Project Management: Science? Art? Common Sense?

I recently heard someone saying, “Project management is just science.” “Do I agree?” I asked myself.

Here is what I think: Project management is both science and art, but it is the art of project management that makes great project managers. It is science because there are essential processes and elements that make up project management (e.g. scope, time, cost, quality etc.) How to create a project plan, manage risks, track project, report status is all defined out there and a project manager has to be clear on those fundamentals. That’s the science part of it, and probably the easier one. It represents “explicit knowledge” about project management and a lot of people out there know these fundamentals.

But simply knowing these fundamentals does not make a good project manager and that’s where the “art” part comes into the play. After you have learned the concepts of project management, it is all about working with people – customers, internal stakeholders and team members. If a lot of your success as a project manager is dependent on how you deal with these people, understanding basic human needs and psychology is absolutely essential.

Second is adaptability and situational understanding. While most methodologies deal with a standard definition of a “project”, every project in reality has a unique context and need attached to it. Understanding this context and adapting the core project management concepts to this context is crucial for project success. If you have a clear under understanding of the “why?” part of the project, aligning standard methods to the purpose is all about common sense.

Third important aspect is putting these concepts in the right perspective. For example, creating a project schedule (as a deliverable) is not as important as the process of creating a schedule, thinking through each task, generating buy-in from team members and keeping them involved. Generating metrics is not as important as finding out what they really tell us about project. These are simple things, but very critical to success.

Fourth is to keep a constant eye on results. How much is achieved? What is pending and how much time do we have? There are formal ways to keep track of status but the simplest of them is to have a continuous feedback loop within the team by formal/informal meetings, stand-ups and retrospectives. But doing it regularly is again common sense.

Understanding the science of project management is the “least common denominator” for anyone to get into project management. It is the art of understanding the context, dealing with people/situations and putting things in right perspective that make great project managers.

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Join in the conversation: Do you agree that project management is just science? What goes into making great project managers? What have you observed around you?

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On Accountability: A Story and a Few Lessons

Consider this story:

Jay is a newly hired project manager whose primary accountability is to manage a large client account and ensure that all projects within that account adhere to scope, time, cost and quality parameters. The primary KRA for Jay was to drive profitability and customer satisfaction (and hence repeat business). Jay did a fantastic job in first few months and hence the expectations from him grew. He was now asked to mentor several other project managers, help in hiring new managers, provide three different reports in a week to various stakeholders, contribute in a few organizational initiatives and offer technical help in the sales process. What started with a clear accountability changed into a chronic case of multi-tasking. Jay was expected to reach his goal while following the exact process and still doing twelve other things that were unstructured.

In this case, to keep Jay focused on one important goal is the accountability of his boss – and if the boss failed on this one, Jay would definitely fail.

So what does this story tell us? A few things:

Accountability flows from top to bottom. You can’t hold people accountable, unless you demonstrate accountability yourself. If you do that, you will be perceived as a hypocrite. Result? Resentment in the team.

I think that fairness is an important element of accountability. If you want someone to perform, be fair to them. Maximize their chances of success. If you need more of their skills elsewhere, create a structure accordingly to avoid burn-out.

It starts with clarity on outcomes. When people work on many priorities, they get a chance to justify their failure by putting other things forward. If you want to hold people accountable for something, give them complete clarity of what is expected.

Another important realization is that accountability should always be aligned to a purpose and people should be given their space to perform. In Jay’s case, not following organization’s rules (processes) was considered breach of accountability even when results were in line with (and exceeded) the expectations. Never hold people accountable for following the steps and rules, but always hold them accountable for a goal – a big WHY. If there is a non-compliance to organizational rules, leaders need to assess and manage the risk (and cost) of non-compliance.

Accountability does not work without authority. If Jay had to validate every decision with his boss, he would have never performed at first place. People need space to perform, to execute their ideas and remain creative about how goals are achieved. Don’t confuse micro-management with accountability.

Accountability is never driven out of fear. If people are too concerned about what happens to them if they fail, they will never take so called “creative risks” to drive the initiative forward. Allowing people to make mistakes and learn from them is an important part of a leader’s accountability.

