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What I’m reading: March 2015

Great project management books

It’s true that what gets measured gets done. If I hadn’t confessed over the last two months that Susan Greenfield’s Mind Change had sat unread on the shelf then I would never have opened it. Writing about it here kept me accountable – eventually. I’m about halfway through and it was worth waiting for. It’s scary how malleable young minds are and now I have two of my own to shape I’m thinking twice about a lot of things, especially screen time.

I’ve also read Project Branding by Peter Taylor, which I had to get shipped from the US as it’s not available over here at the moment. It’s now decorated with sticky notes. I’m sure you have books like that too – full of comments and great ideas that you want to implement all marked up to put into practice…some day.

Fortunately, my boys are too young to get involved with the World Book Day dressing up, although a friend’s son went to school dressed as Supertato (as in superhero potato). As costumes go, I think she got lucky. Jack’s favourite Thomas character this month is Bertie and I’m not sure my sewing skills are up to sending him anywhere dressed as a bus.

Jeff Furman kindly sent me a copy of The Project Management Answer Book, now in its second edition with a flash red cover. Strictly speaking I haven’t actually read it yet but I feel like I have read parts of it already as I interviewed Jeff about it at the end of last year. The first edition was easy to read and very informative (and detailed) so this edition can only be better.

I’ve also read the Arras People Benchmark Report which is a very interesting take on the state of project management, mainly in the UK. It’s their 10th anniversary edition of the report, and the balance of male to female project managers hasn’t changed much since they started the survey.

There’s already a list of things waiting to be read next month including the proofs of a new book by Dave Shirley and Rich Maltzman, the authors behind Green Project Management. It’s about sustainability and project management – a cutting edge topic so I’m looking forward to that. You never know, I might actually get round to reading a novel as well.

What about you? Read anything good recently?

Social Media on Projects: 5 Common Mistakes

Common mistakes with project collaboration tools

There continues to be debate around how best to implement social media and collaboration tools on projects. The Shift Index Report that I read recently from Deloitte University Press while I was writing a book chapter said social network use in a professional environment is declining. People are struggling to get the best out of online project management tools.

Here are 5 common mistakes that are made when implementing collaboration tools and what you can do to fix them.

1. Missing your audience

What if your target audience isn’t on social media? There’s no point spending a lot of time preparing a project blog or sending out Tweets if there’s nobody listening. However, just because your stakeholders don’t log into the project wiki every day doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t. You can still use social communication methods but make sure that you support your users and introduce them slowly, stressing the benefits.

Fix by: Find out what forms of communication your audience is already using and tap into those. If they aren’t using social media tools at the moment, introduce them slowly with a programme of training and education as well.

2. Implementing technology for technology’s sake

Oooh, look at the shiny new widget. We definitely need a downloadable project status reporting dashboard enhancing plugin for our intranet. I am so guilty of this.

If you are more interested in what the tool can do than how it will help you manage your project then you probably don’t need it.

Fix by: Making sure that you only implement technology solutions to problems that actually exist! [click to continue…]

5 Ways that PMs and BAs can collaborate

This is a guest post by Laura Brandenburg.

We all want more successful projects – projects that deliver their intended business value and are delivered on time and on budget. As a project manager, you work with a variety of different team members that offer up different skill sets and contribute to your project’s success. One of those team members is often a business analyst.

But what exactly is the business analyst supposed to do? How can you leverage their skills and competencies to create more successful projects?

Business analysis helps ensure your project delivers the intended business value and that business needs, requirements, and processes are well-understood, leading to a more streamlined implementation process.

A skillful business analyst can ease a lot of project turmoil and be one of your best partners. And there is a lot you can do as a project manager to help create the environment in which they can do their best work.

In this article, we’ll look at five specific ways you can collaborate with business analysts to help create more successful projects.

#1: Collaborate on project scope to minimize scope creep

In order to thoroughly analyze the detailed requirements and help manage scope creep, the business analyst needs to understand the business problem being solved and the over-arching “why” behind the project. Typically this information is documented in the business case or project scope document.

A business analyst will naturally have a lot of questions about the project scope. Questions can be frustrating, especially when they come in after the project scope is considered approved, but answering them now will enable the business analyst to help you manage scope creep, prioritize detailed requirements, and generally keep the requirements effort on track.

An easier approach is to get the business analyst involved in creating these documents in the first place, as then their questions can be addressed at a more appropriate time. A business analyst can help the business sponsor discover the underlying business problem, consider alternate solutions, and decide on the best approach before making a commitment to a specific project scope. This practice leads to a scope document that’s a steadfast compass for the entire project team and can shortcut scope creep before it even starts.

But understanding scope requires that the right stakeholders are involved on the project. Let’s look next at how project managers and business analysts can collaborate when working with stakeholders. [click to continue…]

The Resilience Breakthrough [Book review]

The Resilience Breakthrough* opens with a very powerful story that nearly had me in tears on the train. Christian Moore writes movingly about his personal academic triumph despite his learning difficulties and being told he would never make much of his life.

