Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Yin and Yang of Project Management and Leadership

Successful project managers not only have to be good managers, but also strong leaders.

Now the dilemma here, is that the skills and attributes of strong leaders are quite different from those of good managers.

It is very important to recognize these differences and maintain an appropriate  balance between the "yin" of good project management and the "yang" of strong leadership.

Let's examine some of these differences and the challenges that a project manager will face in trying to be both a good project manager and effective leader, at the same time.

Create the Plan/Share the Vision
A project manager needs to create a plan for their project and manage to that plan.  To also exercise project leadership, the project manager needs to share a broad and bold business oriented vision for the project.  For example, your project may be to provide an e-commerce capability for your organization, and as a manager, you need to develop and implement a plan for the project.  As a leader, you must  share the project vision at every opportunity, emphasizing (for example) how the project is an important component of your organization's strategy to transform its business model, increase revenue and enable further business opportunities.  

Control Change/Embrace Change
As a Project Manager it is important to control and manage change.  However, as a leader, you recognize that change is not only inevitable, but also desirable, as it generally reflects a more appropriate or more current need from your client.  So as well as controlling change with your "project manager hat", with your "leader" hat, you need to welcome and embrace change.

Be Rational/Be Passionate
Project Managers tend to be analytical and rational, which are excellent attributes for managing projects.  However, as a leader, you need to inspire and encourage your team, be very excited and passionate about your project and its business goals and constantly share your enthusiasm for the project with your project team.  Steve Jobs was famous for his "reality distortion field" whereby he refused to accept that something was not feasible, and in the process significantly raised the bar on what Apple was able to achieve.

Avoid Risks/Take Risks
As Project Managers, it is (or should be) in your DNA to anticipate and avoid or mitigate risks that could adversely affect your project.  However, as a leader you will also have to accept that great goals are  usually also accompanied by great risks, and will need to work with your team to conquer those risks with the same level of teamwork, skill and preparation that you would use, say, to climb a very high mountain.

Focus on Processes/Focus on Goals
As Project Managers, we are also trained to apply good processes and best practices in the planning and execution of our projects.  With a focus on processes, we can get mired in technical issues and debates and sometimes lose sight of the original project goals.  We need to quickly put back on our leader hat, and re-focus on the project's business goals.  This can lead us to explore alternate solutions that can often be a better path to those business goals.   

Skills and Knowledge/Values and Attitudes
In an interesting post on 10 Leadership Lessons from the IBM Executive School on a few months ago, the author described how when IBM were establishing an Executive School in the mid 50's, they hired a company to research and determine the skills common to executives so that they could in turn groom and train their managers for executive management.

It was discovered that unlike lower level managers, the executives they examined did not seem to share any common skills and knowledge.  What they shared were certain values and attitudes.

Whilst the project management skills and knowledge you need are fairly common (hello PMI PMBOK® Guide), the leadership values and attitudes you hold can vary quite widely, so look around and see what works for other leaders and embrace and develop those that you feel will be most effective for you.

What are some of the values and attitudes that you feel have helped you in leading your projects?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Six Best Practices For Managing Multiple Projects

In this struggling economy, project managers are often required to manage many projects. It is usually a challenge to manage just one project, so it is inevitable that managing multiple projects will pose even more challenges.

How many projects can a project manager manage?
Now there are so many factors that affect this determination (e.g. project size, type and complexity, resources and skills available, number of clients, location and duration of projects etc.), that it is impossible to quote any useful number.  I think it will be fair to say, however, that you can manage more than you might have believed possible, if you apply the following six best practices.

Management Support
1.  Ensure the support and trust of your management and client management.
Perhaps the most valuable of all best practices is to ensure you have the support and trust of your management, client sponsor and client management.  Their proactive support is essential for the timely resolution of many activities (e.g. scope definition, project budget, resourcing, issue resolution, project prioritization etc.).  Be open about the need for their support, and take advantage of every opportunity to gain it (for example, through your project kickoff meetings, risk reviews, regular status meetings and steering committee meetings).

2.  Ensure you have the appropriate level of skills and resources.
This is easier said than done, but it is essential if you are to be successful in managing your many projects. Identify up front the specific skills and resources that you need for your projects, and persevere until you get them. Look for people who are team players, adaptable and willing to work in many different capacities.

Resources should ideally be dedicated to your projects and co-located.  If you cannot get fully dedicated resources, at least make sure they are co-located on specific days each week. so that you can count on their availability and support.

