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Jennifer Lawrence at Catching Fire premiere

Actress Jennifer Lawrence attends the ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on November 20, 2013 in New York City.

**Spoiler alerts** Don’t read this if you haven’t read the first book of The Hunger Games series.

It’s the UK general release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 this week. Selecting the team for the District, planning for the Games, sharing a clear objective. Sounds like project management, doesn’t it?

Here’s why project management is like surviving The Hunger Games.

Your project needs a generous sponsor

In the arena, tributes receive gifts from their sponsors. Little parachutes drop useful items to those that have popular appeal and a generous sponsor.

Your project needs a sponsor who can negotiate for the resources and time you need to secure the project done successfully. You’ll also benefit if you can get them to communicate with your team by sharing the project vision.

Your project needs a flexible plan

You never know when the environment in the arena might change. Suddenly it’s on fire, then it’s raining. The powers that be change the rules without any notice.

Projects have the same degree of uncertainty, so your plan needs to be flexible. Team members drop out or join in. You suddenly have less time to complete certain tasks. A flexible approach to scheduling and a good change management process will help you deal with the surprises.

You need a creative team

Katniss has Cinna and the team of stylists to help her prepare. Cinna’s creativity helps reshape and reinforce how the audiences at the Games feel about Katniss on several occasions, like when he designs a dress for the Victory Tour that honours the deaths of Thresh and Rue. I think it’s fair to say that his behind-the-scenes creative dressmaking helped her secure the win and the sympathies of people in other Districts.

A creative project team can also help you get out of tight situations. Use their expertise, build on constructive conflict and develop creative facilitation techniques to resolve project issues.

You need a mentor

All the tributes have mentors who have lived through their own trials. Katniss and Peeta have Haymitch as their mentor. As victor of the 50th Hunger Games and the only choice for District 12 tributes, they have to rely on his knowledge and experience.

You will probably have more choice when it comes to finding a mentor. A good mentor can help you navigate the challenges of your project and open doors to new opportunities.

You need to be resourceful

Katniss has to use her wits and stay resourceful. Berries, nuts, bowmanship: she uses what is available and never wastes anything.

Projects have limited resources. Don’t waste time or energy on things that aren’t important. Focus on the tasks and people that will help you achieve your overall objectives and deliver the project successfully.

Project management isn’t as violent as The Hunger Games, but it can certainly feel like a challenge at times. What do you do to stay sharp? Let us know in the comments.

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Book review: Trust in Virtual Teams

trust in virtual teams2

Trust matters because it helps build a resilient project team. It helps get things done. Trusted team members not only do only what is asked, but what the project needs them to do, because they know that the project manager will trust their decisions and actions.  Trust is a shortcut to better working relationships and better project outcomes.

That’s the premise behind Thomas P. Wise’s book, Trust in Virtual Teams. It’s a (pretty academic) guide to explaining trust and building trust in virtual teams. But first, you have to understand what a virtual team is.

A new definition of virtuality

Wise says that virtual teams are traditionally defined by distance. However, he suggests that a definition based on geography is an old-fashioned way of explaining virtuality in a team environment.

You probably have worked in an office where project team members sit practically next to each other emailing each other, and that use of electronic communication means they could be based thousands of miles apart – their working environment and style makes them part of a virtual team, regardless of where they actually sit. For me, this was the big revelation from the book. Up until now I had always thought of virtual teams as being spread across multiple locations, but the modern way if working really means that most of us are part of virtual teams, even if we are office-based.

Building trust

Trust in Virtual TeamsIn the past trust was built through sharing small confidences and water cooler chat. It comes from knowing that your colleague will make your cup of tea just how you like it. But on virtual teams you don’t have the interaction that you have in colocated teams. So how do you build trust when you never get to meet or talk to your colleagues and there are days of silence between email exchanges?

“Team members learn to trust one another as they come together to work,” says Wise. He talks about them having a connectedness through a common vision that helps them work effectively.

