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The Empathetic Project Manager

Are you a project manager who understands your customer, sponsor or stakeholder? Who takes an empathetic approach to their requirements? Understand the effect of the planned change on the organisation and its people. Project Management deals with change that is the outcome of working on the project in the first place. Is it the role of the Project Manager to feel for the people the change is affecting? Understanding the human element of a project is an essential aspect of a quality project manager.

The power of empathy enables a person to be of greater service to sponsors, clients, peers, superiors and subordinates.  As project management is about serving the needs of stakeholders and satisfying their expectations, empathy is a critical success factor. This is a lesson learnt over many years as a project manager, because

People can often forget what has been said and done to them, depending on the enormity of the issue, but they will never forget how they have been made to feel.

A projects deal with a change in working environments, be it infrastructure or Application based and change has occurred for a project to be completed. At some stage of the projects lifecycles, people, sponsors, stakeholders have been affected. To ensure leaders, including project managers, are empathetic to those affected, understanding their feelings and reactions is important. During a change leaders might want to spent more time and effort in communicating to dispel unnecessary uncertainty, be seen as trusted change leaders and to exhibit a degree of caring and kindness.  

There are three known types of empathy, cognitive, emotional and compassionate. Each will be treated separately.

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy is the ability to intellectually understand what others may think or feel.  It is taking the perspective of another.  This is very useful in negotiating, conflict resolution and in motivating people.  But, this kind of empathy can be cold and calculating.  When there is no emotional connection, there is a tendency to be detached, uncaring and manipulative. 

Emotional Empathy

Emotional empathy is feeling what others are feeling, as if their emotions were contagious.  “This emotional contagion depends in large part on cells in the brain called mirror neurons, which fire when we sense another’s emotional state, creating an echo of that state inside our own minds. Emotional empathy attunes us to another person’s inner emotional world, a plus for a wide range of professions …”   

Emotional empathy has a negative side.  Person’s emotions can be triggered by another’s, which has the potential to become overwhelming and lead to reactions and decisions that may not have the best interest of the people or project at hand.  The project manager must be able to manage their emotions, and while feeling them fully, not become reactive.  For example, termination, or removal of a resource from a project team, where the pain of the removal can be felt by others but still go through with the action to let them go.  Compassionate empathy informs the choice of an approach that would minimize the other’s pain. 

Compassionate Empathy

The third kind of empathy is compassionate empathy, which deals with blending emotions with rational thinking and the urge to help.  As another’s feelings are felt as if they were their own and applies emotional intelligence so as not to be driven by the feelings.  At the same time as assistance is provided where possible and necessary.   Compassion is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it” according to Merriam Webster.  Other perspectives point to the need to apply self-compassion as well as compassion for others.

Compassionate Empathy is the highest form of empathy.  It moves empathy from receptivity to proactive action motivated by a felt sense of kindness, caring and the urge to serve.  

Empathetic factors are important to the project manager who understands, compassion, kindness, and caring, it all seems fluffy and not real.   Are project managers supposed to be kind and empathetic?  It is a trait a project manager should have to be successful. Studies and common sense tell us that workers are more productive and have lower turnover rates when they are less stressed with a sense that the people they work for and with care about them as people. 

Today, it is widely accepted that acknowledging and managing feelings is quite practical.  If people are part of the equation, there will be feelings and their feelings will affect performance. Positive feelings such as happiness, kindness, compassion, confidence, trust, etc. lead to people performing their tasks more effectively.    If the feelings are negative, such as anger, depression, anxiety, jealousy, distrust, etc. performance will suffer. 

Empathy begins with motivation and the cultivation of mindful awareness as a foundation for emotional and social intelligence. At the same time, we use cognitive and communication skills to show people that they are seen and being cared about. Ask yourself questions such as how do I feel at work?  How do my stakeholders feel?  Do positive feelings and empathy make a difference?  The studies and theories are helpful in answering these questions, but you need to answer them for yourself, based on your own experience and the experience of those around you. Think about it, talk about it.  See if empathy matters.  And if it does, do something to make yourself and your organisation more compassionately empathetic.

The Ultimate Project Status Report Checklist

Status Report

Project reporting is one of the most important factors in a project manager’s daily function, understanding the information which needs to be provided, and being succinct in the process is a very definite skill. Governance dictates that status report updates need to be provided to management, stakeholders, sponsors and anyone in between at least on a fortnightly or monthly basis.

Understanding the content which needs to be injected becomesa critical part of effective project communications and management strategy. Templates, PowerPoint can be used and some produce reports directly from their project reporting tools or a combination of all three can be used. Whatever format used, adhering to a regular and formalized process helps save time and costly data mistakes. Also, by being consistent with reporting process assists in maintaining stakeholder expectations, so everyone is aware of what information they can expect on a regular basis.

