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The connected project manager

hppm cover imageCollaboration tools have a number of benefits, and enhanced communication with stakeholders is top of the list. You can use your communications strategy to identify and map stakeholders. Your chosen tools enable the project team to engage with stakeholders in a way that suits their preferences, and many people today have shifted the way they work to using online tools.

Web-enabled technologies make it easier for your project communications to reach a wider audience. Where the strategy is to communicate (and not collaborate) with stakeholders, for example, members of the public during a public sector or third sector project, social communications enable you to reach a wider group. Whether you limit the readership of your project blog to your company’s employees, or share short status updates with the world on your favourite social networking site, the reach of your project communications now goes far beyond an email distribution list or a printed project newsletter.

Social communication systems are also convenient, especially when working with virtual teams. Many tools are designed to be accessed on the go from multiple devices such as smart phones or tablets. Tapping into the mobility that these products offer means that you can communicate with your team, wherever they happen to be. This can improve collaboration because it is easy to stay in touch this way, and when working practices are easy, people are more likely to adopt them.

However, the most important thing for the connected project manager to do is to ensure that there are benefits to working this way. If you cannot identify benefits to the project and to your team, then don’t adopt social communications technology. An example would be a small Agile team, all based in the same location and working closely on a software release. A collaboration tool would not provide any benefits over and above the face-to-face cooperation that the team benefits from daily. However, if the team needed a knowledge repository, a wiki would be a good addition to their toolset. Social collaboration tools are not necessarily appropriate for all teams and all projects, so weigh up the benefits before making the decision to adopt them.

If you cannot identify benefits to the project and to your team, then don’t adopt social communications technology.

If you do decide to adopt them, having a policy for their use is an essential part of making the deployment a success.

Social communications policies

Once you have decided to embark on a social media or communication/collaboration system initiative, it is essential to set some guidelines for your team. You may find that your company already has corporate policies around the use of social media tools and that these can be adapted for use of the solutions on projects. If no such guidelines exist, ask your PMO for assistance in producing them, or simply draw up a brief document yourself that you and your project team can agree on. Search the internet for examples of social media policies: many companies are happy to share their policies and have posted them publicly online, so there is no need to start from scratch.

An alternative to a social communications policy is to build the relevant guidelines into existing corporate policies. Many companies have a suite of human resource policies relating to appropriate behaviour, and you could ask for these to be updated to include online behaviour as well.

Social communications policies should include:

  • Standards for online behaviour such as the official position on suitable language and any links to codes of conduct.
  • Privacy/Data security/Confidentiality guidelines to protect project and personal information.
  • Guidelines around the use of individual or generic logins.
  • Guidelines for mentioning other staff members or company business outside the project.
  • Details about the appropriate use of the company or project logo.
  • Clarity around the fact that the individual represents both the project and the company when operating on internal and external sites.
  • A statement around using good judgment and common sense when posting to social communication tools.

Your social communications policy should be incorporated into the project governance framework and communications plan. You will want to include the use of your social communication tools in your communication plan as well.

Monitor the adherence to your policy as you monitor other elements of your project and team performance. If you find that there are some elements that are not working, take the opportunity to amend the policy until it provides a suitable backbone for your social communications and collaboration activity on your project.

Online project management tools and collaboration systems are becoming more and more common – it’s a crowded marketplace, so it pays to learn how best to use these to your advantage to stay ahead. What ideas do you have for managing communications on your projects? Have you ever used tools like this successfully, or had to challenge anyone for breaching the policy? Let us know in the comments.

This is an edited excerpt, reprinted by permission of the publishers from ‘Managing Social Communications’ in The Gower Handbook of People in Project Management, edited by Dennis Lock and Lindsay Scott (Farnham, Gower, 2013).

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How can I help you now it’s too late? [video]

Last autumn I presented (virtually) at the PMI Southern Ontario Chapter about Customer-Centric Project Management and continuous improvement as a better approach to lessons learned than the traditional project-implementation review. It was a good experience to give a presentation over webcam and audio conference, but it was weird not having immediate feedback from the people in the room as I couldn’t see if they were really interested or falling asleep.

I recorded a version of my presentation just in case technology let us down on the day. This video gives you an overview of the main points about customer-centricity that you should be aware of on your projects.

