Category Archives: Project Management

Do You Go All In?

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As we neared the project deadline it was amazing to see the dedication and commitment of the team. People where putting in long hours if needed, helping out with things outside their responsibility and just looking for ways to ensure success. It was a great feeling, particularly when we hit a really ugly snag a couple of days before our deadline. When that happened it was amazing to watch everyone pull together, pull out all the stops and get things done. We hit our deadline to almost everyone’s amazement. The team members humbly told the stakeholders that they just did what had to be done.

This was a team where everyone was ‘all in’ when it came to the project. There were many different factors that created the conditions leading to the formation of such a high functioning team. One of the most critical pieces of that puzzle was the personal choices made by the team members to fully commit to the project.

Each person was 100% vested in the success of the project. This wasn’t something we discussed amongst ourselves, it was just how each of us showed up. Not everyone started off that way, a few went through the motions at first; they did just what was needed and not anything more. As time went on the team grew together and by the last few days everyone was on board and giving their all.

More recently I’ve been part of teams where there were a few members who just did the bare minimum. When their shift was over they left right away. These team members did what was mandated but did not go out of their way to do more or learn more. Sadly it meant there were many more issues as the project rolled out. The people who held back during the preparation ended up playing catch up later. Additionally they were surprised when there were problems and issues. These problems were obviously the fault of the rest of project team.

Why the difference in the commitment level of these two teams? Part of it is their personality, part the business culture and lastly the expectations of the project leaders. When expectations are set that each person is expected to be fully engaged it builds an environment where that is the norm not the exception. Team leaders must give 110%, hold people accountable for their commitments, and bring an energy that helps keep the team excited and going during the rough patches.

Yet each of us has a responsibility to bring our all to whatever we are part of each day. The most engaging, inspiring and exciting teams can still have people on them who just won’t go all in. This means they are missing some of the benefits of being fully engaged. There are three key things gained when you are fully engaged with your team.

  1. Experience: When you are willing to do more than expected you get the opportunity to experience new things, learn new skills and see things in different ways.
  2. Satisfaction: Most people want to know that what they are doing makes a difference. When you give your all you have the satisfaction of knowing that you did your best to create success. Whether you succeed or not you will know that your efforts mattered.
  3. Perception: Those who are seen as going all in on a project are seen as valuable team players. These are people who are get recognized as having potential because they can be counted on to get things done. This perception of dedication and ability can make your next career step a move up.

It’s so easy to say ‘let someone else do it’ or ‘it’s not my job’ or ‘someone else is responsible’ because it means less risk and less work. Yet it means you are creating limitations for what you can do, now and in the future. Holding back means boxing yourself in to a limited role. If you want to only be in a supporting role then only do what you are told. If you want to lead and grow you must break out of the box and show initiative, show commitment and go all in.

Like in poker when you go all in you can lose big or you can win big. However, you will never know how big a win it can be until you risk it all.

If you are ready to take the risk and go all in you can start today. Ask yourself what more can I do today to help create success? Is there something I can do to help someone get more done today? Where can I lend a hand?

Image from iStockPhoto.com

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How Flexible are You?

Flexible business woman talk by phone

Leaders need some flexibility so they can reach their goals.  Whether you are leading teams or projects you will have a vision of the results, a plan to get there and the ability to adjust to circumstances that arise along the way.  The secret to being successful is having the right amount of flexibility.  There is a spectrum from very rigid to very pliant and we all fall along it in different places on each aspect of our lives.

A week ago my college aged son had shoulder surgery and he cannot use his left arm at all for the near future.  Many people would sit around, feeling sorry and do nothing because of the limitations.  He takes a different approach to it, he is very careful of his injured should but he looks at each situation in terms of what can he do not what can’t he do.  This is a great mindset for striking the right balance in flexibility.

As leaders there are things we must hold firm to like our vision, our passion and our integrity.  However, we need to be adaptable to new opportunities, new ways to reach our goals, and new resources that can help us move forward.  When we create a plan there must be room for change and adjustments.  Too often a leader builds a plan and will not deviate from it even when it is doomed to fail.  This is blind allegiance and there is no room for that in a leader’s world.

