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Tell Your Team Members What YOU Want

“It is the oddest thing. They are such a nice group of people. Each one of them comes highly recommended and yet nothing seems to be happening.” Joe, the project sponsor explained to Mary Carol. He went on to explain, “I thought that this was such an easy effort that this team could really just self-manage. But now I see that perhaps I need you to work some of that project management magic.”

mind readerInwardly Mary Carol suppressed a sigh. Silently she thought, “You mean you thought you could just try to run a project with no organization and no direction and prove that project management is unnecessary.”  This was not the first time she had been brought in to work with a team who was supposed to be self-managing.

Initially she shadowed Joe as he met with the team. She had to agree that they were a nice group of people.  Joe spoke to them about how important they were to the company and how what they were working on was invaluable to their customers. They seemed to be enthusiastic. It was during the second meeting that Mary Carol made an important observation. Joe, never specifically described exactly what it was the team was supposed to produce. He also did not say when it should be completed or which customer group would use it.

After the second meeting, Mary Carol asked Joe if she could try something during the next meeting. She asked him if she could interview him about this new product. He told her that he had been discussing it with them for weeks now and that they should know all about it. Still she persisted. And with an eye roll and an exasperated sigh, he said, “Fine, let’s try it your way, YOU’RE the big project management expert.”

Prior to the meeting Mary Carol spoke to each team member. She asked each of them to come up with their own list of questions about the project. She asked the analyst to be prepared to take notes, with an eye for turning those notes into an initial scope statement. At the start of the meeting, Joe turned to the group and told them that he apologized for wasting their time, but Mary Carol needed to ask him some questions. Mary Carol started and then turned the questioning over to the team. Each person in the room had an opportunity to ask his or her questions. When the meeting was over, the analyst had quite a bit of data to use to create a scope statement. Joe was shocked. He looked at the group and said, “Why didn’t any of you ask me these questions before?” First there was silence, and then one brave team member replied, “Because we did not even understand why we were having these meetings. We thought you were sharing future product development with us, not trying to kick off a project.”

Your team members cannot read your mind, so tell them what you expect from them.

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Keep YOUR Life in Balance

“It’s all about quality of life and finding a happy balance between work and friends and family. “ – Philip Green

Quality of life and a happy balance sound like good things to have. Things that YOU want to have on a consistent basis. Maybe you already have achieved this and it is simple for you. If not, continue on to consider how to keep your life in balance.

balance

Is you life in balance?

Based on your observations of your family and friends, do you think that most people have achieved this happy balance? I have to say no. And also to confess that just recently I took a look at my schedule and realized that I was out of balance. I needed to take a step back and revisit how I was approaching my work time and my friends and family time. This seems to happen about once every year and a half.

This has given me the opportunity to really analyze and work on the magic formula to work/life balance. Now I suppose I could treat this as proprietary information and ask you to buy it from me. But I am not going to do that. I am going to give you the formula right now.

The formula is …

The formula is what YOU make it. I cannot tell you exactly how many hours to work and how many hours to play or spend with family. It is a personal decision. It depends on your values and it changes. Perhaps this is why I revisit my own work/life balance formula. My lifestyle and how I want to spend my time continue to evolve.

For example, when I was brand new in the workforce I was eager to work and to learn and to get ahead. I worked many hours. My co-workers were my friends and when we were not working we went out after hours. Almost all of my time was just one long workday. And often weekends too.

There have been times in my life where although I enjoyed my work it was more important for me to spend time with family and friends away from the office and away from my electronic leashes.

There have been times where I worked 70-hour weeks and was completely happy and there have been times when I worked 40-hour weeks and was completely happy. The key was that my workweek fit my definition of work/life balance. Of course it is easier to be happy when your definition of work/life balance fits with those who you are closest to. When your idea of work/life balance does not consistently match to the idea of those you love, you might look up one day and find that you have work, but no life.

You have more control over this than you think.

I am not promising you that you will never be asked to work more hours than you want. I am not promising you that you will never have to work late or to work a weekend. YOU can decide what is acceptable to you and then make your choices accordingly.

