Stakeholder Management – who are your influencers?

10.06.2012 0

Recently I was asked about my experiences for managing stakeholders. The term “Stakeholder” is rather broad and I’ve seen it loosely defined as anyone with an interest in the project. Technically this may be true – but really I believe a more accurate definition is anyone who has influence on the outcome of the project.

Stakeholder Management is a very complex topic because of the people involved and the uncertainty around the situations of their involvement – it deals specifically with “what can be encountered.” A skilled manager is someone that can read the situation, dig into the reasons or rationale behind a stakeholder’s position, and then negotiate a successful outcome to new encounters.

Stakeholders change too during the life of project. Those that were influential on the scope of the work may not necessarily be the ones signing off on it as an example, or discoveries during the execution of the project may result in new stakeholders being identified and they will need to be on-boarded into the project.

So how do you manage them? One of the things to remember is that their influence is greatest at the start of the project or the initiation of a new phase. Key stakeholders also need to be incorporated as needed – especially as the project develops so that they can provide the appropriate input needed for project success.

Balancing Stakeholder Interests:

  1. Get to the why.  Each stakeholder will have a different take on why the project is being done. – Does if fulfil a business need?  Are market conditions at work?  Do processes need to made more efficient?
  2. Find out what should be done.  Viewpoints on this will always be different between stakeholders and understanding their unique views may lead to a greater understanding of any hidden requirements.
  3. What does the project management plan say to address points one and two above?

Balancing interests also means that a formal change control process needs to be established.  Practical thoughts aside - following a good change control methodology will help negotiations with stakeholders.  This helps the manager to listen to what stakeholders want and help identify what cost parameters  or time frames will be needed to meet these needs.  If changes are required and agreed to, then the project management plan can be updated accordingly, reflecting not only the outcomes of the stakeholder’s interests but also the work and costs necessary to make it happen.

 Know your Influencers:

None of this can happen though if you don’t know who has influence on your project and when they might exercise it.  The analysis work has to be done up front at the beginning of the project and periodically as the project rolls out.  Build a Stakeholder Register and schedule both formal and informal meetings, workshops, etc. to get their input.  Also try questionnaires and surveys.  Don’t be afraid to build prototypes to get feedback and ideas.  It can only result in a better chance to complete your project successfully!

 

 

Virtual Team Management – Tips and Techniques

12.11.2011 0

Tips

I was asked a little while ago what were some good tips for managing teams remotely and these days it’s not uncommon to have teams spread out in different locations. We no longer need the office surrounding to get projects done or to gel as a team, thanks to all the technology that is available to us today.  Still there is a certain art in managing a team remotely and establishing an environment where team members feel the same level of support and involvement as they do if their manager is right there with them in the office.

Make use of tools. Video conferencing, email, chat programs like Skype or MSN Messenger, and web conferencing like Webex, or joinme…the choices are out there and all these tools should become part of the day to day management of a team.  There isn’t as much need to be in the office with your team every day when you are able to see them and interact with them “face to face” via your webcam.  Most people prefer to work independently for the most part, but like to have regular check-ins with the team to align their expectations and make sure they’re on the right track.  Video conference while sharing work via Webex as a weekly project update meeting can allow each person to give their update, share their own desktop and have a captive audience on the line.  These tools must become part of the company culture just like a desk and a phone might be.

Communication. All the best tools in the world won’t work if we don’t communicate with them. This is no different than managing a team in the office – the key is to bring the team together on a regular basis, allow each person to contribute, and moderate the discussion. Working remotely requires you to make a bit more effort in communication – you can’t just stand up and walk over to someone – you have to find other ways to get your points across while you’re not there.  This may seem awkward at first if you’re working with a team that is used to everyone being in one office, but with it doesn’t take long for people to thrive in this new environment.As the remote manager, you have to make sure your team feels your support and leadership without seeing you in person every day.

This can be done with frequent check-ins (even a quick call/chat to see how people are doing) and regularly scheduled update meetings that you don’t cancel / change / skip.  The regularity of communication must be  consistent and required by all team members for the team to gel.  For example, instead of one-on-one meetings, try meeting as a team so that the team members will feel more supported by each other.  That allows them the confidence to seek help from one another and not just from their manager.