Establishing a culture of accountability is a double-edged sword. It is an opportunity to align people to strategic intentions, but if done wrong, it can create a totally opposite culture.

Join in the conversation: How did you drive accountability in your organization? Your team? What are your lessons?

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Did you check out “Graceful Leadership 101” (Free PDF) yet? Call them “managerial manners” or “leadership etiquette”, these are 101 simplest ways to add remarkability and result-orientation to your leadership style.

Leading Projects: Balancing Rational with Emotion

A start-up or a fledgling organization relies on individual heroism of their people to successfully deliver projects. These team members are enthusiastic, engaged and willing to see the project succeed. They are emotionally connected to the purpose of project/organization. Emotion is the basis of how they operate.

Then the organization starts growing. To manage growth, processes are introduced. New tools are implemented and an org chart with hierarchy is established. Slowly, layers of processes and people are added and focus shifts to processes and practices. So far, so good. The problem is when focus shifts only on processes and practices. When rational takes over the emotion.

Processes and practices are absolutely important for an organization to grow, learn and sustain. But often, project managers focus too much on the planning, scheduling, managing risks and watching the metrics that they forget to focus on people. This results in disengagement (or in other words, dispassionate compliance) where people do the minimum required to get a task done.

Consider this: A study published by Harvard Business Review found that average overrun on IT projects is 27% and one out of six projects had overrun of over 200%. Another study revealed that IT failure rates results in loss of $50 billion to $150 billion to US economy alone.

The cost of an emotionally disengaged team to a project is huge. Organizations have thousands of hours of project management experience. Processes standards are getting better and more mature. Why then are projects still in a problem?

The possible answer, according to me is: we need to balance rational with emotion, process with empathy and practices with people. We need processes for sure, but we also need a strong culture of consistent engagement. We need a project charter for sure, but people also need a compelling vision to subscribe to. We need to understand the requirements of customer for sure, but we also need to understand the emotional needs of our team members. We need skills of our people to go up along as the bars in project progress chart go up. We need experience, but we also need to experiment. We need communication and we need engagement.

Every project we execute is a glorious opportunity to practice leadership, to make a difference in a customer’s business, to nurture the talents of our people. As a project manager, you can make that happen only when you focus on the emotional aspect as much as the rational one.

That, to me is what makes a great project manager and a team great!

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Related reading at QAspire Blog:

Improvement: Show Them The Results

A child develops confidence as she experiences things around her. We buy into products for which we perceive experience to be positive. We support causes that deliver positive results. In an organizational context, how can we then expect people to be totally committed to the improvement initiative at the start? People will never commit to anything that they have never experienced first hand.

As a manager, if you are trying to improve your work practices, remember this: Let your improvement initiative speak for itself through positive business results. Sell benefits of the process improvement, involve people in those initiatives, give them some control and build trust as you go. In a hurry to generate a buy-in for our shiny new initiative, we often fall in trap of excessively training and preaching people about processes. In extreme cases, improvement leaders start forcing people to comply with those methods. While people may comply dispassionately, the improvement initiative will not generate the desired/optimal results.

Here are a few practical lessons to let people experience benefits of your improvement initiative:

Clarify the need for improvement: People want to know how any improvement will resolve a real business problem. Establish the need for improvement and communicate the purpose. Alternately, also show them the consequences – the rewards for success and the pain of current situation. These two are compelling reasons for people to embrace change.

Set improvement goals: Once a reasonable buy-in for improvement exists, set goals on what needs to be achieved. Review and revise these targets as you go. Publish the progress and do not forget to be involved yourself. People judge importance of any initiative by the level of a leader’s involvement.

Involve them and set them free: Once broad goals are established, set people free. Allow them to exercise their knowledge and find out the best possible route to achieve results. Autonomy is a powerful driver of change.

Handhold and Facilitate: When people experiment, they will fail. Set up rituals and practices to provide help. Give them necessary training, facilitate them and handhold them as required. Eliminate barriers and ensure that team stays focused.

Communicate Results: Document success stories. Share them with a wider audience through internal mechanisms like blogs and wikis. Ensure that these results are talked about in employee meetings. Make those results tangible, understandable and relevant to business goals.

