Summer of books 2014“Too often, potentially great projects are dismissed by management, investors, and regulators simply because those decision makers can’t understand their value”, writes Frank J. Pietrucha in his book, Supercommunicator. “Opportunities can be missed and bad things can happen when content originators don’t explain their subjects in easy-to-understand language.”
If you have recently put together a business case or project initiation documentation, then you’ll know how important it is to set out the benefits of what you are doing. Getting the information across to those who need to know in a way they can understand it is the main challenge of project communications.

Pietrucha writes: “The digital age is about information. Finding new ways to obtain, analyse, and share data is essential. Providing information to audiences clearly is the essence if what we do as communicators, but shouldn’t we aim higher? Our mandate should be to strive not just to deliver information but also to bring meaning to our audiences through thoughtful explanation.”

Data alone isn’t enough

supercommunicatorProject reports often focus on numbers, statistics and the graphical representation of results. Pietrucha says that we often worry so much about data that we forget to explain why those facts and figures are important. Setting data in context and making it accessible is important if you want people to get the message.

He talks about different types of multimedia and digital communication tools like infographics and video as options for displaying data in meaningful ways. He doesn’t recommend a particular approach, instead saying that you should choose what works for your audience. Of course, you need to know how to work with data before you can present it to others.

Communication guidelines

Part 5 of the book focuses on guidelines for effective communication. One of those is to be culturally aware. For example, there’s no point in me telling you that the title of this book makes me think of the Supercomputer running segment in Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Unless you happen to watch the show, which pretty much limits it to UK audiences, it won’t mean anything to you. So, Pietrucha says, don’t use references that your audience won’t understand or you risk alienating them.

The other guideline I found good was about keeping it simple. However, as Pietrucha says, there is such a thing as too simple. “Don’t oversimplify when your audience needs substantial content,” he says. Don’t assume they can’t learn.

In summary, his guidelines are:

  • Simplicity
  • Clarity
  • Relevance to audience
  • Build: start with one idea then add others to allow the audience time to take on new concepts
  • Make it real: use analogies, stories, testimonials and case studies. The book uses a lot of these to illustrate various points (including this one). In fact, this is covered in a lot of detail. He suggests you test your analogies on friends first to make sure you are not introducing ideas that have too many interpretations as this leads to misunderstandings.

“If you can see data, instead of just hear or read about it, naturally you’re going to understand a topic faster and more effectively.”

Getting the message across

“People pay attention when they comprehend there’s something in it for them,” Pietrucha writes. “Do your job and help them get to the ‘aha’ point of realisation.” There’s a lot in the book about communicating effectively including the advice that you should lead with the conclusion.

Pietrucha writes about making difficult subjects accessible by presenting them in a practical, visual way including using:

  • Illustrations
  • Zooms
  • Diagrams
  • Simulations and games
  • Physical models

“If you can see data, instead of just hear or read about it, naturally you’re going to understand a topic faster and more effectively,” he says.

He takes it further than your typical presentation advice. People don’t only learn visually and through hearing information but through experiencing it, he says. As a result, participatory learning is gaining traction. How could you do this on your project? Think about where you could introduce ways of involving users in training and learning.

I thought that the book ended abruptly. I also thought it could be shorter as it does seem to cover the same points several times in different chapters. But overall it has some good advice that can be applied to project communications.

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“The explosion of mobile and social technologies means that we have to live as if our mother, boss, coach and enemies are watching us…because they are,” writes Erik Qualman in his book, What Happens in Vegas Stays On YouTube.

Summer of books 2014The book is basically 36 rules for better social interaction and for making the right choices about your digital legacy. It’s a two-pronged approach: first, don’t post anything stupid on social media sites. Second, the book recommends that we all live better lives, as if our mothers are watching (Rule 2). The point of that is that if don’t do anything cringe-worthy, nobody can post embarrassing photos of you. Qualman argues that if you don’t post images of what you did at that drunken party, someone else will. (Or you could just get yourself a better class of trusted friend.) So don’t do anything stupid, online or offline.

Most of the short sections include one or more ‘learning moments’. These are little stories of how social media has caught out people and companies, causing problems. For example, after the Toronto riots police used social sites to share photos of rioters to help catch them. Although it isn’t mentioned in the book, after the London riots police did the same here to identify looters. Then there’s a short takeaway lesson.

