Huddle Up!

Have you ever watched a football game where the offense did not huddle before each play?  At least long enough for the quarterback to call a new play?  If you did, you probably a watching your kids play in the backyard.

The reason for the huddle is that the players all want to be running the same play.  You don’t want them running back to think he is getting the ball when he is not and have two receivers going to the same spot.  That is a recipe for failure.

If this method of communication is good enough, even necessary, for the best athletes in the world, why are you doing it?

It is really easy.

Every morning, yes, every morning, whether you work in a software company, a service industry, a factory, or anywhere else, this will benefit you.  Gather your team together for as little as two minutes, go around the group and ask people to contribute two things.

The first thing is what they will be working on that day, if there will be challenges, any impacts from their work that might affect others, or any assistance they might need.  This is a great way to prevent duplicate work and to make sure people are not working at cross purposes.  It is amazing how often those both happen, from a simple lack of communication.

The second thing is any news they have that might affect the rest of the team.  If they were talking to someone in a different departments, a customer, or heard some big news events that they think might affect their coworkers, the group, or work, this is the time to bring it up.  This is not the time to discuss rumors.

Other things people might mention is if they are going to have an unusual schedule, like they have a lot of meetings or will be gone for part of the day, or will be out of the office on subsequent days.  This can be grouped under news that will affect the team.

There does not have to be a lot of discussion, but if you should encourage your team to ask questions of each other to clarify issues.  If it looks like a longer discussion is needed for a subset of your team, ask them to handle it after the huddle.

Huddles are not meant to cover strategic, long-term goals, but rather immediate issues facing your group.  Discussion of bigger issues should be the topic of more structured team meetings.

And one more thing about this meeting.  Don’t call it a meeting.  Call it a huddle, a stand up, a daily status brief, call it anything except meeting.  For some reason, maybe because people have been to too many bad ones, there is a negative stigma attached if you say you’re going to have a meeting every day.  And if you are facilitating them, make sure they are quick and that people stick to important topics.

These are great for any kind of team whether you are a manager or a project manager.

So make sure everyone is on the same page of the playbook, clear away any short-term issues, go out there and score a touchdown every day.

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Agendas – Don’t Meet Without Them

Have you ever sat through a meeting and at the end of it wondered what it was even about?  Have you ever been trapped in a conference room really, really hoping you could be doing actual work?  Have you ever been in a meeting that seems to wonder everywhere and go nowhere?  Sure, the person holding the meeting has an idea of what they want to get done, but it would be really nice if they shared it with you before the meeting.

No one is watching you right now.  You can admit it.  You have been there.

The answer: Agendas.  They are not just for people trying to take over the world.  If you want to be the type of person who looks like they get things done, or, better yet, the type of person who actually gets things done, make an agenda.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  You only need the three things:

  1. A list of topics you will discuss during the meeting
  2. Your goal or goals for the meeting.
  3. Action Items – Who is doing what, when.

That’s it.  The first need to be written down and distributed to everyone before the meeting, so that everyone has the same expectations of what topics will be covered and what the point of the meeting is.

There is one more thing that will really make your meeting stand out is action items. When the meeting ends, decisions that made and there is work to do.  This will be included in your action items.

The action items should be:

  • Specific – there should be a concrete action to be accomplished that can be measured easily
  • Accountable – one person is responsible for making sure the task is accomplished.  They might not be doing the work, but they are responsible for the completion.
  • Given A Timeframe – assign a due date or time when a task should be completed.

At the beginning of your second meeting in a project, go through the open action items from the first meeting.  Keep checking them at meetings until they are completed.  If this means you bring them up every meeting, so be it.  If they are long-term tasks, it is worth mentioning them, but do not spend time discussing them.

One last thing:

Make sure the agenda is distributed at least a day before the meeting.  This makes sure your attendees have the opportunity to put their thoughts together on the action items,   discussion points, and goals.