Goal is not 100% buy-in: Do all of this and you will still have a portion of your organization that would be skeptical about results. The goal of any improvement initiative is never to have a 100% buy-in, because it may not be possible. The idea is to have a majority buy-in and then convert skeptics into believers and doers by being persistent in the efforts.

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Also Check Out: A great collection of leadership posts and insights in May 2012 Edition of Leadership Development Carnival over at Dan McCarthy’s Great Leadership Blog.

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Quality is Human. Quality is Love.

Quality is Human

When leaders rely too much on processes, metrics, facts and trends to measure project/organization’s quality, they forget one thing: that quality is about being human. Quality is human.

That is because people drive quality and exercise their choice of delivering good versus great work. Because work allows people to expand their capacity to deliver. People work for people (customers).

Knowledge world of work thrives on human judgement – our ability to see patterns, listen to our intuition, use our implicit understanding, learning about the context and attend to nuances of work – precisely what makes the ‘human’ aspect of quality so important.

Have processes, measure right things but don’t forget being human.

Quality is Love

Part of being human about quality is also to realise that people only care for quality when they love what they are doing. Quality is about love. Quality is an expression of love for the subject.

When we strive to understand/deliver what customers wants, try to improve our work, when we make mistakes and learn from them, it is essentially an act of love.

Why would we walk any mile extra for things that we don’t deeply care about? For things that we don’t believe are the right things to do?

Challenge is to find enough people who are passionate about what they do and then let them lead/self-organize. You won’t have to worry too much about quality then.

Quality is Happiness

Quality is not just ”degree of excellence” or “conformance to requirements”. Quality is Happiness. (Read the full post here)

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Related Posts:

– Views on The Big Q – Quality of Design

‘Quality’ Leadership 25

Quality? Excellence? What?

Team Success – Insights from Conversations

I have been a close observer of team dynamics in a project environment. In last 13 years, I have seen a number of teams that were highly successful, teams that failed initially and then succeeded, teams that succeeded only when there was a fire in the project and teams where success was constant and incremental.

Here is some of what I have gathered talking to successful teams.

  • “We were successful because each one of us exactly knew what we had to do.”
  • “There was chaos, but then, we all knew how important the the job was and why.”
  • “Our project manager made it enjoyable, despite all the challenges.”
  • “As a team, since roles/responsibilities were clear, we valued each other’s contribution. We trusted each other.”
  • “There was no power game. Our leader was never bossy.”
  • “Everyone was fully involved.”
  • “Expectations and communication was clear, and it only helped us deliver what customer expected.”
  • “The team was not really a team, but a bunch of great friends. We hanged out together to ensure that we work hard and we party harder.”
  • “We were treated as ‘humans’ who were ‘engaged’, and not as ‘resources’ who were simply ‘deployed’.”
  • “Some tough calls had to be taken and were willing to take some calculated risks on our project.”
  • “We did think a lot about processes in the project initiation. We also ensured that all stakeholders understood the process.”
  • “Our leader gave us a lot of space to try new things and experiment. A few such successful experiments resulted in a lot of improvement in our performance.”
  • “The project manager exactly knew the strengths and weaknesses of our team members. People were only assigned to tasks they were good at.”
  • “The decision making process was participative.”
  • “Yes, we had conflicts and differences. But at the end of it all, I think our differences allowed us to think differently.”
  • “As a project lead, I had to ensure that team does what they are supposed to do. My role was to ensure that all peripheral issues are managed so that team remains focused.”
  • “I was held accountable for whatever I delivered and this was expected from all.”

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P.S: Did you check out my new Tumblr blog? That is where I share short bites of insights and wisdom from my friends in blogosphere. Check it out if you haven’t already.

In Communication, Substance Comes First

Services world revolves around communication. In projects/initiatives, knowledge has to be transferred, issues have to discussed and expectations have to be managed.

A lot of young professionals I meet want to improve upon their communication skills. A few of them also think that good communication is all about having a great style, good language, impressive vocabulary and so on.

I tell them: In effective communication, substance comes first. Style without substance is just fluff, because it may impress others but can never change them for better. This means a few things:

Communication (written or verbal) is transfer of energy. If your communication does not transfer any positive energy (or worst yet, sucks energy from the other party), it is not going to work.