There will be many different types of progress reports throughout the life cycle of the project. But the project status report can do a lot of things other reports can’t. It’s a vital communication tool, and it can provide a documented history of the project, which makes planning for the next project easier.

Some other objectives of status reports include:

  • Improve communications across organization
  • Simplify communication process
  • Keep stakeholders informed
  • Deliver key messages to intended target audience
  • Improve organizational support for the project or team

Whether presenting in a board room or sending a weekly email update, it’s a good idea to know the best practices when reporting on a project’s progress before jumping into a presentation of the report.

  • Communicate:  It should be used to deliver the right data to the right party at the right time.
  • Consistency: Use the same format, distribution cycle and method. Don’t mix things up. That only disrupts the effectiveness of the communication aspect of the report.
  • Establish Metrics: When planning for the project, figure out how progress is going to be measured. Maintain this method when reporting on the project throughout its life cycle.
  • Simplify: The report should be effective, so don’t obscure it with unnecessary details. Stay to the point and just report on what needs reporting on.
  • Verify: The audience doesn’t want opinions or unsubstantiated facts. Do the due diligence, and make sure that the data and information is verified.
  • Standards: Like consistency, keeping standards of process and a template for reporting makes sure the report is clear.
  • Use Tools: There are project management tools that incorporate these best practices, streamlining the process.

The project management status report should include the following general information;

  • Project name
  • Date
  • Project Author
  • Project Sponsor
  • Project manager Name
  • Number of resources

Although obvious, this information is essential. Assumptions should not be made that the stakeholder is familiar with the information. It’s also especially useful for when performing historic research for future projects.

Other factors which should be included in a project Status report are as follows;

Milestone Review

The milestones are major phases of a project. They’re a good way to break up the larger project into more digestible parts. They’re not as small as tasks, but made up of those tasks which together make up a phase of the project. This is where a note indicates how the milestone is tracking against the planned point of the projects life cycle.

Project Summary

Include a short summary of the forecasted completion date and costs of the project. Be sure to include the tasks that are facing issues, how those problems might impact the deadline and costs, what the plan is to resolve these issues and what the results will be once they have been fixed.

Issues and Risks

List the issues that have arisen over the course of the project to date. Note what they are, how they will be resolved and what impact they’ll have on the overall project. Do the same with the risks and how they will be mitigated.

Project Metrics

It’s important to back the report up with hard numbers to prove the statements being made. This metric should have been established during the project’s planning phase. It’s impossible to know if the project is succeeding without measuring its effectiveness.

How PM Tools Can Help

Reporting tools help monitor and track projects online, so all the project data is up-to-the-minute, not days or weeks old. Most PM tools allow generation of some kind of project reports; look for a tool that automates as much reporting as possible, so time is saved. Project Manager Companion for example provides online tools which can generate a variety of reports in one click. From project and portfolio status reports, to task progress report, timesheet reports, workload and allocation reports, expense tracking reports and more.

The reporting can be customized to ensure the right data is for the right audience by filtering the project and data columns needed. The great thing about having the data via software is that it allows drilling down to get finer detail if asked. Having a reporting tool also means no more crunching numbers. The software calculates planned versus actual progress across team members, tasks and projects, via a click. This enables a view on the number of days behind or, preferably, ahead of schedule. If managing a portfolio, it can measure its progress, too.

Look for an online PM software tool that offers real-time dashboards, as that offers the project manager and stakeholders the most accurate data possible. It’s a good idea to bring dashboards via laptop or tablet to status report meeting. That way, if a stakeholder wants to drill deeper on the data, it can be done in real-time so they have the most current picture of the project’s progress as possible.

Reporting is a fundamental part of project management. Using a PM tool that can save time, repetition makes reporting simpler and more accurate. Project Management Companion provides a selection of cloud-based software that updates statuses instantly online, providing the right data at the right time, so monitoring and reporting is more accurate. Try a free trial 30 days.

Ways to create your Project Manager Calendar

The use of calendars for project managers is mandatory, without a timeline or frame then the project will be at risk on not delivering on the sponsors, and stakeholder’s expectations. There are ways to make the whole planning for the next month, quarter and year easier. Composing a project management calendar from scratch can be time consuming, and deadlines can shift before completion. Also, once the calendar is put together, how is it aligned with other teams calendars?

Thankfully there is a way to avoid this frustration and easily share project calendars between teams. The following provides some ways to build a digital project management calendar which supports the planning efforts. It is then up to the project manager and team, via collaboration to decide which is the right for fit for the team.

