Project Management Consultant

Monday, August 07, 2006

15 Deadly PM Mistakes Government Agencies Make -Part II

Project Management Mistake # 2
Top-down Planning With Little Input From Those Working On The Project
The responsibility for planning the project is always a hot topic of debate in any of our seminars. There seems to be a consensus that individuals are planning the project, setting deadlines, and establishing budgets with little or no input from the frontline worker. In a government setting it is very common to hear this verbalized by the line worker. Many forget that upper management is normally the individuals who have control and understanding of the resources as well as the organization’s larger mission.

There are three main areas which should be considered when having top-down planning of a project. Each of these considerations must be looked at based on the individuals and their expertise in breaking down the project. There is a great deal of strength using both upper management as well as the line employee in putting together a plan, budget, and time sequence of any project.

Top-down planning is old style
Top-down planning is a demonstration of the old style of management, which was used consistently in the nineteen fifties through the eighties. Top-down planning makes the assumption that upper management has the best processes and ideas to run a project smoothly. In many cases, this is true when management has a great deal of experience with some of the specialized projects of the government agencies. However, top-down planning can hurt a project and, in many cases, destine it for severe problems because the employees have not had an opportunity to give input.

Top-down planning could reinforce the “Peter Principle”
During the nineteen seventies, management was introduced to a new phrase which was called the “Peter Principle.” This principle meant that individuals are promoted until they reach their level of incompetence, at which time the promotions cease. To put it a different way, people are promoted until they start doing a bad job, and then they are left in that position until retirement or until they quit. What if this principle is being applied to the project planning process in your agency? What if the person doing the planning has been promoted to their level of incompetence? If they are producing project plans and they happen to be at their level of incompetence, they are producing plans which are substandard to front line employees who have an expertise in the project.
This does not mean that every manager is demonstrating the “Peter Principle.” Most managers have worked extremely hard to move up in the organization, and they are making the best decisions to run the organization toward the fulfillment of its mission and objectives. However, it is not uncommon to run across individuals who are a walking example of the “Peter Principle,” and they are hurting their agency because they have position power.

Top-down planning limits buy-in from the team
Is team buy-in important to your project success? Do you desire for your team to generate ideas and solve problems on their own? If the answer to these two questions is “yes,” then top-down planning might be something which limits buy-in and input from your team. When an organization experiences a great deal of top-down planning from their executive staff, a culture is created that signifies a lack of trust toward frontline employees. The frontline employee begins to stop making even the most common decisions in a project and begins running all solutions through the management team. This kind of response slows down the project and prevents the project team from taking the needed responsibility.

In conclusion, one of the best things a project sponsor or manager can do in project planning is to set the parameters and then work with the team to come up with the needed timeline and expectations. This will reinforce input and buy-in from the team while assisting upper management and controlling the outcomes.

Project Management Mistake # 3
Creating Teams With Improper Skills
Have you ever been on a project team which was ineffective or did not possess the proper skills for running the project in a timely fashion? This can be very frustrating to the project team as well as the customer and can damage the progress and confidence in project planning. How does something like this happen? What do we do when we have project teams with improper skills? All of these questions are very important and must be examined in order to make the project advance in an effective manner.

• Reasons for teams with improper skills
There can be several reasons why a project team does not have the skills needed to complete a project. In most cases, a project team will possess 80% of the skills and will need to bridge the gap for the remaining 20%. This gap can be bridged with the usage of other experienced team members, outside contractors, or internal training to provide skills to the project team.

The first reason why teams have improper skills is the project requirements have changed but the team has stayed the same. Some projects evolve and change objectives while being completed. This requires changes of skills and core competencies within the project team in order to handle this type of evolution.

The second reason why teams have improper skills is due to a lack of project management training. Many project teams have basic skills for running a project, but over time they become lazy and allow those skills to become cold or dormant. This means that they must be reminded in team meetings and with updated training.

The third reason why teams have improper skills is because the team has never possessed the skill in the first place. They try to use knowledge others possess. Some project teams are doing the best they can with a calendar and excel sheets. They have never been taught a proper way of running a project so they revert back to the skills that they know. This makes it very difficult for a project team to monitor one another because there are numerous systems being used to track and calculate project success.