Lessons in common sense

Some of the lessons are obvious, like think before you tweet and don’t criticise others online. “If you have to think for more than 3 seconds about whether something is appropriate – it’s not,” Qualman writes. “Our tone in digital messages is misinterpreted 50% of the time.”
What happens in Vegas
Some of the lessons are more thought-provoking, for example, it’s not a question of whether we will make a reputation-damaging mistake but how we handle it. “Often it’s not the crime, but the cover up that gets us in to trouble,” he says.

Other advice he offers includes don’t multi-task as you are more likely to post something you’ll regret when you are distracted. The book includes several examples of people who posted stuff on their corporate Twitter account when they meant to do so on their personal accounts. Unsurprisingly, their companies weren’t that impressed when their personal opinions were presented as company views.

This also goes for comments that are published under personal accounts, but where the individual concerned is so linked to a company, team or other group that they can’t get away with expressing that as an opinion without it reflecting on their colleagues. “Know your professional position and understand that while your friends may post something on a particular topic, you may not have this same luxury based on your job, position, team or company,” he advises.

Be Flawsome

“Admit and own your flaws either as an organization or as an individual and the world will think you are awesome,” Qualman writes. “Flawsome is described as owning your mistakes and taking the necessary steps to correct them.” This, he says, it mainly around being authentic, but he also shows through the stories that you can gain customer loyalty by putting things right.

Section 2 of the book is focused on lessons learned and is basically more stories. It includes one about Chrysler which also appears earlier in the book, so that might be an error. The book is so short that you wouldn’t need to dip and out of it, although as it is not organised to present a structured narrative, you could do that if you wanted.

Section 3 is a list of resources and tips, like digital reputation management tools (Klout, Google Alerts etc), tips for protecting yourself against identity theft and tips for looking good on video (not sure how this ties in with the rest of the book). Finally, the book ends with lots of people’s Twitter ‘digital stamp’ (i.e. motto for what they see themselves as doing online and how they want to be remembered). I found this whole section a bit pointless, especially the pages of mottos from people I don’t know.

Do you need this book?

You don’t have to read a book to find out the stupid things people do online. A quick Google search for people who have lost their jobs because of what they shared on social sites is very enlightening. Then there are sites that catalogue the stupid things people share, like Failbook. The book is mainly a collection of social media stories, so if you are worried about your children or junior colleagues and the way they use social sites without regard for potential consequences, it could be something to buy for them. If you feel that you have no knowledge of what could go wrong from having your own Twitter account and have never considered how your use of social networks could affect your career prospects, then by all means read it. But my view is that if you have a mature, professional approach to what you post online, then the stories will make you realise there are plenty of people in the world who don’t think before they act, and that’s about it.

I think it’s a shame, as Qualman’s other books sound excellent and would be well worth a read. This one doesn’t have much substance and although it is a quick read, it didn’t give me any new insights to managing my digital reputation.

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Teri Okoro

Teri Okoro

Next month sees the APM’s Women in Project Management group holding the 2014 National Conference & 21st Anniversary of Women in Project Management in London. I spoke to Teri Okoro, Chair of the special interest group and part of the team behind the anniversary preparations.

Teri, what’s on the agenda for the WiPM SIG now you’ve hit 21 years? And what celebrations are planned to celebrate 21 years?

WiPM have taken time to reflect on past achievement as well as plan for the future. We’ve redefined our mission with four key elements:

  • developing a powerful profile
  • promoting a barrier free culture
  • engaging with and responding to project professionals
  • building a collaborative community.

We are just concluding our second survey which has highlighted key issues and concern for our project managers today which they want the WiPM to address. We will start to profile female project managers on our web pages shortly. A support group for those applying to step up to RPP and FAPM is planned.

WiPM have branded 21st anniversary events around the country. We are very excited about the 2014 National Conference & 21st Anniversaryscheduled on 25th September 2014 in London with Baroness Susan Greenfield and Dame Stephanie Shirley as keynote speakers in the afternoon and a separate evening event with Vanessa Vallely and the Funny Women. Further information can be found, and bookings can be made, online here: 2014 National Conference & 21st Anniversary of Women in Project Management.

21 years is a long time! What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the project management arena since you started managing projects?

