5 Ways to Overcome Project Obstacles



As project managers, we try to anticipate and plan for big challenges, but it is often the small daily obstacles that can derail our projects. These small obstructions are common and it is the way we solve them that distinguishes great project managers from the good ones.

There are many structured approaches to problem solving. Most follow a step-by-step process to define problems, identify their causes and to determine the best solution. This approach is often the standard way to handle big problems but it can be too much for smaller, day to day issues that need to be solved on-the-fly. Often, deploying a non-standard strategy can be better for moving you past the issue at hand. If you are looking for some quick problem solving methods to move you past the every day challenges or you feel your default problem solving techniques are not agile enough, here are 5 strategies to try the next time you’re faced with an obstacle:

  1. Create a visual of your project - using visuals like a mind map can help move your creativity in a new direction.
  2. Brainstorm a list of ideas - since solutions to problems often reside beyond the status quo, jotting down a list of all thoughts, including those that may seem way outside the realm of practicality, can help you find needed breakthroughs.
  3. Look outside – sometimes, taking an outsider’s view can reveal new ideas. Ask yourself what advice you’d give to someone else faced with the same obstacle.
  4. Circumvent the obstacle - tackle a different element of the project, move ahead in any way you can, simply keep moving forward.
  5. Work without judgment - letting go of the need for the solution to be perfect can be inspiring. Achieving a good enough outcome on the obstacle may free you up for brilliance on the next task. Additionally, you may have the chance to return to the problem later with refreshed creativity.

Building a variety of workplace skills to overcome challenges in real time will make you a better problem solver and a more successful project manager. Adding these 5 simple problem-solving strategies to your skills set can help you move your projects forward with a bit more speed.


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What is Your Conflict Resolution Style?



Even in the highest functioning teams, interpersonal conflicts are bound to arise. Employee conflict is a cause of concern for employers, leaders and project managers because it often leads to lost productivity and damaged morale. Project managers must learn to handle interpersonal conflict on their project teams. Doing so will alleviate tension, increase productivity and help create respectful work environments.

How people handle conflict has been an area of study for years. In 1974, Kenneth W.Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann introduced an assessment called the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to help determine styles when dealing with conflict.

According to the TKI there are 5 typical styles people use when dealing with conflict:

Accommodating

In this style, a person involved in the conflict chooses to give-in. Utilizing this technique will be at the expense of that person’s ideas and opinions. This approach can be effective when the opposing party is the expert or has more power. Accommodating is the least assertive style which results in very one-sided resolutions.

Avoiding

This is a technique where a person involved simply avoids the conflict. The person disengages without pursuing their own goals. This works when the issue is unimportant or when it is clear that the conflict can’t be resolved, however it is a non-assertive and uncooperative style of conflict resolution. It is important to note that both the accommodating and avoiding styles have the same outcome, however,through avoidance, there is no indication that a contribution was made in solving the conflict.

Collaborating

This is a style where both sides of the conflict come together in order to achieve the goals of each person and is often referred to as creating a “win-win.” Collaborating can be an effective style for complex scenarios where there is an opportunity to explore multiple options. Collaborating conflict resolution means both sides are asserting themselves and their ideas but are also working for a cooperative outcome. The challenge of the collaborative conflict resolution is that it can be time consuming and it requires a high-level of trust between all parties.

Competing

Whereas collaborative conflict resolution can often be called a “win-win” style, competing may be defined as a “win-lose” style. Competing is an autocratic technique for resolving conflict. In it, one person forces their solution at the expense of the other party . This style may be appropriate when one person has the power to make the decision and needs to do so quickly and decisively, however, competing is the most aggressive and uncooperative conflict resolution method.

Compromising

This is a style of conflict resolution where each party gives-up part of their objectives. Although the compromising style may seem similar to collaborating, it is different. In compromising, people make trade-offs that drive a hybrid solution to the conflict. Since neither party gets what they want it can be defined as a “lose-lose” model. Compromising requires a moderate level of assertiveness and cooperation and it is effective when people are working on short term tasks or on a smaller part of a project.

By becoming familiar with the different styles of conflict resolution, project managers can apply the most effective techniques of resolving conflict to ensure project teams avoid disruptions and stay productive.


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5 “Essential” Hard Skills for Effective Project Management



Project management organizations understand that hard skills are essential fundamentals for successfully landing projects. PMs know that effectively managing any project will require they have learned these skills.

These are the hard Skills for Project Managers:

  1. Project Charter Preparation
  2. Work Breakdown
  3. Scheduling
  4. Budgeting
  5. Risk Management

1. Project Charter Preparation

Project charters are the blueprint for effective project management. They should be issued by management and they should provide a summary of the business opportunity the project is intending to capitalize on. However often management does not produce the charter and it is frequently up to the project manager to develop it.

