Category Archives: Project Management

Beyond Scope, Time and Budget

three-pillars

As a project manager you are laser focused on scope, time and budget. You wake up each day and follow your plan. You recognize that managing these three pillars will lead to successfully managing and delivering the project, and consume all of your time and efforts along the way – right

Well, there is a 4th leg to ensuring your success and that is managing the “boss”. The “boss” can be any, or most of the following, the Executive Sponsor(s), other key project stakeholders, and let’s not forget the project manager’s organizational boss who may, or not be, part of the project.

Any of the following resonate?

  • At the kick-off meeting, everyone, with enthusiasm says, “We need to be focused on delivering the scope, being on time and stay within budget.” Right
  • What happens when these bosses become focused on the methodology, be it Waterfall or Agile, the document formats (Word, Excel, PDF, online, paper, etc.) and other (tangentially) related details instead of, or in addition to scope, time and budget?
  • Or, what about when the boss questions why the project is looking at and/or including an analysis of processes? You’ve heard this, “Can’t we just..?”  

Are you frustrated by attending to these boss idiosyncrasies? If so, you are feeling stressed and challenged. You want to be focused on scope, time, budget and get the project done.  Right?

EPSON scanner image
Above cartoon is credited to Tom Fishburne’s great work.

There are many, many well-written approaches on “managing up”, ways to be a good employee, how to please your boss and making your boss look good. From that large volume, here is a short list (4 areas) to focus on and managing (the boss) beyond scope, time and budget.

  • Experience. Put your experience to work. You know your boss, and/or you are aware of the personalities and styles of other bosses who might need a little more “support”. Leverage this knowledge and plan for it – actually build time into your schedule to rewind, review and consider what they are asking for. Need a primer on leadership styles, start with this overview.
  • Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Right in the beginning of the project, or as soon as “beyond scope, time, budget” behaviors, or situations arise, schedule time with the boss and ask the following questions, “What do you expect from me and the project team? What will be success for the project?” They will say scope, time, budget, so you will need to press and drill into these responses to truly know. Write these responses down and send to them confirming your understanding. And, once you have had the initial meeting and any subsequent meetings, you go back to the beginning of this paragraph and you start again.
  • Focus. At the end of the day (project), the care-and-feeding of bosses is secondary to delivering on the project’s scope, time and budget. Keeping a value-based, high-quality focus on these pillars will help on those days when you hear about the margins of a report requiring modification. These pillars are the true priorities.
  • Look in the mirror. Be your own critic before someone else does. It is easier to look in the mirror and give yourself a “get it right” talk instead of being called to an office for an unexpected “meeting”.

Finally, here is a good reference from Project Times.

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Win-Win Relationships with Consultants (and everyone else)

In my career I have had many experiences working with consulting firms and individuals and I have repeatedly witnessed some in my organization treating these relationships with a “they are only consultants” as is if they are slave labor, thus giving little or no respect. When pondering this type of behavior, my thoughts created many questions regarding the client-consultant relationship. Explore your relationships by reading on.

