Showing Appreciation for Project Team Effort

showing appreciation

I just read an email from a highly regarded project management software vendor about showing Valentine's Day appreciation to project team members with Valentine's Day cards. You've got to be kidding. This is not the 2nd grade, where we all make our Valentine's Day mailboxes for our desks out of shoe boxes decorated in red, pink and white. I couldn't believe what I was reading. It probably came from the same person who dreamed up giving participation ribbons or trophies to everyone.

Rewards are good, however, I've been a manager or project manager leading teams for 23 years and prizing has never been my strong point - nor has it ever been a big deal to me. But I do feel strongly about letting the word get out about a job, deliverable or milestone well-done by an individual or team effort on one of my projects. If you do like to give out special prizes or gift cards or Valentine's Day cards to your team... more power to you. It's just not for me. This is why I'd like to discuss alternative types of recognition options as they seem to be lacking in the project management community.

I'm not big on making any reward too personal in nature. People today are too litigious. I'm not saying your team or anyone on it is going to sue you, but people can do unexpected odd things to remain completely above reproach. Therefore, it is more cautious to never get personal. Consider these four staff recognition ideas to show your appreciation for individual or team efforts:

Send out a company wide email

If your team put forth a great effort and met a critical deadline or milestone or just completed a very successful project, don't wait for or expect reward or notice to come from the top of the organization. Send out your own congratulatory email to the entire company or at least to key individuals and call out everyone by name. If possible, give a brief mention of everyone's role in the project and how they contributed to its success.

Take the team out to dinner

It never hurts to take the team out for pizza or a nice dinner once you hit that critical milestone or final project roll-out. You can all breathe a sigh of relief and get together when it isn't about another project meeting or some sort of crisis to deal with in a war room setting. Today's projects, with geographically dispersed teams, make something like this difficult or even impossible, so you likely won't get to use this option often. If you all gather at the client's site for a major deliverable handoff, lessons learned meeting, quarterly review meeting or project roll-out, use that time to get away one evening to do this. I've done that many times and it works great.

Gift cards for extraordinary individual efforts

When it was more of an individual effort, like powering through a project issue crisis or key deliverable, you can still do the company-wide email distribution. But this may also be a situation where a nice gift card would be in order.

Days off

Finally, you can always fall back on the option to give a couple of days off to a project team member for extraordinary effort – if you have the authority or you can work it out with the team member's direct manager... and if you can spare the time off in the project schedule for the individual. No one will mind a day or two off of work, so this option almost always will be well received.

Summary / call for input

I think most project team pros would appreciate recognition similar to what I've listed here more than a Valentine's Day card. At any rate, these have worked well for me on my teams and direct reports. But I do realize everyone is different. Readers – what is your take on my list? What have you tried that has worked well... or hasn't gone over so well? Please share and discuss.


Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience. Visit Brad's site at www.bradegeland.com







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How to Prevent and Solve Project Communication Issues

project manager office meeting

Proper, effective and efficient communication may be the single most important ingredient to project success. I feel strongly that project communication is the most important part of a PM's daily responsibilities and overall good communication is the responsibility of every stakeholder. Drop the ball on communication, and you might be looking at rework, a missed deadline, expenses pushing the project over budget and customer concerns or misunderstandings that can drive a project into the ground – faster than you can ever imagine.

There is no magic wand to wave that will ensure a project won't suffer issues. Even a project that starts out with a formal communication plan in hand and a PM dedicated to staying on top of all communication channels at all times may still suffer from communication breakdowns.

Review status regularly as a team

Since a tightly knit, cohesive team is usually tantamount to success, it would make sense that a team that communicates well, accurately, and frequently is also more likely to experience success and be more productive. Therefore, scheduling team meetings, communication, and task and status reviews regularly is always going to be a good idea. Keep in mind, it doesn't always have to be a meeting. Daily updates via email can be enough to make your team feel like they know everything about the project at any given minute. One of my business analysts on a project – who was also working on three other projects with three other project managers – told me that he received more emails from me than the other Project Managers. He said he always felt like he knew my project status much better because of this, and he knew what tasks he should be working on at any given time.

