In this episode of the Sensible Project Manager Podcast, the SensiblePM shares four guiding principles that help him be a successful project manager. In the SensiblePM 101 tip, he talks about the difference between work and duration.
Listen to the Podcast:
Four guiding principles to practical project management
- Understand the Project Vision
- Build Teamwork
- Effective Efficiency
- Deliver Value
- Work vs. Duration
Related Blog Post:
Read the Transcript
Now let’s talk about what a sensible project manager is. The sensible project manager is a PM that is always looking for the practical way for doing and leading a project success. There’s a lot of mechanics to project management all the way through the initiation phases of a project, the project planning phases of execution or the controlling of the project, and then the closeout. If you’re going the traditional type of project management you usually going to have to think about; the creation of a scope document, finding vendors, possibly securing a contract for those vendors, figuring out who’s actually going to be doing the work, whether it’s going to be built in-house or if it’s being done by a vendor. Then during the planning phase you’ll be creating the project plan, possibly putting together a communication matrix, getting and understanding your risks documenting those risks, documenting the roles and responsibilities for the members on the project. There’s the creation of the schedule and the estimating effort that goes into the creation of the schedule, requirement documents that have to be put together. And then during the execution you will definitely be tracking the schedule to understand whether you’re on time or on schedule. You’re also going to have lots of communication that happens during that reporting status. Tracking your risk and mitigating those risks, working through issues that come up during the course of the project, you possibly might have to do some vendor management. Certainly going to do something with quality assurance, making sure that what you’re producing is of good quality. There’s going to some change management portions of a project, and then ultimately you have to deliver milestones and the ultimate delivery of the solution or whatever it is that you’re delivering. There’s a lot of different components of that and of course at the end of a project you can figure out how to close that out, go through possibly some lesson learned and really putting things back into what it was like before the project and or the beginning the support activities that will happen on the project.
Now those are some of the mechanics of project management that really is something that we will be talking about later in later in further podcasts or blogs because all of those are very important. Again we will talk about four principles that I believe help any project manager be a sensible or very practical at their approach with project management. The first principle I want to talk about is, understanding the project vision. Now in any project there is a vision that the executives or the sponsor has on what the outcome would be like and of the goals associated to that project. What is the vision? What is it going to look like? How’s it going to be delivered? That should be very clear and if it isn’t clear then you have a problem. So is it is very important that you understand the project vision, the sensible project manager needs to understand what that project is all about and understand that project vision. You need to have that written down clearly described and that you as a project manager understands that. It should include what is in scope, what is excluded from scope and what they value that is going to be delivered to the customer or the business of the project when it’s completed. I believe that if you do not understand as a project manager what that vision of the project is and the value that is driving the completion of the project, then you as a project manager are not going to be successful. You need to be able to understand.
