How Project Managers can Prioritize for Faster Strategy Implementation

how-project-managers-can-prioritize-for-faster-strategy-implementationPrioritizing projects can seem time consuming when you’re on a tight schedule, but failing to prioritize can waste even more time and money down the line. Prioritization helps ensure growth of the organization and avoidance of expensive setbacks. When projects that support an organization’s business goals are given priority, return on investment is maximized through proper allocation of resources,

There is no one definition for what makes a project “right.” However, a project manager can help the organization determine which projects can promote faster strategy implementation by following these guidelines for prioritization.

Maximizing Benefits

Stakeholders who balk at prioritization often do so in the belief that all projects are important. The fact is, if all projects are perceived as of equal importance, then the organization may run out of time and money before any projects are completed. Once stakeholders– who include project managers, product owners, sponsors, customers and users — understand that prioritization is necessary to maximize benefits with limited resources, they will have more buy-in with the process. Collaboration is key, as managers, developers and stakeholders work on priorities despite conflicting views.

Determining Priorities

The first step in prioritizing is determining which criteria to use to rank projects. Among those you might consider: return on investment, budget, human resources and organizational priorities.

Budget: Consider margin for error and risk exposure, and how they may impact overrun of a budget. These factors could determine whether a project is prioritized or eliminated. Also ask if the project is funded internally or externally. Stakes can be higher when funding sources are external, with delays or quality issues resulting in contract disputes and legal damages. It’s also worthwhile to ask if funding of a project depends on the completion of another project.

Human Resources: Ask yourself if your team has the right human resources to complete the project. Will your staff require training, or will you need to pull in external team members?

Return On Investment (ROI): This is, of course, generally the top reason for assigning a high priority to a project. When the economy is on the upswing, revenue-producing projects are generally favored, but in tougher times, costs may be a more important factor in assigning priority.

Organizational Priorities: ROI is important, but so is contributing to the company’s long-term strategic goals. You should consider if a project will fulfill some strategy important to future direction of the business or organization.

Another important criterion might be time: can the team implement and complete the project in a reasonable time?

Methods of Prioritizing

Ranking priorities can be done in several ways. One method is to assign each project a high, medium or low value. Whether you are ranking priorities with a team or doing it yourself, you total up the numbers and top numbers determine priorities.

Another group method, called the nominal group technique (NGT), involves assigning the most important project a value of 1, the second most gets a value of 2, and on. The values are totaled, and the one with the lowest value is ranked highest priority, and so on. A variation of this is to limit ranking to a certain number of projects. Projects that aren’t ranked can be considered later.

The key thing to remember when ranking projects by scores is that the numbers have no value unless those assigning them are guided by the agreed-upon criteria. It is the project manager’s duty, whether prioritizing alone, or leading stakeholders in a collaborative process, to ensure this happens.

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How to Write a Project Management Report

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Project management reports are a versatile tool within every manager’s toolbox. Reports can be used to shared information with vendors, clients, members of the manager’s inner circle or departments beyond the initial scope of the project.

Lasting Value of Reports 

So, what’s the real value behind reports? Why should you bother typing up a report that takes time away from engaging new prospects and coordinating among your team’s inner circle?

The answer is that reports can help managers keep a historical record of budget constraints, impending deadlines and the job duties of each team member. Reports are just a great touchstone to get other managers, vendors and a larger audience on the same page.

Reports are also invaluable in conflict resolution and give managers the chance to improve their own leadership skills. On the more micro level of inner-team organization, reports can keep employees engaged and motivated to fulfill their goals.

Writing Better Reports 

Simply put, a project manager who can streamline his communication skills has an edge when it comes to scheduling and carrying out short-term goals and embodying long-term career success.

Under project management theory, project managers struggle against the constant threats of funding limitations and providing deliverables to clients ahead of schedule.

OK, that’s interesting, but where does report writing factor in? When project managers take the time to apply a few basic principles to their report writing – proper formatting, putting the audience first, and clearly outlining reports – the entire project management cycle improves since everyone understands their role and has an ironclad reference to go back to.