Keep meetings regular

Regular meetings = a stable stakeholder environment = communications that are comfortable and open. If you are conducting – as you should be – regular project status reviews with the customer or weekly project team meetings to keep the crew focused and up to date, keep those meetings no matter what. Even if there isn't much to say at any given meeting, still conduct it... even if it ends up being a 5 minute talk about what everyone is doing this weekend. You never know when some piece of key project information may slip through the cracks when a meeting is canceled that should have otherwise been held. Plus, when you start to cancel meetings, people who would normally be in attendance may feel that your meetings aren't as critical as others they could be attending and your attendance and participation levels may drop. You've then lost key participants and decision makers, which can be disastrous for the project, and it's often very difficult to rein those individuals back in.

Follow up on key communications

Always, always, always follow up. Making sure everyone is on the same page after meetings, brainstorming synchs, troubleshooting sessions or after any customer communications is critical to moving forward in the right direction. Follow up with notes and ask for a 24-hour turnaround response with any feedback or changes from those involved in the discussions. If something has changed, redistribute your communication with updates and everyone will be back on the same page again.

Summary / call for input

Communication is Job One for the project manager, in my opinion. Keep communication in order, and you've taken huge steps to ensuring project success and top team performance for your customer. If you are experiencing any communication issues on your project, try to identify any communication gaps that may be clouding the team’s comprehension of scope and requirements or, where people aren't aligned after the meetings you're conducting, try the tips above as a way to get things back on track. A strong line of communication with the project client is also a very good way to keep customer satisfaction high and hopefully secure repeat business from your stakeholders.

Readers – what are your thoughts on project communication issues? What do you commonly see as communication problems on the projects and how do you best avoid or mitigate them?


brad egeland
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience. Visit Brad's site at www.bradegeland.com







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Become a More Effective Project Manager

efficient project manager

Today's business environment is hyper-focused on efficiency, and the job of a project manager is quite different – and a lot harder – than it was just a decade ago. According to the research advisory organization The Standish Group, only 39% of all projects meet their goals, and the PM plays a crucial role in their success (or failure).

But what makes these project managers effective and what skills should you nurture to ensure your PM practice is successful? Brushing up on the following 6 soft skills will help a PM become more efficient.

Communication

Every business magazine and leadership coach talk about the importance of communication. Even though as much as 90% of a project manager's time may be spent communicating, this mission critical skill is often overlooked. Almost every area of a project will require good communication skills, from pitching ideas to stakeholders or explaining processes to senior managers, to keeping your team on track, assigning tasks or boosting morale.

PM communication can be improved, by making sure messages are conveyed clearly, concisely and completely, in a form or format that is familiar and easy for audiences to understand. Perhaps surprisingly, good communication also requires excellent listening skills, where PMs are able to absorb what others are trying to communicate back to them.

The most effective PMs adapt their communication style to fit their audiences. For example, while peers and team members may understand Project Management terminology, clients and executives will find it difficult to follow our industry jargon and our methodology. One technique to overcome this is to provide simple visuals such as graphs, charts and timelines that will communicate high-level information to non-technical audiences in an appealing, easy-to-understand manner.

efficient project management plan

Networking and Politics

Great project managers cultivate and rely on informal networks, both inside and outside the organization, to identify problems or solve critical issues. They understand the political dynamics of an organization and are aware that not everyone across the org may want the project to succeed. Project Management requires savviness in relationships and the ability to anticipate such dynamics. A project’s success or failure can sometimes be attributed as much to managing politics as to managing the actual project implementation. Project Managers need to develop their ability to read and anticipate the intentions and motivations of all parties involved or influencing their project.