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On International Project Management Day: a reflection

International PM Day logoOne of the themes for this year’s International Project Management Day (which is today) is environmental projects that protect or preserve the environment. I don’t work on installing wind farms or developing solar energy products, but I have recently taken part in Conference: Zero, which was a low-carbon conference.

Conference: Zero was put on by APM and Pentacle Virtual Business School, using a Second Life-style conference environment. You can see from the screenshots that it was like being in a computer game, only not as good as GTAV.

Screenshot of conference

Dr Yoram Bosc-Haddard, Senior VP at Capgemini, presenting in the virtual environment

As the delegates could attend from anywhere with an internet connection we collectively saved over 56,000 transport miles and the associated CO2 emissions. So, could this type of networking for project management take off?

carbon saving

Tweet from an attendee commenting on the carbon saving of Conference: Zero

The feedback from delegates – at least what I heard from tweets and emails during and after the event, plus the online chat – was that it had technical problems. Regardless of your internet connection speed or processor power, some of the rooms were difficult to move into and load. I missed the opening keynote because I couldn’t get into the virtual room, and I know of one delegate who gave up at lunchtime because it was too frustrating and he was arriving late to every session.

I was talking about customer-centric project management and I deliberately started my session broadly on time. I thought that was important (as I only had 20 minutes anyway) and for people who had made the effort and I wanted to respect their time. If I, or any of the other presenters, had routinely started late we wouldn’t have got through our material and we would have wasted a lot of time during the day which would have been equally as frustrating for everyone.

I think the online conference has a lot going for it. You can join in your pyjamas (as I did for Andrew Hubbard’s talk at 7.30am). You can drop in and out as you please, attending the presentations that capture your interest and doing something more productive when there isn’t anything on that you want to listen to. But the networking side of it is harder to do. It’s almost impossible to strike up a conversation with a random delegate because there is no lunch queue or coffee queue. I went to the bookshop a couple of times but no one was there – that would be rare in a real-life conference, where people browse for ages.

My book on display in the bookshop

My book on display in the bookshop

I would attend again, but I think this type of virtual environment needs practice. We all know how to walk around and find the right room, chatting to people as we go, but doing that with your keyboard takes practice. We need to learn the quirks of online networking in a virtual environment. Yes, it’s great for the environment, but it also doesn’t have the benefit of a day out of the office. That’s one of the main reasons to go to a conference – it refreshes you, fills you with great ideas and you come back to the office inspired. At least, that’s what it does for me.

Sitting at my PC eating breakfast, or getting frustrated that I’m missing presentations isn’t the same. So while I think we’ll see more events hosted virtually to save travel costs and the planet, I really hope that face-to-face events don’t fade away completely.

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What are the benefits of project governance? This infographic shares 6 reasons why project governance is a good thing for projects and project managers.

governance infographic

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All projects have stakeholders, even the very smallest initiatives. The major reason that most project management approaches give for doing stakeholder management is that it helps you understand more about the people who will be affected by the project. This then enables you to plan communication and engagement strategies to head off any problems.

You know the drill – map influence and interest, then work to try to move any negative stakeholders into the quadrant where they should be through interesting communication approaches and stressing the project benefits for them.

However, there are other reasons for doing stakeholder management. Richard Newton, in his latest book, The Project Management Book, sets out another 4 reasons why it is worth doing stakeholder management. Here they are.

1. Free resources

“Proactive stakeholders effectively provide an extended team of additional resources (for free!),” he writes. You can involve your stakeholders in any number of project tasks and delegate all kinds of things to them. Want to do a presentation to Marketing but don’t have the time? Ask your most engaged Marketing stakeholder to do it for you. Need some help with the project budget? Get an enthusiastic stakeholder from Finance to talk you through it.

Tap into their skills and interest in the project. Anything from attending meetings, drafting communications and carrying out other stakeholder engagement activities with their peers is fair game.

2. Reduce and uncover risk

“Good stakeholder management reduces some risks and makes other risks, which may otherwise by unnoticed, transparent,” Newton adds. The more you engage your stakeholders, the more you can minimise some risks, like poor take up when a new piece of software is launched for internal use.

Your stakeholders can also help you identify new risks. The more you talk to them, the more you’ll find out about what else is going on that could potentially impact your project.

3. Increases the perception of success

“Irrespective of actual project outcome, stakeholders who have been engaged and whose expectations have been managed are far likelier to perceive a project as a success than those who have been ignored,” writes Newton.