By spending as little as 5 minutes on the day before a meeting,  you have a sanity check to make sure that you’ll cover the important topics and accomplish what you’re hoping in the meeting.  That is very little investment for a very significantly improved outcome.  But that little bit of time in.  You will not regret it and people will actually like coming to your meetings!

 

Show Me The Data!

Ring.  Ring.

Inexperienced IT person: This is IT.  How can I help you?

Caller: None of us can print and we have customers coming in 5 minutes.

Inexperienced IT person: OK!  We’ll get right down there.

Ring.  Ring.

Experienced IT person: This is IT.  How can I help you?

Caller: None of us can print and we have customers coming in 5 minutes.

Experienced IT person: What are you trying to print?  How many people have tried printing?  Is this the first time this has happened?  Has anything like this happen before?

This is a relatively common scenario for IT support desks.  And the caller may very well be correct in that nothing is printing.  But in the first scenario, IT has very little information to act on.  In the second scenario the support person has asked some questions, although waiting for answers between questions.  She is going to have a much better idea of where to look first to figure out the problem.  This is a very simple example of data collection.

Gathering data in this scenario is obviously helpful.  It will help the IT department solve the problem more quickly.  It is critical to any kind of project.  You can have all of the opinions that you want.  In fact everyone will be more than happy to share at least one with you.  But you cannot take decisive action until you have data.

This means you need to collect data about the current state of the project, analyze that data and the impact that proposed changes will have, and the present good estimations of what the future will be like.  There are two big reasons for this.  First, everyone’s perception of a problem will be will be different, as I have touched upon in a previous post.  Secondly when you are ready to present your recommendations, your sponsor and the people affected are going to want to see the data to back up your decisions.  That goes a long way if data shows them that their new goals are realistic.

It could feel like a gathering all this data is not doing very much.  It might feel like you’re stuck, doing a lot of work and making little progress.  That’s a trap!  Don’t fall into it.  If you tried to make big changes without the relevent information to let to know where you are supposed to be going, you’ll have a hard time hitting your goals and sustaining improvements after the implementation phase of the project.

Do The Dirty Work

Sometimes there are parts of a project you just don’t want to do.  They are stressful, tedious, or in some other way, no fun.  Pitch in and help with them.  At least the ones you can.

There is a story related in Google Rules by Laszlo Bock about Gerald Ford.  “Ron Nesson, who served as press secretary for President Gerald Ford, shared a story about his boss’s leadership style: ‘He had a dog, Liberty.  Liberty had an accident on the run in the Oval Office and one of the Navy stewards rushes in to clean it up.  Jerry Ford says, “I’ll do that.  Get out of the way, I’ll do that.  No man ought to have to clean up after another man’s dog.” ‘ ”

So when something comes along that you know is going to be painful for one or more of your project team members, find a way to help out.  No, it is probably not in your job description, but it is part of being on a team.  Even if you cannot help with the actual work, find a way to help with coordination, documentation, providing support, even just showing up with coffee, snacks, a gift certificate, or some type of recognition.  If it is a very time consuming job, talk to that person’s boss about how to make life easier for that person.  Find a way to help out.

The benefits to this are many:

  • You help out a colleague, which is always appreciated
  • You will probably learn something new or get a new appreciation of that role
  • You earn points with your team, showing you have their backs
  • The project will get done faster

This does not mean you have to take on everything, because you also have limited time, but lend a hand wherever you can and it make sense.  Getting your hands a little dirty is showing everyone that you care about them and the project.

The Half Life Of Facts

When you are managing a project, you need to make sure that your assumptions are correct.  That may require you to spend a significant amount of time on determining what those assumptions are.  Because facts and situations change and can do so quite quickly.

Have you ever wondered why doctors keep changing their minds every few years about what the best food or exercise or medication is?  Or picked up as science textbook that’s your child is using in high school and realize that’s a lot of the things she is studying are
different than you remember?  That is because new research is constantly occurring which is rendering old facts and knowledge you very irrelevant or just plain wrong.   In fact, in medical school, they tell you half of what you are about to learn won’t be true when you graduate — they just don’t know which half.