  • Why is it that people and organizations feel that they can “beat up” on the consultants? What kind of archaic and arcane thinking is that? What is it? It does not work and I propose requires more effort to work from this view. and delivers less than desirable results.
  • Are relationships with our vendors and partners one-sided? Is there give-and-take? Is there active listening going on? Do you agree that successful (productive) relationships are based on trust and a shared vision of the future? If so, these relationships take time and need to be developed just like any other.
  • If the first two bullets resonate, where to begin. What about the contractual agreement? Doesn’t this solidify details and expectations? If not, ask your consultant any flavor of the following:
    • “What is the definition of success? What would be the best, most ideal outcome for the project, or agreement, or contract?” After the agreement is signed and you begin the work, ask the question again, I guarantee you will get a more relaxed and beneficial answer. This is where the trust truly begins.
    • “How are you (the individual, not the company) measured for success? How will your boss, your company view success?”
    • “What has worked in the past? Tell me about the best customer you have worked with?”
  • Of equal importance and value and to make this a two-way conversation, the other side of asking your consultants all these questions, is for the consultant to clearly understand your responses to the same questions and clearly understand the goals.
  • Help them be the best they can be. Prior to engaging, the consultants presented a host of services/solutions to help you achieve your stated objectives; makes sense to put them in the best position to deliver – right?
  • Remove obstacles. Make it “easy” for them to deliver on their expertise. If they need another power cord, go get it, they need a database update, get it done, they need a decision, make it happen.
  • At the end of the day, the project or the agreement, if you have answered, and/or addressed the questions above, you will have developed a relationship that enables your consultant to succeed, and there success is your success!
  • In projects, while some elements are possibly subjective, items like time and budget should be well defined so there is no question and strict accountability can be put in place.
  • First impressions are real. Upon engaging in a new relationship with a consultant you are establishing the foundation for the future. Not only do first impressions represent a relationship between individuals, but also between individuals and organizations, or between organizations.
    • What kind of impact can a first impression have? I recall a particular experience in which I entered a corporate office of a prospective client and while awaiting for my appointment with a senior manager I observed and listened as the front-desk administrator had several in-person and over the phone engagements with co-workers where I heard at least twice some utterance similar to, “…they are only a consultant…”. That spoke volumes to me. I knew that this short-sighted perspective (BTW – this was reinforced when I met my contact) was not going to lead to a positive long-lasting relationship, and I was right as the work went away not too far into the future.
  • Getting to know each other. Remember when you moved in with your fiance, boyfriend, girlfriend, college roommate? Remember the awkwardness of learning when to use the bathroom, replacing grocery items, how loud to play music, etc. This was that “getting to know you” phase of a new relationship. Instead of experiencing these awkward activities, why not address both of your expectations, desires and requirements, etc. right from the start? If you sense that you are not on the same page, you have questions, you have doubts; don’t wait and engage right away in the dialog about concerns and questions. Add to this conversation the when and how to communicate (phone, email, meetings), introductions to others (who are the stakeholders)…. And, who is doing what; updating project plans, writing status reports, etc. How and what will be done when there is a disagreement and finally remembering to put the seat down (kidding on this last one!).

This all makes sense – right? If so, you are ready for a “win-win” relationship with your consultants.

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How does a project manager talk on the topic of project management?

A CIO from within my company from a different business unit and outside our region asked if I could speak to his IT team on project management.

Nice to be asked to speak on this topic, however, given the ginormous nature of what project management is, or can be to an organization, I thought “Where do I start?”

What follows in this (albeit lengthy) article is a reflection of my experience to tackle this vast topic within the span of a one-to-two hour meeting. My hope is that the sharing of my experience will help you if you find yourself in a consultative role.

My first thought was to treat this request as a project and, at a minimum, determine the scope and time I would have to fulfill the request. In framing it this way, next I wanted to know what he really wanted me to speak to (Scope). What topics did he consider to be project management? To answer this question, I did not want to use project management terminology (Scope, Time, Risks, etc.). I wanted to hear in his words. I would do the translation later. How much time would he allow for his team (Time)? How formal, or informal, onsite or on a call, structured or unstructured (I was thinking of what resources I would need to pull this together)?

I had some thoughts on how to proceed but also recognized it was important to have a shared view with this sponsor. I arranged for an initial call as I wanted answers to my questions, his support and my “charter” to move forward. We scheduled a call.

Layer 1

At the start he said, “I am spending too much time trying to keep them (IT team) on task.” During the call, his responses to my inquiries and the initial input provided me with created the following perception of what I would be taking on to address this topic.

  • The C-level sponsor spoke of how the IT team was having trouble getting out of its own way.
  • The team has a large number of projects on their plate, but are not particularly adept operationally to allocate resources, and distribute among the portfolio of projects.
  • Time frames were not being met and in some cases developed to move forward with projects.
  • Ongoing initiatives were sometimes reaching a crises level before he had any awareness.
  • He expressed how his view was that they needed more project management discipline and standards.

Layer 2

Good starting point, I thought. Hearing his frustration, I asked what would be a desired list of topic areas to cover. This was my attempt to further refine the ‘scope’ of the presentation. His responses led me to create the following list. The items in parenthesis illustrate how I was interpreting the list and moving towards creating an agenda.