It is very important for project teams to keep their skill levels strong and effective. This can be done very easily through the usage of training in short intervals at the end of project meetings. In many cases, the training will need to only be 15 to 30 minutes in length to keep the skills fresh and to build new techniques into your project. Our clients have enjoyed our free monthly e-zine which reinforces these skills. Each month a different skill is the focus.

Project Management Mistake # 4
Roles And Responsibilities Are Not Spelled Out
Many projects are hurt because the team members are unaware of their roles and responsibilities. This comes about due to a number of reasons. Foolishly, project managers and sponsors think that their team should already know which role they are fulfilling. When roles and responsibilities are not explained, we are leaving this understanding up to the individual team member. When this happens, they are going to miss the mark and function in a role which is not consistent with a project manager’s outcome. When they do not perform as desired, there is frustration and anxiety. Let’s examine the most common reasons roles and responsibilities are not fulfilled.

Misunderstanding of role
Project team members work on a number of project teams. On some of the teams they are expected to be more influential in the manner of interaction, while on other teams they are expected to function in a supportive nature. Making sure the roles and responsibilities are discussed in the early stages of a team meeting will reduce these frustrations and cause the team member to engage in a manner which is desirable.

• Being placed in a role which is out of one’s expertise
Team members are expected to walk on water, if needed. This causes many of them to take on jobs within the project team which are out of their comfort zone and expertise. What you will notice is many of the team members are wonderful people, and they will try anything the project sponsor or manager desires. However, if we really want success in these new roles, one should make sure you are providing education to expand their skill set and then put these new skills into practice.

Explaining where they can get information and help
Working on a team requires accountability. Project managers are assuming the individuals know where to get the needed help and assistance. They think that if they do not know, they should just ask. For some team members, they are assertive and confident enough to do this when needed. But what about the non-assertive team member? What about the quiet team member? There are times when a team member is not sure what to do and where to get help when problems arise. Project managers can reduce a great deal of stress and encourage their team in a powerful way if they will give direction on where they can get questions answered and help on their assignments.

In closing, if you desire for your team to take on more in the project, take steps to equip them with the correct skills and provide them support on how to solve their problems.

Project Management Mistake # 5
Little Accountability When Productivity Is Low
Running project teams can become very difficult, especially when you are not their immediate supervisor and do not have position power over them. This is complicated when project teams have no formal way of evaluating the work their team members have completed or a way to give feedback to the team member’s supervisor. This results in team members who are working on projects and have a very low productivity level, but they continue to get great performance evaluations from a supervisor.

We are going to look at the reasons this happens, ways to change accountability in your culture, and, finally, how to set up feedback sessions for tracking project teams and holding them more accountable.

• Reasons for low accountability
There are three primary reasons why project teams struggle with little or no accountability. Many of these can be removed through simple communication, the setting of standards, and detailing the roles and responsibilities of each team member. Let’s examine each of the three reasons for little accountability on a project team.

The first reason why there is a lack of accountability in projects is due to the usage of staff from various departments who report to difference supervisors. This has become more complicated due to the internal culture of most agencies which requires the only person to hold a worker accountable would be their direct supervisor. Problems surface when communication breaks down and there is a lack of feedback about the worker’s performance on a particular project. Poor employees know about this gap, and they have started using this lack of communication to their advantage.

The second reason why there is little accountability on many project teams is due to a lack of proper evaluation of the work one has performed. As project teams develop, there should be a reasonable amount of evaluation taking place to maintain quality, communication, and make sure the objectives of the project are being achieved. When there is no internal evaluation to maintain quality, it compels the team to put off examining quality until the end of the project. This forces corrective actions to take place at the end of the project which increases budget and time. Unless evaluation is examined throughout a project and individual roles and responsibilities of each team member are detailed, hold the entire team accountable even though it might only be one or two team members.