Substance comes first. Great communication has power to change others – but they only change when they are able to relate and find a deeper meaning.

Be yourself. Effective communication demands that you need to be yourself first. Ability to express your thoughts and ideas most meaningfully is a critical skill. You have to come out through your communication.

Style is a by-product. When you consistently deliver substance through your communication, have a positive impact and be yourself, style evolves. Style is not the goal, but a by-product.

Purpose strengthens communication. People express themselves on many things that don’t matter. When you have a strong purpose, your communication gains focus and becomes more effective. Goal of our communication is to serve a purpose and have a stronger impact.

These are important lessons I have learned from people I have worked with. These are the same lessons I share with people I work with.

Whether you are into sales, technology, project management, teaching, training or mentoring – remember, in effective communication, substance comes first!

Join in the conversation: What important lessons you have learned in effective communication? What advice would you like to share with young professionals who want to become better communicators? Tell us in the comments.

Effective Management: 5 Critical Skill Areas

Managing effectively is not just one skill, but a mix of different skills. It is a combination of different kinds of intelligence we have as human beings, which makes it an art and a craft.

Have you seen a manager who is highly skilled in technical areas but lacks empathy for others? Or the one who is highly people oriented, but easily loses the sight of goals?

If you are a manager at any level in the organization (or an aspiring one), here are some of the most critical skills you should work on.

Technical Expertise: Broad understanding of the subject (meta-cognition), various components involved in getting work done, links between those components, technical awareness and problem solving skills.

Analytical Intelligence: Ability to gather facts, understand the goals in numbers, compile data into information, measure, see trends, predict the outcomes, go to the root cause and base decisions on facts.

People Intelligence: Understand people (and how they feel), practice empathy, motivate them, align them to the goals, coach and mentor, create a positive influence, understand inter-personal dynamics, communicate (and connect) and understand verbal/non-verbal communication.

Operational Intelligence: Ability to define work as series of interconnected actions, detailed planning, constant alignment of process, improving, seeing waste (and eliminating it), provide a process platform to teams, define rituals, review everything, provide clarity and manage expectations.

‘Big Picture’ Thinking: Ability to see the larger picture (the whole) and visualize its parts, visualize impacts of change, identify new possibilities, align ideas to the larger goal, identify/foresee required changes/trends, define the future, communicate the vision, experiment and be comfortable with ambiguity.

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Join in the Conversation: What skills areas would you like to add? Do you look at these skill areas while hiring? What are you doing today as a manager to gain better understanding of these areas? Feel free to share.

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Seth Godin on Project Leadership

We live in a time when our career is not just a sum total of years we spent in the industry. Our career is about what projects we initiated/handled/led and what difference did the project deliver. Project is a new eco-system, a new playground where we play and thrive as professionals to deliver our best.

Since everything we do is a project, I thought of seeking some guidance from Seth Godin (my hero) via his blog posts on how to thrive and lead in a project-oriented world:

If you choose to manage a project, it’s pretty safe. As the manager, you report. You report on what’s happening, you chronicle the results, you are the middleman.

If you choose to run a project, on the other hand, you’re on the hook. It’s an active engagement, bending the status quo to your will, ensuring that you ship.

Via post: “The difference between running and managing a project”

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Here’s another gem:

Instead of seeking excuses, the successful project is filled with people who are obsessed with avoiding excuses. If you relentlessly work to avoid opportunities to use your ability to blame, you may never actually need to blame anyone. If you’re not pulled over by the cop, no need to blame the speedometer, right?

Via post: Looking for the right excuse

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You don’t work on an assembly line any more. You work in project world, and more projects mean more chances to screw up, to learn, to make a reputation and to have more impact.

When it’s you against the boss, the goal is to do less work.

When it’s you against the project, the goal is to do more work.

– Via post: When is it due?

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So here are some critical questions:

  1. What projects you initiated in past few months (not because someone asked for, but because you believed in them)?
  2. Are you simply managing a project, or leading one?
  3. What difference are you delivering via your project(s)?

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Related Posts at QAspire

Projects as Opportunities to Practice Leadership

Thoughts on Project Leadership and Choices

Teaching, Improvement and Change: A Few Parallels

12 years back, I started my career as a tutor who taught Oracle and PL/SQL to students belonging to different age groups. One thing I realized very early in my career as a tutor is that everyone of us has a different rate of learning – the speed with which we grasp new things, accept changes and change our own thinking.