1. Excel for Project Planning

Using Excel for calendar formatting is relatively easy, depending on overall Excel knowledge because of its native table view. As Excel has a prebuilt project calendar template, so time is saved when creating one from scratch and can easily jump into planning. The benefit here is, if an Excel spreadsheet is indeed used to plan a project calendar, then it is likely the team members already know how to open and edit this document.

The drawback when using Excel spreadsheets as the project management calendar, means everyone must view and edit separate files. If multiple people edit the calendar, they need to separately upload their latest version and eventually consolidate all these versions into one. Upkeep can be time-consuming and costly.

Although adding a finalized calendar or creating a work schedule in Excel is easy, collaborating around a shared project manager calendar can be a challenge. Task management within Excel can also be an issue, as the information in the spreadsheet can become outdated and security breaches can occur. As there is no way to know who has access to it and what changes have been made.

2. Google Calendar for Project Planning

Using an online calendar such as the one provided in Google can be a good solution for teams that want to collaborate on project planning in real time. There are many videos and articles online which can provide a guide on how to use Google Calendar for project management.

Google Calendar is very flexible; it allows the creation of multiple calendars which can be viewed simultaneously or one at a time. Google can organize project calendars in one of two ways:

  1. By Assignee: Create a separate calendar for each team member and put their task deadline on this personal calendar. Team managers can look at each member’s or multiple team members’ workloads to see which deadlines are approaching.
  2. By Project: Create a separate calendar for each major team project, and enter task due dates and project milestones. Compare project timelines to see if any work should be moved around to accommodate high-priority tasks or heavy workloads.

Although Google Calendar can be an efficient method for collaboratively planning projects, it’s mostly used to schedule meetings.

Collaboratively planning projects and connect launch dates to underlying work can be selected from a list of software tools found in Project Management Companion. The list of available software calendars provides another way to make a calendar for the team. Online Calendars provide a high-level view of scheduled tasks by day, week, month, and/or year. Scheduled tasks contain all related information, files, and conversations, so it’s easy to jump from the calendar right into work. Drag and drop the task on the calendar to change due dates, and all dependent tasks will follow suit.

Having a sharable task management calendar enables project plans to be viewed not only for the team, but for other teams as well. Whether it’s planning blog posts to correspond with a product launch or scheduling email campaigns around an upcoming customer event, Online Calendars makes it easy to align efforts and prevent deadlines from falling through the cracks.

Gantt charts provide a timeline view of all ongoing projects and deadlines. They show task duration’s, connect task dependencies, note task assignees, and compare progress to the projects critical path. It can also provide a view of several projects on the same Gantt chart to see which ones overlap.

Choosing the right project planning calendar

Whether Excel spreadsheets or Gantt charts is selected, there are many different ways to build a project calendar. Select a calendar which works well for you and the team. Collaborate with the team to decide which is the most efficient and effective method for overall needs.

The changing face of the Project Management Office

 Project Management Office

The Project Management Office (PMO) is undergoing a transition, as pressure on delivering projects faster with fewer resources becomes challenging. When challenges of this nature occur, there are cases the PMO fail to deliver on business requirements. This lends itself to scrutiny of PMO’s, the outcome of which is likely to be the evolution so PMO’s can meet the demands of the business. Digitization has been a major driver in the evolution of the PMO. As organizations have found they have to become digital to adapt to the business environment. As this change occurs, then it also has had an impact on project management.

Rather than being departmental or functional initiatives, digitization of projects tend to have an impact on various areas of the organization and are closely tied up with the organizational strategy. This has led to a need for the projects to be managed in line with strategy. With priorities constantly changing, to keep up with the fast speed of change in the business environment, project management also needs to adapt quickly, and the PMO has an important role to play in this regard. In short, all organizations need to be digitally enabled, with projects aligned to strategy, and the business must also have the agility to change as needed when faced with evolving business priorities.

The Strategic Role

In the past, the PMO was all about project execution. However, one trend that can be seen in PMOs is a move towards strategic project management. Experts believe that this has come about due to the growth of project portfolios. PMOs have seen an increasing level of interdependence between project portfolios as well. One way in which PMOs can add value is in helping the organization manage the scarce resources available where synergies can be found between projects in a portfolio. The PMO is very well placed to pinpoint these areas and align resource accordingly.

From the perspective of strategy, the PMO is also in an excellent position to ensure that project prioritization is effective. It is likely that no other function of the organization has this level of oversight and project understanding to achieve this effectively. This helps the organization to act efficiently in its project management endeavors. One trend that can certainly be seen among PMOs is that one uniformed approach does not work in all instances and cannot be applied for organizations. That similarity is that the PMO is a unit in the organization that takes a central role for coordinating and overseeing project and programme management. The PMO may not even necessarily be called a PMO, but if it takes this role, then this is what it is.

