7 Quick Tips for Leading Dynamic Project Teams

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “It’s a double edged sword”? It refers to something that has the power to bring on both negative implications and positive benefits simultaneously. This is particularly true for project managers who are working with stakeholders, team members and other resources.

Cross collaboration can be powerful and positive when well-managed, but it can also be destructive if is not nurtured. Skilled project managers effectively harness the collective power of their extended team to maximize productivity. Here are 7 techniques that may help you do this:

  1. The KISS Principle “Keep it Simple Stupid.” This philosophy suggests most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated. Consider that that others may not need, may not want or may not understand the level of detail that you may possess. It is a best practice to minimize complexity and simplify communication whenever possible.
  2. Define specific metrics. Having a measuring stick is essential for monitoring progress. Defining and getting consensus around a set of metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) is critical. These KPI's can be presented on a dashboard slide to track the overall success the project. When creating your KPI’s be specific and make sure to consider the needs of all stakeholders.
  3. Creating clear roles and responsibilities. Clearly defining the roles for each team member will help build structure needed for success. When managing tasks that may involve multiple contributors having a single point of responsibility is important. Only one person should be assigned accountability for each managing delivery of each task/role. Cleary establish this accountability with that person and set expectations early.
  4. Create a high-level timeline for reference. Publishing a summary timeline and keeping it highly visible to all project participants at all times will help maintain focus on the key milestones and important deliverables. Consistent visibility is a simple management technique – the more team members and stakeholders set it the more attention they will give it.
  5. Know your team and leverage their strengths. Harnessing the collective intelligence and experience of a team can create strong momentum. The true power of team projects is the unique ideas, insight, and experiences each person brings. Leveraging this power requires you inventorying the skill sets available to you. This means taking time to know each person’s strengths, then working to align those strength with the project’s needs.
  6. Consistently seek feedback. It is a good practice to ask team members and stakeholders for critical feedback. This creates an environment of trust and provides useful insights that may not have otherwise surfaced. It does not need to be done formally or as part of a process but be done simply with open ended questions and focused listing.
  7. Assess and adjust. Even the best project managers cannot predict all of the changes and unplanned surprises that will come up. Although unpredictable, changes should be anticipated and a process for making adjustments should be built in advance and ready to be used if necessary. Everyone on the team should be aware of this process, so adjustment can be made with agility.

Using some or all of these techniques will lead to more powerful project collaboration and they will help you avoid the dysfunction of poorly lead project teams.

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6 tips for effectively managing stress at the workplace

Stress. We all experience it at the work place, particularly when managing projects. Many people say that stress is to be avoided at all costs, but I’ve found that it’s actually an asset when well managed. The secret is to manage stress and not let stress manage you. Here are 6 tips to better manage it:

  1. Get to know stress - What does it feel like? Do you feel it physically, mentally or emotionally? Is it a pain in your neck or shoulder, a clenched jaw or a feeling of irritability? Become familiar with how stress affects you.
  2. Become a stress detective - Once you are familiar of how stress affects you, begin to notice when and where it happens. For example, what time of day it is, where you are when it surfaces or who you are with. Try to recognize these as stress zones. A useful tool is to record your stress levels for an entire week. Record where and when you are experiencing stress and try to look for the triggers that are bringing it on.
  3. Label it - A technique that works well is to simply state “this is stress” when you recognize you are in a stressful moment. When you label a feeling as stress you create a boundary around it. Doing this helps you realize that the stress is actually not something happening to you, but rather a way you are responding to a trigger. Ultimately you will get to the point where you are personifying your stress. For example, internally, you may say “I recognize this as stress. I know how to handle it!”
  4. Understand the role of stress - Stress is actually a reaction intended to protect us. It is the body’s warning system designed to alert us that things are not in balance. A good analogy is a warning light on your car dashboard. Stress is your body’s way of alerting you that you might need to pay attention to a particular issue.
  5. Create tactics for handling - There are two tactics to master for stress management. One is learning to avoid it but an even more practical technique is learning how to manage it. The easiest place to start is with some basic physical best practices such as focusing on your diet, exercise, and sleep.
  6. Managing your body's response - Studies have proven that meditation techniques can significantly reduce stress. An easy way to start is by taking with a few deep breaths in moments of stress. Inhaling deeply thorough your nostrils and out through your mouth works to send calming messages to your brain, slowing and soothing you. Try a series of three deep breaths before you enter a stress zone.

You can't always control what happens to you but you can control how you respond. These 6 tips should help you detect stress zones and recognize the stress. Once you have it recognized you are in a better position to manage it.

What are your tips for better managing stress? Please share them in the comments section below.

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Communication tips for excellent client engagement

Effectively communicating with clients can power the success of a project. Each communication is not just about exchanging project information, but also an interaction that will create trust and confidence in the partnership. Experienced project managers recognize the need to proactively engage with clients. They may be engaging them directly or indirectly via an Engagement Manager. Regardless of how, they understand every client communication is an opportunity to secure the kind of client engagement they will need throughout the life of a project. Project Managers who can develop a strong client relationship will build capital which will be important for managing things that go wrong and, ultimately, for delivering the project successfully.

Here are four unheralded practices that project managers can use for perfecting customer engagement:

Your Opinion Counts

Every project manager understands that is critical to thoroughly and completely understand their client’s business problems. Some have probably even read about or been trained in the art of deep listening and structured questioning to help clients properly articulate their ambitions. All of that is good, however, it is also important to recognize that you are on the project because of your expertise. Clients want objective guidance and advice from you…in fact, they are paying you for it. When you communicate your point of view and support it with your thinking and rationale, you become a more valuable and strategic partner to them.

