6 Basics for New Project Managers

Project Management is a deep and well documented practice with many brilliant books, blogs and organizations dedicated to it. However, if you are new to project management and are merely looking to learn some basics for successfully managing a project, we recommend these 6 fundamentals:

1. Know the purpose

It is important to understand what the real goal of the project is. For example, if you are responsible for implementing a new tech-support ticketing system, is the goal to help increase the productivity of your tech support team or is it improve low customer satisfaction scores? Once you understand the real goal of the project and what success looks like you can better determine how to plan and how to execute it.

2. Nail the scope

It is also important to precisely define the project’s scope. Continuing our example, does your project scope include defining the selection criteria and selecting brand new ticketing system software or will that be done prior. Determining what is in scope and what is out of scope will not only have a huge impact on the work required but also how your success will be measured.

3. Detail the deliverables

Once you have defined the scope it will be critical to break the scope down into the things that must be delivered. Furthering our example project of implementing a new tech support ticketing system, one of the things that must be done is to install a new data base. This should be defined in detail so it is clearly understood by the person or team who will deliver this work. You will need to identify all the project deliverables and define them in this way.

4. Plan Properly

With the deliverables properly defined it will be easier to determine what activities, resources and budget will be required for completing the project. To properly plan your project you will need to determine what activities or tasks are required to achieve every deliverable, and you will need to determine the amount of time required to complete each task. It will also be important to identify which task are dependent on other tasks. In our example we may not be able to complete the task of installing the new data base because that task is dependent on another task, procuring new data base hardware. Finally, you will need to put the entire project plan on a schedule by assigning dates to each of the tasks.

5. Share your plan

Now you have a project plan that is a schedule of clearly defined deliverables which have been properly scoped and properly aligned with the business goals. You know the plan very well but it needs to be shared with the project team and stakeholders. Team members will need to know exactly what is expected of them, when it is due and how it interrelates with work others are doing. Communicate the plan often so team members stay focused on the activities they have been assigned.

6. Review progress

When the project is underway, it will be important to monitor the progress of you plan and to report this progress back to your executives. You will need to periodically check the project against its planned cost and schedule. This will allow you to calculate and report the variance between the actual execution and the as-planned execution. Once you identify and understand any variance from the original plan you can make necessary adjustments to the project’s scope, schedule or budget.

New project managers will find that these 6 fundamentals are relevant to any project they are assigned, regardless of size and complexity. Becoming proficient in each of these areas will increase your chances of successfully delivering your project on budget and on time.

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7 Leadership Skills to Develop

It is often said that successful leaders are made, not born. In other words, being a successful leader is a matter of skill, not luck, and it is therefore possible to develop this skill. Anyone aspiring to be one, can become an effective leader through planning, persistence, focus and effort. Personal style, education and background will influence you, but becoming a good leader is learned through experience. If you have the desire to develop your leadership skill, here are 7 areas to focus on:

1. What you do matters most

This idea here is that others see and follow the direction of their leaders, so leaders become effective because of what they do. In today’s workplace, leadership authenticity is often judged on actions rather than words. Organizational values are also molded by observing the behavior of our leaders. As a leader, you have the privilege of being a role model within your organization and leading by example is a practice you should constantly refine.

2. Create a learning based culture

Leadership styles can be categorized as either learning based or a knowledge based. Leaders who develop learning based styles create open and transparent environments that do not expect that there will always be answers. Rather, these leaders value learning and constantly ask good questions to drive mutual learning exchanges. Knowledge based leaders place value on quickly obtaining answers, and they fail to nurture the exercise of learning. This leadership style is more critical as it tests, judges and challenges teams for immediate answers.

3. Tell a good story

It is difficult to be an excellent leader without being a good communicator. Good communication means the ability to get others to understand your vision and to buy into it. It is about understanding your environment and adapting messages to meet the needs of your audiences. Good leaders practice this. They are masters at listening and deciphering the communication styles of others and adapting their messaging on-the-fly. Since most leaders will spend much of their time engaged in interpersonal situations, is critical to understand and practice these skills.

4. Have a clear vision

Good leaders are visionaries. They have a clear vision or dream for their team or project and it is often the most powerful tool in their toolbox. It is an image or picture of the future that, when articulated well and frequently, wins commitment and inspires people to action. Visionary leaders are easy to follow because their vision provides teams with the clear direction and purpose they need. Good leaders take the time to develop and share their vision because they know it will motivate people to strive for its attainment.