The third reason why there is little accountability is due to an improper manner of setting up the project team. Project teams are set up without a code of conduct or a value statement of how the team plans to work and will conduct themselves. Without this code, many teams find themselves floundering as they try to hold each other accountable with no position power. Since there is no standard that the project team is agreeing to follow, each individual is a standard among themselves with different measuring indicators. Unless the code or standard is set up in the beginning, this team will continue to have conflict after conflict throughout the entire project.

• Changing accountability culture
Changing accountability culture must take place with the support of the project manager, project sponsor, and the entire project team. Unless you have the support of the project manager and sponsor, the team will notice a lack of resource leverage. Changing the culture of the project team to one which possesses more accountability happens through a series of detailed steps rather than just one activity.

The culture of an agency can be defined as the way we run the organization and what is allowed. This can be demonstrated by how we treat individuals, what is talked about, what is joked about, as well as what has been said behind the backs of others. All of these examples demonstrate culture. When we focus on a culture which violates accountability, we are discussing a problem which sabotages positive work and reinforces the slug mentality.

The following is a listing of some of the events which must take place in order to change the accountability culture in your project team and in your agency.

First, the organization must detail what the new culture design or model will be. This means having a good idea of what would bring about the best successful situation for the agency. It can be something as simple as shifting from a strong autocratic style to one which is more team oriented. In other situations it is making adjustments on how communication is distributed among the personnel. Regardless of what is needed, there must be a picture in the leadership’s mind as to the proper culture for the future.

Second, you must brainstorm which personnel will be the most supportive of this new culture and get them active in making the shift. Some personnel struggle with any type of change taking place in an organization. There are other employees who love the thought of change, especially when shifting culture is described. What you want to do is get employees who are supportive, as well as those who might be resistant, working on making the needed changes. Resisters will bring up ideas of future hurdles that might hinder the shifting of culture. As you solve these problems within the team and prior to rolling it out to the entire agency, you have actually made the changing of your culture a stronger plan than before.

Third, you must be willing to weather the storm of negativity that follows the shifting of a paradigm such as this. People have the tendency to be more negative than positive, especially during times of massive change such as the one being discussed. You will need individuals who will verbally support the change of this culture in spite of a high level of negativity from others.

• Setting feedback sessions for tracking
Creating the feedback sessions is one of the best ways for monitoring the performance of the project team. These feedback sessions must include detailed evaluation of the quality, communications, roles and responsibilities, budget, and cohesiveness of the project team. To have a feedback session and refuse to be involved in evaluating these details is like leading a team to shoot at a target blindfolded.

Feedback sessions can be done on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. They are not done just to examine the negative things wrong with project. They are done with a motive of evaluating performance and progress. This means in a normal feedback session, it is possible not only to discuss where a team has not measured up but also to point out those areas where outstanding work has been accomplished.

In summary, it is very important for the culture of any project to hold team members accountable. If this is not taking place, then it is the responsibility of the project manager, project sponsor, and each team member to discuss the situation and fix it immediately.

Dr. Keith Mathis
Founder and CEO of The Mathis Group, specializes in Project Management, Management Leadership, and Marketing training for private businesses and government agencies of all kinds.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

15 Deadly PM Mistakes Government Agencies Make -Part I

“GSA Contractor Reveals The Shocking Truth On How To Create And Run Project Teams More Effectively And Efficiently! Read This Special, Free Report To Find Out What Project Sponsors, Project Managers or Even Agency Directors May Not Know About How To Make Projects More Productive Once And For All…With The Present Workforce!”

Keep reading this report to find out some of the best methods to get your project team trained and functioning in a high manner. Inside this FREE report you will discover:
  • Why lack of planning can make your project take longer than needed.
  • Why refusing to detail roles and responsibilities will confuse the team.
  • Why neglecting to create a solid communication plan will create needless gaps.
  • Why inappropriate authority and controls can cause mismanagement of the team.
  • Why rejecting to conduct post mortems increases your risk of failure in future projects.
  • Why neglecting to create the best practices for running projects in your culture will reproduce substandard skills.
Warning: Ineffective project teams are wasting hundreds of hours and millions of dollars in the government. This impacts the lives of thousands of workers each year. That is the bad news. THE GOOD NEWS is that project management techniques can be taught to each employee and reduce some of this frustration. Keep reading this report to find out the well-hidden truth you will not find anywhere else!