Another important realization was that however good the tutor is, students only learn when they actually practice the lessons and apply them in the real world.

So what does these lessons have to do with process improvement?  A lot!

In my view, implementing an organizational change is pretty much like teaching, because just like teaching, it changes people/teams/organization for better. It involves creating an impact on how other’s see their work. It involves implementing change. It involves communication and connection.

We make a big mistake when we expect everyone across the organization to accept change at an equal rate. People learn and adapt at a different rate and it is important to “facilitate” change than to “push” it. My first lesson in teaching still holds true.

Change involves lot of training and counseling, but real acceptance of any significant change only happens when people actually apply the new practices and experience the tangible benefits of the change. This also means that when people implement change in their day to day work, there will be a lot of realignment and fine tuning in the process itself. My second lesson from that brief teaching experience comes in handy here.

I also saw that students learn the best when they see relevance of the subject with the real life. Ditto with the improvements, because ultimately, people will only implement an improvement action when they are convinced with the purpose of improvement.

Bottom line: Teaching, process improvement and change initiatives – they all involve people. Knowing how people learn, change and adapt helps when implementing significant organizational changes/improvements.

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On Delivering

In software world, delivering is generally associated with painful process of testing, rework, defect fixing, perfecting, packaging and then shipping. We build our reputation as professionals by the stuff we deliver, quality of what we deliver and timeliness of our shipments.

Here’s what I have realized: All deliveries have associated pain. Software has to be perfected before shipping. A writer has to constantly review/revise the piece before it goes out. Musicians have to rehearse and practice before they perform. They all fight the nervousness that comes naturally before the work is delivered.

Seth Godin, in his book ‘Linchpin’ says,

Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world. Shipping something out of the door, doing it regularly, without hassle, emergency or fear – this is a rare skill, something that makes you indispensable.

Our progress as professionals depends a lot on our ability to undergo the pain of delivering things out. It also comes out that the amount of preparation, practice and thinking that goes in when developing your product/service is inversely proportional to the pain you will undergo when delivering. More preparation, more foresight generally means less pain.

When we start important projects/initiatives, we create plans and strategies for execution. But when delivery date approaches, that initial enthusiasm fades out and our focus shifts from “doing it right” to “getting it done”. Our chances of failure just multiply.

Delivering is difficult and scary at times. But the more we deliver, the more we learn, align and maximize our chances of success.

So, what are you shipping today? This week?

Bottom line:

The fear of failure and associated pain should not stop us from delivering important stuff. Knowing the fact that all deliveries will have its own set of associated pains helps us prepare ourselves and align ourselves/our teams accordingly.

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Note: My book ‘#QUALITYtweet – 140 bite-sized ideas to deliver quality in every project’ explores the people, process and leadership aspects to build a constantly improving organization culture. Check it out if you haven’t already!

Quality of Planning = Quality of Execution: 7 Lessons

When a project is executed, a plan is established. Work is broken down into smaller pieces and a neat schedule is created. Team members (often referred to as “resources”, unfortunately) are assigned, milestones are created and the schedule is circulated to all concerned.

Then the execution begins with a great zeal. As the time passes, things like schedule slippage and effort variance show themselves up. Everyone then tries find out why the schedule slipped. Different areas are evaluated and a consolidated status report is created. But the core point is missed – and that is quality of the planning itself.

Constant and comprehensive planning is the secret of many successful projects because planning provides a direction to the team. It helps in setting a precedence on what’s important. It gives a message and tells a lot about what matters to you on the project.