When moving forward towards a dream or vision leaders must be willing to listen and change based on the input of their team.  Others will see opportunities or come up with ideas that will move us forward quicker or more efficiently.  Allowing that change to take place is critical.  What a leader must avoid is giving up all control over the vision.  If the leader becomes too pliant then the group can pull the team in a new and different direction which may not meet the original vision.  Turning everything over without staying in control of the vision can lead to disaster.

Flexibility allows you to accommodate the needs of your team and adjust for obstacles or challenges.  When you are able to adapt your plan to the needs of the team, the team will buy into it because they now have a piece of it.  Obstacles and challenges require a change in approach where flexibility will lead to more innovative solutions.  Flexibility in methods builds buy-in and creates an environment conducive to innovation.

Here are some questions to ask to maintain your flexibility balance:

  • Is this idea/opportunity true to my vision for the results?
  • Could this be a better way to get things done?
  • Will this help us reach our goals while allowing the team to personalize their efforts?
  • Can this meet the goals of the vision as well as meet the needs of the team?
  • What would happen if this adjustment is made?
  • How can we work around this obstacle or challenge?
  • Will this make the end results even better?

SlinkyThink of a slinky, like the one pictured here.  They hold their over all shape yet to move forward they bend, twist and adjust to get to the destination.  As a leader that kind of flexibility will help you succeed.  Hold true to your vision, passion and integrity while adapting to the needs and ideas of those on your team.  Stretch yourself to learn more, do more and go places you never thought possible.

How do you work on your flexibility?  Share your best practices in the comments below.  I would love to learn new techniques.

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Top 5 Posts of 2013

Office party

Thanks to everyone who stopped by, commented and shared my posts this past year.  Here are the top 5 posts from the year:

  1. 5 People Every Team Needs
  2. Defining Personal Productivity
  3. 10 Tips for Project Success
  4. A Leadership Parable
  5. Making Hard Choices

I’m looking forward to 2014 and sharing more thoughts with you as well as learning from your comments and feedback.

Let’s make 2014 the best year yet!  Have a great New Year!!

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If you would like help developing your project management or leadership skills contact me at carol@delta-group-llc.com.  I can help you create clarity around your goals, develop a strategy to reach them and support your during your efforts.

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Do You Want More From Your Team?

Team MtgAs the year winds down leaders and project managers review the performance and progress of their teams.  If you find that your team is falling short of where you would like or need them to be it’s time to take action to correct it.  By making those plans now you can set the stage for a more successful 2014.

What can you do to get things moving in the right direction?  Here are 4 steps you can take now to build a plan for success.

  1. Assess & analyze:  Where is the root cause of the underperformance?  Is it lack of ability?  Lack of capacity?   Lack of commitment?  Look at the team overall, including yourself and look at each individual.  You may find that some members lack the needed skills while other lacks a commitment to the project/team which is leading to an overall lack of capacity to get everything done.
  2. Develop:  Once you know the cause of the underperformance you can create development plans to address the gaps.  If a particular person doesn’t have the skills they need create a development plan to help them build those skills quickly.    Sometimes a team member needs to develop the ability to do more work by learning time management skills or working more efficiently.  Look at what can be developed in each person to benefit the team.
  3. Trim the deadwood:  After you look at each person you may find that there is someone on the team who just is not the right fit.  They may not have the aptitude for the work to be done or they may not be able to develop the needed skills.  Cut them from the team to make room for someone who can help the team achieve more. 
  4. Encourage:  It’s most likely the team knows they are not hitting their marks and that is very discouraging to people.  Help them see that they can reach the needed performance and that you believe in them.  Taking the first three steps will help them see your commitment to their success and will help them become committed to improving.  A positive outlook will create a positive environment where people want to do better.  Spell out the facts of the situation and build hope for a better tomorrow.