All reports drafted by project managers, in short, should have a few features in common:

  • Audience-centric writing

You need to determine the core audience for your report writing since this will inform the report’s tone, formatting and underlying purpose. A report written for other employees within your own department is going to emphasize different facts than one that is geared towards the owner of your company or individual vendors. Isolating out your audience from the outset will help with formatting and staying focused later.

  • Concise and actionable

Employees, vendors and clients are far more likely to heed your advice if you lay out the facts then tell each team member what his or her specific job for the day is. Keeping reports tight and concise allows your audience to quickly find the information that they need and ultimately carry out the tasks that they’re paid to carry out. It’s just a fact of life that people normally want to succeed but they need direction as well as motivation to consistently do so. Report writing can help provide that guiding hand.

  • Just the facts, ma’am

Bearing in mind that one of the driving aims behind report writing is conveying hard information and spurring on action, a report that downplays opinions and hairy-fairy interpretations in favor of cold-hard facts is a winning strategy. When you winnow your writing down to the facts, you’re enabling reports to work their own magic – to act as a reference and motivator for employees and clients alike. Facts are also much harder to dispute later when it comes to conflict resolution.

  • Respect your audience’s time

Your audience is going to find your report more useful if you make sure to break up the content into sections. Introduce the topic, mention the project’s methodology and get into the project’s early successes and areas for improvement. Mentioning the report’s two main findings at the beginning of your summary can also help even more time-strapped speed readers get the picture and take effective action sooner.

Balancing Management Roles and Juggling Multiple Projects

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If you’ve ever looked into the different roles that project managers take on, then you’re probably already familiar with Mintzberg’s management roles.

Management Roles in Context 

Henry Mintzberg is a business author who’s written extensively on business strategy and management theory.

Ten Management Roles 

One of Mintzberg’s core ideas is that managers fulfill different roles at different phases of a project, and these roles switch depending on expectations, resources and dynamic economies.

Mintzberg focuses on ten roles that project managers most often fulfill. These include acting as an allocator of resources, conflict negotiator and liaison between other project managers.

Three Overarching Categories 

Each of these ten roles, in turn, draws upon three overarching skills that all competent managers already possess – interpersonal skills, information processing skills and the ability to make quick, potent decisions.

Maybe the most important decision making role that a project manager faces is acting as a resource allocator. Creating and adhering to a schedule and budgetary constraints is imperative for completing a project on (or ahead) of schedule and under budget.

Differentiating between hard and soft deadlines – more on this in a second – is also a cornerstone of being an experienced resource allocator, and this skill becomes even more important when multiple teams are counting on you.

Self Assessment of Competencies 

Taking out a piece of paper and noting how well you stack up in each of these ten roles and three overarching categories can help inform when, for instance, you might need to step up and take a more proactive role in resource allocation within your organization.

Alternatively, a self-identified under performance in your ability to act as a disseminator of relevant changes in the project, its timeline or resources could help you prioritize valuable information in the context of reaching project benchmarks.

Resource Allocation and Juggling Projects 

Learning how to prioritize to make optimal use of human resources and budget limitations is at the heart of becoming a great resource allocator.

Effectively managing these resources hinges on a somewhat unsexy skill that nonetheless becomes more imperative the more projects that you take on as a manager: scheduling.

Hard and Soft Deadlines 

Scheduling in the context of project management boils down to drafting a list of all of your deadlines then further sorting these deadlines as hard (i.e., unmissable) or soft (i.e., flexible). Differentiating these two kinds of deadlines helps managers in a few ways.

Simply being forced to put all of your deadlines into writing can help you prioritize each project that you’re working on and take into account budget and time constraints.

Realizing that some projects can be completed in days whereas other could take years of future work as a resource allocator and acting as a liaison among other project managers might lead to a reshuffling of resources or a project’s perceived value for the organization.

Dissemination and Coordination 

Once you’ve determined which deadlines are hard and which are soft, it’s time to step into your interpersonal role as a leader as well as your information role as a disseminator by informing team members and staffers about the project’s updated timeline.

Coordinate with other project managers to determine whether your hard deadlines are compatible with their expectations.

Another manager might determine that one of your prioritized hard deadlines is, in fact, less critical to hit in the next month than taking on a fresh project. This would actually require taking on Mintzberg’s decisional role as an entrepreneur, staying on your toes and adapting to changing circumstances.