  • Developing and understanding scope of work (Scope)
  • Allocating resources and estimating workloads (Resource Management)
  • Setting milestones and deliverables (Timing and plans)
  • What should be accomplished at project status meetings (Communications)
  • Holding to task and getting work done (Executing the project)

Layer 3

We continued the conversation, I investigated and questioned further in search of a next level of clarification. Project managers know it’s all about the details, so I delved further with two-to-three additional questions on each of the threads. Here were my follow up questions and/or thoughts that we explored.

  • Developing and understanding scope of work
    • Are project proposals and/or charters presently used?
    • Are executive sponsors, business sponsors, champions and/or subject matter experts (SMEs) known to those who are managing projects?
  • Allocating resources and estimating workloads
    • Is there a presently recognized list of all available resources (individuals) for someone leading a project to pick from?
    • What tracking project management tracking tools, if any, are being used today?
  • Setting milestones and deliverables
    • Milestones and deliverables are set in the beginning of the project with buy-in from sponsor; was there an understanding and capture of these important items happening?
    • Once scope is known there will be the “planning” phase in which the project manager can research and prepare a plan that outlines milestones and deliverables. This plan (sometimes encompassed in a charter) is reviewed and signed off prior to kick-off. What are the more important items that you would like to have awareness on?
  • What should be accomplished at project status meetings?
    • This is an easy one. Once plan is established, a project status meeting should be specific to reporting on the agreed upon status elements, most importantly; time, scope, budget, milestones, followed by risks and next steps.
  • Holding to task and getting work done
    • This one is a little difficult given we work in an environment of doing more, with less; however, I believe that holding to task is based upon complete recognition of project statuses across the team (Project Manager, Executive Sponsor, Team Members, Stakeholders). Visibility is key.

Layer 4

The final item I reviewed with the CIO was to ask what kind of “voice” would most resonate with his team, meaning; would I speak from personal experience, or from well-established and accepted methodology, such as PMI?

The end-result of our phone dialog and follow up email exchanges moved this presentation from ginormous to enormous. I looked forward to talking the team. Like many other speakers/presenters I create outlines (and sometimes, completely written out narratives) in preparation for a meeting/presentation. Here are my cryptic notes.

  • Intro and establishing my voice:
    • I am here to share experiences and help you achieve your goals.
    • Life within the “system” (reference to our organization) and career experience.
    • No one is immune. The best project managers still encounter the challenges of adhering to scope, keeping within budget and timelines, communications, etc.
    • Small-to-big projects. Been there, done that.
    • Fundamentals apply across all projects.
    • The Magic Project Management Triangle: Time, Scope, Resources (e.g. people and money)
  • Let’s talk about the work (Scope)
    • Formal: Proposals and Charters. Getting it right in the beginning.
    • Informal (small) a Word doc or an email to summarize and capture intent.
    • Establishing the “flag”. The flag is the vision and becomes the foundation for all other work. The flag is your empowerment.
    • Sets expectations internally and externally across all stakeholders.
    • End-results, time, budget, communications, resources… the more you can get the better.
    • Ability to “translate” from business-to-tech speak, and back.
  • How to do it – the tools
    • There are many; MS Project, Excel, online tools (SmartSheet), etc.
    • Depends on formality and structure of organization
  • Importance of Milestones and Deliverables
    • Start with scope
    • Get confirmation from sponsors and stakeholders
    • Start with end and work backwards
  • Keeping You in the Know – Status Meetings
    • Importance of communications. There are thousands of styles and formats.
    • Establish your personality and voice.
    • Formality and structure of organization will guide.
    • Get agreement upfront on style, format, etc.
    • Difference between internal and external project meetings.
    • Difference between project staff and sponsor meetings
    • When to interject subjectivity (e.g. dealing with emotions) and objectivity (e.g. Time, Scope, Budget, Achievements, Risks, Upcoming, etc.)
  • Staying on track
    • The “flag”. Remember, this is your empowerment to make it happen, use it often, and definitely pull it out when stuck or being challenged.
    • The plan. A lot of good work into your plan so stay the course. Plans do change, but a majority (relative term) of the time, the details will remain the same.
    • With a little help from your sponsor. Getting stuck, being challenged? Your sponsor wants project to succeed, engage them, make them part of the team.
    • Frequency of Communications. Very rarely will you over-communicate. Establish a schedule, stick to it and if you question whether you need to send out something else, do it.