Some “facts” that have been disproved over time:

  • the earth is flat
  • the earth is the center of the universe
  • ulcers are caused by stress
  • there are nine planets in the solar system

Think about how fast things are changing now. Think about how you consume information. Only 10 years ago, you were getting all of your information from the Internet through a computer. Now, most people get a very significant part of much more information, and do the bulk of their communication, through their smart phone.  Applications and the software that is available now was unheard of 10 years ago.  There are things like driverless cars and a large number of medical techniques using robots and laparoscopic surgery that surgeons could only dream of 10 years ago.

The same thing is happening in your business. It doesn’t matter which field you are in. Even completely unrelated to the technological realm, even what we know about wild bird nutrition has advanced significantly in the last 10 years.

When you start your project, you need to work from a baseline. And you need to have as much knowledge about that baseline as possible.  Depending on what field you are in or what you’re trying to do this could mean a small amount of research or this could be a significant part of your project.  After all you do not want to end your project with a solution that is obsolete. U especially do don’t want to arrive at a conclusion that was obsolete before you started your project.

And things may very well change during your project. I worked on a software company on a project.  We were about 2/3 of the way through the project we found out that another team had written some really great code with a new version of software that we wanted to incorporate.  That meant an extensive rewrite of the work we had already done.  But it was the best way to proceed at that point to produce the best outcome.

The pace of change and the modern world is incredibly rapid.  There is a high likelihood that you will have to change course on a project because of some technological innovation or change in your customer demographics or some other reason. And
it is unlikely you will get every assumption correct at the beginning of each project, especially the more complex ones. So be flexible and ready for those kinds of challenges.  It is your role as project manager project manager to calmly and safely guide your team through the turbulent waters of change.
stages.

The Unattainable Deadline

It is a project manager’s worst nightmare.   Well, maybe one of them.  Due to some factor, another project, project participants having less time, or a hundred other things, you are not going to be able to accomplish all of your goals.

Bummer.

Believe it or not, though, this is when you can really show your value to the team.

Discuss potential issues affecting the project team as early as possible. And there are really three things:

  1. Identify risks as early as possible
  2. Discuss those risks and mitigating actions with your project sponsor and team early
  3. Try to ensure that you keep the foundation goals and delay the later, flashier goals, if necessary

Since it is your role to have the highest level view of the project, you will be among the first to know if there are any risks to accomplishing your goals.  At least you better be.  One way to find out what is coming is to frequently poll your team for anything they see in their areas that might be a risk.  You also want to talk with your executive sponsor to see if he or she knows of any potential risks.  If there is a group of project managers, make sure you are keeping in touch with them so that if priorities change you all know right away.

And then, unfortunately, even though GI Joe says knowing is half the battle, in your case, knowing could be 10% to 90% of the battle. Now, if after a discussion with your executive sponsor, you realize there has to be a change, comes a time when you have to reset expectations.

This could be very simple if everyone agrees that a change to the project land is needed, or it could be very tricky to wade through if you have a disagreement from some of your project team or, even worse, your executive sponsor.

This is where you draw upon your formidable project manager skills, sit down with your team and slash or project sponsor and work things out.  Just like everything else in a project I believe this should be done by an open and honest discussion. Let people throw out ideas and let them discuss them. It may be well for you to warn them that if there is a
deadlock, then the executive sponsor is going to make the decision.

Probably the best thing you can contribute to the discussion is to encourage the team two complete the foundation goals, even if they are not as flashy or rewarding as the later project goals.  And be wary of shortening time frames.  They were probably tight already.  It is much better to put out a solid product without the bells and whistles than one that seems great but is fraught with problems. In the former way you still do a solid job and you have built a base to start the next phase from. Rushing or skipping steps puts you huge risk of rework when of project is restarted, as well as a bunch of ongoing trouble for you your project team and everyone else involved.

Recognition – Do You Know What It Looks Like?

Are you taking the time to recognize team and individual accomplishments? Are you identifying and rewarding people that have done a great job?  Lets’s talk about the how and why of this.