This will take some time to do well and yet it can yield amazing performance improvements that it’s worth the time.  Underperforming teams can be turned around with time and attention.  You need to figure out what can be done to meet your targets and how you can help the team get there.

While looking at the team’s performance you have to take a hard look at your performance relative to the team.  Are you being the leader they need to achieve the project or team goals?  Ask them how you can better support them and then listen to their feedback.  Some of it may be hard to hear so just absorb the information.  Take the time to reflect on what you are told and implement the changes that will help you grow and help your team succeed.  Your willingness to change will help set the stage for them to change as well.  If you want them to change their performance you need to go first, so model what you want from them.  They will like you for it and will respond well.

Learn to be a coach that helps their team achieve more and accomplish great things.  As you develop or refine your coaching skills you will grow as a leader and become capable of leading teams in any situation.  You can become a better coach by working with a coach to grow your skills and abilities.  Again, you will be modeling the behavior you want from your team and developing yourself at the same time.  Win-Win

To get more from your team you must be aware of the gaps and be willing to help close those gaps by developing the team’s skills or getting the right people on the team.  It’s up to you as a leader or project manager to make sure your team is set to deliver as required.

If you are curios on how a coach could help you click here for information on a special offer designed to help you get more out of your team in 2014.  We can help you do more personally and help you prepare your team for a fantastic year.

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Obstacles or Opportunities

Motivation conceptThere are times when you run into a challenge or a problem that you just have to figure out how to get around.  It seems like these times always come at the worst possible moment, when you are swamped with things to do, have pressing deadlines or you have reach the point of burnout and need a break.  Whenever these occur keep in mind that they can be a road block or they can be an opportunity to learn.  How you handle it as a leader or project manager will impact the team around you as well.  You set the tone for the rest of the team.

I know that it’s become cliché to say “we don’t have problems we have opportunities” however there is a great mindset hidden in those words.  If you look at every problem as a challenge or an obstacle than they will often keep you from moving forward.  If you turn your thinking around you can look for the opportunity to learn a new skill or finally defeat an old fear.  It really is up to you.

To help you shift your mindset to looking past the obstacles here are 5 strategies:

  1. Stay positive:  Avoid falling into the mindset that things never go well, that bad things happen, or that this will never work.  Focus on the end result or goal, and take time to look at the good things that are happening.
  2. Avoid pessimists:  You will find people who are like Eeyore who think everything is horrible and doom and gloom.  Avoid them at all costs.  Spend your time around people who accept that stuff happens but look for a way forward.  Who you spend time with will impact your ability to bounce back.
  3. Be grateful:  Yes it sounds trite and it can be hard to do when things get tough.  However, there are always things around you that are good so take the time to notice and appreciate them.  Say thank you to people who help you with your challenges.
  4. Be open:  Odds are there is something new you can learn to solve the problem so be open to new ideas, new methods, and new thoughts.  These will help you find new solutions and get past the challenge quicker.  If you want to move beyond where you are today you need to develop new skills and new knowledge.  Look for those nuggets within your current challenge.
  5. Relax:  The good news is that this too shall pass.  Nothing stays great or horrible forever.  There are times when you just have to hang on and let things improve with time.  Sit back take some deep breaths and clear your mind for a few moments.  Shut out the negative thoughts and pressures to just calm yourself.  Find time to unwind from the pressures for even 10 minutes and you will be better ready to get back to it.

While these are all simple things it can be tough to accomplish them when you feel like everything is going wrong.  It takes discipline and resolve to keep these in your mind as you are facing a challenge or obstacle.  Keep calm and it will work out.

It is important to surround yourself with people who will help by giving you ideas, support or just a shoulder to lean on.  Who you are with has a huge impact on your thoughts and feelings.  There are people you can’t avoid who may be “Debby Downers” and want to suck everyone down with them.  Work with them when needed and avoid them otherwise.  Go to lunch with people who will make you smile and laugh not ones who will moan and groan the whole time.  Pick your surroundings carefully.