Project management is, after all, a combination of know-how, interpersonal skills, relevant decision making and adaptability.

5 Tips for Conquering the Impossible Project

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Project management is usually a challenging task where different stakeholders must be satisfied against limited resources. Even more so where you are tasked with a project of magnitude proportions that just seems to be impossibility against with time frames that seem impossible to achieve. You have to deal with difficult personalities, ever changing environments and other constraints.

How does one conquer the impossible projects that come along your path? Here are five tips to conquer the impossible project:

Define the Successful Criteria.  This will make or break your project. All stakeholders need to share a common understanding of how to determine the success of the project. It needs to be objective and measurable in order to determine success. Decide what criteria will be used to decide when a product will be released. Laying the groundwork right at the start of your impossible project will give the necessary direction that should be taken in achieving these criteria.

The Importance of a Plan.  Writing a plan in itself is hardly challenging. The challenge is the actual planning or the amount of time utilized in analyzing the task at hand to achieve the measurable results will dictate your thoughts, the implementation how and gathering the correct information on potential risks. Break down your plan into workable chunks where checklists are utilized to process every step needed to achieve success. Always remember that it is important to manage the project pitfalls or it will manage you. Have plans in place to prevent mishaps and solutions to mishaps.

Project Approximation.  If you want to approximate the project, it is suggested to do it in measures of effort and not calendar time. Calendar time leaves you open to variables like other tasks that need priority right now, meetings and many other uncontrollable factors. Use the 80/20 principle when scheduling time with team members and do make use of technology in estimating project deadlines.

Monitor Project Status in an Open Manner.  It is important to operate within a team environment where individual team members have the freedom to report on project milestones in an open manner. Where one part of the project is lacking and another is ahead, available resources can be committees to the team or member that is lagging. Team members need to feel safe to report on status openly and thereby creating an accurate mirror of events. This will empower you to make informed and rational decisions.

Stay Calm.  Do not get anxious in front of the team. If you are lagging behind, search for the best possible solutions to the problem at hand. You will make more focused and objective decisions when you are calm and collected. Be severe on deadlines, but be understanding in how to best achieve them. You are working with humans, not robots. The better leadership qualities you present now, the better for your future prospects.

Making Changes as Smooth as Possible

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Ideally, project development would be a straightforward process; all necessary features of the final product would be determined at the outset, and appropriate materials and personnel would be assigned to complete the project within the allotted time. While this is the goal at the outset of any project, in reality circumstances alter, last-minute ideas are introduced, and changes are made. As a project manager, one of your responsibilities is to evaluate and implement these changes such that the project isn’t thrown into chaos by an unending flood of shifting expectations. Here are some tips for incorporating changes into a project more smoothly.

  1. Be involved – early and often. If possible, get involved during the earliest stages of the project development process, when the requirements and expectations of the project are first laid down. You will have the best opportunity to understand the original intent and scope of the project, which should guide the vision of everyone working on it. In addition, seeing the earliest planning stages will show you how thoroughly the details of the project were planned, which might offer hints about how many changes and additions you can expect as the project progresses. If you weren’t present from the word “go,” include a project scope analysis as part of your regular project meetings.
  2. Implement a change approval process. Changes, even seemingly minor ones, shouldn’t be incorporated into the project automatically. Inform project stakeholders that they must submit a change request, and that these requests should include the following:
  • Who is making the request,
  • the details of the requested change, and
  • the priority level of the proposed change.

Once a change request has been submitted, evaluate it in terms of the impact it will have on the project as a whole. Be as thorough in this analysis as possible, paying particular attention to whether the proposed change will require more time and/or resources to implement without deterioration of the final product quality.

