Category Archives: Business

Keep Calm and Carry On!

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-scan.jpgKeeping your clients calm is a key skill that every project manager needs to learn.  This simple tool will help you do just that.

Most people, and especially Type A people,  need to know that things are in control at all times.  The old adage “no news is good news” couldn’t be further from the truth as far as project stakeholders are concerned.

If the apparent lack of action causes your clients to start writing emails you have just added a whole host of problems.  Instead of getting on with your work you will, instead, be spending time “on the back foot” providing multiple status updates and generally playing defense. That is not where you want to be.

A simple tool to avoid this is putting time on the stakeholder’s calendar.   Marking out a clear time when things will be discussed lets them know that you are on top of things, provides a clear timeline, and creates space for you to actually complete the work without interruption.

Let’s take a simple example.

deadline.jpgYour team needs to create a high-level design for review. They have told you it will take a week to complete.
Book a review meeting 6 or 7 working days from today, including the client and relevant team members.  Boom!  

In one quick step you have achieved the following:

  • Let the client know you have things under control
  • Avoided emails and requests for information that would burn time and energy
  • Provided the design team the time they need to get the work done unmolested
  • Created urgency with the team to complete things on the schedule they provided to you, practically guaranteeing that they will have that on time
  • Let people know that if they give you a date, you will hold them to it

It’s simple. It’s effective. And it takes almost no time at all.  What could be better than that?

 

 

 

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The RAG Status Primer

rag-faces.jpgRed, Amber, Green (RAG) status is a basic part of any Project Manager’s toolkit.

Used properly the RAG status keep stakeholders informed, increases your chances of delivering on time and improves your love life.

OK, I made up that last bit…but your improved success rate at work certainly couldn’t hurt.

The following conversation occurs surprisingly often.

Me:  “Why is that task showing green?  We both know you can’t possibly meet that date.”

PM: “I can’t turn it red yet because we haven’t passed the due date…”

helpIf you’re a PM and you think that sounds right…you’re doing it wrong.

The objective of the RAG status is not to tell what has happened, but what is likely to happen. It is a call for help.

As soon as you believe a date cannot be met you should change the status.

Help can come in many forms.  Extra resources, reprioritization, escalation by a senior manager, a hug etc.  But the sooner you make the call the more chance you have of bringing that task back on track.

So what are the definitions?

RAG can be used for many different things but, if we stick with just date scenarios, these are a good starting point.

Status Meaning Action
Green Under control None
Amber Off track and deadlines may be missed.  Be ready. Team to work on the problem to bring things back on track.  Extra help may be needed.
Red Off track.  Deadlines will be missed without remedial action. Escalation to the controlling group (steering committee, senior executives, etc.)  to bring additional resources to bear.

As a Project Manager, you should not be afraid to turn something amber or red.  In fact, I would say it is your duty to do so as soon as you are aware you have a problem.

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.  It takes a confident person to put their hand up and admit they can’t do it alone.  

But, for the sake of your career, don’t spring this on people in a meeting, talk to the project sponsor and key people ahead of time and make sure they agree with your assessment.  Project steering committees are not the place to surprise people that have an influence on your future!

Used appropriately the RAG status can bring problems under control and turn you into a hero.

boy-who-cried-wolf.jpeg

Why not just turn things red all the time and get all of the resources and assistance you can?

Two words…Cry wolf!

Turning things red too early on a regular basis is going to seriously tick off people and practically guarantee that when you really do need help, you won’t get it.  Use it…but use it sparingly.

Now go forth and improve your project outcomes…and your love life!

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Real Managers Know About Trust

bestboss__largeI was reading an interesting post about first jobs and the headline Good Bosses Are Key immediately gave me a flash back to my first “real job”.

I had gone through a year of programming school to which ended with a three month internship at a small company.

I turned up for the first day feeling, frankly, a little cock sure of myself.  That subsided quickly.

My first task was debugging a program used to calculate rent on properties and had been written by a programmer that was no longer with the company. After hours of pouring over the code I not only couldn’t figure out why it was going wrong, I couldn’t even figure out how it could ever have worked at all!

sadwalkI left that first day with my tail between my legs and thinking I had made a huge mistake. But I turned up for work the next day and tried again…and the next…laying out pages of hand written sheets showing variable values.

After a couple of weeks I went to my boss and meekly suggested that the way to solve the problem was to completely rewrite the core calculation routine. I was convinced he would laugh me out of the office.  Instead he asked how long it would take and I told him two weeks.

Put yourself in his shoes.  You have an 18 year old in front of you that you have only known for two weeks.  He’s fresh from college and telling you that the solution to your problem is to completely rewrite the system core which written by an experienced programmer.  What would you do?

My manager looked me in the eye, picked up the phone, called the biggest (and most vocal) client we had and told him we would have a solution in two weeks. Then told me I’d better get started.

Holy Cow!  The game was now truly afoot.

I’ll cut to the chase.  I worked night and day to make that deadline as there was no way I was going to let down the man that just put it all on the line.  We installed the upgrade and…IT WORKED!

I look back on that now and realize that was a formative moment for me.  That was when I made the jump from boy to man, and it has affected my career ever since.  But how many managers today would dare to take such a risk?

Sadly, today, managers are almost totally risk averse.  Failure is not something that is tolerated, and that is leading us to a world where opportunities for growth are giving way to excuses and playing it safe.

Personal growth happens when you step outside your comfort zone and we are punishing people if they do that. In doing so we are stunting the growth of our employees.  

I learned so much from my first boss that I will never be able to adequately repay him.  The company only lasted a few years (there were other bigger issues) but the three years I spent there were some of the happiest and most formative of my life.  All I can say is…MP…Thanks for taking the risk.

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MP hanging with my daughter

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What makes a professional?  

professionalWhat makes a professional?  

