Wednesday
Jun022010

Leadership

Recently I was asked to define the difference between a Project Leader and a Project Manager.

To me the two have always been inseparable; a good Project Manager should also be a good Leader. I know many will argue the case that they have met PM's that turned out to be poor leaders. 

My point is that they are not good project managers.  These are managers who simply follow the rules, making sure the right forms and reports are filled out and filed as expected.

The question has stayed with me for days, so I decided to define good Project Leadership - the qualities that every good project manager should posses.


Let's start by defining leadership or Leader:

  • Directing resources to a successful end goal
  • Creating a vision that can be followed by everyone involved
  • Inspiring others to that goal
  • Building a team and inspiring them
  • Listening not only to those who would be considered superiors but team members as well
  • Addressing any issues, positive or negative, in timely manner
  • Willing to overcome obstacles

 

If experience has thought me anything, it is this: ideas are easy, it’s execution that’s hard. Keeping these principles in mind let’s look the practical side of how to achieve the goals of leadership in the role of a Project Manager.

 

Define a clear goal

Be it internal sponsors or an outside client understand what they are trying to achieve.  Get involved in the discussions early.  Help them develop the vision of what they are trying to achieve.  This vision should be simple and clear, one that can be easily communicated to the project team.

If you are a project manager in the IT department, or any technical discipline, make sure you understand the business side of the project.  No one ever said let’s create a new system just for the sake of having a new system.  There are always reasons such as changing market conditions, legislative reasons, a potential to gain profitability.  Once you understand these goals, make sure to relate them to your team, this will help to motivate them as well as make it easer to develop the detailed analysis.

 

Build your Team and inspire them

As project managers we don’t always have the luxury of selecting whom we get to work with on our projects.  But if you are lucky enough to have that option, get to know the team members and make sure to select them not only on their level of skill, but their compatibility and willingness to work with others. 

Give them the freedom to communicate freely and make sure they understand that when they have to report negative results they will not be punished for it.

Whenever I am faced with a new team I always like to start of with a little speech. 

“In 1986 the space shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after it’s launch, due to a failure in the O-ring seal.  It was a design defect.  Two years earlier an engineer who worked on the space shuttle tried to warn his superiors of this possibility.  Afraid of negativity they demoted and eventually fired him.   I promise you that if you find any problems on this project, or have any suspicions that there is a possibility of a risk, you will not be punished for it.  In fact I encourage all members of my team to speak up, the sooner we address any issues the less impact they will have on the project.”

Cohesive, productive teams feel trust and support throughout the project. You and other team members must earn trust.  Discourage rumours and backstabbing, these will kill trust and ultimately the project will suffer.

 

Stand up those to whom you report

I don’t encourage negative confrontation, but if you feel that your mangers, sponsors or customers are asking you to take the project in the wrong direction be willing to say No.  This doesn’t mean starting an argument but you can initiate a dialog.  With proper facts persuade those you report to, to do what you feel is right.   You must do so with conviction and show that you are willing to stand by your principles.  Use every negotiating tactic you have at your disposal.

This is often one of he biggest obstacles a project manager will face, your willingness to address these issues as soon as possible will go a long way towards building your respect in the organization.


Communicate clearly and often

Spell everything out for your team upfront, be honest.  Don’t try to paint a positive picture, give your team the positive and negative of the challenges they will face.  Unless you are honest with everyone your credibility will be destroyed quickly.

Be willing to take ideas from your team, perform risk brain storming sessions to expose any weakness in the project and act to correct them.

Give feedback, positive and negative.  People like to know when they are performing well. Even if you cannot offer tangible rewards, a pat on the back can significantly raise someone’s morale.  On the other hand you must be willing to address any issues when team members are underperforming.  I have seen too many managers unwilling to confront an employee hoping the problem will resolve itself, only to find that it keeps getting worse until the situation spirals out of control.  Any issues must be confronted immediately, but remember to address the issue and not the person.  

If you have a team member that is constantly behind schedule ask them why. Don’t simply accuse them of slacking off.   Sometimes there are circumstances you may not be aware of, and together you can resolve the problem.  In the end you must make it clear that the continuation of the problem will not be tolerated. If necessary don’t be afraid to let them go.

Remember - feedback should be constant, don’t wait until staff review comes around to let people know how they are perfuming.    Periodic reviews should be used to officially recap what you have been telling your resources all along, there should be no surprises.