Let me give an example, imagine if you’re a runner and you’re about ready to start a race, but you don’t know what kind of a race it is. If you don’t know if you’re running a hundred yard dash or a marathon, then how are you going to understanding how you’re going to run that race. You don’t know if you’re going to be running as fast as you can right from the start or if you’re going to be pacing yourself to get through than the marathon. Understanding the vision of what or the purpose of the race as a runner will help you accomplish your goal and understand how you can approach that race as a runner. Now another great example, if I’m building a house. I just completed over the last couple years building a house of my own and so this kind of his home for me. If you don’t understand what that house will look like; you have to get the vision of how many rooms you might have, how many bathrooms that you might need, whether you have a garage or carport, what the size is going to be, understand really what your building or are you’d be building a skyscraper. What is the vision that you have for the completion of the building? In my case we built a nice family home and I have a fairly large family and so we need to make sure that we had a vision of how many bedrooms we need to have at our house we spoke with the kids and got them and all involved in the building of a house. They can understand and have input of what they wanted, so by the time we started the building of the house we had a vision of what we wanted. Not that as we went along there wasn’t changes, as to any project we at least had to get a vision of the house otherwise we would not understand and be able to produce the kind of house we wanted to have. The same thing as with any project you have to be able to understand what that vision is. I had an example of a project that didn’t go quite so well as a project manager a few years ago. This particular project was to fulfill the need of travel software, I worked for a company that we traveled people all over the world and the tools the business used to manage that travel was frankly very out-of-date. In fact for the most part done with spreadsheets and there was very clear that there was a need. Now as we began we embarked about this project it became clear to me that although it was very clear that there was a need, there wasn’t a clear vision for the project. In this project all the leaders understood that there was a requirement for it to build and to be able to grow the business. As I begin to look at the project I didn’t see a cohesive approach from the executives as to what they were really looking at, and what the vision of what this would look like. Was the solution something that was could be built in house, was it going to be a solution which we would purchase and then customize, would it be an industry tool that we could implement. That vision was never really clear and therefore what happened during the project is over about a year’s time period we actually bounced around from solutions to solution and we never really landed a good solution because we couldn’t get the executives, the sponsors of the project, to agree on what was necessary. What the vision of the project was and ultimately in my opinion the project failed. We actually got to the point where I as a project manager suggested we weren’t making good progress on this, we were just wasted money and I recommended a stop on the project, which we did.
Now, what you do as a sensible project manager if there is such a project. First of all when you get to a project, and the very first thing I do as a sensible project manager, I will look in and start asking questions like what is the vision for the project, and understand if that project has documented vision and goals, and if it doesn’t take the time to document those goals and that vision of the project. Then go around to the sponsors of the project, the executive and management team and get them to agree to that written vision is and get a sign off. Be very clear on what that vision is and the value that is going be delivered with the completion of that vision and the project. That’s just critical absolutely critical, if you do not get a very clear vision defined and you can’t get agreement for that vision and what the goals are associated to the project, then I would recommend as a project manager to have the project stop because that project will not be successful. Now that the vision is clearly documented and it’s well understood and everybody’s agreed, make sure that the team that you will be leading understands that vision and understands that goal and the value that is being delivered, absolutely critical, then continually foster enthusiasm for that vision. So number one, make sure that there is a clear written agreed to project vision.
The next guiding principle is teamwork. Teamwork in my opinion is a very important part of the project as a very practical and sensible approach to project management. If you do not have a good team good cohesive team then you will not be very successful in the in the delivering the solution. Andrew Carnegie once said that, “teamwork is the ability to work together towards a common vision the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives it is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Now let me repeat that, “it is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” I completely believe that that is true, that as a team works together you have a group of common people that are working together. I’ve been on teams where I had very bright people of and I’ve had teams that were just so-so but together as they work together as a team, those teams that worked together always delivered uncommon results, meaning that they delivered great things in the project. Never have I ever been able to be work on a project where I didn’t have a team, notice that, you as a sensible project manager will always have a team to deliver a project. I’ve never heard of a project of one, if that would be the case I wouldn’t want it anyway it would be terribly boring. Now as the project manager it is very important for you to understand individual strengths and use those strengths to build a unified team. I’ve always believed that I feel like I’m a fairly smart guy, but I think most of us probably do. But I do know and recognize that I have a fair amount of strengths myself, but I also know what I’m not so good at. I know that if I can get the group of people together that have different skills I can get them to work together in a way that they will be able to use their individual strengths and produce great things. Now for instance lets take an example of the sports team again, I love sports, and if I look at the different teams whether it be football, basketball, soccer or baseball. If you look at those teams that are successful for the most part it’s usually not the types of teams that have the big stars that are playing on an individual basis. The teams that win the super bowl and win the World Series, they are the teams that work together as a team and they might have a couple big stars, but when they really are successful it is when they work together as a team and they don’t have to be the big stars. If they work together as a team, the ones that win the super bowl and they’re the ones that win the World Series, those teams are the ones that are fun to watch because they’re working like clockwork. The ones that I love to watch, and I think it’s great to watch an individual do great things, but unless that superstar is working with the team passing the ball when they need to it is a very boring game. And it is and never or hardly ever the type of the team that will win the big games. Now relate that to our project management if you get a team of people to work together then as a team using their strengths then they will be able to deliver great things.