However, in virtual teams you may find that trust is initially based on stereotypes. Wise warns that not conforming to stereotypes can actually undermine the development of trust. I’m not sure if I agree with this as a long term strategy for getting your team to trust you, but it would be interesting to investigate this further.

Other things that you can do more easily to build trust, he says, include acting predictably and working from facts. In other words, if you say your project report will come out every Friday at 3pm, make sure it does. And make sure that it reports facts, not opinion.

Dealing with problems

“A problem can occur, however, when we establish a set of rules on how work gets done, and then have a tendency to bend and stretch, and adjust the rules based on unpublished pecking orders and hierarchies,” Wise writes. This is what happens when you don’t act predictably and from the basis of facts. An example of this happening in a project environment would be when it’s ok not to do documentation because it helps hit the overall project deadlines.

Virtual teams are traditionally defined by distance, but today they are defined by working environment and style.

In order to get round this, Wise says: “We must align our goals, our rules, and our actions in order to establish an environment that can build and nourish institutional based trust.”

He recommends doing this through Quality Assurance on projects (which is discussed in detail) and transparent project reporting. He also says that it is possible to improve success in virtual teams by using techniques like human resource policy, social events, information sharing through social media tools, training and leadership support.

Team members tend to avoid difficult situations in the early days of working on a new team, so you might think everything is working fine until you get a bit further into the project. The difficult situations are pushed aside and dealt with later, when trust has been built up. “Establishing both a trust relationship and an effective virtual work environment, based on that trust, is critical to reducing project risk.”

The book includes stories from his own experience but no external case studies. I thought it jumped around a bit, which made following the flow difficult. I also thought it ended abruptly, as if he had forgotten to write the conclusion.

If poor trust really does increase project risk, and I have no reason to believe that it doesn’t, then it will help you to review the levels of trust in your project team to see where things could be improved. It doesn’t take a book to do that, but if you want to go deeper into the theories of trust and how these can be applied in the workplace, then this book will help.

Buy on Amazon.co.uk
Buy on Amazon.com

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Mike HughesLeadership, teaming, technology adoption and measuring effectiveness are the four things that Mike Hughes, Office Business Group Lead for Microsoft Ireland believes are essential for building a successful project team.

He spoke at an Ireland Chapter of PMI event recently about collaboration best practice and how to create effective project teams in the current business climate. Here’s what he had to say.

1. Leadership

Mike had four soundbites for successful leadership on project teams:

  • Lead by example
  • Strategy before technology
  • Learn to get out of the way
  • Create a supportive environment

2. Teaming

Mike said project managers should listen to employees and ensure that the right people are involved. He told us to weigh up the benefits to the individual with company benefits to aim to get a good balance.

3. Technology adoption

Mike explained how Microsoft is currently thinking about collaboration: it’s all about integrating it into the flow of work instead of something that bolts on afterwards. Full integration of collaboration and ‘social’ technologies allows project teams to adapt and evolve their work and processes.

4. Measuring effectiveness

Mike said that it was important to measure what matters with persistence. If you are trying to use a tool like Yammer (which is now owned by Microsoft) without KPI’s then you’ll fail, he said.

The death of the job description

Mike said that nobody does what’s on their job description any more (at least in the project management or technology worlds) because the reality is that non-routine work involves people needing to be able to think. Collaboration tools require leadership and that means trusting the team to do the right thing.

“Social is changing the way we work,” he said. One of the major problems for teams is staying on top of email and social tools give you an opportunity to change that. He said that 85% of Fortune 500 companies use social networks, mainly Yammer (perhaps this is because it is given away free with Office 365 licences).

MS Dublin officeDelve: Microsoft’s new search

Having so much information available through a rich network means that search is even more important. Mike also talked about a new search tool called Delve. This learns about your role and work and presents you with what he called “opportunities”. Personally I think it sounds quite scary: it is effectively predictive search based on what you normally look at and people you normally talk to. He gave the example of wanting to find a presentation that was given at a meeting: instead of contacting the meeting organiser you can simply search the organisational memory for the presentation and assuming it has been made public you can access it. It might then also show you other presentations you might find interesting and people you might like to talk to. You could spend hours having a nose through other people’s files and looking at people’s profiles.

