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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How to Efficiently Sell Your Ideas



Not all of us are born sales people and the thought of selling a product, solution, or idea may make you feel uncomfortable. However, many of us are selling as part of our job every day even though sales is not part of our title or job description. As project managers, we actually need good selling techniques for every project.

Have you ever tried to convince management to change a project deadline or show executives that a strategic milestone is improbable? Perhaps you are working to properly set expectations with a new client whose ideas are unrealistic or you want to introduce a new tool to your team but need support from a group to move forward? All of these scenarios require selling.

Selling can be defined as a "persuasive conversation". It involves convincing someone to be inspired to take action by buying into you and your ideas. The ability to sell your-self and your ideas are critical skills for project managers, so, familiarizing yourself with a few basic selling techniques can help you become more successful.

In the selling discipline, one of the most respected methods is called consultative sales approach. This model suggests a consultative approach that first identifies the needs of your audience and then offers them a solution.

This method requires a high level of credibility and expertise as you are educating your client and making recommendations for a solution. It is effective because it requires your focus and understanding of your audience’s needs before you put forward your ideas.

To become a more persuasive project manager try to develop these basic consultative sales techniques:

1. Prepare

Believe it or not, professional sales people spend a lot of time preparing for a sales call or meeting. Before you pitch your idea, spend some time getting clear on:

  • Who is the target audience? Is it one person our a group? Can the person you are asking make a decision? What do you know about the person and how have past interactions been?
  • What are the key needs or drivers? What need or problem is your client (boss, team) facing? A common mistake is to think your solution meets a top need. Be willing to think about all of the possible needs, not just the one you have the solution to. For example, your solution to the current staffing issue might be a winner but for your boss, a more pressing need exists with budget.
  • Get clarity on what you are “selling.” Is it a new product you want to invest in or a new process or workflow? Get clear on what your solution or idea is and learn as much as you can about it. It is also wise to research competitive solutions or ideas, remember you are the consultant and expert.
  • Get ready of objections. What would the opposition say? Take some time to brainstorm any objections that may come up and how you might overcome those objections.

2. The Pitch

Once the preparation is done, you are ready for the first attempt at your sales pitch or “persuasive conversation.” Here are a few tips to set you on your way:

  • Make it a conversation. Connect with the audience and share your ideas, research and wisdom. Enthusiasm is contagious, if you are genuinely excited about your solution and believe in it, let the conversation flow.
  • Focus on “Sharing” not “Selling. Think of how your product, idea or service will help your audience and less about your wish to “sell” it. Consultative selling implies you have identified what your audience needs. Make the client’s needs the focus of the conversation.
  • Ask Questions. Keep the audience involved and engaged. If your pitch is being made to one person, make sure to listen as much as you talk. If you are presenting to a group, ask questions and solicit feedback along the way.
  • Look and Listen to feedback. Pay attention to comments and questions received from your audience. It is also important to pay attention to their body language during the pitch. If your boss starts to shuffle the paper on his desk, it might be time to wrap it up.

3. Handling Objections

Even with the best preparation, objections to your idea or pitch will arise at one time or another. One of the best ways to overcome an objection is to stop it from even occurring, by introducing what you suspect as the biggest objection yourself. Introducing a “suspected objection” will allow your audience to add context, however anticipating the objection will allow you to maintain control of the conversation. If an unplanned objection is introduced you can handle it in the moment by:

  • Listening. Let the objection be voiced, rather than immediately jumping in to address the objection. Let the person with the objection fully voice their concern.
  • Restate the objection. Restating the objection demonstrates to the audience that you listened and understood. It allows them to clarify if needed. It can be as simple as, “So you are worried about user adoption of the new system.
  • Explore the rational. Often times, the first objection is not always the real objection. Asking a few more questions around the objection and working to uncover why that objection exists will help you to overcome it. “Has user adoption been an issue in the past?” “What training was utilized on the last launch?
  • Address the objection. Once you understand the objection, you are better equipped to address it. Answer the objection head on with clear evidence, data and confidence.

4. Closing

In consultative selling the close in often part of the natural flow of conversation. You’ve listened to the needs of your client, addressed the objections and shown how your idea meets their needs. A logical approach is the close using the Next Step Method. “We’ve talked about our needs for a better project management tool and addressed the issue of user adoption, it feels like we are ready to move forward, what do you think is our next step?” After posing the question, pause and let the client answer. Possible responses can be a need for another meeting, a pilot, executive sponsorship etc. The goal is to move your idea or project forward by taking that next step.


Selling yourself and your ideas need not be a stressful undertaking. In using a consultative approach, you shift the focus toward the needs of the client or organization and by approaching the selling as an opportunity to engage in a “persuasive conversation”, you can begin to experience more successful meetings.


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How to do your best when you are mentally fatigued ?



As project managers, many of us believe we are excellent self-managers. We begin each project with clear objectives and timelines for doing them. We are energized and focused on doing good work, however as unexpected challenges pop-up and goals slip, our mental energy lowers. Now, when faced with a new deadline or the need to move the project forward, we feel mentally fatigued, making it difficult to stay focused on tasks and tougher to make good decisions.