Here are 7 most important lessons I have learned on effective planning:

  • Quality of execution largely depends on quality of planning. Unfortunately, we invest very little effort in verifying the quality of the plan itself. (In software development world, inaccurate estimates are a major cause of project failures.)
  • Planning and estimating, according to me, is not just about putting dates against tasks. Planning is about taking a comprehensive view of how work will be performed, how quality will be built, how challenges will be addressed and how communication will flow.
  • Planning is never a one time activity. Planning has to be done continuously and plans have to stay fluid. If re-alignment in plans is not done periodically, you will never know if you are on the right track. Agility is the key to good planning.
  • Further, for longer projects, you cannot plan the entire project together. Identify key milestones and create a plan for only first few milestones. This helps you remain agile. A comprehensive plan for whole project over a period of one year may look cool, but seldom works.
  • When plans are re-aligned, expectations management is the key. It is important to ensure that changes in plans are known to all.
  • Whenever possible, involve people in planning process. This not only motivates them to think about their work, but also ensures a better buy-in of plans.
  • In projects, planning provides a direction and demonstrates your intent. If you want to get something done, plan it. E.g. If you want quality outcome, make sure you have adequately planned quality related activities. Things that get planned get done.

In a way, these lessons also map with the fundamentals of agile planning. In my view, Agile is not just a software development methodology, agility is also a mindset.

So next time you plan your project / initiative, remember that quality of execution depends on quality of planning. If you don’t plan for quality, you will never get quality.

Probably that is why a wise man named William A. Foster said, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.

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QAspire Blog extends warm Diwali wishes to all the readers. Thanks for all your support so far!

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Thanks to Becky Robinson for including my pair of posts on delivering great experiences to internal and external customers under October’s theme "A Leader Focuses On Customers" on Mountain State University’s LeaderTalk blog.

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Thanks Dan McCarthy for featuring my post "Quest of Better Outcomes: Hierarchy & Process" in Early Bird Edition of Leadership Development Carnival

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Have a GREAT start into the week!

Managing Results by Defining “Deliverables” Early On

As professionals, we all are responsible for shipping stuff to our customers (internal or external). The stuff that we ship is commonly referred to as a “deliverable”.

As a manager, it helps if you can clearly define what deliverable means. The first step to get something right first time is to define it accurately in the beginning.

You can ask your team member to perform a task or you can ask them to complete a deliverable (complete with all product and process requirements). Defining a deliverable clarifies purpose and sets expectations on “why” rather than “what”. Most of the times, in quest of “what”, “why” is missed out. Clearly defining deliverables for all your team members helps them gain additional clarity and accomplishing things first time right.

I believe that most people want to do a great job, but they don’t know how to do it. Defining/assigning a complete deliverable instead of tasks can really help you in tapping full potential of your people and ensure that they are effective in whatever they do. When you review progress, you can review the accurate status of a deliverable (results), if it is defined early on. Monitoring deliverables is far less daunting than monitoring tasks.

Johanna Rothman says, “Discuss Results, Not Tasks”. Deliverables define the results you are seeking.

Have you ever experienced a situation where all your tasks were accomplished, but the final deliverable was not qualitative? If yes, you will exactly know what “defining a deliverable” really means!

Have a Wonderful Wednesday!

Note: My book ‘#QUALITYtweet – 140 bite-sized ideas to deliver quality in every project’ explores the people, process and leadership aspects to build a constantly improving organization culture. Check it out if you haven’t already!

Bonus: QAspire Blog was recently featured on Community of Program and Project Managers (PPM Community). Check out the feature.

The Pursuit of Getting It “First Time Right” (FTR)

Building quality involves cost. You spend efforts and energy on preventing the errors (prevention cost) and then checking your work (appraisal cost). These are positive costs, or rather investments that ensure that you get it right the first time.

The cost of rework when you or customer identifies a LOT of defects(internal/external failure costs) is huge and highly damaging too. It can have a direct impact on your business bottom lines.

So how do you maximize your possibility of getting it first time right when you deal with projects? Here are three most important things I could think of:

  • Clarity: In projects (or in any initiative), when you shoot in the dark, the bullet comes back to kill you. Most projects fail because of lack of clarity. Project team needs to be clear of the purpose, business need, specific requirements of the customer and other implicit expectations. Clarity also demands a clear visibility in process, setting up right rituals, monitoring practices and responsibilities of the project team. Clarity means openness in communication.
  • Discipline: Execution demands discipline to do right things consistently. It demands emotional labor. The plans you established needs to be followed. When you decide to review early and often, you should. Discipline, in simplest terms, is your ability to fill the gap between what you know and what you actually do. 
  • Constant Improvement: You planned, you did and then you also reviewed. Based on your experiences, you should be able to improvise your processes. Change the tracks for better efficiency. Inculcate better habits. Fine tuning and alignment that happens in this phase not only helps you in this project, but also in subsequent ones.