Don’t Be Afraid To Talk Budget

Budgets are an uncomfortable topic that many project managers want to avoid discussing with clients. The truth is clients are reasonable when it comes to budget. They greatly value transparency and desperately want to avoid surprises, particularly surprises on short notice. For these reasons it will be important to have regular communications about budget. Being proactive and consistent rather than shying away from the subject will build their confidence in your fiscal responsibility. It will also give them advance notice and time to prepare if things are looking like they may come in over budget.

Guide on What to Expect

Each client has a unique set of business challenges and most will not have the breadth of experience or insight into project management that you have. Counseling them up-front about the project management process and what they will see along the way is an important expectation setting exercise. It will help them understand what your team does and what to expect along the way. More importantly, it will set up a communication dialogue around expectations that you will be able to leverage throughout the project. Ultimately, they will determine if the project successfully met their expectations, so communication around expectations early will be a best practice for project managers.

Get Personal

People want to work with people they like. This is as true for clients as it is in your workgroup. If the chemistry is not apparent right up front, set the intent to get to know your customers better and in person. For project managers, making this investment is not merely about building new relationships, it is also about building an environment for success. Communicating authentically and at a personal level will help build relationships with clients where they want you to succeed and they will help you do it.

Successful projects are dependent on the supportive partnership with clients and stakeholders. Communicating openly, transparently and often can be a great springboard for building the types of partnerships that stay solid when things get tough.

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How to Communicate with Your Stakeholders

Managing communications with stakeholders is a critical task that project managers need to create and manage to a specific communion plan. Creating a consistent plan enables the flow of clear and relevant information to stakeholders. A predictable communication process allows PMs to manage expectations better and helps keep stakeholders engaged and supportive.

Here are 3 quick tips for effectively communicating with project stakeholders.

1.   Crafting Your Plan Early: Spend the time up-front to define your plan and processes for communicating up and out. Setting up a consistent cadence for stakeholder communication, creates a foundation of predictably for you and for them.

2.   Knowledge of Audience: Work to understand your stakeholders and what success looks like for all parties. Try to understand their interests in the project and how its performance affects them. Be aware of the key performance indicators (KPI), they use to determine success and risks along the way.

3.   Collaboration and Engagement: Your plan should include bi-lateral communication where you seek and receive stakeholder feedback openly and objectively. This will involve and keep them engaged throughout the project. A good time to do this may be around key project milestones.

Stakeholders want to be informed. Project Managers need to be strategic in building a project communication rhythm with relevant messaging that is tied to their interests. They also need to be proactive in soliciting feedback on progress and whether it is meeting stakeholder expectations. Doing these things not only keeps stakeholders engaged but it also keeps PMs ahead of potential issues that arise and can help them mitigate any disruption from non-supportive stakeholders.

Crafting a clear plan is not difficult but it does take some discipline. These three guidelines can be used as the foundation for that plan. The trick is to build a process that works for you and is something you can stick to. Along the way, monitor it to see what is working and change or enhance it as needed. Doing this will ensure stakeholders will be up to date and engaged, which will help you make the project the success you want it to be.

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5 Steps to communicate projects like a pro

Communication is the very foundation of business. Effective communication is a powerful tool and differentiator for anyone working on a project. It can inspire colleagues, motivate teams, influence executives and reassure clients, all of which will increase project success rates.

The two words 'information' and 'communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through. - Sydney J. Harris

For many of us, stakeholders, executives and clients make critical business decisions based on the data and reports we provide. In order to have the greatest impact and value, it is important to develop a communications plan early.

Crafting Your Communications Plan

Project Managers should start by recognizing that every audience has different needs. For example, executives may only want to focus on the project schedule, budget and a few key performance indicators, without going much deeper than that. Armed with this knowledge, PMs must identify the right channel and altitude for communicating the right data at the right time. For example, the most effective way of communicating with stakeholders may be via a regular newsletter, while executives may request a PowerPoint scorecard.

Successful PMs understand that it is also essential to communicate consistently. Whether via regular team meetings, monthly project reviews, or planned milestone re-caps, project communication is most effective when it is rhythmic. Intervals can be determined by the nature of the project or by the reporting cadence of the enterprise, however, the key is to do it consistently.

Regular communication also helps PMs mitigate project risk. Audiences who are engaged and current on a project will also be able to identify potential problems areas early and provide feedback to their Project Managers.Involving stakeholders, advisors and decision makers along the way helps keep your projects on track and on time. Projects that lack this valuable feedback often get into trouble. Effective communication should engage every project contributor and participant. It does not just convey facts or the work breakdown schedule, rather it helps people understand the role they play and why it is important for the project. To be effect PMO’s should:

1.   Plan ahead for communication and create a structured process.

2.   Keep all communication clearly aligned to the goal you are trying to achieve.

3.   Identify your audiences and customize communications for them. Be familiar with what metrics matter to your different audiences and utilize their language and data points.

4.   Use several communication channels and styles so information is easily received.

5.   Assess and refine your communication plan along the way. Don’t forget
the power of feedback.

A communication plan is foundational to the success of any project and it should be prioritized as a strategic enabler for any project’s success - not merely a mundane task. Creating a communication plan upfront and building communication tasks into the project schedule is worth the effort. Make the time to craft your plan now and reap the benefits in 2016 and beyond.

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