Project management doesn’t apply just to project teams. The best project managers understand that the entire workday is a project, and that they need to apply the same skill sets to protect project teams from scope increases or unclear action items.
After all, it’s all very well and good to push back against a client who wants to increase your scope without increasing your budget or time frame, but what are you you going to do when your boss asks you if you can pick up the slack for another staff member? Or when someone in Human Resources asks you if you have time to serve on a committee to help choose new office furniture?
Here are a few ways to use project management best practices in other aspects of your work day:
Hard-block your calendar
The best way to make sure you get all of your work done during the day is to create hard blocks in which to do it. If you have a presentation to present to a boss or a client, it’s easy to assume you’ll get it done in a single afternoon, until the afternoon gets eaten up by emails and people knocking at your door.
Yes, it is appropriate for you to actually do your work at work, not at home after midnight! To do so, you’ll need to set out hard calendar blocks on your office calendering system. That way, no one can schedule last-minute meetings during your work time — or if they do, you’ll be able to decline or reschedule anything that can wait until after your own work is done.
Read more about how to effectively use calendar hard blocks at GTD Times.
Set down the path for others to follow
On my last project, I worked with an international vendor. This person was essential to keeping my project running on time, and yet I found myself unable to get in touch with him.
Then I decided to change the situation. Maybe my international vendor couldn’t get in touch with me because I hadn’t given him a path. I signed up for TollFreeForwarding, a service that provides virtual international phone numbers for businesses. Then I sent our new international phone number to my vendor, which he could dial as if it were a local number in his country. Once I gave him the path, he was able to follow it, no problem.
Use the same techniques with people outside of your project. If you want to negotiate a raise, for example, set down the path — clearly show how you have added value to your company. If you don’t want to get stuck in an all-day email exchange with a coworker, turn the conversation into a phone call or a face-to-face after three messages. Set down the path you want to take, and other people will follow.
Focus on your bottlenecks
Eliyahu Goldratt’s project management book The Goal includes the idea of focusing resources on bottlenecks. If there’s something that’s preventing you from getting a task done, don’t sit around and wait for it, and don’t try to backlog a bunch of separate, completed tasks behind it — instead, throw everything you have at the bottleneck until it’s gone.
I was recently planning an anniversary trip with my wife. The bottleneck, of course, was waiting to learn if HR would sign off on my vacation. Instead of just sitting and waiting (while the cost of plane tickets rose higher) or focusing on other parts of the project–like getting our SCUBA recertifications–I went straight to the bottleneck and explained what I needed. Turns out my request was lost in the stack, but you bet she signed off on it right then.
What about you? What project management techniques do you use most often in other areas of your work?
Project managers, especially those trained in a Scrum ethos, are extremely agile at identifying potential threats towards their teams’ success. Not only are there scope changes, client disagreements, and unexpected costs as projected threats, but everything from a company fire drill to a mandatory software update is one more reason why your project might not finish on time.
However, there are a few threats that some project managers never consider. Are these potential threats on your list? If not, time to start taking some notes:
Regardless of your opinion on the recent government shutdown, I don’t think any of us expected it to last quite as long as it did. Nor were we prepared for the shutdown’s larger effects on everyone’s lives, including those of us who work in the private sector. One of our project teams, for example, was unable to find the information he needed on OSHA regulations due to the fact that OSHA’s website, like many other government websites, was not being updated during the government shutdown.
Like it or not, politics affects your projects. Don’t ignore the daily news, and don’t forget to consider how it will affect your teams.
2. Cyber-related threats
Project management has moved to the digital era just as much as any other aspect of our professional lives. That is why we have to account for cyber threats for project management just as much as for everything else in the firm. How do hackers affect your project teams? Well, if they infiltrate your company’s servers, they affect your entire company. In one scenario, hackers waste everyone’s time by sending around those virus-laden emails which your IT office then has to follow up with (prompting more emails). In another scenario, an advanced persistent threat literally sucks up time on your company’s server, clogging up the works while it searches for information.
