Tag: Project Management

Essential Project Management Skills

Essential Project Management Skills

I think it can be agreed that Project management is not an easy job. Actually its a few jobs, so project managers can be considered all-rounders, that’s not to mention including the initiation, planning, executing, controlling, and closing of a project. Adding to the complexity the project is delegated to a team, given specific goals to achieve over a defined timeline for a determined budget.

Even with the assistance of project management software, that’s a lot to ask of any one individual, but project managers have a variety of skills to get the job done. These include the technical, business and management skills you’d expect, but also a number of soft skills. Project managers aren’t only dealing with systems and processes, but also people. When you boil it down, successful team management is built on creating and maintaining strong relationships across the organization.

But that’s just one aspect of the project manager’s many-faceted job. Below we’ve collected the top 10 skills every project manager should have. There are certainly more than just the following 10, but if you have these, you have the foundation on which to build a successful career in project management.

Leadership, everyone has the potential to learn how to apply proven leadership skills and techniques. As a project manager you’re responsible not only for seeing the project through to a successful completion. This requires you to motivate and mediate when necessary. Remember that project leadership comes in different styles, one of which will suit your personality. It’s more than managing tasks; it’s managing people.

Communications really go hand-in-glove with leadership. You can’t be an effective leader if you’re not able to articulate what it is you need your team to do. But you’re not only going to be communicating with your team, you’ll need to have clear communications with everyone associated with the project, from vendors and contractors to stakeholders and customers.

Now we’re starting to get into some of the hard skill sets required of project managers, and few are as essential as knowing how to create a project schedule. The only way to achieve the goals of the project within the timeframe that has been decided on is to break down that goal into tasks on a timeline.

That’s scheduling, and it’s the heart of what a project manager does: setting up a realistic schedule and then managing the resources to keep on track so the project can be successfully concluded on time. There are many tools that can help with this process, chief among them an online Gantt chart, which provides a visual of the schedule with tasks, durations of those tasks, dependencies, and milestones.

Doing anything is a risk. Planning a project, big or small, is inherent with risk. It’s part of your job to see those issues before they become problems. Therefore, before executing the project, you have to put in the work to identify, assess, and control risk.

The more you can manage risk, the more likely your project is going to succeed. Of course, you can’t anticipate everything that might happen over the life cycle of your project. There will be unanticipated issues that arise, so you need to have a process in place to handle those when they come up.

You can’t do anything without the money to pay for it. You have created a budget. Your first job is to make sure that budget is realistic and can meet the financial needs of the project, and, secondly, controlling those costs through the execution of the project.

This is easier said than done. Unless you are lucky and work for an organization with unlimited funds, you’re going to have certain financial constraints, and more likely, be given a very tight budget. It takes a great deal of skill to figure out how to squeeze every cent out of those limited funds.

Being good at negotiation is sort of a subset of communications, but it deserves its own space. Negotiation isn’t merely haggling for the best price from a vendor or contractor, though that’s certainly part of it. Leading a project means you’re in constant negotiations.

For example, you’ll likely get demands from stakeholders that can impact the scope of a project. You’ll have to give them pushback, but diplomatically, so all parties concerned feel they’re getting what they want. Then there’s the inevitable conflicts that will arise among team members or other people involved in the project. If you’ve got strong negotiating skills you can resolve these disputes before they blow up and threaten the project.

Critical thinking is simply being as objective as you can in analysing and evaluating an issue or situation, so that you can form an unbiased judgement. It pulls you out of acting on emotions or from received knowledge, and isn’t that what a project manager must do? You’re faced with problems every day when you’re working on a project, and you want your decisions to be impartial. The only thing guiding your decision should be what’s best for the project.

Here’s another one of those technical skills that should be stamped onto the DNA of every project leader. If scheduling is bedrock to project management, then tasks are the mortar that holds everything together. There are going to be tons of these pesky little jobs for you to create, assign and manage – some of which will be dependent on others, meaning that mismanagement of this process can severely impact the success of your project.