Organization

The requirements for managing a project end-to-end are extremely broad. This means PMs will depend on excellent organizational skills in order to manage these broad responsibilities effectively. An effective project manager should have clear visibility on all the required pieces and processes at all times, as well as an understanding of how each piece or process contributes to the success of the project. Setting objectives and deadlines, creating milestones, putting together viable schedules, making timelines and tracking progress are pivotal to the successful delivery of a project.

Risk Management

One significant lapse that can threaten successfully achieving a project’s objectives – or even rendering it impossible to deliver – is the failure to foresee risks and the failure to develop appropriate risk mitigation strategies. An experienced PM should exercise a risk anticipation process that identifies potential issues which could arise over the course of the project, assesses the adverse effects they may have on the project, and develops mitigation solutions in advance. Most importantly, effective PMs take these risks and mitigation strategies into consideration before creating plans, project schedules, resource requirements and budget projections.

Expertise in the Subject Matter of the Project

It has been said that a good PM can work in any field without specific experience in that particular industry. While this may be conceptually true, in reality, having some degree of PM knowledge in a vertical or sector is a key success enabler. Having vertical project experience immediately gives a PM authority, but, more importantly, they will add value to the project based on their insight and experiences. This doesn't mean, for example, that PMs working on a software development project must learn how to code software, but that they do need to understand industry methodologies, how development teams work, and what the critical pieces are for successful software development.

Delegation

A mandatory skill in becoming an effective PM is knowing how to delegate tasks to the right individuals. This requires a deep understanding of each project team member’s capabilities and limitations. Good delegation skills will free-up a PM’s time and enable them to focus on other important areas of the project that require attention. Effective delegation also demonstrates to the project team members that the PM is confident in their skills and accountability. It empowers team members, who may now feel trusted, responsible and not micro-managed.

Project management is a profession that implies constant learning, practice and commitment. Nurturing the skills presented above by incorporating them into a daily practice and supplementing them with other techniques will help aspiring project managers become more effective.


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Project reporting: be brief, be brilliant and be gone.


Less is More

I was once given this advice when preparing executive business reviews at a large corporation, “be brief, be brilliant and be gone.” I took me several years and my first management role, before I truly understood the wisdom of that advice. In enterprises, reporting flows uphill from the trenches all the way to the exec corridors. For this flow to happened, at each point along the way, reports need to be distilled, consumed and the regurgitated up to the next level.

When it comes to reporting your project to management and execs, many project managers fail to understand this perspective as they prepare project status reviews. The biggest mistake we make is to create reports with too much detail. Since our day-today work is detail-oriented we tend to think that our managers want to see this same level of detail too, and there lies the most common mistake in project reporting.

Our managers are under pressure to keep their executives informed about all the projects under their watch. To do this they depend on timely project status reports from around the organization, and they need to quickly consume them so they can keep their bosses informed and current. Your manager may only have allotted between 1 – 2 minutes to review your report and may become frustrated if it does not give them a sense for the overall health and progress of the project in that short amount of time.

Key Data Only

Your status report need to be succinct and concise so it can be consumed without much effort. It should be prepared in three levels. The first and most important level of reporting should immediately provide your manager a sense for the healthiness of the project. They should be able to assess this quickly based on a few key data points. This data should include:

  • Your rating of the project’s status:
              - Red: Project forecasted to be delayed.
              - Yellow: Project has potential problems which may cause delay.
              - Green: Project on schedule.

  • Actual % complete of the project at the time of your report vs. the planned % complete
  • How many days, weeks or months the project is ahead or behind the plan
  • List of top 3 critical issues the project faces

The second level of reporting should provide your managers more progress data on the plan, if they want to drill-down a little further. The best way to do this is to provide a high-level project schedule where you can break-out the progress of the key tasks. This will include:

  • % complete for each of the key tasks
  • Actual start date and finish date vs. the planned start date and finish date for each task
  • Flagging the critical milestones

The final level of reporting should provide your manager additional data on the key issues you have reported. They should be listed in order of priority with the most severe issues listed first. This part of your report should still be presented as data points or very short sentences, and not paragraphs, so it is simple for your manager to consume quickly. It should include:

  • Owner of each issue
  • Ageing report showing how long it has been open
  • Estimated time of resolution
  • Action report

Best Practices

There are several best practices with regard to status reporting. The first is to minimize your content by reducing it down to data points wherever possible. Doing this can be challenging particularly as you may assume management wants to see a narrative covering some of the details and nuances of the project. Avoiding long sentences or paragraphs in your report will help scale it down to the raw data, which will make it easier for management to consume. Train yourself to think about presenting just the most important data points, like a scoreboard, rather than writing a story.

