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Top Management Resource - 2012

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Who is Your First Chair?

orchestraAn orchestra full of stars can be a disaster.” – Kurt Masur
An orchestra has a conductor and a first chair or concertmaster. There is considerable recognition and prestige that come with being the conductor or with being the first chair. In dysfunctional situations each might consider his or herself to be the star of the orchestra. It is not their job to be stars. It is their job to be leaders. All of the recognition and prestige come with responsibility. And the conductor and the first chair must be able to collaborate with one another. The first chair may have to step in on behalf of the conductor. The conductor must trust the first chair to set an example of excellence for the rest of the orchestra.

A project team has you, the project manager. Using the orchestra as an analogy, YOU are the conductor. Who is your first chair? If you have an official team lead or project supervisor, this person SHOULD be your first chair. Your first chair is the person you would trust to be your backup AND the person your team trusts as a leader. Who is the person your team goes to when you are not around? This is your first chair. If the person you trust and the person the team prefers to go to are NOT the same person, you have a problem. Get to know the person the team members trust and understand what it is your team members see in this person.

Don’t have a first chair? Seek one out. Find that person on the team who others look up to and build a good collaborative relationship. As the project manager you are not the project star. Neither is your first chair. Together your job is to keep the entire team on track, working toward the same goal. When the team sees the two of you together it builds their confidence and their trust. Your collaboration encourages their collaboration. You and your first chair model the working relationships you wish to see. The two of you do not need to behave like stars or divas; you need to show the team that a professional work ethic and integrity are what make you leaders.

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How Should YOU Take Credit?

credit for your team“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” – Arnold H. Glasgow

You and your project team just completed the most challenging project ever undertaken in the history of your organization. It is definitely time to celebrate. And recognition for this accomplishment is definitely in order. How much credit should you take for the work performed by your team? Consider the following statements.

  1. “It was a close call but I was able to lead them to success. I am glad I was available to make things happen.”
  2. “The team did all of the work, I just stayed out of their way.”
  3. “It was an honor to lead such a dedicated team of high performing, consummate professionals.”

Depending on the situation, you might really find some truth in each of the above comments. Maybe you were brought in to lead a team who was in disarray and needed strong leadership (A) or perhaps they were a high performing team and needed very little guidance (B) or it really was a situation where the leadership and the team were all committed to the success of the project (C).  This is a time to really think about how you discuss the success of the project and the work performed by your team.

Statement A puts you front and center in the success story. The team could not have done it without you. You are taking the opportunity to promote your skill as a leader over the contributions of your team. You are one step away from saying that they are not competent without you. Next time they will absolutely want to work without you.

Statement B promotes the team, but is a little too self-deprecating. If all you did was stay out of the way, then why were you necessary at all? You do not work for free and now your salary seems like an unnecessary project expense. Next time, let’s run the project without a project manager, or at least without you.

Statement C shows that you know that your team members are amazing. You point out that you feel fortunate to have worked with them and you are truthfully acknowledging your role as the leader. With a statement like this you are associating yourself with other top performers. You are not taking the spotlight away from them and you are not making light of your contribution. You are the right choice for future projects and teams of this caliber.

Think before you take credit for the team. Because you do not really want to take credit FROM the team, you want to give the team credit for their hard work and take some credit WITH the team. That is how strong leaders acknowledge team success.

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Are YOU Wasting Time?

Time-Management“We often (mostly?) let our schedule, schedule itself—ignoring the fact that TIME (not money) is our only TRUE Leadership asset.” – Tom Peters

Where does YOUR time go? Do you get to the end of your day, knowing you were busy, knowing you worked hard (you always do), and yet, you are not sure what you did? Maybe you know what you did. The problem is that you did NOT meet your priorities. NOW your day is about to get even longer. Another phone call home to say, “Don’t hold dinner,” or another call to friends, “I will catch up with you later.” This is not how you want to spend your time.

It does not have to be like this. YOU can take control of your time. Good time management does not start with a fancy time management system.  It starts with self-knowledge. There is nothing wrong with a fancy time management system. But the most important part of the system is the information you provide. Consider tracking your time for at least several days and if possible three to four weeks. Be completely honest about what you do and when. This is your own personal inventory. Nobody else needs to know that you secretly watch cat videos each afternoon at 3:30 pm. Once you have collected this data, analyze it. Maybe you did not realize that each week you spend three hours answering questions about the history of your program. Are you answering the same type of questions each week? What a terrific opportunity to write the history of your program and publish it someplace where others can access it quickly and easily. You just put three hours back into your week.

This is one of the first tips for helping yourself to work smarter, not harder. Once you know how you spend your time, take a look at your priorities. If something is really a priority, it deserves your time and attention. With the knowledge of how you spend your time and your list of priorities, you can easily identify how much of your time goes to priority items versus other items.