We all want our projects to be a success, don’t we? So it pays to engage with the right stakeholders all the way through the project, especially if it changes how they feel about the project at the end. Projects don’t always deliver exactly what they set out to, so managing stakeholder engagements over the duration of the project is one way to help stakeholders adapt their expectations to what is realistic for delivery.

4. Easier project closure

“It eases benefits realisation and the transition phase at the end of a project when deliverables are handed over to their owners,” Newton says. This is very true – it is far easier to hand over deliverables to someone who knows a bit about them than to someone who is hearing about the project for the first time. The more you work with your stakeholders during the project, the more prepared they and their teams will be to receive the deliverables.

They are also less likely to reject deliverables for not meeting their standards, as they will have been involved in the production, testing and checking of deliverables up to this point. There won’t be any surprises as they’ve seen the process the whole way through.

Don’t neglect the ‘traditional’ tools for stakeholder analysis and engagement, but do consider making your stakeholders an integral part of your project team so that you get the best out of them and they get the best out of the project.


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7 things to do when your boss changes

7 things to do when your boss changes

“I’m retiring in a couple of months,” my boss said recently. Managers come and go as organisations are restructured, people take promotions, retirement or new posts outside the company. But I’ll be sad to see him go – he has been a great manager over the past few years.

It got me thinking about what you need to do when your line manager changes. Here are 7 things to consider when you get a new boss.

1. Introduce yourself

It sounds obvious, but if your new manager is taking on a huge team, they may not have time in the first few weeks to get round everyone for personal introductions. Take the initiative and go and introduce yourself.

2. Introduce them to others

Starting work in a new company can be daunting, even for very senior managers. Help them make connections and meet the movers and shakers in your company. Don’t engineer meetings, but if they ask about something say, “Have you met so and so from Department X? They would normally be the main point of contact for that.” You can then open up the conversation and offer to introduce them, if they would like you to.

3. Google them

Don’t worry, they’ll be expecting it.

4. Explain your projects

What are you working on right now? Get some time in their diary to explain your projects, their benefits and their status. Talk about the key stakeholders and the project sponsors. Share your current issues and what you are doing about them, and make them aware of anything urgent that needs their attention.

5. Explain your take on the team

I recommend you only do this if asked, but a number of my previous new managers have asked for my views on the strengths and weaknesses of the team as a whole, and how the department is perceived by other departments. They obviously take this ‘insight’ under advisement, but for someone new to the company this can be useful information to know.

6. Ask what they need

Do they expect weekly status reports? Do they expect you to attend monthly conference calls? With a different manager comes a different way of working, so don’t expect them to stick to the same schedule of progress updates and meetings that you had with your last boss. Be upfront and ask what they are expecting. Then you won’t get caught out.

7. Be easy to work with

Every new manager (every manager, really) wants team members and direct reports who are easy to work with. Deliver on your promises. Be honest, punctual and approachable. Keep your sense of humour in check until you know how they will react to your jokes. Bring them problems only with a selection of solutions and a recommendation. Accept their decisions, but challenge where you think it is appropriate.

Remember, your job is to make your boss look good. They also have a manager who expects status updates and your role is to make your manager’s job easy by providing whatever it is that he or she needs in order to be a success. After all, if they are successful in their role, the success reflects well on you and the team. And they will remember you.

 

Background credit: Zinzibar

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Giveaway: Supercommunicator

Earlier this year I reviewed Supercommunicator: Explaining The Complicated So Anyone Can Understand by Frank J. Pietrucha. Now I have a copy to give away. Use the contact form to get in touch with the phrase "I'm a supercommunicator" by Wednesday 12 November 2014 and I will enter you into the draw. Normal giveaway rules… Continue Reading->

Book review: Trust in Virtual Teams

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The Mr Tumble Approach to Project Management (The Parent Project Month 20)

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Better stakeholder engagement: Interview with 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… Continue Reading->

How to build your project management network

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… Continue Reading->

5 Steps for identifying project dependencies and constraints

Earlier this week I looked briefly at an introduction to dependencies and constraints on project and why they matter. Today I’m going to share a 5-step approach to identifying and reviewing all the dependencies and constraints on your project. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry. It’s a much faster task than you think. Now you… Continue Reading->