Conclusion.

The CIO and team were engaged and responsive during the two-hour meeting, this was evident by their probing questions. Many times they raised present, or past situations, wanting to know how, or what could have been done.

My approach of peeling the layers away to ensure the CIO was getting what he wanted worked.

So, what do you think? Did I cover enough within my allotted time? What would you have done differently?

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How are the projects going?

How are the projects going?

I was recently asked this question and my first response was, “fine”. I am very optimistic so almost all of my responses usually denote a positive tone.

The inquirer accepted this response. However, I am also very honest and I followed with, “…there are some challenges, but they [projects] are still moving forward…

Sometimes projects have bumps in the road” was their response to my response. I agreed.

Before they could escape our office breakroom environment, I stepped up onto my project management podium and proceeded to describe a view about project challenges.

If you are still with me, and for other project managers, does this resonate with your experiences?

In the beginning of a project there is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement about the future; a future that will deliver millions of dollars, or solve world crises. Well, maybe not millions of dollars or world peace, but improved margins, new software, better processes, or a new building could be a result.

The team takes the project start’s positive energy and goes forward.vision

Then, at some point in the project’s timeline, team members lower their heads and lose site of the vision on the horizon. This is when side-steps, back-steps, project halts, tensions rise, emergency meetings are held, all because an individual, or group, becomes focused on a particular task, or event. This type of disruption creates delays and angst. My experience has recognized this situation on a number of occasions. The challenge for the project manager, and should be that of the Executive Sponsor(s) as well, is to get everyone to raise their heads and refocus their energies onto the future.

I often ask myself, why do people do this, take their eyes away from the goal? Do they still want to make money or have a new building? If yes, then take that desire and focus on the steps that will get the project going in that direction versus back-steps, or unnecessary meetings.

At this point in a project’s life, I have come to recognize that there are two things that a project manager will have to do.

  1. Resurface those project kick-off vision statements and circulate to the team.
  2. Attend those extra meetings, write up additional reports, have more phone calls (ugh!)

Do you agree that these two things will happen? Which one will you devote more energy to?

The next time I get the question, how are the projects going, I will kick it up a notch and say, “Great!

 

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Have you hugged your CIO today?

In the Wizard of Oz, there is a scene in which the omniscient voice barks, “Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain!”  

Powerful_Wizard_of_Oz

I, on the other hand, will propose that you should pay attention, and do it soon, very soon! Who is the man I am referring to? It’s your CIO and here are my four simple reasons:

  • It’s who you know. CIOs are smart, strategic, organizational leaders of your company. They may have a different function that appears to be outside and not critical to your core business (sales, marketing, finance, operations, etc.), however, they ultimately have the same goals, which are to make the company successful. They have been brought into your organization to deliver results, just like you. If you are new to your role, then think in terms of a meeting with the CIO as gaining another perspective and an opportunity to develop a strategic relationship.
  • Resources. You have a list of tactical items and projects to address and to resolve which require process management and/or technical resources. Do you have the team members to work on these? Guess what, the CIO’s team includes resources that may be available and are experienced in this work, or their team members may already be working on related projects.
  • Data is king. If you are frustrated by the reports that are delivered to your inbox, then you need to recognize, and gain a deeper understanding of how data flows through the organization. Along the way, I am confident you will uncover other valuable data nuggets to help manage your business. In today’s data-driven organizations, success is measured by KPIs (key performance indicators). If your company manages by KPIs and you believe that data is king, guess who sits on the throne!
  • Technology. The world is always changing (mobile devices, the cloud, etc.) and the way that organizations technically engage with their customers and team members needs to stay current. How are you going to be in the know? I am confident that your CIO has plans on how to deliver updates to your infrastructure and you need to be aware of what is coming. The sharing of roadmaps is a fantastic and beneficial use of time.