A good project charter will define the purpose, objectives and the scope of the project. Project charters also include key details such as budgetary guidance, stakeholder lists and a timeline. They become a critical reference point throughout the project’s life cycle. PMs who become proficient in creating project charters will be better equipped for communicating with their project sponsors and for gaining stakeholder buy-in. Our five tips for developing this skill are:

  • Use the project charter’s development as an opportunity to engage your sponsor and stakeholders. Collaborating early will establish beneficial relationships that will help later on.
  • Be clear and concise – think one or two pages. A brief project charter will not only be better received by busy stakeholders, it will also help you communicate succinctly.
  • Include measurable, time-bound objectives that are realistic, easy to understand and simple to track.
  • Set the project’s preliminary timeline with a simple visual that includes key milestones and when they will be delivered. A good visual will be updated and re-used in status reports throughout the project's life.
  • Reuse project charter statements when communicating. This will help realign audiences with the important business objectives of the project.

2. Work Breakdown

Developing a work breakdown structure or WBS is a critical planning item in managing a project. Work breakdown structure’s help PM’s organize the scope of their projects and enable them to do a variety of project management tasks such as assigning resources and defining deliverables. Since a WBS forms the foundation for all cost and time estimations it is a crucial skill for any project managers to have in their tool box.

Project managers need to become skilled in breaking down all project deliverables into smaller work packages, a process called decomposition. Here are some best practices in creating a WBS:

  • Include 100% of the items required for successful project delivery in the development of your WBS – internal and external deliverable.
  • Lean on your team when creating a Work Breakdown Schedule. They will contribute valuable experience and perspectives to the process.
  • Leverage any existing models or templates that your group or company may have created in the past.
  • Using tools like mind mapping software for the decomposition process and will help you capture and structure the WBS.

3. Scheduling

Project managers know they need to produce a time based schedule of activities so they can set the order in which tasks will be completed. Over the course of the project their schedule will help them see each task, whether it has been completed, is partially done or still needs to be done. It will also allow project managers to see where there are dependencies so they can plan the most efficient path for delivering tasks.

Scheduling is a challenging part of project management and a hard skill PMs need to have. They will benefit from having completed a WBS document which will help set up the project tasks and estimate and sequence them on the schedule. Here are 5 tips to help PMs enhance their scheduling skills:

  • Add progress milestones as check points to the schedule and regularly check them.
  • Wherever possible put higher risk tasks closer to the beginning of your schedule, so you have more runway to manage delays.
  • Know the different types of duration counts that can be used for estimating task duration.
  • Baseline schedules after they have been created so you can compare the plan versus actual when you get into execution.
  • Anticipate that the project schedule will change as tasks or client needs fluctuate and have a process for handling changes.

4. Budgeting

Writing project budgets is an important hard skill for getting projects properly funded and for controlling them. A project manager’s ability to get approval for the necessary funding is dependent on the costs they forecast in their budget. An approved budget also forms a baseline against which actual costs can be measured against to determine if the project is on the right track.

Projects that go way over budget are often viewed as unsuccessful, even if they are delivered on time. Project Managers need to be skilled in forecasting and managing budgets. Here are a few strategies for developing project budgeting skills.

  • Consult with your project team and sponsor when estimating your costs. They have experience that may help you more accurately estimate.
  • After you have estimated costs, identify risks such as third party dependencies, depth of experience on your bench or unfamiliar technology, and manage this risk by adding padding to the budget.
  • Your budget should not just be the total costs of your project, it is the total cost + padding for risk mitigation.
  • Learn from similar budgets that your team or company may have created before, paying special attention to the areas that went beyond budget.
  • Protect your budget against any scope creep. Use your change management process and seek additional funding to cover any unplanned work that can ruin the budget.

5. Risk Management

Projects rarely go exactly as expected and stuff goes wrong along the way. Project managers who are skilled at managing unexpected obstacles plan for it. It is a hard skill that begins with trying to identify the vulnerable areas of the project and then assessing the probability and the impact to the project in worse case scenarios. Skilled PM’s should be able to determine which vulnerabilities require risk management strategies, and they include those strategies into the main project plan to mitigate the risk.

  • Understand how much risk is tolerable on the project. You will need to calibrate any risk management plans with this level of risk toleration.
  • Divide your risk areas into three categories, High Risk, Medium Risk and Low Risk. Create a mitigation plan for all High Risk vulnerabilities.
  • Execute recurring risk assessment exercises regularly through the life of the project as a way of monitoring for new risks that may have surfaced.
  • Identify positive risks and create plan in advance for capitalizing on these opportunities so they can be turned into favorable outcomes.
  • The costs for all risk management plans need to be built into the budget early.