What can a project manager to do to build a strong team? One of the first things I think you could use as a project manager is you should be a servant to your team. You should serve them with as much gusto as you can. Do those things that will allow them to do their job. For the most part as a project manager you do not have tasks on a project schedule, your job is to make sure the given tasks are done and so what you need to do is; to be removing blocks or blocking points for your team members, resolve conflicts as they arise, give the team credit for their success. I’m a firm believer that I want to give the team the credit for the successes and deflect any failures that might happen. In other words if a failure happens in the project I’m going to take the responsibility for the failure, whether I did the thing that caused the failure directly or not it is still my responsibility as a project manager to take on ownership of the success of the team. If you do that, if you give credit to the team and accept responsibility for those things that don’t go so well you’re then protecting the team and the team begins to understand and trust you as a leader. And that is very important that the team trusts you, fight for them and defend them in every possible way. Make sure that your communications are transparent and very open with your team members and as you begin to build trust with your team they will then begin working for you as the leader of the team in ways never seen before. And finally I think one of the most important things that you can do is a as the project manager is to give ownership to the team for the solution. Now remember we talked about the vision and understanding the vision for the project, it is very important for the team to understand the vision and the goals of the project. Every team that I’ve ever had that understood and felt ownership in the solution was successful. If there was a team that wasn’t successful it was those teams that didn’t feel like that they had ownership in delivering the solution and or they didn’t believe in the value that was being delivered. So you as a sensible project manager need to be able to understand and help the team understand the value of the project and have ownership delivering that. There was a French writer and an pioneer aviator, now I’m sorry if I butcher this name “Antoine de Saint Exupéry“ once said, “if you want to build a ship don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks in work that rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Now in that statement I’m a firm believer that that is the key to a successful project team. If you help them understand the value that is being delivered, if they understand and gain a love for what they’re doing and take ownership of that your team will deliver a wonderful solution and they will have uncommon results.
Now let’s talk about what I call effective efficiency. This is the next value that drives me as a sensible project manager, I hate wasting time and I especially hate wasting other people’s time. Now frankly there are many depending on the project environment that you’re in or the organization that the project is being run for, some places are very efficient and very effective on the way that projects are managed. Others that I’ve been in provided such a large overhead to a project that it becomes cumbersome to have project run and it is really important in my mind that you’re always looking for effective efficiency. I am a firm believer in processes and I believe the processes will help us help a project team to work more efficiently. But what happens is if you do not have a clear understanding of what is only essential in any project that sometimes there can be so many processes put on a team or requirements put on a team that things grind to a halt. The sensible project manager will always look for ways to increase efficiencies for the team members while being effective in meeting the goals of the project. And here’s a few ways the project manager can help increase efficiency on a project. Project plans; when you’re building the project plan work with the team to identify those tasks that are necessary to complete the project; don’t include tasks that are unnecessary. Now quite often you’ll have to work with the team members to help understand what those things are and drive out those tasks that are unnecessary. Make sure that they are not included in the plan all you have to do on a project is complete the necessary tasks the rest of it is fluff and that fluff introduces additional inefficiencies. Communications; when you are communicating with the team members and outside of the team members make sure that communication is clear. Have a clear communication plan, I find a good responsibility matrix or RACI matrix goes a long way. Reporting is a big thing for me I think reporting to management and to all the stakeholders actually is very important. It is important to be able to be very clear while you’re putting together reports, and I am very big on putting together reports that are going to do a couple of things; you want to deliver statuses in the progress you’re making at the level of information that each of the stakeholders need to have, executives need to have a different kind of level of information than the team members. There are just different levels of information however that doesn’t mean you have to have three, four or five different kinds of reports. I believe that one or maybe two reports can be very effective if you provide the kind of information is needed. For instance a single report could include that type of summary information than an executive might need to have and then also included later on in the report more details of what exactly is happening the issues that are coming up that can be included for those that need to have greater detail. Again be efficient and effective in your reporting needs.