You may not need to get as close as the title of this post suggests, but meeting and knowing this team member will benefit your efforts, and theirs.

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The Importance of Scope within EMR.

emr image

In a recent discussion within the Linkedin Healthcare-IT/EHR/HIS group based on an article entitled, “EHR users unhappy, many switching“, many good exchanges of important ideas and topics (UI, security, data exchanges, HIPAA, interoperability, etc.) covered why users are unhappy and switching, however, I propose that from the project management perspective fundamentally the successful end result of any software solution is the adherence to a well-defined scope. EMR vendors engage and work with their clients to develop a scope. The requirements identified within the scope should not be based on the feature set; the scope should be defined by the stakeholders requirements along with defining what the desired end result will be.

In the case of an EMR solution, if the clinical caregiver population and/or some fraction of patients are not part of the development of the scope, already two key stakeholders end-user groups will feel frustrated by the outcome and adoption is likely to fail. Thus, the critical element is to capture this input from ALL stakeholders, OR, to accept the direction and input from the those creating the scope as the basis for measuring success.

This being said, the evolution of EMR solutions represents one of the most dynamic examples of the rapidly facing change of technology.

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The customer or the money?

poker bet

I am willing to bet (not a lot of money) that many vice presidents, directors and managers responsible for services (consulting, training, customer support, etc.) are faced with fulfilling corporate objectives while strongly adhering to revenue targets and/or expense management guidelines. In other words, their strategies and tactics created and used are dictated by finance.

Which is more important, the customer or the money?

The simple answer, or the one that I bet (again, not a lot of money) many vice presidents, directors and managers will give is “both”.

I get it! And, I know as good corporate leaders eyes on both, and the appropriate amount of energy and resources are directed to both, however, what if you had to choose? Which of these two would be listed as number 1? Which gets top billing?

I am not going to shy away from this question; the answer is “customer first” and here the reasons.

  1. A satisfied customer will tell their friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.
  2. A satisfied customer will buy again.
  3. It cost less to keep a customer than to get new ones.

Completely focus on the customer and I am very, very confident that revenue targets will be achieved and the expenses will be manageable.

Wanna bet?

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What makes for an outstanding customer experience? (A visit to the Land of Oz)

Recently, a visit to a local eatery with my wife resulted in an outstanding customer experience delivered by our waitress on this evening. The next day I reflected on why our experience was so exceptional. What was it that the waitress had done that led me to feel this way?

From this experience, I learned that a quick visit to the Land of Oz is the answer; more specifically, the answers are a “heart” and a “brain”!

Sure, there are thousands of books written on what companies and individuals should do to deliver outstanding customer experiences, however, consider these two items as the only ones you need to train and focus your customer facing people on.

I am confident that you are now asking, “What is meant by ‘a heart’ and ‘a brain’?”

Simply put, ‘a heart’ equals all of the soft skills delivered with honesty and sincere conviction from the heart and ‘a brain’ represents the hard facts.

“A heart” includes details such as, remembering to smile (Yes! Customers can hear you smiling over the phone), making eye contact, using voice inflection (especially when over the phone), paying attention (active listening), being positive in your language and, one of the most important items, keeping your customer’s issues at the center of the conversation. Remember, this is a person-to-person engagement, not a person to a machine, or website, and human interactions are like snowflakes, no two are alike, thus these may be soft skills, however, these are challenging to master.

“A brain” is representative of an individual’s knowledge. Does this customer-facing representative possess an in-depth knowledge about their company, products and services? Or, at a minimum do they have access to the tools that will provide them that knowledge? When a customer accepts that the person helping them to resolve their issue is an expert (or at least very knowledgeable), then customers are quick to place a trust in the relationship. With trust, established everything else becomes easier.

If you really want to deliver outstanding customer experiences, and you, or your customer facing team, are missing one of these two simple, but very important items, then you should visit the Land of Oz. First, stop by the corn field and let the Scarecrow direct you to a brain and then travel through the apple orchard and stop by the Tin Man, I am sure he will guide you to your heart.

