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Stuck in Meetings? Here are Eleven Ways to Show YOU are a True Professional.

“Maybe if I am a good participant I will be invited to more meetings.” – Anonymous, perhaps no one, at least not with happy anticipation.

meeting

Informal research shows that the majority of people do not enjoy meetings. In MOST groups of people only one or two of them will indicate that they like attending meetings. A significant number will indicate that they do not enjoy meetings, while a smaller percentage will claim that they are indifferent to them. Who are these people and where was this research conducted? Good question!

Research participants were project managers or project managers to be, because the question, “Who enjoys attending meetings?” was posed to them while they attended courses on project management. And who conducted the research? Well, I did. This leads to discussion about why most people do not enjoy meetings, which in turn leads to discussion on how to make meetings effective. The majority of the group is willing to concede that there are some meetings worth attending, perhaps even enjoyable. Our job as project managers is to ensure that when we conduct meetings we make them valuable and even enjoyableIt helps our attendees when we are organized and prepared. Good facilitation is appreciated. But we cannot do it all by ourselves. We need good participants. What makes a good participant? Thank you for asking!

  1. Be on time and stay for the duration of the meeting. If you are late please do not be disruptive when you join the meeting. If you must leave early please do so quietly.
  2. If you cannot attend and your absence is required, advise the meeting facilitator as soon as possible. It is rude to allow an entire group of people to show up and wait, only to have to disband because a key participant is missing.
  3. Come prepared to discuss the subject at hand. If you have been given an agenda and a meeting topic, consider this your cue to do whatever research is required of you to participate fully.
  4. If you notice that someone important to the topic or a key decision maker is not invited, say something in advance. Maybe it will be OK, but better to know in advance if a key person has been overlooked.
  5. Listen while others are talking, do not interrupt and do not talk over them.
  6. Speak to ALL participants respectfully. Even if they do not return the courtesy.
  7. Think before you speak. This bears repeating. Think before you speak.
  8. Ask helpful questions. A helpful question moves the discussion along, helps to bring potential issues or solutions to light or clarifies discussion points.
  9. Do not speak just to make your presence known. If you do not have anything to say, then say nothing. Become known for making useful and intelligent comments, not for loving the sound of your own voice.
  10. It is OK to help the facilitator. You can do this by asking questions such as “Are we getting off topic here?” or “Is this something to be tabled for later?”
  11. Act and speak from a place of helpfulness. What will be the most useful to the group, to the customer, to the project? What supports the purpose of the meeting?

Returning to our opening quote, “Maybe if I am a good participant I will be invited to more meetings.” You are going to be invited to meetings, being a good participant should not change the frequency. But it will change how people perceive you. Meetings are an opportunity to showcase your professionalism, make sure you put your best behaviors on display.

 

 

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Make the Best of YOUR Project Risks

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” – John Wooden

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The best time for you to imagine your worst-case scenario is long before it ever happens. You are not engaging in negative thinking, YOU are being strategic. The best time for you to imagine the best-case scenario is long before it ever happens. You are not just engaging in wishful thinking, you are being strategic.

Risk comes when we do not know what we are doing. And each project we manage has an element of the unknown. This could result in threats to our success or it could result in opportunities.

The minute that a project idea is discussed is when you and your team should start thinking, “What could happen?” You are not shooting down an idea, and you are not being unrealistic. You are helping to ensure the success of this new project. The better prepared that you can be, the more likely you are to be able to navigate those unknown and unplanned events.

Yes, you can prepare for the unknown.

You never want your project sponsor to look at you and say, “YOU should have seen that coming.” Perhaps it is more reasonable to say, you never want your sponsor to look at you and say, “YOU should have seen that coming,” AND know that they are right.

If you and your team have done a good job with risk identification and in prioritizing your risks and preparing responses for those risks, then you know whether or not it was reasonable to see something coming. Some risks truly are the ‘unknown, unknowns’, while others are the ‘known, unknowns’.  When you are able to assemble the right people with a depth of experience, you will be able to capture the risks that your project is likely to face. It is OK if some of you are new, as long as you have access to someone who has been involved in similar efforts. When you are new, some risks will be beyond your level of experience. To you, they might feel like ‘unknown, unknowns’. With experience your list of the ‘known, unknowns’ grows and you develop a sense of understanding exactly what it is that could happen on your way to project completion.

Accept the fact that your project plans will change. And risks that become a reality are a type of change that you will experience. For the most likely and most impactful risks you will have responses. In this way, as our opening quote indicates, things will turn out best for you because with your risk responses prepared, you are able to make the best of the way things turn out. See how that works?

Get all the tips you need for successful project risk management in the new pmStudent Project Risk Management Course. Check it out here:

http://learn.pmstudent.com/the-project-risk-management-course

 

 

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Do YOU Know YOUR Team?

mystery man“Don’t you recognize me? I am Sal. Your team member?”

The unfortunate truth was that Mary Carol did not recognize Sal. She knew someone from the team would pick her up at the airport. In fact, as he introduced himself, she did remember that it would be Sal who picked her up. But she had no idea what Sal looked like. Fortunately Sal recognized Mary Carol.

As they were exiting the airport, Sal commented again, “Don’t you know who I am? My picture is on our team site.” Immediately Mary Carol realized her mistake. She could have very easily looked at the team website and looked at Sal’s picture. She then also would have remembered more about him. She tried to brush it off as a combination of jet lag, plus asking if he had cut his hair differently. But he knew better.