Technology is one key area of change in both our role as project and programme managers and in the way we communicate and operate as a SIG. Teams are able to communicate and share information faster as well as liaise over great distances. This is assisting with the complexity of projects but has also highlighted the critical contribution of people in delivering projects.

Women-sig-logo 2So what do you think the prognosis is for women in project management over the next 5 years?

It is mixed. Our 2014 survey showed more women – 70% actually – had been in the industry for less than ten years, and if this trend continues then the overall numbers will continue to increase. However the survey also highlighted concerns over career progression and maintaining a work life balance. More women were interested in exploring freelance and consultant options than in our previous survey. There was also a desire for best practice to be shared including work place practices.

While I am optimistic about greater numbers of women in project management, I am concerned that if this talent pool is not adequately nurtured and managed, it could impact adversely on job satisfaction and retention. Companies with progressive workplace practices will continue to attract and retain women PMs.

What advice would you give a woman wanting a career in project management?

It’s challenging and can be quite fulfilling. It is well suited to women and utilizes skills that they have developed in everyday life. The huge range of sectors is also a plus. Planning for career progression is however as important as successfully delivering on projects and programmes. Let others be aware of your successes, be willing to take risks and learn from situations that do not turn out as planned. A sponsor is not optional as their support is key over time regardless of your own network. Finally, choose your employer carefully to maintain a good work life balance.

Women in project management also should be mindful that what gets them into a particular role will not necessarily move them on to the next stage. They have to be reflective and aware of the often unwritten rules of the workplace.

Finally, I’ve heard about the Inspire project. What’s it all about and how can we get involved?

The Inspiring the Future: Inspiring Women project is an external initiative which encourages young girls to aspire to careers they would not ordinarily have considered. They are looking to get 15,000 volunteers and are more than halfway there. WiPM is championing this initiative during our anniversary year, encouraging project managers both male and female to sign up. The time commitment is just one hour a year to visit a school close to your home or workplace and promote project management as a career choice.

APM overall is also supporting Inspiring the Future campaign and monitoring the number of project managers signing up. WiPM are commissioning a video for use in schools by both project managers and career advisors.

Thanks, Teri!

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Summer of books 2014“Time management is dead,” writes Graham Allcott in his book, How To Be A Productivity Ninja. The old time management concepts don’t work anymore, he says, because we don’t have the same working environment. The number of information sources has gone up, and we’re expected to juggle more and manage more complex jobs while our jobs are less defined. “All of this means you have to come to terms with one important thing: you will never get everything finished.”

How To Be A Productivity Ninja is apparently the answer to your time management problems. It is a wide-ranging book looking at loads of different ways to squeeze more out of the day without having to work longer hours. One of the techniques he majors on is attention management.

Managing your attention

Ninja book coverAllcott talks about using attention management instead of time management. In other words, focusing your attention on the right things, because your attention span is far more limited than the time available in a day. You can’t focus at a high level all day as your attention wanders. My own personal productivity killer at the moment is the mumsnet ‘Am I being Unreasonable?’ forum. Attention management, says Allcott, is the key to productivity, which means not spending hours looking up what other people’s children do at nursery and how many people are complaining about their in-laws. So what do you do in periods of low attention when you don’t have the mental focus to tackle the important stuff if you don’t surf the internet?

He suggests:

  • Filing
  • Ordering stationery and other stuff online
  • Printing stuff
  • Deleting emails
  • Throwing away paperwork that’s no longer required
  • Attending meetings that you can’t get out of but know you can add no value to
  • Making coffee!

Some productivity tips

“What’s the one activity that, if you did it consistently for an hour a day every day this year, makes a person in your job successful?” Graham Allcott

One of the things I enjoyed about this book was the tips. It seems as if every page has something useful on it. Here are a couple of my favourites.

Trust your systems. You need to have confidence that your processes will work and not let you down.

Be organised so that when you are in a good frame of mind and in the flow, you aren’t slowed down by not finding the critical information you need to keep going.

Lower your expectations. You can’t get it all done so don’t try.  Trust that you are making the right decisions about what to work on.

However, I didn’t agree with all his advice. “One of the worst things you can do is always make yourself available,” Allcott writes. This lets distractions and interruptions in, so he advises you stay out of the way until you have something to share or some kind of collaboration to do. Shut yourself in the office or find a quiet space away from the rest of your team. I can see this would work from time to time when you have something critical to focus on, but personally I wouldn’t want to make it a regular thing.

