I said we’d never resort to television while Jack is still under 2, it’s not good for his development, language learning, he’s too young, blah blah blah. But we’ve soon found out that the gap between the end of his nap around 4pm and tea at 5.30pm is awful.

So hello, Mr Tumble. You are the saviour of my afternoons. You have the power to stop tantrums and make my son sit (sit!!!) for 15 minutes. I think I love you a little bit.

Mr Tumble is a character on the programme Something Special, which uses Makaton signing to help with language learning and expression. If you talk about Mr Tumble, Jack runs to find the remote control and points it at the TV, or does the sign for ‘bag’ (as Mr Tumble has a spotty bag). So we try to avoid talking about him too much if we don’t plan on watching one of 40 or so episodes we have recorded.

And what is Mr Tumble’s approach to project management? Well, if Mr Tumble was a project manager he’d be pretty good at it. Because…

He repeats everything

“Don’t forget the magic,” says the child’s voice.

“The magic?” says Mr Tumble.

“To send the spotty bag to Justin and his friends.”

“Ah, the magic. Will you help me?”

And then the magic rhyme: “Take your finger and touch your nose, blink three times and off it goes.” Jack lacks the dexterity to connect with his nose every time but sometimes we get a good touch and then a waggle as off it goes.

This is repeated in every episode, along with lots of other catchphrases, a hello song, a goodbye song, a… you get the picture. Repetition helps you remember the words and the signs and recall them more easily later in a different context – in the bank today a teller said she needed to find a bag for some coins and Jack shouted and signed “Bag!” I think Jack’s life would be complete if he had his own spotty bag.

Project communications often need to be repeated several times in different ways so that the message gets through. Risk management should also be repeated regularly throughout the project – too often we do risk identification and then forget about the process to identify new risks. Repetition is good!

He makes it fun

Mr Tumble’s tales are little stories of him and his friends from Tumble Town. It’s slapstick comedy but it’s funny. One of his other catchphrases is, “We’re all friends.”

Projects are better if the team gets on well and the work is fun. OK, you won’t get many laughs pouring a watering can on your head in the office but you can do your best to consider team morale when planning activities and try to factor in some fun. You don’t have to be best friends with your colleagues but treating them with respect and professionalism (even those you don’t like very much) will go a long way to making the project a pleasant place to be.

He’s inclusive

Mr Tumble’s alter ego, Justin Fletcher, appears in the show as well doing everyday activities with children and their carers or parents. Many of the children have special needs and the show is very inclusive. They’ve visited a temple, gone down a zip wire, done a circus skills workshop and visited a lifeboat station as well as things like going to the post office, on a train, and to the park.

There’s also something in it for adults. While I can’t sit through many episodes of In The Night Garden, my capacity for Mr Tumble is (at the moment) limitless, because I’m learning to sign too. Just because something is aimed at pre-schoolers and children with special educational needs doesn’t mean it has to be patronising or low quality.

Project communication is the same: making it basic and clear so that everyone can understand it means it is effective, as long as you avoid being patronising. As a project manager you have to work effectively with people at all levels of the workplace hierarchy and of all abilities.

He follows steps to make it safe

On the zip wire: an expert went down with the children. On the trapeze: adequate airtime given to the need for a harness. Life jackets for canoeing, helmets for horseriding, adult helpers and so on. Justin makes it safe, following the process to get a quality experience for everyone.

Project management processes won’t always guarantee you a quality result but you will have a better chance of achieving safe project success if you are careful and follow a process. Take your time and do it right.

Finally, project management takes a little bit of special sauce to get right, so don’t forget the magic! Project managers are extraordinary people. We get things done that other people can’t and often work in challenging situations. It’s not really magic but sometimes it looks like that, and if that’s what people want to believe then I’m not going to stop them!

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Oana Krogh-Nielsen

Oana Krogh-Nielsen

Oana Krogh-Nielsen, Head of PMO for the National Electrification Program at Banedanmark, is speaking at Nordic Project Zone next week and I was lucky enough to catch up with her to ask about the amazing projects she is working on. Here’s what she had to say.

Hello Oana! Let’s get started: can you explain your job?

I lead the Program Management Office within the Electrification Programme (EP) of Banedanmark. In November 2012, the Danish Electrification Programme was established as a part of a major investment in modernization of the Danish railways, and has the scope to carry out the electrification of major parts of Banedanmark’s network throughout the next 10-15 years.

The EP PMO is a multidisciplinary, multicultural organization, comprising of over 50 staff from various backgrounds within traditional program management such as planning, quality, financial, risk, management, etc as well as rail specific disciplines, supporting the execution of the EP projects. The EP PMO is also responsible for in the realization of the main electrification contract, currently in tender.

Wow, that’s a big program. What’s the biggest challenge at the moment?

The EP PMO drives the tender for the electrification, which is a multi-billion contract which we expect to be awarded in 2015. The Electrification Programme intends to adopt the most recent and best technologies from comparable projects across Europe. The tendering process is a major project in itself, including management of the deliveries and alignment of more than 80 employees and consultants, across different organizations and cultures.