5. Empower your people

Having an empowered team that has initiative and drives tasks forward with little guidance is the wish of all leaders. Empowering people requires focus. Leaders develop empowered teams by recruiting great people, giving them clear direction, providing support and delegating important tasks to them. Leaders should allow their employees to try new ideas safely and independently, even if it means that their employees will lead others. This may feel counterintuitive to classic ideas of leadership but they will learn a lot and it will prepare them to lead in the future.

6. Be a Connector

Strong leaders are connectors. They take the time to know their team members and to create opportunities that leverage the strengths of their team. They are good at bringing together people, ideas and resources that wouldn’t normally relate to one another. To do this they build strong networks both inside and outside of their company, and they leverage these networks to facilitate collaboration and find new opportunities.

7. Get real

Good leaders know themselves. They have a strong sense of what they believe in and they are willing to share that with their teams regardless of the situation. Their authenticity creates trust and this trust makes them more convincing leaders. They do this by defining their personal values and fearlessly committing to them. Their behavior reflects those values irrespective of obstacles and adversaries. Authentic leaders are genuine and people will follow a leader they feel is real.

Developing your leadership skill requires focus and intention. These tips above can be a compass on where to apply that effort. By practicing some or all of these skills, you can build a solid foundation for your own personal leadership development.

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5 Tips on How to Manage Remote Teams

In today’s working environment, it is increasingly common to find yourself managing a team staffed with people from all corners of the world. High performing internet connectivity, robust no cost Wi-Fi and secure remote access to your company’s network allows employees to work from virtually anywhere in the world. In the US, remote working grew by 103% between 2005 and 2016 and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Fueled by average cost savings of $11,000 per employee per year and increased employee satisfaction, the ability to manage remote teams is a must have skill.

Here are 5 tips to help Project Managers transition to an effective remote team manager role.

Leverage web conferencing

Web conferencing allows businesses to share ideas and information among people and across the organization in real-time. Web conferencing and other real time collaboration tools that also include video along with sound are well suited solutions for working remotely. Experts reveal that up to 93% of communication is non-verbal and companies can improve meeting efficiency and prevent miscommunications by enabling teams to actually see one another. The ability to see each other also increases employee engagement, connection and collaboration in meetings. Leveraging collaboration technology will connect remote employees and help preserve the productivity and efficiency of the on-premise team environment.

Know the time

Having team members spread across different time zones is a challenge that can mean extra work or longer hours for a project manager. Managers must accommodate their remote teams by managing all of the collaborative tasks during hours where the majority of the team is working. Depending on time zones, this could mean some team members will need to log-in earlier or later to join the rest of the team. If this is the case, try to know your people’s personal commitments before you schedule them off-hours.

Run efficient meetings

When running a remote meeting, make sure to give yourself extra time for preparation so the meeting can start on time. Virtual meetings require more prep as a rule, and if the first 5 minutes of your meeting are spent logging-in or getting logistics set, your chance of losing employees to multitasking increases greatly. Use agendas, visual aids, media and rotate speakers to keep the meeting moving. Ask team members to be ready on time and stick to the agenda as much as possible.

Build relationships

Building relationships with remote team members is often more difficult than building relationships with the people down the hall. It requires active work as there is a lack of organic connection time. To help build comradery, work to create open connection time in your 1:1’s and team meetings. Build in time for chatting about the weekend on the Monday AM meeting. Take time to know team member’s hobbies, friends, families and outside interests. Ask questions and practice active listening.

Be Clear on the mission

Nothing brings a team together more than a shared experience, mission or vision. With a remote team, shared experiences are difficult to achieve, however, having a clear team mission and vision will be valuable for brining your team together. Make the time to create a shared mission or vision with your team, involving all members in the creative process.

Geographically dispersed teams can offer huge benefits in efficiency, cost savings, employee satisfaction and access to top talent regardless of location. Managing these teams requires you start with trust and that you find new ways of keeping your team running smoothly. Assume your remote employees are doing their best work and leverage these five tips to build a high performing remote team.

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7 Point Checklist for Project Closure

Wrapping up a scope of work brings with it a range of emotions. Excitement, relief and sometimes even sadness are common at the end of a project where you have invested so much of your energy and time. Although it is tempting to move on to your next project, before transitioning, take the time to properly bring your current project to closure. Here is a short check-list to follow before fully exiting a project:

Are all required deliverables complete?