You can look at this as making a super to-do list, which is not entirely wrong, but as you add complexity you’ll also want to add the tools to help you manage these tasks more efficiently. You’ll want features in your task management tool that fosters collaboration with your team, help you prioritize and give you instant status updates when tasks have been completed or are running behind.

Most of these skills are obvious, right? Well, they are the top 10 project management skills. But quality management is one that is often overlooked by project leaders, and it’s one that needs to get more attention. Quality management is overseeing the activities and tasks that are required to deliver a product or service at the stated level indicated in the project paperwork.

Sound familiar? It’s basically a part of your job that you might never have given a name to or worse, you’ve been neglecting in favour of meeting deadlines. Staying on schedule is important, but that schedule is pointless if it produces something that is subpar.

It’s good to have a sense of humour, you don’t have to be a comedian. That’s because a sense of humour is really about having a different perspective. It allows you to see a problem differently. Humour relieves stress for you and your team, and only when tensions are lifted can smarter actions and ideas show themselves. A sense of humour also helps with morale. You’re going to work as hard as your team, but that doesn’t mean the environment you’re working in should be stifling. You can set or at least influence the culture of the workplace, and a lighter mood rises all ships.

Nothing is solved by rushing through a project or getting frustrated when things don’t go as planned. While time is a constraint, if you speed through the process you’re going to make mistake. That’ll make you frustrated, which leads to more mishaps.

Projects take time, from research to planning, they need to be thoroughly thought through in order to run smoothly. That doesn’t mean there won’t be issues. They’re always issues. Whether it’s a change request or a team member acting up or stakeholders having grand expectations, if you don’t have patience everything will be exponentially worse.

Technology is constantly evolving. Just as you get used to one tool another takes its place and you’re back on the learning curve. True as that might be, to lock yourself in antiquated ways of doing things just because you’re used to them is a recipe for becoming antiquated yourself. Tools have migrated from the desktop to online and while this might not be what you’re used to there are myriad advantages.

Project management is a vast field with a range of skills and responsibilities. Make sure that you know which are the most important and why, before you take on a big project. Let us know your thoughts, we would like to hear from you, all the very best on your project management journey.

Going Back in Time

Going Back in Time

Lessons learnt in project management, if you could take back time, what would you do differently in your projects? Ask any project manager, lessons learnt are an essential part of any project, what happened in the last similar project that can be done here differently to make the path to success that smoother.

Regardless of how many projects completed it can be said that we’ve all made mistakes. The ability to learn from them separates the good from the not so good, you are not meant to know everything, if that was the case then you wouldn’t need to work.  Learning from mistakes, big or small will make you a better project manager. Think back to errors which occurred in your career and did it make you any better in delivering your projects?

If given the opportunity, what would you go back and tell your younger self to do differently?

The advice I’d give my younger self given the opportunity would be to be a more active listener. Active listening is vital to actually hearing what’s said. Active means fully concentrating on the speaker and what’s being said. It’s all too easy to passively listen without actually hearing what’s said – without really taking it in. Making it clear, to the speaker, that you’re actively listening is also helpful, so acknowledge the speaker. You can do this by nodding, making eye contact or adopting an attentive posture.

Stop prejudging situations. Not taking the time to talk and listen to the experts can be painful to the team and the project itself. You don’t have all the answers.

Take the time to sit with your team and make use of their knowledge. Listen to all points of view to make better, more balanced decisions. Have you considered all the angles, or are you leaning towards your favoured approach without giving others a fair say?

How successful was your last major project decision when you ignored other experts on the team?

Failure to mitigate risks is a significant failing. Risk is everywhere all the time. The ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude is usually a mistake.

Make sure nobody can say they didn’t know a particular risk was present. Ask the team to help you mitigate all risks and assign a single owner to each risk to ensure you’re mitigating all risks all the time. Not bothering to identify risks in favour of getting on with the work could leave you exposed and in a potentially awkward situation.