The program has a large number of internal and external stakeholders, inclusive of other interfacing programs, rail operators, rail authorities, safety authorities, the ministry of transport as well as the broad public and media. The daily management of the PMO organization in clear alignment with its stakeholders, whilst also driving the tender project towards a choosing the right supplier is my biggest challenge at this moment.

It must be a careful job to manage that mix of stakeholders with the scrutiny on your work. How have you built trust with your stakeholder community?

In Banedanmark we strive to perform meaningful work for the benefit of society and are firm believers that common understanding and cooperation are key to success for our organisation. Engaging and managing our powerful stakeholders is vital. We operate thus according to the Banedanmark leadership foundation, a framework available for all our leaders to help create a strong and flexible performance culture based on a constructive and dynamic cooperation between employees, leaders, stakeholders, partners and the political system.

Understanding each others’ drivers, challenges and success criteria is essential. We also use powerful vision statements to share with our stakeholders. Our programs and projects operate using established governance frameworks, within which we define a common understanding of our goals, deliveries and plans. We’re driven by a set of strong values contributing to ensuring a good and constructive climate.

Focus on the human factor and behavioural aspects as much as you focus on schedules and deliveries.

Oana Krogh-Nielsen

I can see that approach would help lots of projects, not just major efforts like yours. And it involves a lot of communication: talking about success criteria, the vision and so on. What advice would you give a project manager about communicating on projects?

Identify and then address the needs of the project members, whilst bridging between many people, and assignments ongoing within the company. I have a large span in my daily work. Unpredictability and great independence in task performance characterize my workday. In addition to the focus on results and performance, it is important that I establish a framework that brings clarity and meaning in which the employees’ resources, potentials and involvement can be brought into play.

Another important focus in communication is to support and motivate employees and within the different layers in of the company to share knowledge and perform together.

Great, thanks. Part of successful communication is making sure you know to get your message across in a way your team will respond to. How do you identify what communication styles your team prefers?

In my experience, communication styles are interconnected to the different organizational cultures. Each employee assignment supports the objectives set for the company, and we must be able to set clear framework to ensure high quality performance whilst providing the basis for the well-being and motivation of our employees.

In Banedanmark we believe that the ability to communicate appreciatively is one of the cornerstones of good governance. The understanding of, and respect for us as people experiencing and understanding the world differently is a basic condition, that we take seriously within the company. Therefore we coach and are coached in perception and appreciative communication.

Coaching is definitely something that project leaders need to do. What other leadership advice do you have for project managers?

Leadership deals with people, management deals with processes and systems. You should therefore strive to take the holistic approach to your project management job. Focus on the human factor and behavioural aspects as much as you focus on schedules and deliveries. Be open and willing to learn and seek feedback from your organization on your own performance. Network with others, seek out leadership development programs and allow new knowledge to influence you.  Most importantly, adjust your leadership style to fit the cultural aspects in your organization. Continually measure the climate in your team and address the issues that arise as priority tasks.

Thanks, Oana!

1 brilliant comment, add yours

money boat txtWhile most of the projects that we read about in the press have huge budgets, there are a lot of projects at the other end of the scale. The majority of small projects are run without a specific budget, around the edges of a manager’s day job. Any costs have to come out of the business-as-usual provision which means there is no allocated project budget.

Another scenario where you may not end up with your hands on the cash to manage your project is when you are assigned the work, but the budget is still held by the business department – most likely because there is no set amount to spend and again it has to come from business-as-usual spending.

Projects with no specific financial amount attached to them are normally expected to be delivered using just the resources available as part of a day job. That basically means drawing on the people around you to do whatever it is that needs to be done. Having a project with no budget takes away some of the financial headaches but doesn’t mean you are in for an easy ride. You will still have deadlines to meet and requirements to deliver. And, in some respects, no-budget projects are harder to deliver as you cannot throw money at a problem to make it go away nor will your team have access to overtime payments if things start to slip.

So when your project has no budget – or at least not one you have authority to spend – how can you keep the costs on track?

Talk to your project sponsor

If your sponsor or manager hands you a project and then says, ‘There’s no money available to do this,’ count to ten and try to avoid spitting out, ‘You must be joking!’ Ask them how they expect it to be achieved. An executive who is serious about a project will already have thought about what they consider to be a reasonable investment for a successful delivery. Take them through the following questions and start to work out where your boundaries are, particularly in relation to the people you have access to and the amount of time you and they can be expected to spend working on the project.

  • Am I full-time on this project? If not, what percentage of my time do you expect me to spend on this?
  • Do I have any full-time resources? If not, what percentage of their time do you expect them to spend on this project?
  • For any resources not under your control, has their manager agreed that they will be working on this project?
  • Can any costs come out of the business-as-usual budget?
  • To what limit?
  • Who will authorise this?
  • If the business-as-usual budget is not available, how do you want me to deal with unforeseen actual expenditure?
  • At what point does the project become unfeasible?
  • When does the resource investment become too much for your intended deliverables?

Set boundaries

Once you have a clear idea of where your sponsor believes your boundaries are in terms of consumable resources, both business-as-usual budget expenditure and time, you can begin to work on the project within those constraints.