All of Microsoft’s products are moving towards integration and allowing people to interact. Yammer is integrated into SharePoint 2013, portal tools enable sharing and search like never before.

This is the way that social is changing the way we work, and the way our colleagues expect us to work. Successful project teams are successful because they move with the times and evolve their working practices to ensure that success follows.

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Andrew Filev

Andrew Filev

This is a guest post by Andrew Filev is the founder and CEO of Wrike.

Various studies show that we spend about 45% of our time every day on habitual actions. People all have different work styles, but, as my experience shows, an important soft skill for a project manager is to help his employees develop the optimal mix of productivity habits.

Your team’s productivity habits are the magic ingredients to your project’s success. If you have the right recipe, your team will complete the project on time and collaborate in a hassle-free way. On the contrary, if the ingredients aren’t right, there could be procrastination, unproductive meetings and other problems.

Why the reluctance to change? 

The reluctance to nurture productive habits can’t be blamed on a bad temper or a conservative mind. Rather, the issue lies deep in human physiology. No matter how simple a habit is, our brains need to do a lot of rewiring, and even though we may not notice it, this involves physical change.

No wonder making a habit stick takes 66 days on average, according to research. Classic psychology also supports the point: denial is a natural first reaction to change. So, in order to create a productive habit, the main goal is to get past denial as quickly as possible, moving to acceptance and new confidence.

How to smoothly introduce new habits

Let’s look at some practical strategies for bringing new habits into your team’s culture and making these habits sustainable:

1. Lead by example

To plant a new productivity habit, define what behavior you want and then practice what you preach. Your team will immediately see it in action. In such a credible manner, you communicate the outcome as you keep leading by example.

Author and speaker Scott Berkun gave this really good description: “I think leadership comes from integrity – that you do whatever you ask others to do. I think there are nonobvious ways to lead. Just by providing a good example makes it possible for other people to see better ways to do things.”

2. Share the power to change (“peer pressure”)

Your own example is an essential starter, but it’s insufficient on its own. Additional support from a group of pioneers might be extremely helpful. Some of your employees might be more productivity-oriented than others. The tactic that I suggest is to form a core team from those most open to change, build the right productivity habits among them and empower them to influence others.

3. Apply horizontal or vertical rollout

You can move forward with the adoption of a new productivity habit in one of two ways: The first is to begin with a part of the team and then gradually roll it out to the rest of the employees. This would be a horizontal approach. The second is a vertical rollout, where the idea is to split the new method into parts and make them stick one after another. For example, it could be helpful in forming a culture of sharing, which is critical for smooth project collaboration.

4. Motivate

Changing habits involves both our rational and emotional sides. To influence the emotional, you should give your team extra incentive to repeat the new methods more frequently, integrating these into their work styles. Being a leader, you need to provide feedback, answer any questions promptly and go through the change together with your team. A bit of competition can make the habit introduction more natural and fun.  Introduce some sort of gamification. Get creative with prizes.

5. Blend new work styles into existing practices

If an old habit in the team is useful, don’t break it. What’s more, you can leverage it in adopting the new habits. To quicken the adoption of productivity methods, you could blend new and old practices that exist in your team. This would make the new feel more familiar, ensuring a more natural transition.

To wrap up, let me quote motivational speaker Brian Tracy: “Successful people are simply those with successful habits.”

The task of a project manager is to guide his or her team to its greatest potential, so that team members collaborate effortlessly and achieve great results together. As both experience and neuroscience research shows us, behavioral change isn’t easy. It’s just how human brains are wired. So, if you want to introduce new methods to your team, prepare well and actively participate from the very beginning.