There was a time when I was interviewing. I visited one potential employer after lunch on a Friday. The elevator was packed with employees from this specific organization. MOST of them were expressing unhappiness at the thought of working yet another weekend. They were comparing notes on how long it had been since they had an entire weekend off. I don’t think I am a slacker, but I also knew that at the time in my life, that type of demand was not appealing to me.

Think about what YOU want. And then work on prioritizing your time accordingly.
The magic formula to work/life balance is yours to own and to define.

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Difficult Negotiation? Check Yourself!

Arguing

Why are some people difficult? Maybe they are mad at you. Maybe they do not like working on this project. Maybe they are being difficult to hide some other issue. So many maybes.

What you do know is that they are blocking your ability to move forward. Anytime any type of negotiation is required, you know that the first thing this person will do is devise some type of barrier.

We cannot do that because… That will never work because… I cannot accept that approach because…
This is seriously getting in the way of your success.

And YOU are not about to let that happen. You have a project to lead and a schedule and budget to meet. You don’t have time for barriers. Well guess what my friend? You need to make time for barriers. In negotiations difficult people put up barriers. In fact there are five common barriers that you will encounter. Can you guess the first barrier?
Go on give it a try.

The first barrier on the list is Y-O-U. Now you might thinking, “Hey, you do not even know me. How do you know I am the problem?” I do not need to know you to know that it is human nature to have an emotional response when you think that someone is not cooperating with you. Especially when you believe this is not the first time and especially when you believe this person is being intentionally difficult. With all of that going on in your head, it would be difficult for it not to create a barrier. And what you need is a breakthrough, not a barrier.

Your first step in negotiating with a difficult person to get your emotions in check. What you really want is to feel like the two of you are sitting next to one another, that you are on the same side. And you cannot do that until you give yourself a chance to calm down. Take a break. Do not respond out of anger or spite or an urge to get even. Do not respond until you can do so in a calm and even tone.

Once you can do this, you are on your way to sitting on the same side. The next thing you want to do is to step to their side. Stepping to their side is all about trying to understand the situation from their perspective. It is about being confident that you will be able to come to an agreement. It is about finding common ground and things you can agree on, even if it is agreeing that this situation is challenging. That is a start; together you have reached an agreement. This might just pave the way to other agreements and it allows you both to show that you are not always in combat mode.

Consider the following quote:

“Rarely is it advisable to meet prejudices and passions head on. Instead, it is best to conform to them in order to gain time to combat them. One must know how to sail with a contrary wind and to tack until one meets a wind in the right direction.” – Fortune de Felice, 1778

Once you have your emotions in check and you have stepped to their side, it is time to sit side-by-side and work as partners. Remember, this is a difficult person you are negotiating with and this means you will face more barriers. And each barrier requires a breakthrough. A breakthrough you are more than capable of facilitating.

Curious about the other four barriers? I hope you can come see me at the PMI-OC Building Leaders for Business conference on September 10, 2016. Together we will discuss each of the remaining barriers along with some tips on how to turn those barriers into breakthroughs. Click here or cut and paste this link into your favorite browser to learn more. http://www.pmi-oc.org/conference

Hope to see you soon!

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Team 4 and the Really Bad Week

“A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.” -Ray Davis

Team 4 was the team to watch. They started their project off so smoothly. They avoided all of the pitfalls that had tripped up Teams 1, 2, 3 and 5. In status meetings it was always the project obstaclesmanager for Team 4 who delivered the good news. In fact the executive sponsor for the entire program began asking the Team 4 project manager to give her status last, so that the meeting could end on a high note.

The other teams were not being poorly managed. It was a challenging program involving performing data conversions on applications that had been around for approximately twenty-five years. Very few of the original coders of these applications were still around. So many people had worked on the programs, using so many different styles that the term spaghetti code was possibly created just for them.

For more than a month Team 4 met every due date and challenge. And then it happened. In week 6 the team hit a major snag. At the end of the week they had not hit their goal. They had only completed about half of their planned work. On Monday, the day of the status meeting, their project manager was very nervous. She had not had to report difficult news before and she did feel pressured to be the one who routinely delivered the good news. Her status was well received. Yes, the sponsor and other stakeholders were disappointed. But as one of them said, “It would be unreasonable to expect that Team 4 would not experience issues, when all of the other teams have had such difficulties.” The team was anxiously waiting for her to let them know how the status meeting went. She was able to tell them that nobody was mad at them and that everyone had complete confidence in their abilities.