Research has shown that our brain needs to exercise different circuits throughout the day to perform at its best. This suggests we should try to provide our brains with a variety of experiences during the day to keep it fresh and creative for the work we must do. Most productivity experts agree that taking a break and temporarily doing something else is a good strategy for restoring mental reserves. This makes sense, since shifting from a tedious task provides our brains the opportunity to rest.

The following 4 tips can replenish your mental energy and help you get back to performing at your peak:

Get Moving

We all know that exercise is good for our bodies and overall health, but studies have shown that exercise can have a positive impact on our creativity as well. Just taking a quick walk can recharge you mentally and enable you to do your best work when you return to the office.

Play

Take a 15-20 minute break and do something just for fun. Tapping into an activity you enjoyed as a child (think art, a puzzle, building blocks, or foosball) and letting go of work for a few minutes can re-energize creativity.

Breathe Deeply

Many studies have proven that deep breathing can reduce stress, shift energy and increase productivity. A few minutes of purposeful, deep breathing will relax your mind and help you shift your mental energy.

Listen to Music

Research has now proven music can relieve stress and improve productivity. Temporarily stopping work to listen to music will engage new brain circuits, while allowing overworked circuits the opportunity to rest, giving your brain the chance to unwind and refresh.


Next time you are feeling mentally tired and finding it difficult to summon the mental energy you need, try one of these techniques. Giving your brain a reprieve may be just the thing you need to do your best work.



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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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How to Master Effective Meetings as a Project Manager



For project managers, meetings are an important part of the project management process and they critical in the overall success of your project. Effective team meetings often provide the best forum for discussing ideas, strategy, best practices and collaboration improvements. As a project manager, learning to lead an effective meeting is a crucial skill to master. If you need to enhance your meeting leadership skills, consider the following blueprint.

Do we need to meet?

One of the biggest offenses of poor meeting leadership is scheduling a meeting without a clear agenda. Given how busy all employees are and the high cost of people’s time, a meeting must be productive in order to justify the costs. Before calling any meeting, be clear that bringing people together is necessary.

To help determine if a meeting makes sense, ask yourself “Why am I calling this meeting?” If it is simply to push out information, you may be able to accomplish the same thing with a conference call or via e-mail. Also remember to beware of scheduling standing meetings if the project does not call for it. By scheduling only necessary meetings, you build a brand of a efficient leader who respects other individuals' time.

Create a Clear Agenda

Once you have determined a meeting is necessary, take the time to create a clear agenda and share it in advance of the meeting. Include the agenda in your meeting request so all members can prepare. A strong agenda includes:

  • Date, time and duration of the meeting
  • Location, dial-in and video conferencing information
  • A brief explanation of the meeting’s purpose
  • List of topics to be addressed with an estimated duration for each topic
  • Buffer space for feedback and open discussion

The opening

The kick off is an opportunity to set the tone for the entire meeting and for your particular meeting leadership style. It is important to welcome everyone to the meeting, restate the purpose and review the agenda.

Openings should include introductions if members don’t all know each other. For established teams, think about a quick way to have everyone “check-in” to the meeting. This helps re-focus the attendees energy and attention onto the meeting at hand.

Enlisting Help

If you are running the meeting, make sure to assign a note taker and time keeper for the meeting. This cannot be you and, ideally, should be two different people. The note taker will record key findings, issues, actions and next steps. Great meetings include great follow-up and a strong set of notes is invaluable when drafting the meeting follow-up. A time keeper is a useful resource to keep meetings on track. A person that monitors the clock will help the meeting leader be as efficient as possible with the group’s time.

Skills to Build

We’ve all been in a meeting where unplanned discussions come up and new topics derail the agenda. Meeting leaders need to be skilled at keeping meetings focused and on target. They need to practice techniques that recognize the unplanned topics but regain the group’s focus on the primary agenda. For example it may make sense to hold-off discussing the new topics until the end of the meeting or to add them to the agenda of a follow up meeting. By controlling the meeting and following the agenda, you avoid disruptions and maintain focus on the prioritized items.

Encouraging Participation

Meetings are a great opportunity to build connections and comradery between team members. A strong leader works to find ways for everyone in the group to contribute and participate. Ask questions and request feedback from team members who normally don’t contribute. Alternatively, you can also ask different team members to own and lead a piece of the agenda during the meeting.

The Wrap-Up

Just as the opening sets the tone of your meeting, the warp-up provides an opportunity to summarize key points, and to recap action items and assignments. When closing down the meeting it is also critical to clarify how follow-up will be communicated. For example: “We made great progress on the open items and I’ll be following up via e-mail with notes and key actions this afternoon.” Finally, try to close out the meeting on a positive note about the meeting and what was accomplished.

Follow-Up

As soon as possible, send an email follow-up of what was discussed in the meeting. Summarize the key decisions, assigned tasks, next steps and other relevant notes or commentary. Make sure to include any specific dates or timelines for future meetings and solicit feedback and discussion topics for the next meeting.

The skill of running an effective team meeting is fundamental to your success as a project manager. By implementing these simple and repeatable steps, your leadership skills will be refined and your meetings will be efficient and productive.


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