You may also have noticed that many of the hard and soft skills we have listed here are interrelated. Project managers will need to employ many different skills, particularly as the complexity of their project increases. Those who have the right combination of expertise and experience will be valuable in any project focused enterprises and all PMOs. Any PM who effectively utilizes some of these hard and soft skills will greatly increase their chances of success. At the same time they will also be improving their own personal brand amongst colleagues, clients and management.

Becoming proficient at project management will mean that practitioners are constantly adding to their existing skills with new best practices and techniques. Doing so will not only help them become more successful at their project management career but it will also help them stand out as high performers in the broader organization.

Also a recent MIT-Sloan Report reveals that at the enterprise level, ecological considerations have led to greater success for business.



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5 “Must Have” Soft Skills for Project Management



Project focused organizations and teams value soft skills because they help with the successful delivery of almost any project, particularly projects that require cross organization collaboration and projects that are complex and risky.

Here are our Top 5 “Must Have Soft Skills for Project Managers:”

  1. Emotional Intelligence
  2. Ethics and Integrity
  3. People Management
  4. Adaptive Communication
  5. Listening

1. Emotional Intelligence

In the enterprise, this soft skill describes a Project Manager’s self-awareness, their social awareness and their relationship awareness. Broadly speaking this means the ability they have to recognize their own emotions, as well as the emotions of the others contributing to the project. It is on our “must have” list because it includes the skill of regulating emotions in the right way, at the right time so PMs can handle challenging situations calmly and objectively. Developing this soft skill will enable PMs to:

  • Find common ground and build trust more easily with the people and stakeholders involved with the project.
  • Read the emotions of team members and empathize better.
  • Anticipate team dynamics by seeing how team members are interacting verbally and non-verbally.
  • Be open and adaptable to internal and external changes by staying focused on the big picture.
  • Be aware of personal stress and team stress and mindful of how this impacts productivity.

2. Ethics and Integrity

Of course ethics sounds like a no-branier on any list. However in the project world being honest about intentions, consistently transparent, accountable, and reliable in delivering commitments are hugely important things. It is number 2 on our list because each PM is actually a leader, and integrity is a sought after leadership quality in the enterprise.

PMOs recognize their project managers are not only representing the project they are working on, but also representing the company to their clients, executives and partners. For PMs, developing muscle around ethics and integrity also strengthens their personal brand within the team, and importantly, with management and customers. Here are some focus areas to strengthen this soft skill:

  • Accountability for keeping and delivering commitments you made.
  • Keeping actions consistent with your principles.
  • Taking on tough issues directly and honestly, especially when things go wrong.
  • Establishing a proactive communication process that is fiercely transparent.
  • Consistently making decisions fairly, without favoritism or prejudice.
  • Taking ownership and responsibility of the end result without shifting blame.

3. People Management

The key to delivering any project successfully is the people on the project team. Beyond the project team, a project manager will also need to be engaged with outside contributors, stakeholders and other people related to the project. Managing all the people involved in a project will require PMs draw on some of the previously mentioned soft skills such as self-awareness, the ability to empathize well, good communication and the ability to form trust based relationships. Ultimately the PMs mission is to move projects forward successfully. This means managing people - managing up, managing down, managing laterally and managing beyond the organization.

It is a broadly studied subject with many experts who know a lot, however, in the PM world having competency around People Management is so critical that it makes it onto our Top 5 “must do’ list. To develop these skills, here are 12 disciplines Project Managers can by attention to:

  • Stand up for your team always.
  • Clearly communicate a project vision and it’s goals.
  • Inspire and motivate others to secure their commitment.
  • Keep people focused on the big goal.
  • Create an environment where people cross-collaborate easily.
  • Support by removing barriers others may have.
  • Be personally engaged with all people involved in the project.
  • Share information transparently and receive information openly.
  • Stay positive and refrain from any complaining.
  • Handle personality differences by focusing people on achieving the task.
  • Tailor your motivational techniques to each individuals needs.
  • Manage up openly and often to avoid surprises.

4. Adaptive Communication

Developing a consistent, clear and proactive communications style is a “must do.” The ability to communicate anything about the project - plans, ideas and reviews – to anyone related to the project - staff, clients, partners and executives - in a way where you are heard, understood and recognized is critical for the success of your project.

Recognize that not all audiences are the same and the ability to flex communication styles and content so to deliver the right messages to the right audience at the right time is a valuable and important soft skill for project managers. Failing to adapt communication styles may compromise a PMs ability to influence executives, cooperate with partners or orchestrate cross organization teaming.

