Find your “green flash” in each of your projects

A green flash occurs when the conditions are right as the sun rises or sets. Growing up on St. Croix with many weekends spent at the beach at the west end of the island, I’ve seen a few of them. As I sit down to get some work done on this damp, dark, dreary, rainy day Monday I think about this one to two second flash of brilliance on the horizon. Sometimes it is just what you need to refocus your attention on the task or project at hand.

Green flash – www.sandcastleonthebeach.com

So, what then is the equivalent of a green flash moment on a project. It’s that thought, idea or component that drives you forward. It could be the group of people you are working with; or the ability to use a specific skill; or learn something new. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but rather that it motivates you. And this is a more personal endeavor than just being on time, or on budget, or meeting a specific stakeholder KPI. This can and probably should be different across different projects.

Just like a lighthouse beacon, every decision or action you take should be with this point in mind. This means that you need to consciously think through your actions to make sure they align to this particular project goal. While I don’t necessarily think it’s necessary to share your personal green flash moment, but I do think that you need to visualize yourself succeeding in the way you defined. Your mental conversation should be how you get to the end, not questioning whether you can get there.

 

3 reasons to embrace your most vocal customers

So, you’re in the middle of a project and your customer spent the last 15 minutes telling you all the ways the are frustrated with how the project is going, and what you need to do to fix it. As a project manager, this can be quite disheartening. Often we put so much of our selves into our work and it’s hard to hear that your falling short. That said, I think we need to view this scenario from another perspective. Here are 3 reasons to embrace this vocal customer:

improvement_construction

  1. Engagement – If your customer is taking the time to vent their frustrations with you they are still engaged. At this point they still want the project to be successful and haven’t given up on you as a vendor. You still have work to do to resolve issues and mend the trust issues, but they are enabling you to do this.
  2. Improvement – Your most vocal customers are the ones that are pushing you to be better. These customers are sharing their intimate business challenges and opportunities and asking for your help in solving them. While it can be frustrating and  the relevancy to the organization may be foggy, this customer has chosen you to help them. Working closely on defining solutions together allows you to do a better job servicing other customers in the same industry.
  3. The alternative is futile – Doing nothing to respond to your customer’s concerns sets you on a very difficult path. This will ultimately drive your customers away. They underlying business requirement doesn’t go away in this situation so if you aren’t helping to solve it, so other vendor will. Additionally, if you aren’t constantly listening to the changing landscape of your customers’ industries, you aren’t able to iterate to solve those challenges.

Next time you are feeling a bit attacked by your customer, take a step back to breath and recover. Once you relax and realize this isn’t a bad thing, then you can identify your plan for exceeding expectations and delivering to the customer.

Do Project Managers still deliver value in 2017?

“Between agile and automation, project management is going away. There may be jobs with that title but the work will be very different.” — Kevin Brennan

I saw the above quote today on Twitter. Just like a couple of weeks ago, I was totally taken aback. Agile and automation doesn’t take away what a really good project manager can do. These are methodologies and tools that a project manager can use to deliver projects better. When I asked my husband, a software engineer, what he thought of the quote, he suggested that maybe these would drive the non-technical project managers into extinction.

I guess it all really begs the question of what does or what should a good project manager do? I’ve been asked to help train someone on how I run implementation projects, so I guess I should start putting to paper the criteria around what I do and why it allows me to deliver on implementation projects. I will start by saying that all project managers are not equal. This is a big part of the reason that many technical resources are so critical of the PMO and project managers. They don’t see the value and often feel that the project manager just adds work to the technical resources.

Above anything else, a good project manager should remove obstacles from the team and the project. This might be resource alignment, or a dependency from another department, or almost anything. Status meetings, project documentation and stakeholder management are merely manifestations of this work. The catch here is that the project manager needs to be technical enough to fully understand the nature of technical issues, and work with resources on getting them what they need to resolve them.

Second, a good project manager has the analytics wherewithal to assist business and technical resources. On the business side, the project manager can help bridge that gap between that user story or business requirement to the details of how functionality works, to ultimately helping coordinate the validation efforts further offloading work from the technical project team. On the technical side, the project manager with strong analytic foundations can step in at any point from requirement interpretation to design to validation/QA.

natural curiosity can also differentiate a good project manager. The ability to ask questions and drill into the details yields a great project management dividends. It shows your stakeholders and project team that your interested in what they have to say, and is instrumental in the trust building required to successfully deliver. Very few projects run without hitches. The desire to ask why can broaden the range of solutions, ultimately resulting in a successful implementation despite the twists and turns.