 

Take responsibility. Often a company’s dynamic stems from the culture within, generated by the enthusiastic employees and the passionate leaders. When you are remote, you have to tap into that somehow.  If you don’t, you’ll find yourself feeling disconnected and out of the loop. It’s incumbent upon you as the remote manager to contribute to the company culture by making your presence known and heard. Schedule regular update meetings with peers, the management team, other departments you rely on.  The more people hear from you, the more top of mind you’ll be as someone that needs to be included in certain discussions.  This would normally happen organically if you were in the office so you have to replace that, not lose it.

Once other departments or your own team gets the hang of it and they include you in meetings, make sure you always attend. It’s too easy to tune out in conference calls, or skip them all together if you think it’s not valuable – but the more you participate and contribute, the more people will think to include you.  It’s inevitable that you’ll miss out of many of the spontaneous discussions that solve problems because people aren’t likely going to stop brainstorming to get you on the line, but you can keep yourself in the loop with frequent check-ins and scheduling on-line brainstorming sessions of your own.

Agile Methodology – Advantages beyond the Development Team

26.10.2011 1

My last post noted we’re creating a Cultural Shift in the organization – I’ve instigated moving to Agile Methodology for the development of our products. I’m happy to report that the development team likes the advantages we’ve seen. There’s more focus and discipline on estimating work as we plan for sprints, we formally review sprint success and daily troubleshoot challenges, and formally capture the lessons learned after doing the work. All these are good things to the ordered minds of engineers and for managers too.

What was unexpected in all this is the discipline that other areas of the organization are developing to support the process. The original intent was simply to develop better – better quality, better testing, having a common definition of “done” etc. The advantages of having shippable product delivered in a relatively short time frame can’t be ignored and other areas of the business are examining their methods to getting the work done.

Advantages:

  1. Requirements are becoming more tightly defined and we’re receiving them without value statements.  Instead they are becoming goal oriented without any references to subjective terms ( i.e. simple, intuitive, user-friendly).
  2. The dependencies external to the development team are handled more efficiently.  Given that we have tighter development windows, other verticals are delivering more quickly to feed their information into the development team.
  3. Having a set development window means the desire to add last minute requirements to a product release has decreased significantly.  We can always do another sprint and take the time to implement correctly.
  4. We’re able to allocate resources far more efficiently and the organization can prioritize efforts.  This is the Biggest Win!
The Biggest Win:
I recently stopped all development activity.  I’m betting some of the PM’s out there are wondering how schedules were maintained if we stopped development.  Well they weren’t for a short while.  I recognized a need for the organization to determine priorities and since we have limited resources, applying them appropriately is always a challenge.  Allocating expertise to maintain multiple deliveries is hard with a limited pool.  To combat this, we took the time we needed to create sprint plans for five different projects.  The organization was wondering how we could deliver against all five and by boiling down each intiative we could see where we had common demands on specific developers.

 

Very quickly we were able to determine which resource was a bottle neck when we compared each sprint plan.  I presented the plans to management and they were able to prioritize projects against customer demand.  By showing where resources were needed against sprint objectives, it was easy to give direction on where efforts should go.  This directly translates to greater precision for determining cash flow, budget forecasting, hiring, and external delivery promises.  Development is now working on deliverables targeted directly to customers.

 

Future:
The biggest win is the biggest advantage and will provide opportunities to improve our internal best practices.  I’m contemplating creating operational tools where agile methods are utilized alongside traditional waterfall approaches  in other areas of the business.  I can see critical path methodology extended to operational activities, feeding inputs into the agile process of the development team.

Agile Methodology – webinar wastefulness and cultural shifts

07.09.2011 1

My Team Lead and I just sat through 70% of a webinar and opted out early.  The subject was supposed to be about scaling organizational change around Agile Methodology, which was exciting for us as we’re right in the middle of creating a cultural shift in our organization.