  1. Keep a change log. Note down every change request, its submitter, the date, the details of the request, its effects on the project scope, resources, and deadline, and whether it was approved or denied.
  2. Use online communication and collaboration tools. These tools give you access to the work your team has already completed, which is useful to review during change impact analyses to see how proposed changes will affect the work being done. Online communication tools enable important information and feedback to be conveyed quickly between you and the project team without wasting work hours in meetings. Using these tools helps you keep open your lines of communication with stakeholders, project sponsors, and the project team, minimizing incorrect assumptions about changes.
  3. Engage with stakeholders. When a client, sponsor, or other stakeholder feels that their concerns and ideas are going unheard, they may attempt to take those suggestions straight to your project team, circumventing the change review process. If you reject a change request, explain to the requester why this decision was made, as this helps them understand the issues at work and reduces the possibility of resentment. If you approve a change, make clear any increased resource or time requirements the new change demands.
  4. Keep the project’s scope in view. A proposed change might seem like a brilliant idea, but if it falls outside the scope of the project, approving it could send your project team down a rabbit hole of distraction and pile on a great deal more work to complete the suddenly-much-larger project by the deadline. Proposed feature changes that alter the scope of a project should receive much greater scrutiny than those that don’t.

How to Communicate Successfully

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Project managers use communication to lead and to motivate their team, to delegate responsibility to all involved in the project, and to report back to project sponsors and all stakeholders. Communication is the majority of a project manager’s job, so every project manager must learn how to communicate successfully.

Develop your communication plan

Just like every other aspect of your project, you must make a communication plan. However, it cannot be a one-size-fits-all. Communication plans must be adapted to each of your different stakeholders because they encompass different: audiences, communication formats and timing, and impacts on the project. Each of these factors must be considered in your plan.

Therefore, creating a plan for stakeholders could include a number of tools. The first is a grid that groups stakeholders across a number of characteristics like format, their ranking vis-a-vis other stakeholders, or their level of involvement in the project.  Once you put all of your stakeholders into a grid, you could then develop a specific communications plan for each group based on the degree of management each requires.

A second tool is to create a chart entitled RACI which means Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. Set up a table that lists out every task to be done and each of the stakeholders. Assign each task and action to a stakeholder communicate the chart so that every task is covered.

Once you have your plan, you need to give some thought to the different types of communications you will need. It is useful to think about the three main stakeholder groups as communication streams.

There are two streams of communication that project managers have to master: one to senior management, a second to their team, and a third to project sponsors. Each stream requires different tasks, tools and skills to make a project run smoothly.

Communicating to senior management

The first is the communication stream to senior management. This is a crucial area of communication because it will help to solidify their support for the project and therefore enforce the changes that the project will make, shoring up the probability of success.

All communications with senior management will surround the project ideas and o remind them of the importance of the project and progress being made. Expect to send them many status reports, particularly as the project outlines shift and change.

Communicating to and with your team

The second is the stream of communication with your team, which can begin even before the full team is in place. By staring early, you will ensure that all team members are on your list and they can help to participate in building the initial communications plan. It is that communications plan which will be used as the basis for project communications, and will evolve as the project moves forward.

Regular communication will include updates on the project as well as the information necessary for them to meet their goals. You will to assign work, along with clear and precise expectations of when each task is to be completed. As well, your team needs feedback on how they are doing, the team and project as whole, and for motivation. Without simple and clear instructions, the project can quickly go off track.

Studies show that one out of every five projects fails because of ineffective communications. By applying these effective communication skills, you can avoid becoming a statistic, too.

5 Common Project Management Mistakes

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When you learn that a project you managed failed, it’s hard to imagine a worse bit of information to receive at a department meeting. But rather than worry that you aren’t cut out for the job, take action and rethink your processes. Here are 5 common project manager mistakes. Do they sound familiar?

Mistake #1: Not enough authority

Senior management are the people who ensure that your project can become the engine for change. If they are not completely on board, your project will have a difficult time succeeding. However, they might also leave you in limbo when you are given responsibility for a project but not the full authority. Without authority, your project could fail.

Since the project must still be managed, you need to enhance your referent power, which is your savvy leadership style, or your expert power, which is your knowledge and capabilities, as well as your powers of persuasion to manage the job. When you master your skills, you can manage projects even when you think that you have insufficient formal power.

Mistake #2: Careless planning

When you sat down to plan the project, was the entire team included in determining how the project would meet its outcomes?

Avoid this mistake by getting your team involved early so they, too, are invested in the process and the outcome. Communicate clearly what roles will be assigned to each team member, and then create a schedule, outline additional resources, and a communication plan. If your team is confident in the plan, you will be more likely to successfully meet deadlines and complete the project.