A good project manager will balance tenacity with adaptation. Too much happens too quickly these days for project managers to stagnate within in a set methodology, toolset or process. We too often see project managers so set in their ways, unfortunately often following the PMI rulebook to its smallest minutia. The moment the project offsets the delicate balance (of the PM), the delivery becomes jeopardized. Come to the table with your preferred methodology and toolkit, but be willing to be flexible during the project implementation. Ultimately, the project manager will be more successful.

At the end of the day, I don’t think being a good project manager is really difficult. I think a shift in mindset and the ability to constantly learn can make you successful. I’ll continue to do what I do and deliver projects. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this description of a project manager, sent to me by a former coworker. He hadn’t been a fan of project managers until he had the opportunity to work with me on a project. In addition to the several job referrals, he sends me funny project management memes.

pm-meme

 

2016 Retrospective

Like many of you, the start of another calendar year made me think about what I accomplished in 2016 and what my goals are for 2017. Overall 2016 was a good year. I worked on some interesting projects, and was able to spend some time working on the business too. I’m going use this post to share 4 key observations around data analytics and business intelligence as it relates to the data integration projects I managed last year.

  1. Projects were cross data more than any time before – It used to be that a data integration project was very specific and limited in scope to single sets of data. Sometimes this happened as a result of trying to solve a very specific problem, or the specific team paying for the implementation. But this year, all my data integration projects were done at a higher level covering multiple sources. People and businesses are leveraging different data points/sources more than they ever have before.
  2. People want self service tools to cover all scenarios – Traditionally, organizations had specific roles or departments that handled data analytics. A big reason for this was the level of expertise required to mine data (databases, programming languages, etc). The increase and implication of self services business intelligence tools have enabled many more people to participate. Unfortunately there is still a level of expertise required to master these tools. We are starting to see the impact of this with users believing the single tool or skill they invested in will solve all their data analytic questions. But that’s not the case. Using the wrong tool for the job, or trying to get a single tool to cover all scenarios often results in frustration all the way around.
  3. There’s a lot still to learn about data quality – In every data integration project I have managed, there has been an epiphany moment with the customer where they realize the data isn’t as clean as they thought it was. This might be as simple as have gaps in data where you thought it existed, but it can also extend to data mistakes, duplication, missing relationships, etc. Nobody wants to hear that there are issues with the data having been used for years. However, projects where the stakeholders have an open mind and treat the project as an opportunity to remedy some of these issues are often more successful. Vendors and project teams need to work closely with the customer to ensure proper documentation and root causes are identified to the best of our abilities.
  4. Flexibility is key – We are still working in times of very tight purse strings, but needing to move very quickly to respond to current and future market signals. For businesses to succeed, the organization needs to be working at optimal performance and be able to flex with the client needs around product, services, payments, etc.

What were your key take-aways from your projects in 2016? Without reviewing where we came from in our projects and operations, how can make the next initiatives more successful than the last?

What’s the virtual candy jar?

Years ago my friend, mentor and boss introduced me to the simple wonders of the candy jar effect. If you have a jar, basket, drawer, etc always supplied with candy, people across the organization will come to you. This is a great and super easy way to find out what’s going on in other parts of the organization, and with people in general. It also helps you develop an idea of what they like, so you can come bearing gifts when you need some assistance.

That said, I haven’t worked in an office full-time since 2008. With that in mind, I try to make sure i’m extra communicative. But, what about everyone else? Flexible work schedules are becoming more and more the norm, so how do you keep pulse on the organization and obtain all that knowledge you would have gained had you been in the office with a candy jar?

I have two separate thoughts on this spanning both sides of the spectrum. On one hand, I would argue that the people who are most effective in working remotely are often times their own “candy jar.” In my case, I find that people come to me with questions because they believe I have something to contribute. This allows me to get some of that additional information and continue to foster those connections outside of the immediate people I work with day in and day out.

But not everyone does a great job working remotely. I have had team members who were extremely difficult to figure out. Even the basics of determining exactly what they were working on, or how a project was progressing was difficult to ascertain. In this situation, I tried the daily stand up call. That helped a bit, but that was all the communication I got in the 24 hour period, unless I initiated it. An additional problem with the daily stand up call is that it gives you insights into the very specific yesterday’s work, today’s work and any roadblocks but doesn’t necessarily allow you to get a pulse on how the person is feeling.

As a manager, I think it’s my job to know what’s going on with my team. As a project manager, you may not be responsible for the team members but it’s still important for you to know the general pulse of the team. But in lieu of a better option, I think I’m stuck with doing my part to check in and ask. I’d love to hear if you have better suggestions.

What’s your virtual candy jar?

What did #givingback teach me about team dynamics?