Mary Carol had not only missed an opportunity to strengthen a bond with a team member, she had weakened that bond. She could tell that Sal was disappointed. After all, he had taken the time to know who she was. Did she think that because she was the boss, she did not have to know her team? Did she think that because they worked across the globe that she did not have to get to know them?

Mary Carol did NOT think she was better than her team and she did NOT think that she did not need to know her team members. The truth is she just did not think. In her preparations for her trip, she did not take time to think about accessing the team website in order to get to know those she was visiting. She prepared reports and presentations. She forgot to prepare for the people.

If asked about the team website, Mary Carol would definitely have spoken favorably of it. Her thought was that the team website gave the team members a good way to connect and to share and to get to know one another. The way in which she expressed these thoughts offered up a clue to the attitude that would place her in her current awkward situation with Sal. Mary Carol did not think the team website was for her, she thought that it was for THEM. This revealed a mindset of us or me versus them. Mary Carol was not thinking of herself as part of the team. She had two challenges to work on as a leader, the first was to understand that in preparing to deliver reports and presentations, she also needed to understand and get to know her audience. The second was to remember that tools used by the team are for her use too. Especially tools that are aimed at helping build and strengthen team relationships.

For the rest of her time with Sal and his co-workers Mary Carol felt uncomfortable. She knew she had made a mistake, one that was easily avoidable and one that she would not make again.

And of course YOU know better too!

 

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So Much at Stake, No Wonder We Call Them Stakeholders

“You know, I like your presentation but you forgot to introduce yourself.” – Anonymous Project Stakeholder

These were the first words that Mary Carol heard when she visited one of her new project stakeholders. And you know she was correct. When Mary Carol started her presentation, she didn’t say, “I’m Mary Carol,” She just stood up and launched into her presentation. And that was only the first lesson she learned from her new stakeholder.

This particular stakeholder led a team who had a small role in the project. Small but significant, their piece was not the largest and it didn’t require the most work but it was work that helped the users of one part of the system provide information to the users of the other part of the system. Luckily Mary Carol understood that following up with this stakeholder was important to the success of the project.

And there she was conducting a follow-up session, to learn more about her, and to understand more about her expectations from the project. Mary Carol wanted to know, was she was positive about the project? Was she neutral about the project? Was she a resister? That was the point of the follow-up that she conducted with her and with many others.

Something else she said to Mary Carol during the meeting was worthy of attention too. She said, “You know, I hope you will schedule more events like this one on a regular basis. They are so good for morale.” The challenge was that Mary Carol had just come from a meeting with one of the finance managers who had said, “I hope you do not schedule events like that on a regular basis because they’re too expensive.”

And prior to the finance manager, Mary Carol had met with an operations manager. And the Operations Manager had said, “I hope you don’t have big meetings like that too often. It’s a waste of time to have so many people in one meeting at one time and they get too hyper from all the celebration and then they’re not productive.”

Now, what did Mary Carol know? She had one manager who wanted team building events because they were good for morale, one manager who was OK with team building but didn’t want them themed and catered and big because that was too expensive, and she had another manager who did not want large groups of people in the same meetings. What was she to do? How could Mary Carol satisfy all of those diverse stakeholder expectations?

What she could do was manage their expectations. She was not going to promise that there would always be big parties for team building. She was not going to promise that there would never be any money spent on team building. And she was not going to promise that there would never be meetings with large groups of people. That’s part of that stakeholder management.

 

 

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One Lies Leads to Another

silence“When we tell little white lies, we become progressively color-blind. It is better to remain silent than to mislead.”– James E. Faust

You did not want to embarrass your project sponsor at the group luncheon, so when he turned to you and said, “Well at least YOUR project is not at risk of running late”, you replied with a hearty, “Not on MY watch!” In your head you were thinking, “I really need to work with the team to figure out how to get back on track.” If you really did not want to embarrass your sponsor in front of the group, perhaps silence would have been the best response. Silence, followed by a quick follow-up with him to advise him that unfortunately you too were facing a schedule variance.

By the way, who was it you were trying to save? Your project sponsor, or yourself? After listening to other project managers’ express that their projects were running behind schedule, perhaps you wanted to be the hero. Or maybe you really did not want to disappoint your sponsor when he seemed so convinced that you were the only project manager not experiencing schedule slippage.

Now you have an unreported schedule variance and a guilty conscience. An obvious question here is why didn’t your status report show the variance? If you truly just learned about the variance and had not had an opportunity to update your sponsor, you have less to feel guilty about. Although your “Not on MY watch!” comment is probably going to return to haunt you.

If you thought that since you learned about the variance AFTER you created the status report that you could just move forward as-if you had not received this new information, shame on you. What is your plan for your next status presentation? What will you say when your sponsor expresses surprise and wants to know what happened and when it happened?

“Oh I found out after the status report was created, so I went with the status as written.” Good luck with that.

Is your plan to continue to report the project as on schedule, until you and the team come up with a plan to correct the variance? Good luck with that too. Now you are using silence to create a lie of omission. What if your plans do not materialize or do not work? Now your variance is greater and the passing of time makes what you might have considered to be a harmless white lie quite colorful.

It is better to remain silent than to mislead, but it is also not acceptable to use silence to mislead. It is good not to surprise your sponsor in public, but do not let your desire to save face lead to a web of deceit.

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