Some of the differences between PMO types are with regard to what the PMO does. The PMO may only provide project management support, or it may take a much more rigorous approach to project management. The former may be seen in a more supportive role. There are degrees of control that might be involved in the latter. PMOs that might be described as controlling might require compliance and the use of certain project management frameworks and tools. Some PMOs might be more directive and actually manage projects.

Other differences in PMOs can be seen according to the organizational position they operate. For example, some organizations have a corporate level PMO which develops standards, processes and methodologies. Other firms have departmental PMOs that offer support at the business unit level, helping with a variety of projects. Finally, individual PMOs offer functional support, usually to one project or programme.

The look and feel of an evolved PMO

Traditional PMOs offered delivery support. More recently, some PMOs have also taken on an element of strategic planning and act as a center of excellence with regard to managing projects and programmes effectively. Many have also worked to help the company digitise. However, the evolved PMO does all this and more. One of the new elements of an evolved PMO is ensuring that project and programme management are aligned to strategy. The other is delivering the agility the organization needs as priorities change for the organization.

An evolved PMO will not just offer project support, as the PMO may have in the past. Rather it may help with coordination of resource management, and analyzing the interfaces between projects. It can help address issues of strategic alignment and portfolio management. The PMO may still also offer consulting internally to other parts of the organization, but this is likely to decline in importance compared to the growth in strategic responsibilities of the PMO.

Evolved PMOs have a lot to offer to organizations, but to achieve success they will require the backing and support of the senior management team. Given that the role and function of the PMO has changed significantly in the evolved PMO from one of support to a much more strategic role, this requires a change in mind set.

In some cases, the PMO has evolved to the point that it is offered in the form of PMO as a service. When the PMO is offered as a Service, it allows companies to offer specialist PMO support to organizations that find it difficult to manage the PMO effectively in-house. This is an interesting new direction for PMOs, and one that has its merits in certain scenarios.

The PMO is facing a time of unprecedented change. As pressure has increased in the external business environment, there is a corresponding pressure within the organization to ensure that project management is not just effective, but strategic. An evolved PMO is likely to be well positioned to help the organization achieve its strategic imperatives, but it is unlikely that a uniformed approach across the board will work.

Must have Project Planning Tool Features

Determining project objectives and goals provides the scope of a project, known as the planning process. This lays the foundation in running a successful project. Taking the planning process seriously is mandatory and using the right tools will assist in documenting project scope and objectives. Once the information is gathered and collated, it can all be communicated to the sponsor and stack holders.

The required tools

There are many project planning software tools available which will assist with the planning process and continue to help with execution and monitoring of the project. Project management software offers a wide variety of features, but it’s the following that will be more important during the project planning phase:

  • Online Gantt Chart
  • Resource Management
  • Task Management
  • Dashboard

The following offers a closer look of each feature.

Online Gantt Chart

A Gantt chart is an ideal way to visualize the schedule across a vertical timeline. If the required tasks to achieve the goals have been written down on a spreadsheet as part of the planning phase, then importing is easy and seamless. Importing can occur from any number of formats, such as Microsoft Project, Excel or CSV files and still keep the original formatting.

Using a spreadsheet initially is a process many Project managers use but is not necessary, it depends on the individual. Otherwise using a Gantt chart directly by inputting data on the left hand side is fine and saves time. This information will then populate the right-hand bar-chart side. If a task list is written on a Word document, it can just be copied and pasted into the appropriate field.

Once tasks are injected in the Gantt chart, next is to assign a due date to each. This will create a timeline on the right-hand bar chart in which the duration of each task is shown across a calendar grid. This will then indicate how long tasks will take against the backdrop of the project time-frame. It is at this point team members can be assigned specific tasks.

Using an online Gantt chart, the project team’s statuses are updated automatically, displaying how the project is actually progressing against original estimates. An added benefit is the use of automation through email notifications when tasks have been updated, so everyone is on the same page.

Resource Management

Defining resources once the tasks are organized, the resources in this instance are the team, space the tools and equipment needed for the project.  A good project tool is going to offer a view of all work across the team on a single page. With this overview scheduling ahead is made easy.  This provides work load balancing among the team.

Using an online tool provides easier insight on any over-assigned resources, and if this is the case then with a click they can be reassigned tasks. Color coding also assist’s in providing a glance on who is over-allocated, unallocated or when holiday and vacation days are scheduled.