About the author: Andrew Filev is the founder and CEO of Wrike, a leading provider of social project management software. He is a seasoned software entrepreneur, project and product manager with 10+ years of experience in the IT arena, advisor to several fast-growing ventures, popular blogger and contributing author in tech and business media (Wired, Pando Daily, etc.). Andrew frequently speaks about project management, business and innovation at such events as E2 Innovate, PMI Global Congresses, Enterprise Connect, IBM Connect and more.

 

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5 ways to boost your team’s creativity

Alina Vrabie

Alina Vrabie

This is a guest article from Alina Vrabie from Sandglaz.

Creativity is the cornerstone of innovation. It’s what takes your work from average to outstanding. And we have creativity to thank for great products, services and ideas.

Sometimes, your team is facing a creative block and they clearly need a creativity boost. At other times, you might simply want to take your team’s creativity to the next level. Either way, your team members’ creativity at work stems from a place of feeling appreciated and taken seriously. They need a place where they can comfortably share their ideas and feel they are contributing to something meaningful.

So how exactly do you create this place?

1. Improve brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming should be a creative activity, but the problem is that often it’s not approached with creativity in mind. Before launching into a brainstorming session, you want to create an environment where everyone on your team feels comfortable sharing his or her ideas. You can even start with a game like word association. This will help your team members to not feel judged, which will make them more likely to tap into their creativity.

Once everyone is comfortable, start the session with a clear objective in mind, and clearly define the problem that you want to solve. However, don’t make it a goal to solve the problem during this session, but rather to come up with a few viable ideas that might solve the problem.

The brainstorming session is not a time to judge ideas, but to welcome creative ones. If you criticise team members’ ideas at this stage, they will likely not want to contribute in the future. On the other hand, successful brainstorming sessions will translate into more creative work outside of team meetings.

2. Coach individual team members

At times you might notice that individual team members are feeling particularly uninspired. Getting to know them and what makes them tick will help you coach them through unfruitful times.

Of course, this means that you have to make an effort to get to know your team members before they show a decrease in productivity. Make it a point of knowing what their aspirations are and what keeps them up at night. A good relationship with your team members will help them to open up to you when they’re going through rough times, but will also help you to guide them.

3. Communicate outside of formal meetings

Scientists at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory have discovered that the best predictors of a team’s success are the energy and level of engagement between team members outside of formal meetings. Another Gallup study found that quality relationships at work are a predictor of a healthy, productive workplace, which will likely improve the creativity of your team.

Although it might appear to go against the idea of efficiency, scheduling coffee breaks or lunches where team members can get to chat and socialise will definitely increase your team’s creativity.

When talking about a new project, spend 90% of your time describing the goal, and 10% on how that goal might be achieved.

4. Harness the power of small wins

The power of small wins is often underestimated when it comes to your team’s creativity. It’s important for your team to have a sense of forward momentum in order to tap into their creativity.

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile argues in her book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (co-authored with Steven Kramer) that a sense of progress at work makes for more creative team members. As Amabile points out, “on the days when people are feeling happiest, proudest, and most motivated, the single most prominent event in those days is making progress in meaningful work.”

5. Give your team autonomy

Mapping out where you want your team to go is good for your team members, but dictating how to get there isn’t. Smart people need autonomy in their work. And assuming you have smart people working with you, this means that you need to give them more room to make decisions and to think for themselves.

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Really Motivates Us, Daniel Pink cites a study conducted at Cornell University, showing that businesses that gave employees autonomy grew four times faster than businesses that used command and control management. They also experienced significantly lower turnover rates and higher levels of discretionary effort from their team members.

When talking about a new project, try to spend 90% of your time describing the goal, and only 10% on how that goal might be achieved.

Last, but not least, you should always find ways to reward creativity. If you want your team members to think outside the box, show them why they should. But know that simply rewarding won’t prevent your team members from running into creative blockages. A day-to-day commitment to a creativity-conducive environment will.

About the author: Alina Vrabie is a content creator at Sandglaz, where she writes about team productivity, collaboration and work culture for high performance teams and their managers. Her favourite motto is: “If it can be dreamed, it can be done.”