Performance Reporting
3.  Establish a Project Dashboard for all your projects.

Use a simple dashboard like the one shown here, to  give clear visibility to the status of your projects.

The projects can be sorted by client, so that each client sees the status for only their projects.

A Dashboard is an extremely powerful tool for soliciting the support of your project stakeholders, so ensure that the "Comments" shown for each project reflects the actions you are taking and/or the support you need to address the "yellow" and "red" areas that need resolution.  

Time Management
4.  Ensure you and your team members practice good time management.
Establish with your project team the most effective ways you can maximize your team productivity and build these into your Team Operating Agreement and practice them.
For example:
-  Keep meetings short and focused.  Take individual issues offline rather than trying to solve them at team meetings.
-  Ask your team members to let you know early if they are going to be late on an activity, so that you can take any corrective action necessary to keep the activity from being delayed.

5.  Delegate to the max.
When managing many projects, there is quite often a tendency for project managers to take on more work themselves, since they feel their team members are already overloaded.  Wrong approach! They should delegate all activities, so that they can free themselves to work with their team leads to address issues and provide support, as opposed to being locked away trying to do activities that can and should have been delegated.
Establish a project lead for each project, or set of projects, so that you can act as the overall program manager to ensure all projects are successfully completed.

6.  Apply a methodology that is scalable and adaptable to your project needs.
The methodology that your organization has established may not work well with your set of projects.  It is important that you adapt and scale the key elements of the organization's methodology to fit your many projects.
For example:
-  Use the simple Project Dashboard shown above for all your projects, rather than a one page Dashboard for each project.  This Dashboard can act as your Status Report for all your projects.
-  Do a combined Risk Assessment for all your projects, rather than one for each project.

Are there any other best practices for managing multiple projects that you can recommend?

Webinar:  APM13 Project Dashboards

If you are interested in learning more about Project Dashboards, and would like an Excel based Project Dashboard tool, sign up for our one hour APM13 "Project Dashboards" webinar at

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Keep Your Project Healthy With A Project Health Check

A Project Health Check is a very simple and effective tool that will help you predict whether your project will be healthy (come in on time and within budget).

Just as your doctor can check your health through various tests and diagnostics, so too can you determine if your project is healthy, and likely to remain so, through a variety of checks on your project.

It is very easy to build a Project Health Check tool, using a spreadsheet.  

First, establish the key areas you would like to check on your projects, and then list the processes and best practices that should be applied in each of those areas.

For example (please note that this is not a complete list):
Business Case and Project Initiation
- The project is fully aligned with the business strategies and goals  of the company
-  Business measures of success have been identified and measurement processes established
-  A Project Charter has been produced and approved, authorizing the project.
Project Planning
-  A Scope Statement has been produced
-  A detailed Project Budget has been produced and approved to cover all phases of the project
-  A Project Contingency reserve has been allocated for the project
-  A Risk Management Plan has been produced.
Project Execution and Control
-  Personnel resources are available on time to execute project activities
-  Project Deliverables are formally reviewed and accepted by the appropriate parties
-  Project Quality is controlled through the implementation of a Quality Management Plan.
Project Team Organization
-  The Project Sponsor is fully committed and available to support the project
-  A facilitative Project Management Office supports the project
-  A Project Kickoff Meeting has been/will be held for all key stakeholders at the start of the project
Project Methodology
-  A formal, documented, scalable and adaptable Project Methodology is followed by the project  team.
-  A Project Repository/Extranet is used to maintain all project documentation
-  Lessons Learned are reviewed, documented, disseminated and acted on accordingly.  
Project Performance
-  The project is on schedule
-  The project is within budget
-  The Project Sponsor is satisfied with the project and project team performance
Project Risk Management
- A Risk Management Plan has been produced
-  A Risk Register is maintained for all significant project risks, with appropriate actions, target dates and owners for each risk.

Once you have built your Project Health Check tool, you should check it at the following key points in your project:
-  Project Initiation (quick scan to confirm that you will be implementing all the best practices listed)
-  Project Planning (formally complete the Health Check before your project is baselined, so that you can ensure all best practices are incorporated in your project).
-  Project Execution (re-visit with your PMO as a Project Audit, if your project "goes red"; i.e. more than say 10% over budget or behind schedule). 

Use a simple scoring system for measuring project compliance with each best practice in the tool:
For example:
Score 5 (Green) if you are (or will be) following the best practice
Score 3 (Yellow) if there is some improvement needed
Score 1 (Red) if that best practice is not being followed at all.