Last thought:

A heart and a brain should be the foundation for all of an organization’s training efforts, or an individual’s self-development program.

The ability to deliver outstanding customer experiences is quite easy when an individual is healthy and likes what they are doing.  If you are reading this as an individual, are you healthy (physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually) and do you like what you are doing? If you represent an organization, do you have programs in place to support the health of your team, and the training in place to deliver on the knowledge required to work with customers? These are questions for another time; or are they? If you would like some very relevant and specific guidance on establishing programs that will support your teams, then let me know. From my heart and brain, I would love to help.

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“Data can tell any story!”

Data digital flow

Every day, in every office around the globe a report is being generated; the data in that report is intended to serve a purpose, whether that is to validate a hypothesis, show progress (or lack of), track, measure, etc. Database queries, Excel manipulations of pivot tables and many other tasks are regularly being done. Usually, the command is “just get me the data”. However, I am going to propose that business analyst and database programmers take your time and be a little slow in returning the data, after all, “data can tell any story”; at least, till the following points are consider.

  • Access – Yes, everyone wants the data. Experience has shown that the privilege of access to data is very easily provided to anyone who asks. However, without first establishing the program, the project or organizational goals, and the recognition by the program/project manager, or requestor the understanding of these goals, and until there is a clearly recognized confidence by the report producer that everyone is looking in the same direction and using the same “language” (definition of what the data fields are) then the answer is “Access Denied”.
  • Program Objectives – Many organizations struggle with clearly defining their program objectives, both qualitatively and quantitatively. In the B-2-B world and for this discussion, the focus is on the quantitative perspective. Companies want to help their customers achieve their objectives and are quick to provide data in support of these objectives in order to demonstrate the benefit of their product and/or service. To illustrate, let’s say the customer’s objective may be to get their employees registered into an education program by ‘X’ date. Imagine the following; if, after, let’s say 1 month the customer’s program manager comes into a meeting with great enthusiasm because she/he is reporting they have 98% registration and there is only a little time left prior to the end of their stated goal date, then a Director/VP says, “what about [insert new quantitative goal here]?” Without a clearly defined, up-front quantitative objective, the program manager is at a lost.
  • Interpretation – Data, when viewed by different individuals can be interpreted by in as many ways as there are number of viewers. Imagine for a moment that a Manager, a Director and a VP all are in the same meeting, all have generated reports in hand, however all arrive at different interpretations and conclusions of what the data is telling them; think about the ensuing conflict of dialog – not a pretty picture. Who is right?

I propose that 3 out of 5 readers of this topic will get it. Get what?

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Communications – Personal and “De”personal

communications

There are times when communicating with customers that a personal tone is quite effective and strengthens or creates a better relationship. However, there are definitely times when this personal approach can lead to frustration for the two parties by creating a “you versus me” tone – the specific scenario I am referring to typically occurs during customer support situations.

Here is an example to illustrate the point.

Customer calls or sends an email to customer support. They are frustrated (could be for any number of reasons); the bottom line is that they feel wronged and the support agent must right the situation. Most of the time the customer has started with an accusatory “you did (or did not)…”, thus starts the personalization – don’t get sucked into this confrontation. Here is the approach. Use empathy, personalize the support response in recognition of their frustration, after all this is a human interaction. Then, when dealing with the issue, depersonalize the communication. For example…

“Mr./Mrs. Customer, I am very sorry to hear that you have experienced this level of frustration…” (personalized)

“To be sure [Insert company name here] understands the situation, your organization requires [Insert problem here… (depersonalize)” Note the use of company name and reference to customer’s organization.

The ability to use “personal” and “depersonalized” communications will address the human side of the issue along with leading to the successful resolution to the problem.

This list of seven steps will help to remember when and how to communicate.

  1. Empathy (Personalize)
  2. Clarity of issue (Depersonalize)
  3. Playback with empathy (Personalize)
  4. Set Expectations (solution and time) (Depersonalize)
  5. Confirm Expectations are understood (Depersonalize)
  6. Restate empathy for situation (Personalize)
  7. Work and close issue

Did this help?

I hope this helps you!

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