Don’t avoid conflict situations that need resolving, and don’t try to please everyone. When you do, everything seems fine at first, until the cracks start to appear. A truly happy project requires being straightforward and upfront with your customer, your team and other stakeholders. Tell them exactly how it is, and then work together to improve any bad situation. It never pays to sugar-coat the truth. Try not to be too optimistic, this can be avoided by being realistic.

Pitfalls are everywhere in a project and I’m sure have been encountered through the years, some are bigger deal than others. The following are pitfalls which should be avoided.

  • Not having a good project plan
  • Allowing scope creep or gold plating
  • Failing to manage expectations
  • Communicating poorly
  • Making false assumptions
  • Failing to manage risks and issues
  • Lacking a business case
  • Gathering requirements poorly

For the more experienced project managers, travel back in time – in your head – and see if what you would tell your younger self is based on something you do well today. What do you wish you’d known back then?

For the young and aspiring project managers tuning in, why not ask some experienced project managers what they wish they’d known at your age?

Ultimately, we never stop learning. And that’s exactly why all businesses should employ a ‘learn it all’ culture rather than a ‘know it all’ one. No matter where you are in your career, keep learning and keep improving. You don’t need a time machine to learn from the past. Let us know what you have learnt in your project management career, we would like to hear from you. All the best on your project management journey.

Improving Project and Engagement Management Performance

Improving Project and Engagement Management Performance

The relationship between project and engagement management and the improvement program that seeks to optimize their performance to satisfy stakeholder expectations. There is always an opportunity for organizations and teams to seek continuous improvement in processes and optimize performance. Both organizations and individuals understand the need to define their performance values and indicators so they can measure improvement success.

Engagement management encompasses the full range of activities from the initial contact with prospective clients, through the identification and qualification of opportunities, proposal development/quotations, portfolio-level decision making, negotiating and closing the sale, delivery and managing the ongoing relationship, including billing and the extension of services over time to serve the client’s evolving needs.

Engagement management is not limited to business-to-business organizations like consulting and engineering firms that sell services. In-house software development groups and other groups that perform projects to serve operational departments within their enterprise can gain from taking an engagement management approach.

Focused skills training is a vital part of any improvement program. Training a myriad of project managers on how to schedule and manage risk more effectively may make those managers better at performing those tasks but can lead to conflict with management, staff, salespeople, and clients. Training salespeople in contact and closing skills can bring in more sales.  But organizational performance can suffer unless the participants have learned about and are accountable for a “sale’s” profitability and that they understand delivery pipelines.

A program to improve engagement performance includes project management courses for both hard-core PMs and other stakeholders, sales training, methodology training, emotional intelligence and mindfulness training, relationship and communications training, performance assessments, regular facilitated reviews, and team and individual coaching to better enable putting skills to work collaboratively.

Learning is a bit more complex but still not so difficult. These two are measured at training time, or, in the case of projects, upon project or phase completion.  Behaviour and Results require assessment over time. Behaviour assessment is easy if leadership understands that for skills and products to be useful, they must be used.  To determine if they are used requires resources, assessments, and reporting.

Results are the bottom line. Measuring results is not so easy and is frequently not done. It requires clarity about performance indicators, a baseline, regular and ongoing review, and recognition that multiple interacting factors drive results like greater profitability and higher quality.

When focusing on projects, the desired results are outcomes that consistently meet stakeholder expectations (including benefits realization) by delivering the agreed-upon product or service, on-time and within budget.

When using the term “stakeholder”, remember that it refers to anyone who may impact or be affected by the project, including project performers. Optimally, a project results in a viable product or service that makes a positive difference in terms of cost and effort reduction, improved quality, profitability, and healthy client and staff relations.