 

Build realistic expectations and goals

If you are given insufficient resources (people, equipment, time, budget…) make sure you take this into account and build a plan that will be realistic.  If you simply decide to follow what you are told, you are not a leader.  You must be willing to create a plan that guarantees success, otherwise you will lose everyone’s respect and your project will fail.


Remember to always ask yourself, am I doing the right thing, and inspire others to do the same.

 

Friday
May072010

Agile project managment

Recently I submitted a video on Agile project management.  A short story of how I applied Agile a few years ago to help me turn a project around.

  I thought I would share it with everyone on my blog.  Please have a look, and let me know what you think.

 

Wednesday
Apr142010

What's Next....

I am currently working on my next article comparing the different methodologies available for IT projects.   Bascially taking PRINCE2, RUP, Agile/Scrum and the PMBOK outlining their differences as well as their similarities.

Over my 20 year carrier I have been fortunate to work and gain considerable experience with all of these methodologies. 

My biggest concern is the miss-application or miss-interpretation of these methodologies which I had seen quite a few times.  Usually when I am called in to “rescue” a project that has spiralled out of control.

For example, many organizations that try to adapt to Agile will take the iterative approach while still holding on to the old principles.  Concentrating more on the timelines & task lists rather than focusing on scope and quality of the deliverable.  While others take the “let’s just do it” attitude with no preparation at all.

My hope is to allow the readers to compare and choose the methodology that will work for them the best.  For those who are thinking of switching, are the beginning stages or are having trouble adapting, my objective is to provide a guide through the transition.

While the information is readily available the goal is to provide a clear visual guide that will be simple to understand.  This is already proving to be a laborious task.  For this reason it will be a few weeks before you see it posted.  So please check back from time to time and check to see when it’s completed.

If there is anything you that would be of interest to you regarding this subject please send me your comments.

Tuesday
Apr062010

Microsoft Project 2010 Review 

MS Project 2010, Review by a Project Manager.

In this article I will cover a few of the major improvements of MS Project 2010, for a more in-depth view, and a chance to download the beta version of MS Project 2010 visit the Microsoft site at:  http://www.microsoft.com/global/project/2010/en/us/RichMedia/secondary/project_overview.html

Let me start by saying that I have been using MS Project for over 10 years now.  It’s always been a love hate relationship.   Often for smaller projects I would turn to using Excel, its flexibility gave me be ability to quickly organize and change project tasks.

So when I had a chance to talk to the MS Project marketing team, and they remarked that the improvements made were as a result of integrating Excel like flexibility, they had my full attention.  In fact did you know that the number one competitor to Project is Excel.   The guys at Microsoft finally figured out that they were their own competition, and after more than a decade decided to do something about it.

Project Server 2010, a quick side note.

Collaboration seems to be Microsoft’s new favourite word.  You cannot talk to one of their PR people without it being mentioned at least a dozen times in 5 minutes.   Not having much experience with this product I will leave its review to those more qualified, I will touch on a couple of key points.

Integrating Project Server with SharePoint allows easy publishing and sharing of Project Plans.   Equally important is the ability for project staff to update the plans with new tasks as well as their progress.  For many this can be a useful feature, especially when dealing with teams that are not all at the same location.

The Review

There are two versions of MS Project 2010: Standard and Professional.  Let me start by saying - if you are Project Manager, or work in such a capacity, get the Professional version.  Many new innovative and useful features are in the Professional version.   The official Microsoft line is that the Standard version is for project managers who don’t need collaborative tools.   All I can say is that many of the new features are equally useful as standalone features, and while I don’t want to accuse Microsoft of a bait and switch, in my eyes they lose a few good will points on this one.  

The New Look

The first thing that will strike most users, who have used the previous version of MS Project, is the new Ribbon toolbar, keeping with the UI changes across the MS Office suite, Project 2010 has joined the ranks.

 

The introduction of the ribbon tool bar has been the subject of many debates, so I feel there is no reason to start another one here.  Suffice it to say, lover it or hate it, it’s here and it’s here to stay. 

Excel like Flexibility

When they spoke of more Excel like functionality, what struck me as the closest link is the ability to switch to Manually Schedule mode.  You can create tasks without duration or dates, filling in the required fields as the information become available.   Microsoft also refers to the top-down approach to creating sub-tasks.  Allowing you to create a Parent task first, adding subtask and milestones which may have dates that do not match, but you can adjust at a later time.

This feels more natural to the way most people organize their projects.   Allowing for easy shifting of tasks and associated information will give most Project users the ability to work easily with large and small projects, especially if using methodologies such as RUP or Agile.