Amazon links in this article are affiliate links.

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3 Things that make a project team virtual

Trust in Virtual Teams“Virtuality…is a critique on how work gets done,” writes Thomas P. Wise in his book, Trust in Virtual Teams. Before I read the book I thought that virtual teams were those that were split over several locations. If the team was physically located together, then they weren’t virtual.

However, Wise sees it differently. He has 3 criteria for defining whether a team is virtual or not and location is only one of them.

Geography

The more time you spend working with your team in the same location, the less you have to rely on electronic emails and other types of computer-mediated communication, so the less ‘virtual’ your team is.

Geography also plays a part in how well a virtual team bonds at the beginning of the project. The more experience individuals have with working in a virtual team, the better they tend to be at it and at starting off from a trusting position which helps build the team quickly. Wise says that off-shore outsourcing companies that only work in this way tend to be very good at hitting the ground running because they have lots of experience on teams where the members are not in the same location. They assume trust and they assume ways of working that automatically suit the virtual model, whereas team members who have not had prior experience of virtual teams will need a bit of time to find their feet with this new approach.

Geographic distance can also mean that conflict manifests itself in different ways. This is something that project managers should look out for, as it can be harder to spot. By the time you realise that there is a problem, it could be a much larger issue than if you had noticed two colleagues having an argument in a project team meeting in your office.

Electronic Communication

“Virtuality is found in how team members work, not in where team members work,” Wise says. “Communication is often considered to be an indicator of team virtuality.” I hadn’t considered this, but I’m sure you will have worked in an office where most of the team spend time emailing and instant messaging each other even though they could just get up and walk to the person’s desk instead.

Wise reports about 70% of people saying that over half of their communications on projects are electronic. If this is true, then there are a lot of teams physically located together who are using a ‘virtual team’ approach.

Culture

“Virtuality is found in how team members work, not in where team members work.” Thomas P. Wise

I didn’t think that the book explains the culture element particularly well. Wise says that young people have a different culture, which I can agree with – although I would extend it to say that each age group has a different culture, as Larry and Meagan Johnson explain so well in their book, Generations, Inc.

Wise doesn’t explain why culture makes a team virtual although he includes it as a factor in the chapter about virtual teams. He does say that culture is measured in the degree to which we find team members like ourselves. Perhaps that means that if the team members are not in the same location as us, they aren’t ‘like’ us and that makes building the relationship that little bit harder.

He comments again on conflict and says that it can arise as a result of culture on a virtual team, because people don’t perceive themselves to be equal, or find it harder to see equal behaviour on a virtual team. He recommends avoiding avoidance as a conflict management technique, which I would agree with – far better to tackle problems head on than leave them, virtual team or not.

So, location, type of communication and culture play a part in defining whether your project team is virtual or not. I would hazard a guess to say that most teams these days fall into one of these categories which means we are all working in a virtual world, even those of us with project team members at the desk next door.

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How to communicate in virtual teams: Hungarian PMs speak

I was in Budapest last Thursday for a fleeting visit – I spoke at the PMI Hungary Chapter’s Art of Projects conference for International Project Management Day (see some photos from the event here). I gave a presentation on social media use in virtual teams and also ran a workshop on virtual meetings. My fellow… Continue Reading->

PMI Hungary’s Art of Projects Conference: the view from Budapest

Starting with the big image and going clockwise: The MOM Cultural Centre which hosted the conference Chapter Chair introducing the day The amazing round room View from the balcony over Budapest Traditional Hungarian snacks: apple and cherry strudels Endre, Project Manager of the Year, receiving his prize One of the tomobola winners collecting a copy… Continue Reading->

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

Trust matters because it helps build a resilient project team. It helps get things done. Trusted team members not only do only what is asked, but what the project needs them to do, because they know that the project manager will trust their decisions and actions.  Trust is a shortcut to better working relationships and… Continue Reading->

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

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… Continue Reading->

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->