To determine if an engagement is successful, it is necessary to look at relationships over time and across multiple projects with the same client. Recognize that the value of many, if not most, products and services are the result of sustained use and the effectiveness of maintenance, enhancement, support, and customer service. Measure the degree to which project and service staff are happy, healthy, and can sustain effective performance without burning out. Assess attitudes, turnover rates, productivity vs. effectiveness, and the degree to which conflicts are effectively resolved.

Achieving optimal performance requires an improvement program that combines assessment, coaching, consulting, and training to ensure that desired results are achieved consistently over time.  Because improvement occurs through a program its success is measured in the same way any program is measured – have desired results been achieved?

Optimal performance relies upon healthy projects within a well-oiled engagement management process in which success boils down to achieving value and stakeholder satisfaction. An improvement program is essential. Success requires a “contract” and a governance process. The contract (we use the term to include any agreement) provides the objective criteria for measuring success. The governance process makes sure that the flow of improvement and operational projects is moderated to satisfy client expectations, maximize value, and not overburden the performance staff.  It considers success from an enterprise perspective.

Let us know your thoughts, we would like to hear from you, all the very best on your project management journey

Emerging trends in Project Management

Emerging Trends in Project Management

recent times, there are a couple of emerging trends in project management which have emerged due to the current global situation. There seems to be a greater reliance on digital and remote teams. No longer is project management bound by the confines of a typical office. In fact, job boards have remote PM postings in abundance.  Due to several factors—including greater connectivity, changing corporate values, and the rise of the gig economy—digital and remote teams are more common today than ever before. 

While the prevalence of remote work was already on the climb, the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced an unprecedented shift. In an effort to protect workers and slow the spread of the virus, organizations across the globe have adopted new work-from-home policies that favour digital communication over face-to-face interaction. This trend will likely continue even after the pandemic subsides, which will present unique challenges for project managers.

For instance, some business functions are more easily carried out when all members of a project team are co-located. Spontaneous collaboration, team building, project alignment, and other project management tasks are simply more manageable when all members of the team are in proximity to each other. However, this challenge does not mean that digital or remote teams are inherently counterproductive. Remote work offers many benefits including increased flexibility, which can help an organization attract and retain top talent from all over the world.

Since the surge in remote work is likely to continue even after the global health crisis subsides, project managers must find ways to reduce friction or inefficiencies that might arise. Clear and open communication has always been a key strategy for effective project management, but it will become even more relevant as this trend continues to evolve.

There will undoubtably be a greater connection between projects and strategy. Traditionally, project management is an organizational tool used to work toward and achieve discrete goals, which might include the launching of a single product or service or the pursuit of a particular outcome. In this sense, a project is a temporary endeavour with a finite start and end, and the role of the project manager is to shepherd the project through to successful completion.

In recent years, however, the role of project management in many organizations has begun to expand. Project management is more than just a tool for carrying out discrete goals; the framework is now also being applied to broader strategies and initiatives. Recently there has been an emphasis many organisations are placing on the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) as they integrate and track strategic objectives with project execution.

For project managers who wish to put their skills to better strategic use within their organization, it is essential to understand the relationship between project, program, and portfolio management. Doing so will allow you to see how individual projects relate to each other and to overarching strategic goals, which can help make smarter decisions for organizations moving forward. Let us know your thoughts on the evolving trends occurring in the project management world, we would like to hear your thoughts, all the very best on your project management journey.

Why Program Design is Essential

Importance of Program Design

Never underestimate the importance of design when managing major organizational change and improvement; programmes remain the most effective framework for achieving success. The level of complexity and risk involved in shifting an enterprise into a new phase of development and operation – and the associated investment – means the process has to be managed properly and improvement measured.

In respect to the demands of society changing, with people wanting things better and faster and the new normal which has been dictated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Change now happens continually and organizations need enterprise agility – the capability to pivot in response to their environment. And, in a typical programme timeframe of three to five years, a lot can happen.

This is why the design phase of a programme is so critical to get right and where a best practice approach provides the necessary level of focus and rigour.