When the project has started, this planning tool gets updated in real-time to help view a team’s workload. This allows any further tweaking of the project plan even when the project planning phase has passed into action.

Task Management

The more comprehensive the task plan is the more productive the project will be. Project planning software displays the due dates for all tasks and, provides percentage complete as tasks are executed.

The view can be filtered to display tasks by due date, owner or project if working on a program. This helps in displaying only the information needed when planning to assign the tasks. Notes, files and links can be added to provide comments, production notes and document hand-offs once the project has initiated.

Dashboard

While the dashboard is mostly thought of a way to monitor a team’s progress and the project’s health it is a must have tool. The Dashboard can be used to provide an overview of the project plan during the planning phase. From this one page everything about the project can be seen and if all the pieces are working together.

The dashboard collects all data and displays it in colour graphs and charts that are easy to print out or share online when presenting the project plan to the sponsor and stack holders. It also is a place where budget tracking can occur and make sure enough funds has been allocated to cover the costs of the project.

Project Planning Software provide Control of the Plan

With the right project planning tools it’s easier to manage the planning phase of a project. As there is a way to collect and organize all the data for the coming project and make sure the team has assigned tasks that can be completed within the project time-frame.

Planning a project using the right tools is mandatory, as they allow better management of project work. Look no further than the software tools referenced in projectmanagementcompanion.com, providing insight on cloud-based PM tool; try one of the free software with a 30-day trial. 

Knowledge for effective project Management

Projects come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of complexity. Much of effective project management is based on experience. Regardless, even the experienced project manager should be abreast of any recent developments and certifications. That quest for knowledge should extend to furthering skill and ability for the job at hand. There are different levels of certification and training available.  While knowledge is a great thing, seeking out the highest level isn’t always the ideal direction to pursue.

Not every project needs an MBA qualified individual for it to be a success. Acquiring skills via certifications could eventuate in a waste of time. If an opportunity to put into practice newly learnt theory doesn’t eventuate, then it may result in those skills becoming rusty and forgotten. Selecting the right training for a job starts with knowing and understanding what level of expertise is needed for the type of project being worked on.

There are components to factor in when determining the level of training required and certifications to obtain in order to work and achieve the desired result. These four processes are to be considered when trying to identify the right levels for effective project management. It can be thought of as a four-step process for acquiring the amount of project management skill for a particular position. It starts with examining the situation and concludes with putting a right-sized repertoire of abilities into action.

  • Drive
  • Depth
  • Development
  • Deployment

Drive

Drive involves asking and answering the question of why someone wants or needs to develop project management skills. The motivation behind the drive, it could be only to occasionally work on projects as a member of a cross-functional team. There may be a requirement to act as project manager regularly as a part of the job. It can also be the case that someone needs to be able to show project management knowledge in order to be eligible for their next promotion. What drives a person to acquire PM skills can be as diverse as the various types of projects. That drive will also directly influence the types of skills necessary to achieve their project management goals.

Depth

Determining the depth of knowledge required for project management can be a direct correlation with the motivation and the selection of the right set of tools for the job. In this step, an individual needs to determine the type of knowledge that they need and how much of it is necessary. This way, they can focus their efforts on learning what is needed to be known. For example, the person occasionally working as a team member of cross-functional project team will need to know the basics of the methodology they will be working on. Key concepts like deliverables, success criteria, sprints, and documentation procedures are what will help the most. The regular project manager will need more extensive knowledge of the methodology, as well as details for team coordination and procedure implementation.

Development

Once the required project management skill is understood, the next step is to go out and get them. With the necessary skill set identified, an individual can find the training to acquire those skills. This is the development step in the process, where an individual goes out and develops the project management competencies they identify for the depth of skill they require.

Deployment

With the new project management skills learned and developed, it’s time to put them into practice. Theoretical knowledge that can’t be used is nothing more than useless information. In the deployment stage, individuals can take their newly acquired knowledge back to their professional settings and put it into practice. This means managing project, working on project teams, overseeing project portfolios, or any other activities where the new project management skills will be useful and beneficial. 


Also important in the deployment stage is to look out for repetitive opportunities. These are chances for people to use their project management skills again, and again, and again – pausing in between each time to look for chances to improve. Every new endeavour is an opportunity to learn and progress, but only if time is taken to use them.

Work environments are constantly changing with new challenges and situations arising from anywhere, it’s important to regularly revisit and reassess the types of skills needed. By focusing on the immediate and near-future requirements, a person has the chance to learn not only the skills they need for the moment, but the skills they will actually have the opportunity to use, practice, and master. So when the time comes to move further up the ladder, they will have a strong foundation to start from before taking the next step.