 

It should also be noted that the copy and past functionality has been enhanced.  Now when you copy and paste your information into a spreadsheet, the formatting such the indentation of sub-tasks will remain.  However, when using the Save As – Excel file option, the formatting will not be transferred.

I should add here that I was also hopping Microsoft had found a way to copy the Gantt chart view as well, however this functionality will not be available, and there are no plans in the foreseeable future to do so.

Inactive Tasks

Professional version only, flag tasks as inactive and still keep them in your projects. Should you have a task that is currently not required, but it or its associated information may be of use at a later time, flagging a task as inactive gives you the best of both worlds.  Project will ignore the inactive task, until you decide to reactive it.

 

Team Planner

Professional version only,   simply put it’s a manual resource lever.  Unlike the Automated Resource Lever in previous versions, you can drag and drop tasks to different resources as required & ensure that no one is over/under allocated as you see fit.

 


TimeLine View

(Correction:  I had previously, stated that the TimeLine view was in the professional version only.  However one of the internal Microsoft people had pointed out to me that this feature is available in the standard edition. After double checking the information this article now shows the updated information as of: April 16th, 2010) 

Professional version only, probably one the most striking features of the new MS Project.  Certainly it’s one of the first things that the Microsoft’s marketing team is always quick to point out. The other handy feature of the time line is the View Slider.  A portion of the Timeline view is highlighted, by moving the highlighted section, your Gantt chart will move with it.  As well you can expand or contract the Gantt chart as you expand or contract the View Slider across the TimeLine view.

 


It’s easy to export, or cut and paste, into your e-mail, presentation or whatever your needs may be.   And the formatting, such as the color pallet or size, can be modified even after pasted into another application.   I have heard many project managers comment that this option alone is worth the upgrade, and yes next time I have to show a quick timeline of the project this will come in handy.  But it only comes in the Professional version. 

 

What was taken out

A few items were removed, Microsoft’s reasoning was these were outdated & rarely used features that made the software unnecessarily big and slow.

  • Custom Forms - the ability to create and use custom forms through the user interface.
  • OWC resource availability graphs
  • Some - Add-ins, sample macros, and project guide
    • Pert Analysis
    • Copy picture (no longer automatically creates an Office document and cannot export to the JPG format)
    • Format Duration
    • ResMgmt Task Entry
    • Rollup Formatting
    • Toggle Read only
    • Update File

I have no doubt that someone resourceful will create a third party add-on to put this functionality back in, so if you are one of the few that relied on these features in the past, don’t lose hope.

 

The Final Word

Most of the previous features work as they have before, the new ribbon bar may make this easier to find, but the nuts and bolts are still the same.  The Automated Leveling Resources option, which we all love to hate, will still push task out to infinity.  And sharing resources from a pool is still requires a creation of a separate project file with resources to link to.

It should be noted that any Schedule you create with MS Project 2010, can be opened with Project 2007, some formatting may be lost, but for the most part the information will be all there. 

A word to Microsoft.  Thanks, just one thing, I don’t know many professionals that switched to Project 2007.  It really had no significant upgrades, majority of Project Managers I know of stayed with 2003, which is not compatible.

Inside source say that MS Project 2010 is ready to go now, however it will not be released until Office 2010 is ready to ship.  So expect it in the third quarter of 2010.

Unconfirmed reports tell me that the price for the Standard version will be around $250.00 while the Professional version could run as high as $750.00 per copy.

Finally, despite some of my reservations, as someone who relies on MS Project as part of his everyday job I am looking forward to the new release and will probably get it as soon as it comes out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Mar162010

I have finally returned (sort off..)

Well my switch from Word Press wasn't as painless as I had hoped.  Unable to retrieve the information from my old Blog combined with problems with my own computer I have been forced to basically start my new Blog from scratch.  I have to give it to the guy's at Square Space, they have made setting up the new Blog very easy, and most important of all if I ever decide to switch, I can download everything and move it easily.  

Moving forward, as frustrating as the move has been I have decided to look upon this as a way cleaning out the cobwebs and start with a fresh new outlook.  While I will repost some of my old posts, I have decided to put more time into what's new.   I am especially looking forward to collaborative tools over the next moth such as Manymoon, a free Google App specifically designed from Project Management.  As well I am very excited about MS Project 2010, I have seen a preview of it and there are some impressive new features, which I will talk about as I take it for a test drive.

So to my old readers (co-conspirators), sorry it took me so long to come back.  Too any new members welcome, and be sure to leave me any comments or questions.  I don't ask people to register as I believe in the open and transparent concept of the web.