A Radar Chart (like the one shown at the beginning of this post) can be produced as a summary and posted on your Project Dashboard.  The blue line in the chart represents the average score for each area, so the health of your project can be seen at a glance.

The Project Health Check is a great tool for project managers to facilitate the success of their projects by embracing the complete spectrum of project management best practices.  As noted earlier, it can also be used by the PMO to work with project managers when their projects are in trouble, to pinpoint and improve the processes that are determined to be the root causes of their problems. In this case, a joint presentation should be presented to executive management identifying the findings from the Project Health Check and the proposed actions needed to address any problems identified.

An ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure!

Let us know about your own experiences with Project Health Checks.

Webinar:  APM09 Project Health Check Workshop
If you are interested in learning more about Project Health Checks, and would like an Excel based Project Health Check tool that checks against over fifty project management best practices for your project, sign up for our four hour APM09 "Project Health Check Workshop" at  In addition to the Project Health Check tool, you will get practical guidance and all the tools and templates you might need for each best practice.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ten Best Practices For Managing Global Projects

In an increasingly global economy, projects are also becoming more global.

Your project team, sponsor and key stakeholders can be spread across many continents, time zones, organizations, languages and cultures.

But while there are challenges imposed on global projects, due to all the factors noted above, these challenges often exist at least to some degree on any project, global or not.

For example, you might well have team members several time zones away, or living in your city but recently from different cultures and with English not their native language.

So here are some practices I recommend, that are especially important on a global project, but could be applied to any project.  At the beginning of your project, go through this list and pick out and apply the best practices in each area that you feel would most benefit your project.

 I hesitate to say that any area is more important than the others, but can make an exception with this one, both because I think it is the most important, and also because the issue of communications is inter-twined with most of the other areas.  How you communicate, how often and to whom and with what media will all have a significant impact on the success of your project.

1.  At the beginning of your project, establish a Communications Management Plan.  This can be a simple one pager listing all the key stakeholders and methods and frequency of planned communications.
2.  Establish a Project Repository, using a tool such as SharePoint, to make all project deliverables, tools, templates and communications readily accessible.
3.  Subscribe to a web conferencing facility, if your company does not already have one.  These can be  relatively inexpensive, with high payback and benefit, making it easier to identify and show the person talking, and facilitate the sharing of documents and presentations.  Meetings can be recorded for those who miss a meeting, or would like to replay them to ensure they understand key points made in the meeting.
4.  Early in your project hold a Project Kickoff Meeting, outlining project objectives, roles and responsibilities, project methodology and the team operating agreement.  Give all team members a chance to present a one page slide about themselves (picture, roles, hobbies, "What is the most interesting thing you have done").  Team building and ice breaker exercises will be particularly beneficial.

5.  Accept (and embrace) the diversity of cultures on your team, but avoid any stereotyping. The best way to address this area, is to let the people on your team in each location identify what they think is different and special about their culture, and how they would like to see the team operate.  This feedback can be incorporated into the Team Operating Agreement presented at the Project Kickoff Meeting.

6.  If English is the common language to be used on your project, as is most likely, then assess the fluency of your team members in all team locations.  A good solution, to address issues of both fluency as well as the challenges of managing remote team members, is to have one senior person fluent in English act as the "lead" for each location, with the overall responsibility of coordinating all activities assigned to people in that location.

Time Zones
7.  It will be close to impossible to find a time that is convenient for all, so do not make the mistake of picking a time that is only convenient for you, the project manager.  Better to try and find a few times where no-one has to attend before 7 am or after 7 pm their time, and rotate meeting times so that everyone "shares the pain" about equally.  Again, the use of a "lead" in each location, and the availability of the project repository and recorded meetings will alleviate some of the communications problems caused by different time zones.

8.  The Project Manager should travel at least once to each location that will be providing a significant contribution to the project, and to the extent your project budget permits, each lead should also travel to be physically present for key activities and meetings. 

9.  Where possible, give each location an important deliverable, capitalizing on the particular skills and capabilities of that location and team.
10. Recognize the contributions from each location as they are made, and ensure they are well publicized in newsletters, Steering Committees etc.

While managing global projects can certainly be a challenge in many respects, it can also be an opportunity to learn and benefit from the diversity of cultures and the creativity and innovation that can result from global collaboration.

What has been your experience and insights on your global projects, and are there any best practices you can add?