It’s your company’s responsibility to keep its security risk management systems up to date, and your IT team’s responsibility to keep malware, bots, viruses, and hackers out of your office. It’s your responsibility, as a project manager, to consider how hackers might affect your project team — and to always have a backup plan so your teams can keep working even if the office network is down or the office servers are compromised.
Too much downtime, right? No. Not enough. A Salon article came out this week reiterating the importance of regular mental breaks — even in the middle of the day — as well as evenings free from work and nights filled with mentally-restorative sleep.
Project managers, used to calculating time to the minute, often do not include downtime in their project plans — or if they do, they don’t include enough or they don’t allow teams to take it when needed. The fact is that, even if you don’t plan for downtime, downtime still happens; it’s the team member glazing over at his laptop, or the group who all gets sick with colds together after they stay late five nights in a row.
Plan for downtime. It’s the best thing you can do for your project.
What happens when you have happy employees? They tend to form and make stable relationships outside of the office, leading to new life events like marriages and babies. As a project manager, this is an ideal scenario. You want teams that are able to have evenings free to go on dates and enjoy life — it’s just that that very enjoyment of life leads to honeymoon requests and maternity/paternity leave.
Is this a problem? Only if you don’t plan for it in your schedule. It’s illegal to ask people if they’re planning on getting married or having a baby — so just assume that someone on your team is going to have a happiness-related life event at least once per project.
As you can see, nearly every aspect of daily life — from shutdowns to births — affects your projects and your workflow. Take some time now to plan for every potential project threat, so you’ll be able to keep your project on time, on scope, and on budget no matter what happens.
Change management, according to the new PMI practice standard, is “a comprehensive, cyclic, and structured approach for transitioning individuals, groups, and organizations from a current state to a future state with intended business benefits.”
The new PMI practice standard, Managing Change in Organisations: A Practice Guide, is over 130 pages long and aims to complement the other PMI standards. Change management can be managed in projects by a separate change manager, but it is more and more common for project managers to have to adopt this role as part of their own responsibilities on projects. It’s a skill set for project team members and project managers and it covers leadership, business awareness and technical change management skills.
All of these are covered by the new practice standard which looks at these areas, amongst others:
- The change life cycle framework
- Managing change in an organisational project management context
- Change at project, programme and portfolio levels.
Your project team doesn’t collaborate, the business users don’t know what’s going on and the project is still being reported as ‘green’ with no issues. If this situation sounds familiar then you really need to get a grip on team collaboration as soon as you can, as that lovely ‘green’ status won’t last for very long!
Here are 3 ways to improve team collaboration on your project.
1. Integrate, integrate, integrate
Don’t expect your team to go to lots of different places for their project information. Choose a planning solution like Seavus Project Viewer v10 which integrates with Google Drive and SkyDrive. It also has the ability to import and export from Microsoft Sharepoint and all of this means that it’s possible for your team members to have one central system from which they access all or the majority of their project information.
This will avoid them having to log in to email for some documents, a shared network drive for others, then accessing an online site for more data. Having it all accessible through one central interface ensures that the team saves time and that they are encouraged to work together.
Starting a new project is an exciting time, despite an abundance of paperwork and documentation to complete. However, it’s also the point in a project where things need to be set up correctly to ensure that you’ll be able to manage it effectively going forward. Here are 4 questions that you should consider at the beginning of every project. Fully understanding the answers will help you get your project off to the best possible start.
Why are we working on this project? The answer to this question should demonstrate a link between the company’s strategic plan and the project itself. You should be able to see how the project contributes to what the company is trying to achieve overall. If your project doesn’t seem to have any strategic implications, or worse, seems to be taking the company away from the direction of the strategy, why are you working on it?
There must be some logical, sensible reason to embark on the significant effort and investment that is a project. If your sponsor can’t articulate the reason, how are you going to get your project team members bought into the vision and aligned with what you are trying to achieve?
Most projects do happen for good reasons, but it is worth making sure that you really understand the rationale of your project and why it has been kicked off. As well as ensuring that your company’s strategy remains supported, it will also help you to define the objectives for the project so that these can be shared widely.