By the end of week 7, very little progress had been made. The team worked on as much as they could while two of them worked with some technical experts to determine the problem. By Friday morning everyone was discouraged and some were pondering whether or not they should come in on Saturday. At 11:45 am on Friday the project manager called the entire team to an emergency meeting. She went from cubicle to cubicle, saying, “Drop everything and come to the conference room right now!” The team shuffled in, waiting to be yelled at. Instead they found that their project manager had ordered lunch for them. She encouraged them to come in and sit down and enjoy lunch. There was just one rule, no talking about work. And for one hour they sat and spent time together and did NOT discuss the project, the schedule or the status of the current technical issues. At the end of the day she went from cubicle to cubicle, ushering them out and urging them to go enjoy the weekend and to come back refreshed on Monday.

Once again on Monday, the status report to the stakeholders was about missed deadlines. Once again the stakeholders were encouraging. In the middle of week 8, there was a break in the case. An obscure piece of code combined with a rare piece of data was causing the problem. Cautiously a fix was designed and applied. By Friday of week 8 the team had caught up with the deliverables from week 6.

On Monday of week 9, the team arrived to a mini breakfast celebration. There was fresh fruit and yogurt and cinnamon rolls and donuts. Every team member had a “Congratulations you survived the curse of Week 6” certificate waiting for them on their desk.

It would be wonderful if for the rest of the project Team 4 went back to all smooth sailing. But that was not the case. Although the team never had another issue as challenging as the one that surfaced during week 6, they continued to have their share of challenges. They still were a stronger team than Teams 1, 2, 3 and 5. They still maintained the best track record in terms of meeting their deadlines. It was not that their work was easier or that all of the strongest people were on Team 4. It was that Team 4 and their leader made a conscious decision NOT to let the challenges come between them and NOT to let the challenges break their spirit.

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Your Deadline is Coming, Will YOU Be Ready?

“Morning comes, whether you set the alarm or not.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

When we are Alarm Clockfortunate, then morning comes whether we set the alarm or not. In our project work, our deadlines are going to arrive, whether we plan for them or not. This is not an argument in favor of fatalism and lack of planning, “Well the deadline will come whether we are prepared or not, so why bother?” It is a reminder that the deadline will come, so why not be prepared? Setting the alarm is a metaphor for planning and morning is your deadline. The deadline will come, whether or not you have a plan.

To return to the analogy of morning, you can face your day with calm and preparation or with surprise and chaos. You have at least one friend who wakes up everyday and everyday has a difficult time pulling himself together and getting out the door. Yet at least five days a week he has the same destination, the same commute and the same dress code. But each morning is like a surprise to him. He does not know where his clean clothes are; he does not have gas in the car or time for breakfast.

Then there is you, your clothes are ready, your lunch is packed, if you need to stop for gas you allow for time in your schedule, your morning routine flows smoothly MOST of the time. Your planning does not guarantee a perfect morning. Your planning positions you for an easier morning, even when things start to fall apart.

The purpose of the plan is not guaranteed perfection. The purpose of the plan is to provide for a better experience. To increase the likelihood of meeting your goals and when changes and issues arise (and they will), you will be less disrupted and recover more quickly.

The difference between you and your friend is that when he gets out the door and he is already late and running low on gas, even if everything else falls into place, he is most likely going to be late. On a day when he is already late and running low on gas and everything else falls apart (traffic jam, car trouble), he is going to be exceptionally late. You on the other hand will be on time MOST days and on that rare day when you are late, the fact that it was out of your control will be understood,

A project manager who does not lead her team in good planning will earn the reputation of being disorganized, and barely making or often missing deadlines on a regular basis. A project manager who leads her team in good planning will earn the reputation of being a strong professional who is prepared and makes deadlines with ease. Only situations beyond her control and the control of her team cause them to falter. And when this happens, they respond quickly and effectively.

Like it or not, the deadline will come. Will you be ready?

 

 

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