This is the time to reflect on the project plan. Review it with an objective mind or partner with a peer to help gain balanced feedback. Work through your project plan and ask yourself if all tangible deliverables have been completed. Be ruthless with your assessment and include not only mission-critical deliverables, but all deliverables the plan committed to.

Have all approvals been obtained?

Diligently obtaining written approval for sign-off during the lifecycle of the project is a ‘must-do’ and a good discipline to adhere to. Ensuring the proper approvals have been obtained keeps business leaders informed and accountable for their actions. It also protects you as the Project Manager (PM) to have the appropriate stakeholder’s confirmation that the project is approved.

Have all required administrative tasks been performed?

Managing the administrative side of the project takes time, however these housekeeping tasks are vital when it comes to project closure. Close out any open contracts and make sure all time has been properly accounted for, billing is complete and people on the project have been released and/or are assigned to new projects.

Are all project documents and deliverables archived?

Ensuring that all documentation related to the project is stored in a central archive and available for access is important. These may be used as the foundation for an upcoming project, or you may need to reference them for future questions about how this project was managed. It is also a good practice to create and archive a FAQ’s or Lessons Learned document, so knowledge and key learnings are transferred to the others who will come after you.

Have all calendars been cleared?

Check across the team to see all the meetings that have been conducted? If there are outstanding or unnecessary meetings still scheduled, make sure to cancel and remove these from calendars. Removing any confusion around recurring meetings is a courtesy to others and a best practice for closing projects.

Does everyone know the project is complete?

Ensuring that all stakeholders and departments involved in your project are aware that it is complete is a sometimes overlooked step, but one that will differentiate your from others. Properly closing with a formal wrap-up communication in which you share the achievements and results with everyone involved shows professionalism.

Have you thanked key contributors, stakeholders and sponsors?

Taking a few extra minutes to thank key contributors, stakeholders and sponsors is another act of professionalism. Saying thank you to someone is a simple way to leave them feeling good about you as a PM, regardless of how challenging they may have been. Make your last interaction on the project one of thanks and you’ll will improve your PM brand.

By utilizing this 7 point check list you can ensure that your project closing skills are as strong as your day-to-day management skills and you will be confident that you are leaving a project well managed.

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5 Skills for the New World of Work

There is no arguing that the way we work has changed greatly in the last decade. Gone are the 9 to 5 desk jobs where we gather a paycheck for clocking in and out, and work tirelessly for years at the same company; the goal to retire with a gold watch and rich pension. Our economy has evolved from a one career-one company ideal to appreciating cultivation of a rich skill set. Businesses are less concerned about tenure and more focused on experiences. In this new world of work, a different skill set is required for optimum success. To thrive in today’s work world, employees and leaders need the following skills:

  • Entrepreneurship: this article is not suggesting you need to start a business to cultivate this skill. It is the drive that leads individuals to make a leap and take risks in starting a business that employers want. Entrepreneurship requires innovation, vision, risk taking and relentless execution, which are all valuable skills to build at any level. According to Forbes, we are all entrepreneurs, so take some time to explore your inner entrepreneur.
  • Problem Solving: the old idea that managers have all the answers and that an employee’s job is to wait for their direction, has gone by the wayside. Strong leaders know that those closest to the work often have the best understanding of an issue. The ability to think critically, test assumptions and solve problems is a skill to build at all levels of an organization.
  • Agility/Flexibility: we all are familiar with some variation of the quote, “the only thing certain in life is change.” The same can be said of project management and work in general. Very few of us work on an assembly line, where we perform the same task every day. Even those of us doing task work, have variety in each day. The need to be flexible and to respond appropriately to the job at hand is a critical skill for success in today's world.
  • Collaboration: business and Project Managers know that collaboration is a skill necessary to get the job done. Leading teams often means collaborating with diverse stakeholders and team members but collaboration skills are not just important for leaders. Teamwork has become a staple of our new world of work. Collaboration skills include ability to build consensus, increase productivity, test theories, learn from others and innovate to grow rapidly.
  • Written and Verbal Skills: the ability to communicate with others both by speaking and writing is still the foundation for success in today’s working world. There are a few exceptions to this rule but for most of us, our ability to communicate clearly is the top skill we must continue building. Employees at all levels need to be able to communicate in order to share. Learning how to get your ideas across with clarity and intention separates the good from the great.

In today’s new economy, these soft-skills are rapidly becoming the new hard skills. Beyond certifications and degrees, cultivation of these five key skills can differentiate your performance from the rest.

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning, uncomplicated timelines and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Plus free for 14 days.