In general, there’s a lot of work to be done.  And that work will get done, but as it gets time, take the time to recognize the people that are doing it for the good work they’re doing.   This can be an afterthought because there is so much to do that this seems like a minor thing that is a waste of time and resources.

There are a several phases to a project.  The end phases are the self rewarding ones.  Building, testing, implementation and then optimization.  These phases are much more fun because things actually get because there are results to see at the end of each phase.

But generally, in each project there is planning, gathering information, doing background work, and grinding through the things that don’t necessarily yield immediate results, but need to be done to build the foundation of the project.  This is the time you should be especially vigilent, because you are also setting a tone.

There are two reasons to recognize people for their contributions all through the project.  The first is that it demonstrates two that team members what you are expecting from them and what good work looks like.

This second reason is that it keeps people motivated. When they put in hard work, and especially when they go above expectations and exceed requirements, that should be rewarded. If they come up with great ideas that can be implemented, especially if they to start taking the steps to implement them that should be rewarded.

Now, how do you reward them.  The rewards can be virtually cost free. You can recognize them in front of the group, you can tell their manager what a great job they are doing, you might have a small budget for gift certificates or something like that.  You might pull them aside in private and tell them they are doing a great job.  You might send them on a trip to Hawaii.

It all depends on what you have the budget for and, this is important, and what kind of recognition really motivates that person. Some people a lot of recognition in front of a group, other people would much rather you call their manager or told them in private.

You can make this a lot of fun.  You can hand out certificates or print your own award documents.  The sky is the limit. I have read about and actually worked with some people that award one or more people at each meeting based on how much they participated and how much they added to the discussion or project at that meeting.

It’s really up to you and top two what you think would motivate your team the best.  The key is that you actually do recognize people when they’re doing good work.   People like to hear that they are doing the right thing when they are.   So take the time to recognize that people are doing a great job.  Your team will work better, their skills will improve,
and everyone will have a better time while making your project soar.
job

Strengthening Your Team By Pushing Them (A Little)

A successful project is not just about the processes, but it is about people and how they work together to do it.  The people are more than just roles and positions.  Find their strengths and weaknesses.  Find ways to enhance their strengths and nudge them to address some of their weaknesses.

After all, you are doing great.  You have put together a mighty project full of fantastic ideas and you are ready to implement them and, just possibly, change the world.

That is half of what you need to do.  Now comes the implementation.

The team that you are managing is full of individuals who will be responsible for that implementation and the future processes and changes and derive from it. Over the time that you work with them, you are going to see how their personalities work, their strengths and weaknesses, their passions and the things that they are more ambivalent about.  You probably don’t have the authority to determine exactly how the team will be structured when the process or project is complete, but you do have a lot of influence in the beginning.  You should take the opportunity to examine these personnel issues and see what you can do to add strength and resiliency to the people, not just the process.

For instance, you may have someone who is the fantastic leader and whom you think will do a great job keeping things moving after the implementation phase.  This person may just emerge or need to be nominated. But when you see it happen, something that
you do have influence over is addressing areas where this person may not have much experience or strength. For instance they may not be a great organizer. You can help address that by making them making that person the note taker for your meetings or in charge of some phase of the project that is very detail oriented.

You might have someone who is the opposite, who is very detailed but absolutely does not want to be in a leadership role. It is highly likely that if they are involved on the project team that they will have that leadership role thrust upon them sooner or later, even if it is just in a small way. So, put them in charge of some phase of the implementation or get them to lead meetings or work with them in some ways to enhance and develop their leadership abilities of the top of their other skills.

This means extra work for you, because you’ll have to be more aware of how things are being handled. But, when you are ready to move on and assign that project to the project team, you are going to have a much stronger team.  That will correspond to a higher rate of success.  And you personally will benefit as well, from a well run project to being responsible for projects that keep working well.

How Do You Determine The Good Ideas?

I can come up with a lot of ideas.  A lot.  But, unfortunately, not all of them are good ones.  So I need a way to separate the winners from the, well, non-winners.  Here are a couple of ways to do that.