He also has lots to say about ‘Inbox Zero’, which is how to filter your incoming mail into folders for reading, action and monitoring. Allcott says that your inbox is not your to do list. But mine is and it works for me. I only have 22 things in there at moment and I can see at a glance what need to be done.

The second brain

Allcott is big on having systems and putting them in place before you need them. He gives the example of the Victorians building sewers and the tube network to have 10 times the capacity required at time. And thank goodness they did, or we’d have some major civil engineering to do right now.

The idea of the second brain is to get stuff out of your head to encourage clear thinking and also to ensure that nothing is forgotten. It’s a system that revolves around lists, checklists and basically having a notebook or app available to store your ideas. Essentially, it’s for when your own brain fails you: you have systems in place to help.

One second brain tool is the ‘waiting for’ list. It’s not a to do list but a list of things that others are doing, for example, getting back to you about the project requirements document by Tuesday. This stops you having to hold the information in your head and means you can chase up project team members as appropriate. “A Ninja achieves Zen-like calm and is relaxed and confident about what they can’t do right now because their second brain is up to date and reassures them that what they are not doing is under control,” he says.

The Power Hour

“What’s the one activity that, if you did it consistently for an hour a day every day this year, makes a person in your job successful?” Allcott writes. Whatever that activity is, do it, and this becomes your Power Hour. It’s quite a good idea, although I’d be hard pressed to think of one thing a project manager does – communication, probably.

Little Ninja illustrations in the book are made from office supplies

Little Ninja illustrations in the book are made from office supplies

“You feel more present in your work, more engaged, calmer and more at ease with the world around you,” he writes. “That world might feel like it’s burning with urgency, noise, panic and stress but you’re locked in a kind of cocoon. You’re quietly doing what a Ninja does best: you’re shipping and clarifying, completing and organising, one thing at a time.”

Allcott spends some time writing about which apps you can use to help store your checklists and notes. I think this might date the book, whereas the rest of the advice has a pretty long shelf life. Overall, if you are struggling to get everything done, then this is a good read, illustrated with cute Ninja characters made from office supplies and with exercises at the end of each chapter so you can put into practice what you have learned. If nothing else, it will reassure you that no one else is managing to get everything done and that picking and choosing your key priorities is the only way to stay sane on your busy project.

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Book Review: Healthcare Project Management

August 13, 2014

At first glance, Healthcare Project Management by Kathy Schwalbe and Dan Furlong is an ugly book. The cover isn’t up to much. However, open it up and you’ll quickly see how comprehensive this book is. It includes quick quizzes, learning objectives, team projects to carry out (for students), case studies, discussion question, links to videos […]

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Book review: Project Management Workflow

August 11, 2014

“Project management is indeed a very exciting and rewarding profession, but at the same time, it is one of the most difficult jobs, often misunderstood by project team members and management alike,” write Dan Epstein and Rich Maltzman in their book, Project Workflow Management: A Business Process Approach. I agree; it can be a challenge […]

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The Death of Project Management

August 8, 2014

This is a guest post by Bryan Barrow. After several years we seem, at last, to be over our fixation with zombies. Again. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time that the zombie movie genre comes around, each time bringing a new generation into its cold, dead clutches. I am […]

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Book review: Microsoft Project 2013: The Missing Manual

August 6, 2014

In Microsoft Project 2013: The Missing Manual, Bonnie Biafore aims to share the basics of project management and how to achieve what you want to do in Microsoft Project 2013. That’s quite an ask for one book. Part 1 is a primer on project management and I was surprised that there was so much about […]

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Book Review: Squirrels, Boats and Thoroughbreds

August 4, 2014

This is a book about managing change in traditional businesses. Jamie Gerdsen worked in a heating and air conditioning firm owned by his dad (which he then bought as his dad retired from the frontline work). “Success changes,” he writes. “It’s like a video game. You reach one level only to realise you have a […]

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Welcome to the Summer of Books 2014!

August 1, 2014

Welcome to our annual summer round up of the hottest project management books. Here’s a preview of the book reviews coming up: Squirrels, Boats and Thoroughbreds – “What can you do on your project to make it the project of choice? How can you get people clamouring to work with you?” The Missing Manual: Microsoft […]

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