Using charts, tables and visuals is a good way of distilling status reports down into something that is easily consumed by management. Presenting reports in a visual way makes it easier for managers to digest your project information quickly. It also provides them something they can share with their bosses or roll-up into their business reviews. Creating a single PowerPoint slide which can be shared or presented or included in other slide presentations is a good technique for communicating with managers in the enterprise.

Being consistent and rhythmic in your reporting is critical. Providing frequent status reports will instill management’s confidence in you and in your ability to control the project. This confidence will serve you well if/when you have to downgrade a project’s healthiness rating or raise key blocking issues. Proactively communicating status reports creates channels for dialogue and gives you the opportunity to showcase your work. Most importantly you are communicating with predictability and discipline so management is not chasing you for progress report.

Benefits

If you mix brevity, with key status data and communicate it in a consistent, predictable manner, your management will be pleased with your reporting. This does not mean they won’t engage or seek further details, but it does mean there will be no confusion around the status of your project. Clarity like this calms management because it demonstrates that you are in control, which may mean less intervention and fewer panicked managers.


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Negotiate for Realistic Project Goals



Clients, executives and stakeholders may pressure you you to commit to an unrealistic project schedule or demanding project goals that you know are not achievable. This could be because they are looking to maximize the productivity of the project, or more likely because they are also responsible for a deadline and your project is a part of that. In these situations, there will be pressure to commit to a schedule or target that you know is highly improbable or even impossible to deliver. Under these circumstances, it is critical to negotiate for realistic goals rather than making a commitment you cannot keep. Here are some ideas to help you be prepared for those negotiations

Battling for realistic goals requires that you know what is achievable. If your team has prepared a schedule, study it carefully, analyze the assumptions and double check all the estimates. Supplement your analysis with any historical data from similar projects that have been completed in the past. Having confidence in your estimates will empower you to stand firm when clients, executives or stakeholders push for a commitment that is not possible. Being able to reference historical data that supports your position will also help you be credible and more persuasive as you negotiate.

Don’t say no, but rather reply with choices for achieving the outcome they want. This is an effective negotiation technique because it places the responsibility back to them which will drive a more reasonable conversation. To do this, mentally prepare a few trade-off scenarios in advance of potential negotiations with stakeholders. For example, if stakeholders pressure you to deliver your 1-year project in six months, suggest that is may be possible to achieve that but only if you get more people and more budget to work on the project. Then actually ask them if you can get X more people and Y amount in additional budget at a specific date?

You may also want to suggest that the project’s quality or the project’s scope will need to be reconsidered in order to meet their new demand. For example, if being pushed to complete an effort with less budget or less staff, probe to see if they are prepared to accept a lower-quality project or whether they would be satisfied with fewer features. For example, ask what functionality they are willing to sacrifice in order to cut the budget or ask whether they would be willing to accept a higher rate of failure than it was originally scoped in order to cut the headcount. Presenting them with choices like these and driving them to make trade-off decisions will force a more reasonable discussion.

If you anticipate being pressured to deliver something that is not realistic, be prepared to negotiate with good intent, but do not make a commitment you know you will not be able to achieve. Executives or stakeholders may be pushing you to change some of the dimensions of the project but, if you are properly prepared, you can negotiate with them to find reasonable and mutual ground. To do this, it is important that your estimates are solid and that you can provide them choices for achieving their demands but also the trade-offs those choices will require.


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