I do not undermine the need to make mistakes and learn from them. When we research or try to innovate, we essentially do that with the objective of learning. But what about applying our lessons well? We can always get that right the first time, only if we decide to!

P.S: On a second thought, you can only innovate when you don’t have to worry about doing the routine stuff right. That is where processes and FTR approach can really help.

10 Pointers to Build Comfort Within The Team

It pains to see teams where people work on a common goal but don’t get along well with each other. We work in teams and knowing how to get along well with others is extremely crucial. So how do you get along well with others and establish required comfort? Here are 10 broad pointers that may help.

  • Reiterate Objectives: They need to be communicated often to stay focused as a team.
  • Don’t boast: People don’t get along well with someone who constantly boasts. Make sure that ‘keeping them informed’ doesn’t sound like boasting.
  • Listen and be genuinely interested: You can either do transactional communication or seek to connect with people.
  • Ask open ended questions: Open ended questions not only foster great discussions but also allows you to know the other person.
  • Be firm and polite: In disagreements, be firm and polite. There will be situations when you have take a stand or suggest improvements. Do that with grace.
  • Have fun: Be cheerful. Celebrate together. When working with the team, be cheerful and make things more interesting that way.
  • Don’t talk small: You have a goal to achieve as a team. Don’t let that focus dilute with small talks and gossiping. It drains the energy! Beware!
  • Motivate others: Motivate others to raise their game. Be generous when praising. Acknowledge that sincere effort. Say ‘Thanks’ often.
  • Be the benchmark: People take more clues from your conduct, than from words. Make it a great conduct. Be the benchmark when it comes to quality of outcomes.
  • Keep your promises: When you keep your promises, you demonstrate integrity and build lot of trust.

TEAM stands for “Together Everyone Achieves More” – but that is only possible when the team gets along well with each other. Understanding of these fundamentals goes a long way in building remarkable teams that deliver!

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In Pursuit Of “Customer Delight”: Getting The Basics Right

A lot of companies have the phrase “delighting our customers” in their well-crafted mission statements and quality policies. I see “customer delight” as a cherry, with the cake being “solving their problems and meeting the expectations” – so when we say “cherry on top of the cake”, the cake has to be right. Customers don’t get delighted by cherries alone, or by cherries on wrong cakes.

Here is the thing. To be able to reach a state where you “delight” your customers, you have to first “know and meet” customer’s basic expectations consistently. That is the core of your business – the reason why your customers come to you. Your products/services have to first meet the basic criteria of delivering the value that client is seeking.

So when you think of delighting your customer, think of the basics first.

  • Does your product/service meet the core expectation of the customer? Does it solve their problems? To what extent?
  • Do you have a method to accurately identify customer’s real/unique expectations? Their unique context?
  • Do you have right set of processes, people and technology that will help you deliver up to customer’s expectations consistently?
  • What is missing and how can you scale up to ensure consistency of delivery? What are the gaps that need to be filled?

Once you have these basics right, your efforts and investment on delighting your customers through various innovative and inclusive programs will yield the right returns. Right cherry on the right kind of cake is a delightful combo! Isn’t it?

Customer’s loyalty and further, advocacy only comes when you know how to deliver the basics right. Merely trying to delight customers when your core offering does not solve their real problems is an effort in vain. It may only help you keep a customer for now, but not on a long run.

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Adding Value: A Gentle Reminder

Sure, as a project manager / business leader, you:

  • Completed the project in given time frame.
  • Within the budget. With minimum schedule deviation.
  • Utilized your resources optimally.
  • Filled up all the required templates.
  • Did retrospective. Celebrated completion.
  • Shared statistical reports with the top management.

But did you:

  • Think about “value” (remember 102%) you will deliver? Early in the project cycle?
  • Set expectations of your team on what “value” means to you and to the customer?
  • Glad you did that. But did you keep that in perspective constantly while executing?
  • Critically evaluate “earned value” for the stakeholders?
  • Track value delivered, when you tracked through the Gantt Chart?
  • Make stakeholder’s world a bit better in any way?