Your decision to read this tells a lot about your openness to try something new and to consider additional options for future changes. Project Management in a government setting is here to stay. It is one of those skills which help deliver the greatest value to the most individuals. During a time when all agencies are faced with tight budgets and limited staff, we must make sure we can complete projects in the shortest and most economic way.

This report focuses on some of the most common blunders made by agencies when working on projects. Many of these mistakes are not a one-time event, but are part of the culture of the organization and happens in 90% of the projects.

Even though in this report we focus on project management mistakes, this does not indicate that everything you are doing is wrong. Most agencies have a method or two that is very productive and gives them their greatest productivity. In many cases the agency has been able to deliver and finish projects on time and within budget, even though they have violated numerous project management fundamentals. However, when an agency creates a realistisic timeline and is able to better organize their staff, they are able to reduce stress and burnout while using their resources in a positive way. This report will help you by tweaking many of your present processes or operations to be more impactive in the future.

Also, this report is in no way critical of the great men and women who work for Federal agencies and give a great deal of time and effort to make projects run as smoothly as possible. As each mistake is discussed, it is always with the desire to make project management processes more effective and not to criticize employees or to take shots at their efforts. Most project teams are filled with many men and women who care deeply about their jobs and are strongly committed to the goals and the objectives of their agency.

How to use this report
This report is written as a secret weapon to help an agency like yours be more productive in reaching project objectives. Each point is designed to help give you numerous ideas, create new ways for running projects within your organization and ultimately make each project or process as efficient as possible. As you read this report, do not be afraid to mark it up and make notes for further examination and research. This report has been designed to assist you as an action plan to help you increase your project management skills with time tested ideas.

What you should do after reading this report
There are three groups of people who will be reading this report.

Group #1 is the type who makes excuses for missed dates and budget over extensions. They normally focus on reasons that are outside of their control. Excuses are different than reasons. Excuses are created to get the pressure off us and to point it in another direction. Reasons can be a calculated analysis of low results which explain why something is not productive. In addition, reasons can be educational with the end result being a new solution.

Group #2 thinks they already possess all the project management knowledge ever needed. Anytime we discuss project management skills, we always deal with individuals who want to fight us on the front end by showing us the great depths of truth they possess in the area of running projects. They can quote all the project management theories; however, sometimes they are using techniques which have become outdated. The most ridiculous thing is to continue wasting our project dollars and expecting results to be better. For this group of knowledgeable individuals, I would like to ask if your techniques are working so well, why are deadlines still being missed and projects are not reaching their objectives?

Group #3 is those who will take action and responsibility to make changes so they can be successful. This means learning new techniques; making changes to target specific skill sets which are missing. This group will do what is needed to be successful.

Which group are you? Hopefully you are willing to move into our third group by reading this report and taking action. This group understands there is no miracle worker who will come in and fix your project. If you desire for your projects to run in a more effective way while impacting the performance of each team member, there must be some special actions created. Reading this report and creating an action plan of high priority items to examine is just one of those special actions.

To assist you in gaining a better focus on areas to analyze, we are going to put our consulting hat on for the remainder of this report. We want to show you some areas which consistently surface as problems in government settings. This report in no way guarantees that these small mistakes are happening in your agency. In many agencies you will discover you are successful in these areas. However, we recommend you recheck and examine each area to make sure processes are running smoothly and every thing is in order. If any part of project management theory processes or core competencies is misdirected, it can have a dramatic effect on the end results. This is why you will see a close connection to training your project teams and creating best practices that fit your agency. To fail in one area can kill the budget and timeline of projects for the entire year.

In the following pages we have researched and found there are 15 project management mistakes which waste dollars and hours in time. Once again, we do not think every agency is committing all of these mistakes. However, why should we needlessly lose project time when the skills and knowledge are at our finger tips?