We have embarked on a path to firm up our agile processes and provide accountability right from the product owner down to the individual coder.  We’re keen on entrenching good methods and process because we’ve got big plans and want  to establish “how we do it!”  This is part of bigger plans  that we have for implementing test driven development and paired programming – the company is maturing!

What we found was a webinar that pointed us to reading cultural theories by well-published management authors.  The take-aways before opting out were: respect team members, don’t let anyone on the team talk trash, and try to provide enabling challenges.  None of those are bad ideas, but where’s the hands-on practical experience and other inside tips that we should know and was hinted at in the webinar summary?  As we’re ramping up and putting components into place, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the key to implementing a cutlural shift around Agile are hands-on ideas like is this:

  1. Plan  - identify what you think you need to accomplish and then determine how you’re going to do it.
  2. Assign resources to the tasks in the plan.
  3. Work the plan.
  4. Meet daily so that you can be flexible with any road blocks.
  5. Have a show and tell at the end of the week where the team can review the successes for the last 4 days!  Have management attend so that they can see the results and keep the buy-in strong.

(sounds like a sprint, hmmm….)

Inside Tip:  Set office hours completely devoted for discussing any change induced worries that team members might be having.  Also, don’t talk trash and help each other get there.
Now if I was to package this and throw in a few war stories, I might have a webinar myself.  Hopefully with useful content!

 

What is a Project Manager?

03.08.2011 0

I came across an article recently that talked about how my skill sets were in demand.  It stated “Right now Project Management is a hot profession.”

Great news if you’re a project manager!

But what is a Project Manager?  The title means many things to a diverse range of people.

There are three main personal attributes that to me typify what it means to be a Project Manager:

  1. People ability :  they are good coaches, love to mentor, and have well-honed leadership skills.
  2. Logisticians: They love the challenge of working and pulling a plan together.
  3. Goal and objective oriented:  They measure themselves on their ability to deliver.

They oversee the execution of effort on unique endeavours. Great description?  Not really, but it’s one I think every non-project manager understands.  What’s missing is the project management part.  It is the application of processes and techniques that help to keep the project on track and deliver consistent levels of quality for any products or work results.  What it really is is this: Project management combines the disciplines of budget, schedule, technology and risk with people management.  It unites individuals to perform against a goal in a coordinated, ordered, and consistent way.  Sounds simple but the role is difficult because the opinions of stakeholders are influenced by these three factors:

  1. Methodology is contentious.
  2. Cultural influences impact people management
  3. Business knowledge doesn’t transfer.

Project management navigates these factors.  For example, project managers may have their favourite methods and can weigh-in on ways to properly execute on development, get input on requirements from stakeholders, and define quality or measure and control risks.  However, the best methodology is one that the organization and team can live with, can be performed consistently, and yields the desired results.  This requires the project manager to monitor methods to ensure they are working.

Project managers must also be able to manage political situations and personnel concerns.  In fact this may be the highest area of risk and success – projects are performed by people.  Skills in soliciting feedback, dealing with cultural issues, union requirements, and following human resource practices are key in managing the project.  These must be balanced with technology, milestone deadlines, and other business objectives.

A project cannot be delivered well  without a deep understanding of the business’ issues and needs.  It’s true that methodologies transfer across industries but they must be supplemented by a thorough understanding of the project scope and deliverables and their importance to the organization.  This helps the project manager to make decisions.  A good project manager becomes a “mini-expert” in the business needs the project is addressing, and understands why a particular solution has value for producing project deliverables.

Project managers who watch for these common factors are more likely to successfully deliver their projects.

Generation Y, X, or Boomer – it doesn’t matter

18.07.2011 0

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been delivering programs and projects with the help of Generation Y team members.  As any PM knows, a happy team means that team members are more willing to put in a little extra effort, and when it comes time to launch the next project, members generally look forward to the challenges.

Experience and training can help a PM be a better leader and I have spent a lot of time trying to learn the “secret” of motivating my teams but really it gets down to this – I can assign meaningful work that plays to their strengths, and create scenarios for team building exercises, but real motivation comes from the individual and its up to me to understand how to tap into it.