Focus is a critical component of creating a mindset that helps you get past the obstacles in your path.  The more you focus on the good in your world the more good you will see so the more good there will be in your world.  It doesn’t mean that negative things will never happen, they will but how you react to them determines the outcome of those events.  If you focus on problems you will have problems everywhere.

Whether you are faced with an obstacle or an opportunity to grow is up to you.  How you view the situation will determine which one of these things experiences you have.  Look for the positive in a bad situation and you will find your way out of the ugliness more easily.

Albert Einstein said it best “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  Choose your thinking carefully and make it a great opportunity to learn.

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Professional or Personal?

WorkingRecently I’ve been asked several times about building relationships with clients as a project manager.  I am a big believer that having a strong relationship with the client helps you manage the project more effectively.  The trick to this is the relationship needs to be professional not personal.  This is not about becoming best friends, it’s about business so be professional.  The idea also applies to internal customers, bosses, peers or co-workers not just clients.

The question I keep hearing is how do you keep it professional?  Too often people assume that building a relationship means something more personal than it needs to be.  Here are my top three suggestions for having a professional relationship:

  1. Be kind and courteous:  This is about being civil and polite.  Ask how things are going.  Make small talk about weather, sports, holidays, family or whatever flows naturally.  If the person has been ill; wish them well.  Ask how the vacation went.  Be interested in them and their interests.
  2. Keep problems professional:  When dealing with issues or problems keep the focus on solutions to issues not personal attacks.  Avoid judging actions or behaviors.  Strive for win-win solutions that work for both parties.
  3. Focus on business needs:  Remember that you are working with them as a business person, so focus on the business at hand.  You are providing a service or product that will provide a benefit for them while providing revenue to you.  When you act in a way that advances their business goals along with your own the client will notice and respect it. 

The idea is to become a valued business asset to your client.  This means someone they can count on to help them reach their business goals.  When you are working towards their goals as well as your own, you gain respect and build a great working relationship.

If you are giving what they want while sacrificing your profits and goals you can be seen as weak.  Caving to every whim and request for them it raises the question of what you do for other clients.  Where else are you giving in and when will that interfere with the clients goals?  Also, sometimes the client’s requests are actually detrimental to their goals and they need you to tell them that is the case.

If you become too friendly it can get in the way of the tough decisions.  No one likes to point out a friend’s mistake or say no to a friend.  In business you must be able to say no and to keep people focused on the end goal.  This is much harder to do with friends than it is with colleagues.

Building a good, professional working relationship with a client (or boss or co-worker) makes it easier to have a conversation about what is working and what isn’t working.  When you know that you have the person’s respect you can safely point out concerns and get them addressed.  Using the three strategies above makes it simpler to look at issues as business and get them resolved without the drama personal relationships can bring to the table.  Once you have that professional relationship you can tackle tough problems in a mutually beneficial way.  It takes respect and trust to make it work.  Build both and you will be a better manager of projects and people.

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Project Communication Challenges

Businessman sleeping at the presentationIf you have been part of a project, large or small, you have seen communication challenges.  These challenges seem to crop up often yet the good news is that they can be addressed.  When you take the time to pay attention to the project’s communications and work at doing it well things will go much smoother for you.

Here’s look at some of the biggest challenges: 

  • Poor Planning – This shows up in several ways: a lack of information, wrong information for the audience, and information at the wrong time.
  • Ineffective Messages – These cause delays in action or decisions, mistakes due to misunderstanding, and confusion about what is happening.
  • Organizational Issues – In some organizations team members are assigned to multiple projects which means the PM is competing for their attention, virtual teams are becoming more common which adds complexity to communicating, and working globally introduces delays due to time zone differences.
  • Language Constraints – As business becomes more global language barriers can get in the way of communicating effectively.  Different meanings for words and gestures, lack of a common language among a global team, and cultural communication styles are all issues the PM must learn to handle.
  • Style and Skills – The communication style and skill level of the PM can introduce challenges.  Very direct people can seem overbearing to those who are indirect while indirect people seem to never get to the point to direct communicators.   Being uncomfortable in front of a group can impact the effectiveness of the message.

