these 5 steps on…

How to Monitor Your Project Progress

Your projects will be changing from day-to-day, so you need to monitor progress to make sure you’re on top of everything.

If you don’t keep a close watch on progress there is a chance that your project will go off-track and you’ll fail to complete it successfully. The trick is to make progress tracking really easy. If it is straightforward for you and the team, then you’ll be able to monitor progress with a few clicks.

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Why you Should Baseline Your Plan

April 3, 2013 – Posted on

Looking through recipe books gives me great ideas about the kind of dinners I will cook during the following week. But when I try to make the recipes, they never turn out just like the picture in the book. That’s probably because I rarely have the right ingredients, so I make changes to the recipe as I go along! The end result tastes fine, but it doesn’t look like the picture of the food made by the professional chef.

The professional chef’s starting point – the recipe and the photo – is the baseline. That’s what you think you will achieve when you start to cook. What you get at the end is often very different! Not necessarily wrong, but just not what you thought you would get because of the changes you made along the way.

Project plans are no exception. At the beginning of the project you put together a project schedule with your team, using online project management software or other tools. Then you work towards completing that plan. Changes are approved, risks appear, people leave and others join the team, and over the course of the project the plan adapts and ends up looking different to how it did at the beginning.

Experienced project managers will have taken a baseline of their plan once they first put it together. A baseline is a snapshot of the plan at a fixed moment in time. It is the original approved version of what you set out to deliver.

You might be wondering why it is worth bothering to keep a copy of this plan – after all, if everything is likely to change, surely it is more valuable to refer to the most up to date version? Well, yes, it is. You do need to manage the project using the most recent plan. But it is useful to have a copy of the original baseline for comparison. Here are some reasons why.

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Three roles of the Project Management Office

Posted on March 10, 2011 by Alvin

When someone says PMO most people think of a team of Project Managers, or some say Project Manglers, and a long list of procedures they need to follow. I would say this would have been true in the past, but these days the expectations of the PMO has shifted and can vary greatly from company to company. First off is the name, you have some that think it should be called a Program Management Office while others like to call it a Portfolio Management Office or even Enterprise Portfolio Management Office. I prefer Project Management Office as you are dealing with projects regardless of the number. Another name that I think works well would be a Project Portfolio Management Office. Whatever the name, they all basically try to do the same thing. Below is a diagram I drew of three roles of the PMO I plan to cover.

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How to Manage Your Project Risks

A risk is something that might affect the success of your project. Like, if you’re going out – you’d consider the risk of it raining today. You’d be sure to pack an umbrella if you thought the risk was high!

You’ll find risks on your project too, and the difficult thing is that you never know exactly if and how they will affect you. The best you can do is plan to mitigate the risk (like packing your umbrella) or work out how you can stop it happening in the first place.

Here is a simple 5 step process that you can use to effectively manage risks on your project.

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5 Main Responsibilities of a Project Manager

Dinner at a fine restaurant is always an assortment of dishes. Small portions of appetizers, soups and salads whet the palate and subdue the appetite so that a diner enjoys the real star of the show, the main course. Dessert completes the experience. Likewise, while project management entails many small activities, there are a handful of main responsibilities that successful project managers serve up.

The following are the:

5 Main Responsibilities of a Project Manager

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