I recently had a great opportunity to ask one of my staff about what makes him tick and the answers were really intriguing.  To put his experience into context – it helps to know that he’s in his mid 20’s, active, educated and has had increasing levels of responsibility in his job roles.  He said:

  • His primary goals are not financial.
  • He wants continual growth opportunities
  • He wants to see changes take place immediately

He says that although financial status is not a prime motivator, there’s a desire to be more financially comfortable.  At the same time he says he’s driven by a job that offers lifestyle, flexibility, challenges and the direction he wants.

My role as a motivator then is to look for opportunities in the projects I’m running and assign him to activities that provide growth opportunities.  I think this is really important and I’ve discovered talking to my peers in other organizations that Gen Y turnover can be really high.  My staff member told me that he wants to transition out of a job the minute it becomes “just a pay cheque.”

So not every role has continual growth, change can take forever before there’s a new direction.  There has to be other factors at work that keep Gen Y motivated.  This is what I meant earlier about “tapping into” what motivates the team member and its unique to the individual.  Informally polling my coworkers — motivation really is about having fundamental personal needs being met.  If this holds true, then my role as a leader is to help my Gen Y team achieve their personal goals.  I think this sentiment holds true regardless whether you’re Gen Y, X or a Boomer.

Eight Critical Meetings for Large Projects

25.06.2011 0

Tips

I don’t think anyone likes too many meetings.  There’s lots of information out there on how to run them more effectively, some satire, and I’ve often thought meetings just make people look busier.  What are we going to accomplish by having a meeting where we just update around the table?  I try to avoid these like the plague.

However, there are huge benefits from having meetings and I do think that there are a minimum of eight significant meetings that have to happen when you’re running complex projects with external deliverables.  Face time is very important at critical points in the project life cycle.

 

Contract Meeting:

Dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.  Whether this is a meeting with the customer or with the vendor that is supplying some of the goods or services to finish the project, this meeting ensures that milestones, quantities, responsibilities and the scope of the project are clearly defined and agreed to by all parties.

Project Kick Off Meeting:

I like to do these every time a new phase for the project is initiated. This sets the tone for the work to come and allows the team an opportunity to ask the questions they need before considering, performing or planning work.

 

Requirements Review Meeting:

This can set up the Statement of Work and is done early in the project.  Capturing requirements using formal interviews with all stake holders, focus groups, workshops etc. just gets you to the raw elements of what must be delivered.  But in the end, a formal meeting where the collected requirements are reviewed with the sponsor, customer, and team leads and then agreed to and signed off is a great way to ensure you’ll build what is needed.

Critical Design Review:

Now we’re committed! The design of what will be built to meet the accepted criteria is reviewed and agreed to by the end customer.  By having this meeting, managing expectation becomes so much easier and allows the team to commit to work packages, risk is reduced, and controlling scope is a matter of reviewing changes against the accepted design and the supporting requirements.

Design or Code Freeze:

Agreement at this meeting freezes design or coding and allows you to either go to manufacturing or finish software compiling, testing and release.
No further design changes on the last product iteration will be considered without altering scope or schedule.

Transition Readiness Review: This meeting occurs before implementation and evaluates the success of transitioning to a new product system or service. The major stakeholders that will be involved in managing changes, or performing implementation work must sign-off on planning, risk management tasks, and the resources needed for the transition.

Budget Review Meeting:

On large projects, periodic budget review meetings with the steering committee are always necessary. I think these should always be done at the end and start of a new phase of the project.  At a minimum these should be performed every quarter as part of the exercises needed to maintain project control.

Post Project Review:

So how did the project go and what important lessons can the organization learn from?  Lessons captured at this meeting along with other documentation can improve the performance for other projects.  Results of the meeting can form the templates for future risk analysis, estimating, methods, and procedures.

I deliberately haven’t written about progress/status, or risk review meetings.  These occur as part of doing the work and are necessary to move the project forward. They are import for communicating and learning about project performance but they do not have such singular impacts to the success of the project as the meetings above.