Mistake #3: Mis-managing expectations

No matter what the project is, unattainable expectations can arise. As the project manager, you must manage expectations so that everyone is working toward the same outcome.

This is easily accomplished by breaking down your project into manageable pieces. You have to establish reasonable deliverables over the entire life span of the project so you can demonstrate what work is being done, the stage in the project’s lifetime, and ultimately, that the project is moving along toward completion.

Mistake #4: Micromanaging your team

If the project is to be finished, and finished on time, then everyone involved needs to know clearly what their role is and what is expected. Micromanaging can destroy the team moral and the project’s success. Micromanagement is actually mismanagement in action.

Delegate the responsibilities to your team, who are experts in their field. Your job is to show them the direction for the project, make sure the work gets done and cheerlead. A group that is micromanaged is less efficient and effective and can help to derail your project.

Mistake #5: Ending too early

You think that the project is done, or you are simply done with the project and you pass it on, or simply fail to clean up the loose ends. Completing the project must include every last detail.

Ask for input from the project’s sponsor and all stakeholders to make up a checklist on what small tasks must be finished before they believe the project is done.

When you get to the end of your project, and you have managed your authority, planned carefully including expectations, did not micromanage, and ensured that all involved agreed the project is finished, take some time to congratulate your team. After all, they were key players in your success.

Creating Meeting Agendas

creating-meeting-agendasManagers often want to know some basic guidelines for establishing effective meeting agendas. It surprises some of these managers to hear that maybe a meeting isn’t the most effective way to spread information around the office in the first place.

Updates Versus Meetings

Let’s qualify that statement – if, as a manager, you simply need to update your staff on a new company policy or apprise your staff of a room change, that could probably be done in a brief report or through email.

It’s important to differentiate between two types of ends before getting started – are you looking to simply tell staff about an update? Instead, are you hoping to engage your staff in a back-and-forth discussion to hammer down a project’s particulars.

If the former, then you can get away with just sending around an email containing the update or conveying the information that your staff needs to know. If the latter, though, here are some steps to follow to ensure a meeting stays on-track.

Setting a Meeting’s Agenda

The 19th century inventor Thomas Edison noted that his inventions spawned from some problem. In other words, Edison’s inventions were solutions.

What is your meeting trying to resolve? Having a clear objective before the meeting starts is a great place for managers to start. The more concrete these objectives, the easier they can be tracked and measured.

Having an agenda in the forefront of your mind helps to keep the meeting on-track throughout, puts everyone on the same page, and makes it easier to determine the success or failure of the meeting weeks, months and years down the road.

A few examples of clear meeting agendas: have each member of the staff brainstorm one new possible feature of an underperforming product; find the best manufacturer in your area by pooling resources; or, seek ways to streamline ways to reach more customers regionally by asking for contributions from everyone on the staff.

Logistics of a Great Meeting

As a manager, you shouldn’t be bashful about making the end game of the meeting clear from the outset. Hand around a quick overview of the meeting’s agenda beforehand. In the agenda make it clear what you want discussed, the duration of each discussion, who the presenters are going to be, and how long each discussion will approximately last.

The Who, When, What and Where. You need to email your staff the time, place and basic goal of the meeting. Find out from staff how many of your team members are going to make the meeting and make sure that everyone understands his or her expected contribution going into the meeting.

Respect for Time. Make sure that you block out enough time for each presenter, but be realistic about how much time to allot for each topic. Once you’ve done this, put all the presenters names, their discussion topic, and the expected duration of each phase of the meeting into a simple table and hand that around with your meeting’s printed agenda on the day of the meeting itself.

Set the Meeting’s Scope. You should only have one call to action at the end of the meeting. This call to action should be aligned with the meeting’s agenda.

If, for example, you want to find out the best ways to market a current product, and you’re getting questions about another issue entirely, shelve the latter discussion for another meeting or see if you can work that concern into the current meeting’s agenda.

It’s more important to stay on-task and respect everyone’s time than try to find a solution to every issue the company faces.

Measuring Project Success

measuring-project-successOne of the biggest challengers for project managers might not be something you would immediately think. When people think of a project’s major hurdles, they usually think of bringing the most qualified team members together or whether the project is tackling deadlines at a good pace.