Traditionally, programme design has been neglected. Without designing the programme properly it’s likely to fail and potentially waste a lot of money in the process. Therefore, there simply shouldn’t be any debate – design is compulsory.

This will set up the programme up for success by installing the building blocks for delivering the benefits, managing associated risks, and creating what an organization will look like in the future.

Managing Successful Programmes highlights four aspects of programme design:

  • Vision
  • Benefits
  • Target operating model (the new, future state of the organization)
  • Risk identification and prioritization

As each of these programme elements are happening simultaneously, they must be integrated. If not, the nightmare scenario is a target operating model that doesn’t align with the vision, affecting the adoption of the change and reducing the expected benefits.

Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle: the image on the box is the future state or vision being built; the individual pieces are contained inside the box and, when put together, they deliver on the original promise (in programme terms, the target operating model).

The vision reflects the future state of the organization; something that everyone needs to endorse to gain engagement and commitment for the change.

It should be encapsulated in a concise and easily understood vision statement (i.e. jargon-free), outlining why the status quo is not an option. This provides senior management with a driving force for the programme.

Whoever facilitates the vision statement (for example, via a workshop) must ensure it involves the stakeholders affected by the programme and not just the sponsoring group.

What constitutes the move from an organization’s current state to its desired, future state is contained in the target operating model.

The sponsoring group decides what it wants the organization to look like in the future, enabling engagement with the wider enterprise, accessing resources, and guiding the programme team towards delivering the target operating model.

This can cover a range of elements such as technology, knowledge and learning, processes, culture, organization, infrastructure, information, and data.

Another aspect of programme design – the benefits – drive programmes, as their delivery supports the organization’s strategic objectives.

There are two main categories for benefits:

  • Efficiency – obtaining business results with fewer resources and reducing costs
  • Effectiveness – creating better results and improved adaptability.

Creating a “benefits map” establishes the connection between benefits and strategic objectives. Benefits are realized at various points during and after the programme’s lifecycle, with the detailed timing included in the benefits realization plan.

Compared to projects, the scale of potential risk in programmes is far greater.

So, it’s necessary – at programme design stage – to introduce a risk management mindset and approach. Without it, the programme may not deliver the necessary benefits.

Starting up a programme is highly important and therefore identifying and prioritizing risks from the earliest opportunity. For example, a significant risk might be the capacity and capability of the organization to undertake the programme at all. To mitigate that risk might involve recruiting more suitably qualified people.

Managing programme risk effectively requires a plan for how to mitigate the risk and then checking and acting on what has been identified.

What should programme managers and their stakeholders expect from focusing on programme design?

It gives them a structure that creates confidence to deliver what the stakeholders require. And, for the stakeholders, they should expect to see the benefits they signed off on day one.

Also, effective programme design feeds into projects: it helps to assess which projects are business-critical, ensures they are created, scheduled properly, and will produce the outputs that lead ultimately to outcomes and benefits.

Ultimately, programme design will ensure that the future state of the organization is clear. This means understanding the gap that will be filled to achieve the future target operating model as well as how to manage the associated benefits and risks. Let us know your approach to programme design, has it helped with your delivery, we would like to hear from you. All the very best on your project management journey.

Balancing a Project Teams Workload

Project Teams Workload

It’s always important to balance a project team’s workload, and especially so during times when resources take vacations and miss work. There’s a fine balance to be had between mixing a team to do lists and ensuring that the workload is equal and fair for everyone. Managing the project workload is one of the most critical parts of a manager’s job, in particular to get that balance right. Project teams look for clarity to what they should be doing and when.

Workload management is the process of assigning tasks to keep the team working while monitoring their progress over the course of the project. It provides a framework of what tasks need to be done and who on the team is supposed to be working on those tasks.

Workload management is made easier when a plan is developed,  fortunately, there’s also a simple 5-step approach to ensuring the team stays true to the workload plan, one that makes it easy to manage the workload of the team without looking like micro-managing is occurring. 