Project Management Mistake # 1
Planning Before A Customer Interview Is Completed
Due to enormous pressure, project teams are faced with beginning activity on a project prior to completing a detailed project plan. This causes a great deal of hardship and mistakes which cost time and money for the organization as well as frustration to the project team.

Reasons why planning takes place before the interview
There are three basic reasons why planning takes place prior to a detailed interview of the customer and/or the project sponsor.

The first reason planning takes place before a thorough interview has been conducted is based on the fact that, in the American culture, we have substituted activity for planning. This means we want activities to be happening at a record pace to demonstrate that we are running the project, even though there is no plan in place. Unless project managers and project sponsors come to the understanding that interviewing the customer and setting precise objectives must be completed up front, we will continue to have blurry plans and numerous amounts of rework on our project.

The second reason why planning takes place prior to an interview is that no one has taken the time to understand the real goal and objective of the project. This means the project team is faced with having to plan the project on the run with limited understanding of the real goal. Planning a project while on the run is not an effective way of using manpower and resources for the project. In most cases, it will cause the project to take longer, cost more, and experience numerous gaps.

The third reason why project plans are created without an interview is the project sponsors and project managers do not see the benefit of getting all the information upfront. Some project managers have been trained in a culture that disperses information in small, bite size pieces rather than in large chunks. This means that the average project is being planned with only knowledge of the few short goals rather than a full understanding of what the project should look like at completion.

Need for interview
Interviewing the customer is the best way to gain a thorough understanding of the project’s objectives and goals. Unless a project sponsor or project manager has this knowledge, the project will take longer and cost more than anticipated, and, in many cases, will require a great deal of rework. All of these reasons emphasize the need to take the time upfront to interview the customer and make sure you understand their goal, objectives, and timeframe.

Look for the remaining 14 Deadly Mistakes in Parts II and III coming soon.

Dr. Keith Mathis
Founder and CEO of The Mathis Group, specializes in Project Management, Management Leadership, and Marketing training for private businesses and government agencies of all kinds.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

5 Goals of Every Project

Project goals keep the focus on what is most important. However, on some teams these primary
goals are lost in their meeting’s activities. Make sure each meeting is structured so as to move the project forward. Even if the progress is only inches rather than by huge leaps, the team must be pushing the project forward as quickly, safely, and reasonably as possible.

Finish the project within the scheduled timetable.
Your goal should be to finish the project within the timeframe agreed upon. This means you must do everything possible to drive the project to the end and stay on time. Remember to avoid guessing and incompetence in the planning of the scope so as to have a reasonable time schedule with which to work.

Finish the project within the scheduled budget.
Budgets are set by some project teams while others inherit them. Whether you set the budget or inherit it, you need to make sure you are doing your best to track your expenditures and know where the money is going. When you finish the project within the scheduled budget, you demonstrate your ability in running the project responsibly.

Finish the project with the same level of quality.
Unfortunately, when projects lag behind, quality is often sacrificed in order to catch up. Project leaders sometimes feel that in order to pick up speed, pieces of the project will need to be downsized or cut completely. True, the project plan will have to be revised when problems arise, but the revision should never compromise quality. While it is important to keep deadlines, it is equally important to keep the project’s quality high throughout the project.

Finish the project within the specified guidelines.
Make sure you are meeting the customer’s needs. You must “wow” the customer! This can be done simply by finishing the project with the specifics the customer really wanted. The best way to solidify this is to verify your accomplishment by customer handoff and close down.

Do the best you can with what you have been given.
There is no such thing as a perfect project. Some projects run up against major odds and hurdles. For example, many recent projects in our country have endured major setbacks because of terror attacks, severe weather causing power outages, or a nation at war. Even against these catastrophes, projects were remarkably turned around and back on track because of great project team leaders and teams. Project goals were met because they did their best with what came their way.