My younger daughter and I did some volunteer work yesterday at the Capital Area Food Bank warehouse in Washington, DC. We were part of a group of about 12 people, some parents with kids who needed community service hours and other adults. It was fascinating to watch us evolve from individual or small groups to a graceful machine that just did what needed to get done. I left thinking about how a group of strangers working for a good cause can naturally meld, while we have all been in professional situations where people seem to work against the natural evolution.

team-dysfunction

Our job was to unload several pallets of breakfast and lunch foods in the refrigerator, repacking it all into individual banana boxes. Our group of volunteers started working either individually, or with the people that came together. Fairly quickly, people started stepping into roles that just needed to get done. Instead of fighting for floor or pallet space to load boxes, started opening all the boxes and handing them off to packers. Stronger individuals started collecting the boxes as finished, and others stepped into to funnel empty boxes to those that were packing. As pallets were packaged and left empty, others stepped into to breakdown boxes. And we did all of this, with politeness and instinct. I’m not sure anyone even asked any other person their names. It was awesome to have a bunch of strangers work together so seamlessly, all pursuing the same goals (either the short term one of getting out of the fridge or the more altruistic one of helping a worthy cause.)

Why is it then that I have been in more than one professional situation where the team  doesn’t meld in any capacity, let alone as smoothly as yesterday? I’m not talking about the individual who marches to the beat of their own drum, as I’m pretty sure I fall into that position quite a bit. I’m talking about the person or team that seems to fight against almost every request or initiative to solve our customers problems. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up around small businesses as a child and for most of my professional career. Small businesses need be customer focused to survive in a way that larger companies some times forget. My professional roles have always been in bridging the gaps between customers and technology, so for me, every decision I make is with the customer in mind. It’s unfortunate then when I’ve been in situations where process or team goals have been misaligned. If I’m working to deliver customer value but all efforts are stymied, does it mean the unhelpful person or team isn’t aligned to delivering value to the customer?

I know that this is a harsh criticism. I also recognize that different people have different motivations, and are provided different team goals within organizations. While I don’t truly believe that these teams intentionally set out to hinder what I’m trying to accomplish, I do think it’s unfortunate that there’s that much misalignment across organizations. Too often, customers see the results of this disfunction and ultimately are the ones that get hurt.

 

Project Managers need agility regardless of methodology

My Sunday morning peruse of Twitter led me to a blog post ‘Agile Project Manager’, It’s a Contradiction. Despite being a little taken aback, I did click through and read it. And I whole-heartedly disagree!

I’m going to start my response by first looking at some definitions.

Methodology – Merriam-Webster defined it as “a particular procedure or set of procedures.”

Waterfall – Wikipedia defined it as “a sequential (non-iterative) design process, used in software development processes, in which progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through the phases.”

Agile – Wikipedia defined it as “a set of principles for software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams.”

Process – Merriam-Webster defined it as “a series of actions or operations conducing to an end.”

Principles – Merriam-Webster defined it as “a rule or code of conduct.”

In project management, both Agile and Waterfall are considered project management “methodologies” used to deliver projects. They provide a set of guiding principles for getting results, and delivering business value. They both have pros and cons, and each is not right in every situation. Many times, a hybrid approach is needed.

Regardless of approach, a good project manager needs to be incredibly flexible. They need to understand the dynamics of all stakeholders, grasp the complexities of the value proposition and manage the situation throughout the process, adapting to the changing landscape. I would argue that even when using a waterfall methodology, a good project manager must be nimble.

It saddens me that the author of the aforementioned blog post feels that project managers “belong purely to highly planned deliveries where any change is a hinderance and fluidity is frowned upon.” Have they not ever worked with a good project manager that adapted to the movement of the project? Or have I just been incredibly lucky to work in organizations that allowed me to adapt and morph the project, and my role within in it as I see fit? It didn’t matter whether I was using a waterfall approach or were working towards agile.

The author further states that an agile project manager is a hybrid role, comprised of multiple responsibilities on projects not large enough to all the prescribed roles. I prefer to work within small to mid-size organizations, however usually work on projects for very large organizations. I’ve not had the luxury on any project to have a person to fill every role. Additionally, I think there is some level of getting your hands dirty in analysis, value recognition and other aspects of the project that enable me to delivery the projects I work on.

the-best-laid-plans...

http://www.azquotes.com/quote/608738

The one area where we did agree is “The ability to adapt, morph and practically deliver is…the true spirit of agile delivery.” I would also argue that it is the true spirit of a good project manager. If we are not constantly assessing where we are against our goals, and making decisions about how we manage the project (across stakeholders), and making adjustments to our plans, we can’t be successful.

What are processes without people to follow them?