After yet another knock he picks himself up of the floor (literally) and gets on with proving his doubters wrong. This ability to keep going despite the difficulties is what Moores attempts to define and explain in his book.

The Resilience Breakthrough Book Review

This ability, of course, is resilience, and it’s something that good project managers have even if they don’t realise it. Moores defines it like this:

“Resilience is the ability to bounce back when you have every reason to shut down – but you fight on. Resilient people have both tapped and untapped reserves, enabling them to overcome and thrive as they face the setbacks, challenges, and fears of daily life.”

Where does resilience come from?

Moores identifies four sources of resilience, the places you can draw on to feel more capable of coping:

  • Street: the skills you get from hustling and grafting as Moores did as a child.
  • Resource: the ability to be resilient because you have the resources available to help you overcome problems. Many project management setbacks can be resolved or alleviated with the right resources.
  • Relational: where you draw your resilience from the fact that other people are relying on you, be that family or your project team.
  • Rock bottom: where you hit rock bottom and have nowhere to go but up.

[click to continue…]

Michel Dion on Project Leadership [Interview]

Michel Dion on Project Leadership

There has been a bit of a leadership theme going on in my writing this year. It’s not a coincidence that it’s becoming more important at work, and it’s also one of the hot topics in PM at the moment. I think project managers are wising up to the fact that following a methodology is no longer good enough – I’ve long been aware that it’s essential to show business value and a link to organisational strategy. The bigger picture seems to be that the collective C-suite has realised that the delivery of strategy is as important as the strategy, and who does that? Project managers.

Today I’m interviewing an expert on leadership on projects. Michel Dion is the author of Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: achieve better results in a dynamic world, and well aware of the strategic importance to projects and careers of good leadership skills.

Let’s say hello.

Hello Michel. When did you identify as a project manager?

I am one of those who became an accidental project leader. I am first a CPA, a professional accountant in Canada. I worked on projects since July 2000, taking on a management role from 2001. I have been an executive since 2007 in charge of a portfolio of projects.

I started my website on project management in July 2012 and obtained my PMP in early 2014. I value the project management certification. I like the balance and complete model: we need specific expertise, management skills, and leadership.

In your book you talk about technical project management not being enough. At what point do you think project concepts stop helping project managers advance their careers and leadership becomes an essential?

That is a good question. In a sense, the evolution of a career in project management follows any other career. Your focus initially starts with performing the tasks you have to do. And the more you excel at this, the more likely you will get more complex tasks, responsibilities, and even promotions.

As you get promotions and work on more complex projects, you have to learn new skills. At first, you have to learn to manage a set of tasks and supervise others. This includes the classic challenge of learning delegation, which is not unique to project management.

For a while, this path can work with only acquiring more technical expertise: becoming a better accountant, a better software programmer, etc. But not all issues can be solved with how-to knowledge. At some point, you face more complex issues, with no clear cut answers, which cannot be simplified by a set of procedures, tools and techniques. You need to find a different solution, add to your toolbox a new set of skills to continue to evolve professionally. [click to continue…]

16 Essential Questions for Project Initiation

Essential questions for project initiation 

As I’ve got older and more experienced I’ve also got lazier when it comes to preparing for meetings. Last week I was completely caught out when I checked my diary in the morning. That afternoon I had four external people coming in for a meeting that I had forgotten about!

It was an informal pre-kick off meeting for something that might turn into a project. I had a couple of hours to prepare which was plenty, but it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. It could have been worse – at least the meeting wasn’t at 9am.

We talked through the bare bones of what they wanted to do and I think there is something there. The next step will be properly initiating the project.

Questions to ask during project initiation

The next time I see them I’ll be a lot more organised. I’ve prepared a list of essential questions to ask when starting a project. [click to continue…]

Free project issue log template

Free issue log for project managers

Keeping track of problems on projects is really important if you want to come across as a professional project manager. Download a free issue log template for your projects to help you track and manage those inevitable problems.

4 Management Styles for Giving Feedback

Management styles for giving feedback

My style for giving feedback is one of positive praise. I say things like, “Great walking, Oliver!” and “Thanks for carrying your spoon to the table, Jack!” dozens of times each day. Positive praise is where you tell children exactly what they’ve done that you are pleased with instead of simply saying, “Well done!” An… Continue Reading->

Get Fit with the Lazy PM: Giveaway winner

Giveaway Get Fit With the Lazy PM

Last month's giveaway was won by Niall from Limerick, Ireland. Niall wins a copy of Get Fit with the Lazy Project Manager (and I didn't manage to read it before I posted it off but a quick flick through tells me it's going to be great). Congratulations! This month's giveaway is for a copy of… Continue Reading->

9 Essential Project Documents

9 critical project documents

Project management can create a lot of paperwork, and it’s not always the stuff you want or need. Let’s talk about the essentials. Here are nine documents that no self-respecting project should be without.

Happy International Women’s Day!

International Women's Day logo

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Giveaway: Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers

Feel like you need to brush up your soft skills? Here's a book that will help. Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers is the book I wish I had written (read my review of it here). Now in it's second edition, it's even better and I have a copy to giveaway. Simply get in touch with… Continue Reading->