There is much you can do to sharpen your time management skills. It is an area where most of us have room for growth and where most of us can use the occasional fine-tuning. If you want to know more about how to work smarter, not harder here are two resources for you:

  • Check out this podcast over on the Project Controls Podcast –
  • If you are ready to take the plunge and jump into some training to help you with your personal and professional productivity, then check out the full program over on Coursera:

Wishing you days filled with smart work and time spent in the ways which make you happy.

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Do YOU Know What to Leave Behind?

88Happy is the person who knows what to remember of the past, what to enjoy in the present, and what to plan for in the future.

– Arnold H. Glasow
There is always that one person. You know whom I mean. The one who just can’t let go of the time when your project sponsor changed his mind at the last minute and cancelled your project just before your go-live date? It was a difficult and disheartening situation. You and your team had worked so hard for project completion. His last minute decision really robbed your team of victory. No matter how hard you and your sponsor tried to present it as a job well done and a cancellation due to changes in business needs, the team felt deflated.

That was two years ago. You have all worked on other successful projects for that same sponsor and none of those projects have been cancelled. Despite this one of your team members brings it up during every project for this sponsor, “He is probably going to cancel this one too,” he says. You can point out that your sponsor has only ever cancelled one project. And your team member will just look at you and shrug his shoulders saying, “We will see.”

As a project manager you definitely changed how you manage this sponsor. You ensure that each major milestone includes a go or no-go decision point. You do your best to encourage your sponsor to communicate his commitment to the team. That is a good example of knowing what to remember of the past. You are not going to let a past disappointment poison your current project work. You will take whatever lessons you can from it and then move forward. Because you can do this, you are also able to enjoy your current work with this project sponsor. You know that the chances of him cancelling your current project are slim. You look forward to each day without becoming over wrought over potential cancellations.  You bring the lessons you learn from each project with you to future projects.

It is true in your personal and professional life, know what to leave behind, appreciate this moment and look forward to the future.

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Have YOU Learned your Lessons YET?

102288-99635Did you know that gathering lessons learned is part of your professional responsibility as a project manager? It is. And yet you might not always gather lessons learned.

Your intentions are good. But when faced between getting your next top priority project started (and your sponsor is already asking you for a schedule and budget) and spending more time on the project that is ending, you might find yourself stepping away from the completed project BEFORE you have a chance to gather lessons learned.

Perhaps if gathering lessons learned were simple you would be less inclined to skip them. Here is an easy and effective approach for you to use. When I was a new (and accidental) project manager I was taught this approach by a consultant who had been hired to teach a group of us how to be project managers. I still use this approach today!

Invite your team to a lessons learned session. You want them to know the purpose of the session in advance, so that they can come prepared to share. If you believe that your team will not be able to speak freely in front of you, you should recruit someone else to facilitate the meeting and you should NOT attend. I don’t think this will happen to you, it has not happened to me yet; but you really do want your team to be able to openly and honestly share their thoughts.

Now it is time for the lessons learned session. Consider following this process:

  1. Start with  “Things we could have done better/differently”.
  2. Explain to the team that each of them will have an opportunity to provide their ideas. Lessons learned are NOT meant to be personal. The lesson is NOT that JOE should not go on vacation. The lesson is that key resources should have back up resources in order to allow for absences such as vacation, sick time etc.
  3. Let the team know that each person can speak, but does not have to speak. If a team member has nothing to contribute, they may say, “pass”.
  4. Go around the room three times. Each time, each team member, has the opportunity to provide a lesson learned OR to pass. Write the lessons learned on a white board or a large piece of paper; do NOT list names next to each lesson. It does NOT matter who said what, in fact you want some anonymity.
  5. Usually after three times around the room, everyone has exhausted their ideas. If not, keep going!
  6. Once all the lessons have been called out, it is time to select the lessons that are the most significant. Each team member receives 3 votes. They can spend or use these votes all on one lesson or on three lessons, however they see fit. I usually accomplish this by having team members come up to the whiteboard and place check marks next to the lessons they are selecting as the most significant.
  7. After everyone has voted, review the results. Most of the time you will have some lessons that the majority of the team has selected as the most important lessons learned. If not, you can vote on any items that tie. You are not going to get rid of any of the lessons that do not make it into the top three or top five, you are just going to pay more attention to the lessons that are voted as the top three or top five.

Repeat steps 1 thru 7, this time using “Things we did well or should repeat”. NOW you have your lessons learned. Documenting these lessons should be easy, start your document by discussing the process and then provide your results. Emphasize the top three to five things that could have been different as well as the top three to five things that should be repeated; but do not throw out the items that did not make the top three to five spots, keep them and place them later in the document so that these lessons are not lost.

There you go, an easy and effective way to conduct a lessons learned session.

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