Make sure any assumptions or constraints are written in your project initiation document. Not sure what to include? Here are some examples:

  • the business-as-usual sales budget will cover the cost of reprinting a new edition of our catalogue;
  • the schedule has been produced assuming that no overtime is available;
  • all resources will be available as necessary;
  • the system changes can be achieved using the maintenance budget.

Tackle problems early

When you are not ‘buying’ your resources formally, and they work for someone else, there is a risk that their own day job will take priority over the project. Despite good intentions, there will be times when staff shortages, increased workloads or other short-term crises drive your team back to their normal activity. If you can, schedule contingency time to keep your resource planning flexible and always include an item in your risk log about the possibility of resources being pulled off the project. As a minimum, each time you review the log it will prompt you to look at the current situation and see if you need to take any action.

If at any time the project looks like it will have to spend real, tangible money and you don’t know where it will come from, raise this immediately with your sponsor as an urgent issue.

Overall, what you need to remember is that even if there is no specific budget is available for the project, you can clarify what your project sponsor considers to be a reasonable ‘investment’ in terms of time and once you know what they are thinking, you can manage your project work within those documented constraints. Good luck!


This is an edited extract from my book, Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World which is also available on Amazon.com.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham

This is a guest post by Bruce Harpham.

In the project management world, people come and go. In a matter of a few weeks, you can become close with your project team. In some cases, you may see more of your project team than your family on particularly demanding projects.

But what happens when the project is over? Do you see those people any longer? If you are a project consultant, it could be months or years before you run into those people again. Relationships are like a garden – they blossom with care and attention and die when neglected. It’s up to you to maintain your professional network.

4 Reasons to maintain your project network

It is a cliché to observe that modern life is very busy. Here are four reasons why you need to take the time to maintain your professional network. Any one of these reasons ought to be enough on its own. Added up together, you simply have no excuse for ignoring the care and feeding of your professional relationships.

  1. Contribution. A network gives you the opportunity to help your friends and colleagues when they face difficulties. A 2013 University of Exeter study found that volunteers tend to live longer than non-volunteers.
  1. New Information. Some of the best project management tips and skills can only be found through your network. Your network can also provide you with valuable skills.
  1. Job Security. Did you lose your job? Did your project management contract end? You can also ask your network for employment opportunities (assuming you have contributed to your network first). According to Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers by Mark Granovetter, over 50% of jobs are located through personal contacts.
  1. Leadership. Serving as a leader is one of the most rewarding activities I’ve ever pursued. Whether you are seeking political office, gathering donations for a favorite charity or pursing another goal, your network can support your goals.

Building your profession-based network

My Golden Rule of networking: find a way to contribute first.
Bruce Harpham

How many project professionals do you know outside of your organization? That is a key measure of the strength of your network. Here are five ideas to start building your professional network. Remember: look for ways to add value before you seek favours. That’s my Golden Rule of networking: find a way to contribute first.

If you don’t know where to start, here are five ways you can contribute to the project management profession.

  1. Visit your local PMI Chapter. In my region, there are regular presentations you attend (and earn PDUs). You may find volunteer opportunities to speak, organize an event or work on a website.
  1. Ask colleagues. Ask your colleagues to introduce you to project managers at other firms because you’re interested in growing your network.
  1. Attend a project management conference. In the UK, you can attend the APM Conference. (Hint: read Elizabeth’s article on how to attend a conference to get ready.)
  1. Contact project management authors. When you read an interesting article about project management in the press (or a project management publication), send them an email to thank them for their article (or ask a question).
  1. Enroll in a course. One of my favourite reasons to take courses in person is meeting classmates (and chatting with the instructor). Don’t limit yourself to traditional project management courses either. Consider taking a technical course to strength your Microsoft Excel and Access skills.

Serving Your Community Network

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

-Margaret Mead, American anthropologist

Diversity is an important aspect of a strong network. When you mix with solicitors, activists, accountants and other people, you hear new perspectives and ideas. In addition to new information and opportunities, serving your community is one way to make the world a better place. It can be difficult to know where to start networking in the community. Consider these three options and choose one to focus your energy on at a time.

  1. Education and Teaching. My passion is higher education so I am active in my university’s alumni association. Look for opportunities to support students, serve as a guest speaker at a college or teach literacy skills at your public library.
  1. Business Associations. Many cities have chambers of commerce and business clubs where people from many industries gather to meet. You can apply your project management skills to help the organization with an event or improve their technology.
  1. Participate In A Charitable Fundraiser. Does your city have runs to raise funds for cancer research or other causes? That’s a great opportunity to make a contribution and meet people who care about the world.

You already know that networking is important. It’s time to put these ideas into action! Get out of the office and start meeting people.

About the author: Bruce Harpham is the author of Project Management Hacks, a resource dedicated to improving personal productivity. Bruce’s project management experience includes implementing cost reduction projects at a major Canadian bank. Bruce is a bibliophile, world traveler and science fiction enthusiast.

5 brilliant comments, add yours

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