The communication plan and its effectiveness is a key component to delivering a successful project.  If the PM or team leader has the skills to adapt to different audiences and different styles they will be more effective.  This helps the project in the following ways:

  • Decisions will get made in a timely manner
  • Tasks are completed correctly when due
  • Changes are handled promptly and with less conflict
  • Problems and issues are addressed properly and promptly
  • Stakeholders understand the changes and impact

Communication is the breakfast of Champions” – Ken Blanchard

If you are a Project Manager or a Team Leader take the time to focus on communicating well and develop your communication skills.  If you are seeing delays in decisions, mistakes, missed due dates, or confusion about changes then you may need to work on improving your project communications.   For more information how you can improve your skills check out a free White Paper on “5 Keys to Effective Project Communication” by clicking here.

Thanks to my colleagues in LinkedIn’s The Project Manager Network – #1 Group for Project Managers for their contributions to this topic.

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Quote for Sept 25th

Business Team

I enjoy being given a certain amount of freedom in order to interpret or to come up with stuff, but I do enjoy collaboration. I seek and thrive on projects where I am going to learn from the people I’m working with.
William Kempe

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Quote for Sept 18th

Young people are fitter to invent than to judge; fitter for execution than for counsel; and more fit for new projects than for settled business. ~ Francis Bacon

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The Danger of Knowing

cautionAs a leader in any form there is a real danger to knowing too much.  That seems counter intuitive to most people.  However, when we fall into the trap of assuming we know enough we will be blindsided by the unknowns that sneak up on us.

There are four categories of known information (Donald Rumsfeld addressed this issue in 2002):

  1. Known Knowns – These are the things we know that we know.  This is clearly front of mind information.
  2. Known Unknowns – These are the things we know that we do not know.  This can be found in data we need to collect to understand a problem, but we don’t have it yet.
  3. Unknown Knowns – This is the information that has become so ingrained we no longer think about it, we just act on it.  Our unconscious mind controls this information.  Consider tying your shoes, do you really have to think hard about how to do it; no you just tie your shoe.
  4. Unknown Unknowns – Here is the scary part of things, this is the information we don’t know and have no idea we are missing it.

As a leader you have to recognize that there is information you do not have yet.  The trick is how you get that information.  Succeeding at this is the key to risk management and ironically team empowerment.

Here are some tips for you:

  • Understand your limits:  Be totally honest with yourself and your team on what you know and what you don’t know.  Remember there are things you are not aware of yet.
  • Ask for input:  The people on your team have different experiences and so have different knowledge.  Ask them what they know about the situation and what else they think they need to know to be effective.
  • Be open:  Keep an open mind and look for subtle indicators of things that you were not aware of yet.  This means that you must keep all your options open early on, do not narrow your choices too soon or you will limit the knowledge you gain.
  • Question everything:  Ask lots of questions.  Great ones are “what else?” “What could go wrong?” “What else do we need?” “How can this be better?” “Could we be wrong?”

If you adopt these tips into your team planning sessions, whether it is for a project or a new product or just working more efficiently, you will find out things you were not aware of and get better solutions and ideas.

The more information you can gather the better you can handle the risks involved in any activity.  You won’t eliminate all risks or even uncover all unknown unknowns but you will be better prepared when something happens.  Thinking about contingencies will not minimize every risk, yet people become more flexible when they have explored other options.  This allows them to adjust more quickly when a problem is encountered.  Avoid analysis paralysis – you will never know everything you could about a situation, so if you get to 80% of the information you are good to go.

Another benefit of these tips is that you are engaging and including your team in understanding the situation.  This is a critical component of effective teams.  People will do more with less if they feel they have had a part in creating the solution.  They will be more loyal and more responsive.

Remember that assuming you know enough is dangerous ground and will set you up for unexpected problems, your team will be less engaged and your risks are much higher.  The best leaders know that they don’t have all the answers and they need help to discover the risks and better solutions.

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