College researchers (I am sorry, I don’t have the reference to who came up with this) ran an experiment where they presented a series of logic problems to a group of people. What they found was most people missed most people answered one or more questions incorrectly. But when they grouped people into groups of three or more, they answered all the questions correctly, even if they had all previously answered the one or more of the same problems wrong wrong.

This shows the power of teams. That simple discussion in the group was the edge needed. When everyone is working together for a common goal it lead to marked increases in the ability to get the right answer, not just in logic problems, but in everything.

That is the first way to determine if ideas are good ideas. If you have nodding in agreement and discussion that further refines an idea, it is probably ready to be implemented and released to your test group.

Be alert, too.  Through this process of simple discussion, the idea may even morph into something radically different than it was when it was initially proposed, and that is great too. As long as at the end of the discussion you have a group consensus on that idea,  you can be pretty sure you have a winner.

When you have a list of ideas and are trying to figure out which to start on, a second way you can evaluate them is to just put them on some type of grid. This is commonly used in
Kaizen events and an example is shown below.

VSM Lean Value Stream intro

The grid is really easy to make.  The Y-axis denotes the ease of implementation and the X-axis denotes the anticipated benefit.  All you need to do then is to take the team’s list of ideas and plot them on the grid in relative terms of ease of implementation and projected benefit. Once you have this will give you a very nice graphical representation of your proposed ideas. It can help you to determine which ones you want to implement first and which ones will be most effective.

You may see ideas that look like they will be very effective but will take a long time or a lot of effort to implement. That doesn’t mean you ignore those ideas.  This is just a tool
to get an idea of the relative cost to benefit.  Depending on your project, you might find that this is all you need to do or you may also find that this is just a first step in organizing ideas in order to implement improvements.

The use of discussion is a great way to refine ideas. The second way is a quiet great way to rank ideas.

The third way, combining these two ways, will lead to places you can only dream of in the beginning of a project.

Ownership – Encourage It

When there is something you really want to do, did the idea usually come from yourself or somebody else?

I am talking about those super are exciting projects that you think will change the world. Or at least change your world.  If you are going to be honest with yourself, the idea most likely came from you.  Maybe you are adapting someone else’s idea, but most people tend to get a far more excited about something they have thought of themselves than by following advice from someone else.

You can use this to your advantage.

One thing that is very important is that when you are managing a project is that you want the people involved to feel like they are owners. You want them to have pride in and feel responsibility for the outcome. In short you want them to feel like it is their process or project.  The more people feel like something is theirs, the more they want to see it taken care of and handled correctly.

So here it is a key.

When you are brainstorming for ideas of how to build projects or improve processes,
try not to be the one that comes up with the solutions, but rather the person who has the leads others to the answers.  Even if you have what you think is a breakthrough idea, try
to lead the the group there. If it really is a breakthrough idea, they will probably get there on their own and because they are the experts, will probably improve upon it. Be subtle and give nudges in that direction. But don’t be hyper focus on the idea.  Allow that beautiful group dynamic to blossom.

Use leading questions.

The questions can be very simple:

  • I have already written about asking “Why?”
  • “How else would you/we do this?”
  • “Where is the weak point?”
  • “Where are we strongest?  How do we utilize that strength?”
  • “What would you do differently?”
  • “In a perfect world how would you design this?”

As the project manager, you already own the project. Whether it succeeds or fails, your name is attached and you have some responsibility, just like everyone else on the project team.   You want the team members to take that ownership.

As the team that has works through the project or the process, the more each person contributes and the more of their ideas that are implemented, the more ownership that person is going to take. They are going to be more committed and more involved.  You want all of that.

Remember, you are the project manager. At the end of this project you are likely going to move on to other initiatives leaving the other members of the team to carry forward with the results of their project.  Let them take ownership up front and then is very easy for them to keep it running when you are done. In fact, if they get to the point where they think your participation is superfluous (in a good way), you have really done your job.