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.

Obviously there’s the simple definition of a person that performs a role and gets paid for it.

But I believe it’s more than that, particularly in today’s world where people can have a “portfolio career” where they perform many roles, some paid and some simply for the love of the work.

There is an implicit understanding that when you hire a professional they have the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the task.  

But I’m sure you can think of plenty of people who get paid and yet do a shoddy job.  I bet you also know people who do things as a pastime and produce work of the highest caliber. Between these two which one would you say is the professional?  

I’ve read plenty of articles about how be a professional or what professional needs, and yet most of those focus on things such turning up on the time always giving 100% and so on. Those are table stakes.

Many years ago one had to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship before being considered a professional, often not reaching that stage until many years into a career. But in today’s world, where knowledge and experience are often outdated in a very short amount of time, apprenticeships are often a thing of the past.   

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that, for me, one of the defining characteristics of a professional is someone who has learned from their mistakes. And the best professionals consistently push the boundaries of their knowledge and experience and use the mistakes inevitably found in new endeavors as a core part of their education.

Anyone can be a professional when everything fits together, people deliver on time, and there are no surprises.

But to be truly worthy of the title “Professional” you need more.  You need to be able to adapt to changing situations.  You need to be able to anticipate problems and solve them before they occur.  And, when finally something does go awry, you have the skills, experience and confidence to work the problem and keep things on track. THAT is what makes a real professional, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re paid to do that or not.

Want to see what a true Professional looks like?  Watch the movie Apollo 13.  NASA was constantly pushing boundaries.  They knew the risks and when things went wrong the Professionals at NASA kept their cool, took what they had and created innovative solutions to get their people home.  

Money?  That has nothing to do with being a professional.  It’s all about attitude and a passion to continually learn.

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How to love your job (even if you hate it)

Fantastic advice. I can’t remember who said it but the quote “Your grass would be just as green if you watered it” springs to mind.

John Stepper

Punching the clock  (Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS) When I asked her “What’s the best part of your job?” she looked at me wistfully and said “Nothing, really.”

She was smart, young, and creative, but somehow her spark had gone out. She told me she didn’t want it to be that way but, given the environment she was in – the people around her and the way things were – she didn’t know how to feel better about work.

I tried to show her she had more control than she thought.

A Job, a Career, or a Calling?

It turns out that fulfillment and meaning at work aren’t correlated to our specific jobs as much as they’re correlated to how we approach our jobs and the conditions in which we do them. The job of a surgeon isn’t innately more or less fulfilling than the job of a factory worker. What matters more is their very subjective view of…

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One Year Ago…

One year ago my wife was on a long anticipated trip to Paris with a good friend while I was at home being “Mr. Mom” and temporarily between jobs.

I say temporarily because the company I had been with for the past three years was converting me to a consultant – just one more in a series of broken promises and management shuffles since I had joined them – 7 different managers in 3 years surely has to be some sort of record – no?  

This situation had resulted in what has to be one of the most bizarre conversation I had ever had.  It went something like this.

HR: “Since you are part of the RIF you’re no longer eligible for a bonus this year because you’re no longer considered an employee.  But we want you to stay until March next year at which point we will convert you to a consultant in a different part of the bank.

Me:  “But since bonuses are paid in February I’d still be eligible for that right?”

HR: “No, because your on the RIF list and therefore not considered an employee.   However you will be receiving a severance package.

Me: “OK.”

HR: “But once you join the new company as a consultant you will have to give back the severance package because you would then be considered an employee.

Me:  “OK, so then I get the bonus back in that case right?”

HR: “No. Because you’re not considered an employee…

It was now April and I was out of the office for 2 weeks so that they could hire me back again – HR policy doesn’t allow people to leave and then immediately come back as a consultant (sic).

Needless to say I had stewed over this situation for several months. Part of me was saying that “The money is good so suck it up so that the bills get paid.Another part of me, which was growing louder by the day, was saying “Get out of there!  They are sucking your soul dry!

The phone rang and I heard the dulcet tones of my wife who had clearly been indulging in the local vino.  I don’t think she even said hello.  As soon as I answered the phone she said “We’ve been talking about [your company] and decided that you shouldn’t go back there.  They don’t deserve you.”

I can’t tell you what those word meant to me.  It was as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and the clouds had parted.  Suddenly the decision was just so clear – she was right.  Going back there could never be the right choice.

The next day I called the office and told them that I wasn’t coming back – oh, and I was keeping the severance package thank you very much.

I felt terrible for the people who I was leaving behind as, despite the company being screwed up, they had some amazing individuals.  But I had to do what was right for me.

One year later I can say that was absolutely the right decision.  I spent some time indulging my passion for building websites, getting closer to my kids and learning what being a stay at home Mom is like.  I took a motorcycle trip that had been on the bucket list for some time and then landed a job with a company where my contributions are recognized and rewarded.

It’s been an amazingly fun, exciting, fulfilling and empowering year and…as is so often the case…it all started with my best friend…my soul mate…my wife.

 

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Self Assessment #Fail

On Monday I sat down to pull together the dreaded self assessment.  As a manager this is doubly hard because there’s a fine line between giving all the credit to other people (“you did nothing“) or taking credit for things that you managed but didn’t actually do yourself (“credit pirate“).

buzzWhile performing a brain dump of the accomplishments this year I typed the words “right sized” and, before I knew it, my ADD kicked in causing me to search for corporate BS generators.  I was chuckling at some very humorous lines created using nothing more than random buzzwords when my manager stopped by my office.

” What’s that on your screen?”  he asked as he leaned over for a closer look and I turned around to see my draft self appraisal on one monitor and a page with a huge banner headline of “Corporate Bulls@@t Generator” on the other…

It’s a good thing he has a sense of humor!

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