For example executives don’t want to see PM level details in a project review, rather than a high level summary. And vice-versa, project staff can’t operate on high level summary rather than a detailed project report. Project managers who are aware of the needs of each audience will be mindful of how best to communicate to them. Being proficient in adapting communications requires project managers:

  • Are aware of what is most important to the colleagues, staff, clients, partners and execs they are communicating with.
  • Flex their communication styles on-the-fly to fit the needs of their target audiences.
  • Are competent with multiple communication vehicles and can match the most the efficient medium for each audience.
  • Anticipate which issues could be triggers for their audience and are prepared to handle tough discussions.
  • Listen deeply, without emotion and are open to what is being communicated back.

5. Listening

What? Yes, listening made our PM “must do” list. Focused listening is a powerful soft skill in project management and one that is actually more difficult than it sounds on the surface. Many people say they are great communicators, but few may say they are really good at deep focused listening. Busy project managers are not prepared to do this kind of listening every day. It requires a disciplined effort to listen with a strong intention to understand what is really being communicated.

Listening deeply is an interpersonal skill that, not only helps PMs build trust with others, but also can help them detect un-anticipated risk early. For PMs some practices that can be incorporated into their daily work rhythms include:

  • Going into discussions prepared to listen without distraction.
  • Apply patience by not interrupting others and pausing before responding.
  • Avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions.
  • Ask probing questions that enrich the discussion at the right moments.
  • Try to be aware of what purposely may not being communicated and why.

Unlike hard skills, soft skills are difficult to teach and therefore it is difficult for enterprises to provide effective training. For some PMs soft skills come naturally; others will need to learn them but they can be learned. Learning begins with awareness and a desire to improve. With awareness, PMs will see others around the company using soft skills and pay attention to those who have mastered one or several soft skills. But like anything it requires practice to improve, and those who apply a consistent focus on one or several of these soft skills will improve as Project Managers.


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Office Timeline integrates with Wrike

Stunning PowerPoint project visuals in 3 quick steps.


Your clients and leadership demand a lot from you as a project manager. In addition to driving project plans ahead, they also expect you to be excellent at communicating. Project managers are required to provide status communications across the organization at all levels and to all resources engaged on a project or on a portfolio of projects. Whether presenting plans or building executive support for your project, communications to stakeholders need to be done at a high-level in a clear and concise manner.


Executive communications

Presenting a conventional project schedule or Gantt chart may not be an effective way of communicating with executive audiences. Detailed charts showing all of a project’s tasks and dependencies may cause information overload for execs who typically want to see a summary. Regardless of whether you are presenting in person or communicating via email or as part of a project report being able to provide clear, concise, and easy-to understand information in a short amount of time is an important communication skill.


Different Project Visuals for different purposes

Wrike’s Gantt chart is an important way for you and your team to visualize your plans in real time. You can track tasks and their dependencies and see the critical path. The typical Wrike project may have a list of project tasks, their due dates and dependencies. This may not be appropriate for executive who need a simple snap-shot view that is easy for them to follow. Clients and Executives are familiar with PowerPoint so turning your project into a PowerPoint slide may be better suited for these audiences.


Office Timeline transforms your Wrike projects into impressive visuals

Office Timeline is a timeline maker add in built for Microsoft PowerPoint. With the Wrike and Office Timeline integration you can import your Gantt chart into PowerPoint. Office Timeline is built natively into PowerPoint so you can do this import from inside of PowerPoint. Part of that import process allows you to select which items you want displayed on your slide and which will stay hidden, helping you quickly get to a summary version that is more appropriate for exec presentations.


3 Simple steps for making a PowerPoint visual

1. Download and install Office Timeline Free edition from Office Timeline.

• Click on the New Timeline button on the Office Timeline tab inside of PowerPoint.

• From the New Timeline wizard click the IMPORT tab and select the Wrike button.

• In the log-in window enter your credentials and allow Office Timeline to access Wrike.



2. Import data from Wrike.

• Browse to the Wrike project you want or use the search field to find it.

• Select your project and click on the next arrow to import your data into a list view.



3. Choose which items you want add to your PowerPoint slide.

• From the list, select which tasks are to be included on your slide and which ones will be left off the slide. Pay attention to the number of tasks you are importing since you are trying to fit them all one slide.

• Click the Green check button once you are done.

• Office Timeline will instantly convert your data into a PowerPoint visual.


Customizing your visual

Office Timeline has Powerful features for customizing the style of your visual. Once it has been built you can use Office Timeline’s controls and PowerPoint’s controls make style customizations. For example you can change the shapes, positions and colors of any object or text. You can also project specific details such as duration and percent complete for your tasks. You can share your slide with anyone else who has PowerPoint and the can edit it too.




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