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Free Project Meeting Agenda Template

Free project meeting agenda template

Looking for a free template to create an agenda for your project meetings? Look no further. Download an agenda template here:


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Risk management doesn’t have to be difficult

Project risk management

“We try to convey the earnesty and legitimacy of risk management by communicating as if it were a science,” said Mark Engelhardt, senior lecturer at IIL, during his presentation at PMI Hungary’s Art of Projects conference last week. “The problem is that risk management is far from being a science in most of our industries.”

He said that no project management process is lived as it should be if the project team doesn’t understand the process, know how to implement it effectively and it is not supported by executive management.

“What’s the point of filling out anything if nobody’s going to do anything with it?” he asked. “You can’t implement a process or use the vocabulary if upper management doesn’t understand or use it.”

Why aren’t we doing risk management well?

Mark said that in his experience project managers don’t do risk management effectively because:

  • It’s too complicated
  • It’s too academic
  • It’s time consuming
  • Nobody cares
  • It’s a mighty scientific process that they don’t feel worthy to take part in
  • They don’t want to sound negative
  • They are intimidated by it.

There is key data missing, he said, in our ability to manage risk management as a science. We don’t always have:

  • Legitimate data
  • Historical data
  • Proper transparency
  • A culture of honesty
  • An understanding of risk sensitivity
  • An appreciation of the value of risk management

Airline, hotel and insurance industries take a scientific approach to risk management because they’ve got the data to support that. In projects, more often than not we don’t.

Ignoring risk management makes you look stupid

Awareness solves most of your problems.

– Mark Engelhardt

“You don’t have a choice about whether you’re going to look stupid on a project,” Mark said. “You can only decide when you are going to look stupid.” Your choices are at the beginning, when you ask lots of stupid questions, or at the end, when your project is struggling and someone asks why you didn’t see the problems coming.

“Awareness solves most of your problems,” Mark said. A problem is something that is not documented: it becomes a risk or issue once it is written down and is being actively managed. Talking about risk puts you in a better position to do something about them especially, as Mark pointed out, “most of our executives are too far remote from the rest of the team.”

Mark said that around 40% of the things we identify as risks actually fade away without project managers having to take any action at all. Another large chunk of the content on your risk register is a by-product of the ‘way we do things around here’ and you won’t be able to take any action because you are up against corporate culture. Only 3% of risks, he estimated, turn into something explosive.

Risk management is easy

At its simplest level, project risk management is straightforward. You don’t need Monte Carlo simulations or decision trees. You only need, Mark said, a spreadsheet with some columns covering:

  • An identifier
  • An explanation of the risk
  • The impact of the risk
  • The actions you are going to take
  • The name of the person owning the risk
  • The date you expect the action plan to be completed by.

That’s it.

The alternative is paralysis and a failure to adopt even simple risk management practices. The small action of talking about and documenting risk is better than doing nothing. “Sometimes guesswork is better than no risk management at all,” he said. “As long as you are acting on it it’s OK that there is risk out there.”

Do you opt for simple or more complicated risk management practices? Why? Let us know in the comments.


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How to communicate in virtual teams

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 facilitator and I split the audience and asked them to discuss issues relating to virtual teams.

Top issues with virtual communication

One group looked at the top issues with virtual communication. The primary issue, they reported, was the lack of visual feedback. You can’t see the body language that shows if someone agrees or disagrees, or has a point to make. You’re reliant on just the voice and that can be misleading if not downright deceptive.

Another issue that they raised was the cultural differences in a multinational team. Hungarians, the group confessed, were seen by each other as creative, good communicators, a bit pessimistic and smarter than average. They contrasted that to how they perceive foreigners see Hungarians:

  • Problem-orientated
  • Goal-orientated
  • Creating a lot of noise and asking lots of questions
  • Struggling to celebrate the success of others.

This was based on feedback they had received themselves from non-Hungarian members of their international teams.

How to build trust in virtual teams

Another group looked at how to build trust in virtual teams. They concluded that it is the small things that matter. Allowing the team time for short conversations and sharing trivia through small talk helps build trust between individuals. This can be done at the start of conference calls or through online collaboration tools used for ‘chatter’.

Trust at a team level comes when you have rules and policies in place to work fairly together. When everyone knows the boundaries and what is expected of them it is easier to call out those who are not abiding by the rules.

There was consensus in the group that saying thank you with small gifts was a good way to build trust between the leader and the rest of the team. We briefly discussed the PMI Code of Ethics and agreed that saying thank you with a card and a bar of local chocolate fell within the ethical boundaries of project management practice, although everyone was aware of the need to act transparently.

Breakout sessions on virtual teams

Demonstrating leadership in virtual teams

So how do you demonstrate leadership when you never meet your team members? This was the question that the third workshop group took away to discuss.

They concluded that taking the time to get to know your team through ‘small talk’ conversations was a good way to build a positive relationship that would allow you to show leadership. They also stressed the importance of good documentation after meetings and taking control of minutes. Facilitation skills in virtual meetings were also important.

However, they concluded that if you are a good leader you can lead virtual as well as face to face teams. If leadership is about setting the vision, motivating the team and creating participation in the project then the leader can do that in a variety of settings. They will use the tools available to them, and these might be different in a virtual team, but ultimately a good leader is a good leader in any environment.

If you had been in this workshop, which group would you have joined and what discussion points would you have raised? Let’s carry on the debate in the comments below.


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PMI Budapest 2014 Conference

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 of my book, Social Media for Project Managers
  • Coffee break in the exhibition hall

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Giveaway: Supercommunicator

supercommunicatorEarlier 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 apply – it doesn’t matter where in the world you are based, you can still enter as Royal Mail delivers everywhere.

If you can’t wait to find out if you have won, you can buy it on Amazon.co.uk or
on Amazon.com and get it immediately!

Good luck!

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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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