Success at Determining Success

In fact, simply determining whether a project has been successful or not is one of the core challenges facing project managers today. Some projects bring together top talent and complete the project well ahead of schedule, but the work fails to live up the client’s expectations. Other projects exceed the client’s expectations and are handed in on time but fail to work within budgetary constraints.

A project manager’s first assignment – after finding out exactly what the client wants and assembling the best team available to accomplish that goal – is getting all team members together and hammering out a checklist for project success. Figuring out how to prioritize success factors like the project’s ability to stick within the outlined budget, timeframe and quality control standards are essential benchmarks to set early on in the project’s life.

Getting these standards of success clear early and often is extremely important for small businesses for several reasons. If the project is deemed a success, the project’s particulars are going to be emulated later by future project managers. Think about it – if you’ve incorrectly set parameters of success that are incompatible with the company’s ethos, then you’re emulating failure and disappointing your clients and shortchanging your team down the road.

Survey from Several Sources

It’s important to draw criticism of a project’s success or failure from multiple streams to ensure objectivity. Project managers therefore should be surveying management, team members, the client and the client’s customers to determine whether all parties had their expectations met or exceeded.

Obviously, the format of these surveys is going to vary based on the party that you’re surveying. A project manager finding out from individual team member’s how they felt about the project is probably going to take place in a more informal, traditionally corporate environment. Getting feedback from customers, conversely, might take place over the phone or through an online questionnaire.

Ingredients for Project Success

Project managers, maybe to their detriment, focus on hitting a time-based measure of success – was the project within the stated timeframe? While that’s an important consideration, it’s not the only one.

Under Budget and High ROI

A project that’s weeks ahead of schedule but that entails loads of botched back-end work and numbers way over budget is never going to please the client (or anybody else). A project manager should weight the important of finishing a project under budget and the benefits of extending more ROI to the client.

Quality Control Measures

If project mangers had their say every project would be completed weeks ahead of schedule, deliver unprecedented ROI, leave all team members feeling great about their contributions, and delivered wrapped in a bow to the client.

That vision is, of course, unrealistic, which is why project managers use a number of metrics to determine a project’s success. Like every other measure of success, agreeing on quality control measures that work in unison with budgetary and time constraints should be a step that all project managers take before setting out on the project itself.

That said, project managers shouldn’t underestimate the important of high satisfaction from clients, the clients’ customers and team members. It’s important to have an ongoing gauge of everyone’s satisfaction and even how well this project meshes with the company’s underlying ethos and team development for future projects.

Project Management Best Practices: Prioritizing and Planning

project-management-best-practices-prioritizing-and-planningIn order to run a successful business, you need effective project management in place to get the job done. Business projects can range from staffing and management to products and services. Setting up the building blocks of an establishment requires project management in so many ways. Although it may seem as though the only position that should be concerned with this subject matter are project managers, it is important that everyone know various methods and tools used to effectively carry out projects. Prioritizing and planning are the crucial practices that will get your project management team in the right place to make the business thrive. With these tips you are sure to stay on task and get projects completed more effectively.

When it’s time to plan a new project for the company, there are a plethora of components that need to be navigated before any progress can be made. First, you must determine how much time will be allotted for the given project. This will be determined by the nature of the project and how important it is. Next, a team needs to be put in place to execute the project. Who can be spared to work on the project for the given amount of time? Set a leader for the team and hold everyone accountable to ensure that things will get accomplished. Then you need to seek out all available resources for the task at hand. Are there sponsors needed to fund the project? Will volunteers need to be recruited to help the project come into fruition? Once you have identified the resources, you need to establish a budget for the project. Take a look at available funds for projects and set a realistic budget to see it through.

Once you have planned your project, it’s time to prioritize the various tasks needed to reach the finished product. Now that you have a plan in place, it is critical that everything be done according to its importance. Completing less important task in the beginning can easily be thrown off if more significant matters have to change. Your team can prioritize according to timelines, data, and forecasts. You can address these issues with the use of presentations, progress reports, and research. Each person in the team will be responsible for a certain part of the project. When each person has a task to complete, everyone can come together throughout the duration of the project to give updates and keep everything in perspective.

With these tips you are sure to stay on task and get projects completed more effectively.