Workload planning is a way to keep teams busy and productive. It’s a strategic way to distribute the work throughout the team. This boosts performance.  Planning workload isn’t only about getting the job done, but reducing team stress, burnout and errors.

For a workload plan, it is critical to know resources and the business priorities to map teams against needs, which is a constantly reviewed and adjustable process. Having resource management software that identifies the team’s availability and hours, then analyse the work being done is beneficial. Use this data to create a workload plan to optimize productivity and balance workload across the entire team. Using a project management software equipped with workload management tools help with this process.

The workload management plan is not etched in stone and must be reviewed and revised continuously as the project moves forward and changes. Therefore, actively manage workload during the project execution, which leads to the following five-step workload management process.

As a project manager starting to manage workload from scratch start by reviewing what’s currently going on. Perhaps this has been initiated by someone in the team saying they have too much work to do, or perhaps another team manager has called to say that the guys aren’t keeping on top of their work and are behind schedule or have missed a deadline.

Remember, managing what is known is the only way possible. In a matrix structure, there might be some people who are only available to work on tasks for a portion of their week, so be sure to get clarity on that.

Look for team members who are over allocated. That just means that they have been given more work than they can do in the time available. A good rule for work management is that employees should be allocated to specific tasks only 80% of their time. The remaining 20% will be for answering phone calls, attending team meetings, dealing with the customer who calls with an urgent problem and so on.

The 20% should be spread out across the week to maximize productivity; it’s better to fill people’s time for, say 6 hours per day, then give them every Friday with nothing to do apart from catch up on the things they weren’t able to finish earlier in the week. 

Using resource reports and work management dashboards for employees assists with resources who don’t have enough work to do. Keep the team motivated by ensuring they have meaningful tasks to fill the day.

Team members will always look busy. They will find things to work on, perhaps taking on tasks of their own accord or helping out one of their colleagues. Time management systems will help in understanding if they are working on tasks that are deemed to be priority.

Clues can be picked up about whether employees are over or under allocated from them directly. They may ask for more work or point out that they can’t take on another assignment. This is where professional judgement comes in: are they genuinely too busy or just working on the wrong tasks? Or incredibly unproductive?

A workload tracker will provide the information needed to help answer these questions. The better strengths and work patterns of the team are known, the easier it will be to figure out how to improve productivity and interpret what the timesheet system is advising.

A team’s workload can be managed better if it is known when they are going to be around. Talk to them about upcoming holidays and include those in the workload planning as not to assign them work while they are away. Equally, check in with the team to make sure knowledge of their skills is up to date. Employees may be able to work on more projects than is expected if they have developed new skills.

Finally, put those over and under allocations right, commence with the employees who have too much work assigned to them. Split up the big tasks into smaller chunks and assign someone else to help them out. Or make the task stretch over a longer period so they have fewer hours to work on it each day.

Move some of their work to another member of the team who doesn’t have enough to do. Boost someone’s workload by asking them to take on another project, develop their skills or involve them in planning for the next financial years projects.

When changing an assignment in the resource planning system, don’t forget to speak to the people involved first! That’s one of the keyways to make sure that the team is kept happy. Explain by shifting resource requirements around to balance out the work and that it is not a reflection on their performance. In fact, as a result of workload planning, they may end up with even better assignments.

Workload management should be a priority for project managers because it overlaps with other important project management processes such as capacity planning, task management and project scheduling. Managing the team’s workload can be overwhelming, especially in big projects, use the workload management software to help keep track of all the employees.

Ideally, workload management software should allow with the assignment of tasks to employees and have tools to visualize project timeline such as a calendar view, Gantt charts or Kanban boards. Additionally, using tracking, work management and resource management features.

Resource management software makes the workload management process easy, especially when it’s integrated into your project management solution. Updating workload plan automatically updates the resource reports to quickly see who has time to take on additional tasks. Let us know your approach to workload balance when managing projects, we would like to hear from you. All the very best on your project management journey.