When you’re holding meetings it can be a very effective tool as a project manager or can be a big waste of time as well. A couple items that I think are very important when you’re holding your meetings, only call a meeting if the meeting is needed. When you call a meeting have a prepared agenda you need to be able to have an agenda posted ahead of time so that the team members or the people that are going to be in those meetings understand what the goal of the meeting is and what you’re going to be doing during the meeting. If you do that, meetings can be succinct and you will be able to accomplish the goal of the meeting. A very important thing is meetings should be attended by all that is necessary to be there, but only include people that are necessary to be there. Promptness to meetings is very important. I actually worked at a place recently where everybody showed up to meetings five to ten minutes late, just drove me nuts. I’m not the most prompt person in the world, but I do believe that promptness to meeting is important because if you’re not there on time you’re wasting people’s time. I also worked at a place where that promptness was so important that the executives actually suggested and actually ran meanings such that if you were late it would cost you money. They had a late jar that was placed the entrance of the room and if you walked in late to the meeting you would have put money into the late jar as a penalty for being late. I’m not sure we want to do that in all cases, but make sure the team members and those that you’re holding meetings with understand promptness to meetings is important. Often you can have rather than a full-fledged meeting i found very effective to have standup meetings. Agile does this quite well scrum meetings those are very short five ten fifteen minutes at the most where quick discussion about what’s happening for the day, what got accomplish yesterday and what issues are there and then details of the issues can be resolved outside the meetings, quite effective as a standup meetings. Now as a sensible project manager it is always important to look for ways to improve efficiencies remember look for effective efficiency in all of your processes if you see processes that are in the project that needs to be removed go through the actions get them take care of. If there’s processes that need be added go for it take care of the things that get rid of the inefficiencies of the project and always drive for effective efficiencies.
The final principle that it is important as a sensible project manager and that is ultimately the reason why we do the project is to deliver value to the customer. The way I look at the value of a project it is the benefit that is delivered to the customer. In project management we talk about the three very important components of projects that is the scope, the schedule and the cost. You may also hear about the quality, I believe the value is directly related to those three or four components. Let me give you an example of that value if I have a project that is the same as the delivering a new date database to track leads for the sales team of the company. That database needs to be delivered at a certain time within a certain budget and with a certain amount of functionality. If the project team is late in delivering functionality to the sales team as promised they might miss a whole sales cycle which would diminish the value to the customer. If you deliver on time but the cost is so high for the delivery of that, it diminishes the value once again. Also if you deliver something that doesn’t include all the functionality then you also have diminished the value. If the quality is not good and the customer can’t use it then the sales team won’t see the value of that. Again, this is just example that the value that is delivered in a project is so important. Ultimately the sensible project manager, I believe is responsible for delivering the project on scope on schedule within the budget that is allotted with high-quality and together all of those things defined the value of the project or the value to the customer.
So let’s review the four principles that a sensible project manager will use to guide them through projects. The first thing is to remember to understand what the project vision is and make sure that there’s agreement across the board as to what that vision is. Work with your team to build up teamwork and help them to understand what that project vision is so that they will deliver and take ownership on the project. Next we have effective efficiency, run your projects with the effective efficiency. Always look for new ways to make it more effective and more efficient in your execution of the project. And finally you have to deliver value to the customer. Deliver that value and you will be successful as a project team.
Now that you understand these four principles I would like you to take a look at your projects that you are running now and evaluate whether you are being a sensible project manager or not. And please provide feedback as to how you feel if this is helping you in your endeavors as a project manager to become a sensible project manager. Please visit me at www.sensiblepm.com and remember the sensible project manager is always looking for a practical way to lead a project success.