Organizational Benefits of a PMO

21.06.2011 0

I have had the opportunity of building two Project Management Offices (PMO’s) and each one has been different but kind of the same.  The similarities lie in the consistency, rigour, communication structure, tools and actions needed to support basic business operation and the delivery of projects.  The differences focused on what was needed for the organization.  The maturity of the organization dictated the development of the PMO.

Organizational maturity really makes the difference when one attempts to put structure together for a company.  There are questions and cultural issues that must addressed before any PMO initiative can grow legs.   For example – just the basic understanding of how project management can impact he health and growth of the business is an important consideration before any process or infrastructure can be considered.  If the company doesn’t understand what the profession of project management does, how it can improve operations, and why it drives customer satisfaction, then the road to PMO development is a long one.

If the company understands the need for governance, support for building a PMO can be an natural evolution.  For example – using consistent process becomes the organizational strategy for crafting solutions for the company’s customers.   Business Development and Operations are now working hand in hand to ensure that customer expectations are crafted right from the start.  This is one of the major benefits of building a PMO for the organization.  The company shifts and becomes solutions focused.

Another major benefit is the application of consistent process for project decisions.  Risks are routinely categorized and responses are formalized so that both positive and negative risks can be either mitigated or capitalized.  The organization’s management team decisions are now supported by the transparency provided by the consistent process of the PMO.  Project decisions are smoother – improving project execution.

The processes of the PMO often augment change management.  Having systems in place, dealing with risks, applying decision making tools, are all natural extensions for what the PMO can bring to the discipline of managing change.  If the company is about to embark on new directions or wishes to implement new strategies, having the PMO shepherd the process can really lessen the impact to the organization and its staff.

 

 

Project Manager Tasks that must be done before Summer Vacation

20.06.2011 0

I am trying to plan some time away and forecasting when would be the best time to take holidays.  This is not a straight forward task – I have to look ahead at project deliverables, I have to coordinate with the team to ensure there’s overlap of skills, and I have plan dates, inform the team etc.  Adding to this are my personal preparations.  This leads me to one conclusion: “Logistics are a Lifestyle – not a job.”

So what are the top things that I think must be covered before I can go away:

  1. Analyze project schedules.  I’m looking at deliverables and trying to plan my time away so that I won’t miss any critical milestones.
  2. Determine who will be taking over my tasks while I’m gone.  Actually no one will do the day-to-day but in case of critical issues, everyone needs to know who can sort them out and would take the lead.
  3. Reconfirming leadership roles.  I’m going to remind the stakeholders who the leader is for various components of the projects.  This is a good time to showcase the talents of team members who are naturally gravitating to leadership roles.
  4. Plan my reporting.  I want to have my reporting templates pre-populated with the relevant milestones so that reports to the stakeholders are easily generated  and updated by the team.
  5. Revisit future work packages with the team leads.   Packages are regularly updated as project deliverables are completed but any vague areas will have to be defined.
  6. Risk review.  I think it’s also important to get input from the team during the next few scrums.  I’d like to hear about the risks they think they’ll encounter when they get to the tasks in the schedule.

I’m hoping that this preparation will keep the post-vacation backlog to a small pile, keep the stakeholders happy, and give the team an opportunity to really shine.

 

Funny thing happened on the way to the Blog

09.06.2011 0

So this is the first blog for my site.  Now it would be easy for me to write about some grand vision of what I want my “professional presence on the web” to be but I think writing honestly about my thoughts is more my style.  Cut to the chase, no dramas, and tell me about the bottom line.

The motive for creating this site came about through discussions with my professional coach Roberta Sawatsky, admiration for the talent of colleague William Azaroff, and through the urging of consultant Colin Parker.  These talented people have inspired me to communicate on a wider level, and share my leadership perspective.  So I’m adding to the milieu we call social media.  Let’s hope the content is good  and possibly compelling.

Funny thing happened to me on the way to the Blog – My career has progressively evolved and I have been taking greater and greater responsibilities.  This means I’ve seen some crazy things, stubbed my toes, made a difference, and repeatedly enjoyed the reward of working with the team to secure our objectives.  Now its time to give back; add to other’s bottom lines.  Add value.

 

Stay tuned.