Author: Dr. Keith Mathis
Founder of The Mathis Group
Speaker, Trainer and Seminar Leader
Expert in Project Management, Management Leadership, and Sales and Marketing

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Mastering Projects In The 21st Century

Project management is a process which best guides a project to its completion using the people, budget, and resources to their maximum benefit. Managing projects dates back at least 4,500 years, yet the role of project manager is only recently becoming recognized as a discipline in its own right. Project management is so different of any another type of management because many projects are attempted without any past history. The project may have a clear cut beginning and ending, but everything in the middle is not clearly defined at the start of the project. With multi-tasking being part of our everyday lives, we often have other duties that monopolize our time so we are not able to focus solely on one project. Knowing how to make a project run in the smoothest manner possible will decrease the amount of time the project takes, as well as decreasing the stress and pressure of completion. There are six main phases of project management that we will overview below.

Phase 1: Determine Project Specifics
During the first phase of your project, you want to examine the benefits of gathering all your information up front. Completing this will allow you to clarify the expertise and skills needed. Analyzing the skills of your project team will help you determine who will be best used in which area. With your team, brainstorm ways to complete the project on budget and on schedule. You may even be able to detect problems and concerns in their early stages.

Phase 2: Chart Out a Successive Project Plan
Your first team meeting will probably be spent on developing detailed tasks for each member, creating a budget, breaking the project down into the major and minor milestones, and setting your timeline. Doing all of this is going to take lots of cooperation from everyone involved. This is the phase that will either unite everyone as a team or single out a few individuals who want to be in “control”. In order to have a powerful team, unity must be reached. The old saying “There is no I in team” still holds true today. Everyone must have an active role in order for you to be successful. Creating a code of conduct will help to achieve this. A code of conduct is a tool created by the project team to give direction on how people will be treated and expectations on performance while working on the project. Developing this up front will eliminate any confusion as to what is expected.

Phase 3: Implement and Execute the Plan
Communication is the key to every successful project. Knowing how and what to communicate to whom is vital in keeping the project on the right track. Always remember that there inevitably will be changes in your project. Make sure it is stated very clearly up front who has the authority to handle any changes that need to be made. Once a change has taken place, communicate it to everyone involved--including upper management and the customer.

Phase 4: Monitor Milestones and Critical Path
Once you have set the milestones for the project, do not forget to monitoring them. Watch for signs of a problem, such as the budget being spent faster than planned or internal conflict. Catching problems as soon as possible will make it easier to get back on track. Getting
back on schedule may require some overtime of team members, starting future tasks or phases early, or maybe even hiring an outside contractor to help make up for lost time. If you are unable to get back up to speed, you may have to renegotiate the deadline with your customer. Renegotiation must be done tactfully. Do not go into the meeting demanding a later ending date. You have to be flexible and realize that your customer is on a time schedule also. Do your research and homework beforehand. Know exactly how much extra time you are going to need. Communicate the new deadlines as early as possible. This will help your customer plan for the changes as well. Above all, be prepared to be responsible for the new dates. You do not want to have to change the deadline for a second time!

Phase 5: Close Out
Finishing a project is always an exciting, and sometimes stressful, time. Before you start celebrating, however, make sure that all of the project objectives and criteria have been met. To ensure customer satisfaction, create a series of signoffs. Close out all your books, bills, and charges. Also, gain a consensus for how the project will be handed off to the customer. If customer training is needed, schedule that now.

Phase 6: Post Mortem and Celebration
A post mortem is a meeting that focuses on examining the project and analyzing the good, the
bad, and what lessons have been learned. Post mortems are important because they build data and information that will help other projects and teams have a better chance of success. They also create strategies for speeding up future projects. After the post mortem has been completed, it’s time to celebrate! Brainstorm with your team what a good celebration will be. Some examples are: team pictures, supper or dinner, comp time, or cake and recognition. You do not have to wait until the project is completed to celebrate. You can have mini celebrations for any milestone or task completion. Having something to look forward to is a great motivation to keep on working, even when you want to quit.

Good project management skills will be developed over time with the more projects in which you are involved. Getting a good start on those skills will help you become an even better project manager (or team member) from the very beginning.

Author: Dr. Keith Mathis
Founder of The Mathis Group
Speaker, Trainer and Seminar Leader
Expert in Project Management, Management Leadership, and Sales and Marketing