The … process is only as great as the people who participate in it. – Jeff Miller

Congressman Jeff Miller is attributed to saying this quote in reference to the democratic process, but I think it applies to most process. A process without people following doesn’t go very far.

If you know me, or have navigated my site at all, you know I love to read. Fiction, non-fiction..books, articles, blogs, pretty much anything I can get my hands on. This also means I look for and want documentation and process. I want to see my starting point, and then figure out where I need to go. This also means that I strive to leave the same for others. I am not afraid to leave behind my knowledge or information for others to benefit.

Too often though it is becoming more common to want to be fed information, rather than seek it. When did we lose our natural curiosity? And further, why are we so quick to stop after the first roadblock? Even more frustrating to me are those that should know where to find the information they are looking for, but still don’t follow through.

Don’t get me wrong, this inclination has yielded plenty of new opportunities for me. Because I know these resources exist, I can leverage them and very quickly expand my knowledge, making me more effective. I guess I will keep doing what I do, and try to leave my knowledge on for the next person. I can hope that someone will take advantage of it.

 

 

 

Project Manage with Intention

Some-people-want-it-to-happen-some-wish-it-would-happen-others-make-it-happen

Sue Sotter – https://www.pinterest.com/susoutter/inspiration-to-be-intentional/

In doing my research for today’s blog, I read two separate articles that referenced “accidental project managers” as anyone who leads projects that hasn’t undergone formal project management certification. I’m a bit taken aback by this. While I don’t hold any project management certifications, I have done extensive studying of project management methodologies and am quite successful as a project manager. This isn’t by accident, but rather by intention.

I’m not going to argue the validity or value of having project management certifications, but I will argue that someone taking on the role of project manager isn’t accidental. “Accidental” means that it’s unintentional, unexpected and happens by chance. Is that really the case? Does our corporate leadership randomly pick an employee to lead a project?  Or rather, does the employee demonstrate some set of qualities or interest that results in project leadership? While the timing and recognition may happen at unexpected times; or the size or scope of the project may be larger or smaller than intended (by the management, or the person who solicited the additional responsibility), deliberate steps were taken to initiate this shift.

And my story? I transitioned from an operations role to a technical role when I became pregnant with my first daughter. At the time, it was thought that I would have more flexibility in a technology than in business operations. After a year or two as a database administrator reporting to misogynous boss, I handed in my resignation. I was asked to reconsider with the offer of a project management role. I understood both the business and technology; and had been at the organization long enough to understand how to get stuff done. I developed subsequent leadership (project & team) skills while getting my MBA and managing teams of technical and analytic resources (software developers, project managers, billing specialists, etc.) Every decision made along the way in my career, and when I manage projects are done with thought and intention.

While I don’t think the two articles were using the term “accidental project manager” as an insult, they were definitely on the side of promoting their products. They were trying to target the people who fill project management roles without having received any project management certifications. Maybe it would be better marketing to focus on being “new to project management” or “running your first projects.”

I on the other hand will continue to manage projects, building on my experience and constant reading, researching & self-learning. Practical application and incorporating lessons learned from post mortems supplement my experience and allow me to improve for each project.

 

 

Losing ourselves in the moment….

or maybe it’s just on conference calls. I believe strongly in remote work, and by extension I believe in asynchronous communication like email and chat apps, but also believe we need real-time communication like phone calls, conference calls or web sharing sessions. However, I am still amazed by how people behave on conference calls. It seems as if people just lose a little bit of themselves, and forget common courtesies. Today I’m going to use my soapbox to discuss some of my bigger pet peaves.conference-call-meme

  1. Remember everyone on the conference call, not just those in the room. As a project manager, I try to be conscious of everyone on the call. This includes multiple people that might be in the same room or that person sitting alone. There have been times where I’ve been the only decision maker participating by conference call. During these times, I feIt I had to time my opportunity to speak up just right. I had to do this by jumping in on any pause, regardless of where the discussion was at the time.  Alternatively, I will often have side conversations via text to facilitate progress. For people in the same room, or for the conference call organizer, it is important to remember to intentionally include all participates. You invited them for a reason.
  2. Someone needs to lead the call. The belief that conference calls aren’t effective speaks more to the organization of the call, than anything else. There is always a reason a conference call gets scheduled. Someone needs to facilitate the call. What are you trying to accomplish? What is the take away? And most helpful, if something needs to be prepared or investigated beforehand, make sure that expectation was set when the call was scheduled. Otherwise you are wasting everyone’s time.
  3. Don’t forget your manners. I guess all my frustration really boils down to this. I want to believe that we are all passionate human beings and sometimes tempers flair. I know that’s happened to me. We can only control our own behavior so let’s try to reign in our tempers and remember we are all there, in that moment, for a common good.