A Gentle Reminder: It is easy to have a hard-nosed focus on scope, time and budgets (and they are important too) but when you don’t think/plan/understand how the project/initiatives adds value to your customer’s business (or what is customer’s definition of value), you fail to create a positive impact.

Adding value – that is what project management (and all our work as professionals) is all about. Isn’t it?

Have a wonderful Friday!

Bonus: If you are a project manager, reading “5 Goals Every Project Manager Should Aspire to Achieve” at by Jason Westland would help. Check out #4 there!

Taking a “Project View” of Improvement and Change Initiatives

Yesterday, over a cup of coffee, my friend asked me about my first book and what was my approach towards writing it. I said that I took “project approach”.

This lead to an immediate realization that everything we do is a project, be it loosing your weight, writing a book, painting your home, getting a degree or managing an improvement initiative. For any effort where you have goals, time line, constraints, dependencies, risks and need of resources to be managed – you have a project on your hand. Learning fundamentals of project management is essential for everybody – irrespective of whether you are a project manager or not.

All successful leaders have been great project managers too – they may not have used the formal project plan or a work breakdown structure – but who says project management is only about these essential formalities. Project management is about having a vision, drawing out a plan, leading (others or ourselves), making progress, tracking the direction, managing dependencies, overcoming constraints and most importantly – delivering results.

Here is a simple method of how you can take a “project view” for things you are working on.

  • Know your goals (Vision): Lets say you want to pursue a certification in your field. Now, that’s a goal – a project for you. Name it as “Project Certification”. It is also very important to know “why” you are pursuing this goal and how will it help you advance in your life/at work/in organization. Create a list of such goals, prioritise them and take top 3 goals as projects you would work on.
  • Categorize all your work under these goals (Work Breakdown): Once you have a project defined, decide on phases/activities involved in achieving this goal. For certification, you can have a phase named “Preparation” with activities like identifying the scope, body of work, spending time learning, special training needed etc. Create such phases (milestones) and have core activities in each phase.
  • Create a list of actions (Plan): Now that you know the activities, draw out a basic plan. Give a tentative timeframe to each activity and you’ll know how much time it will take for you to get certified. Identify the resources you will need to get into action e.g. books, training material etc. You can use MS Excel or Google Spreadsheet to draw out these basic plans. Remember – that which does not get scheduled does not get done!
  • Act on the plan (Execute): Start executing the plan – this is where the rubber meets the road. Work on the activities and keep ticking them in plan as they get done. Enjoy the process of working on these activities without getting overwhelmed by the results.
  • Track these actions (Control): Periodically, track your progress. This will give you an idea of what are additional actions / resources you need.
  • Celebrate (Closure): Once you achieve a phase, celebrate. Give yourself a break, relax, unwind and retrospect. What could you do better in next phase so that results are better.

I consider my blog as a project which has a calendar. Initiatives I undertake at work are all planned (and viewed) as projects. This view is very potent – because it helps me push my own goals forward. You can try it out too.

“But this is all common-sense and discipline!”, you’d say. Well, that is what project management is all about! 🙂

Have a Fantastic Friday!

Projects as Opportunities to Practice Leadership

If you are managing a project, you have a great opportunity to consciously practice leadership. Project Management is a great leadership opportunity because project:

  • has a vision and goals that realise that vision (VISION)
  • is a great opportunity to make a big difference in client’s business (VALUE)
  • involves working with people and swinging them in meaningful action (ACTION)
  • involves alignment of people with the project vision (ALIGNMENT)
  • allows you to serve your customers (SERVICE)
  • enables you to help your people grow and make them better with each passing project (GROWTH)

So how do you combine effective management practices and leadership fundamentals to get the best out of your team? How do your raise your team above mediocrity?

Here are 10 basic leadership acts for every project manager and project leader:

  • Being a leader means being under scanner. Your actions are being carefully watched. Be self-aware and authentic to set right examples.
  • Get people who are better than you on your team. Celebrate diversity and create a well-rounded team.
  • Learn fast and aim for self-mastery. Excellence in your own work sets a bar for your team.
  • Practice humility. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.”
  • Learn to say “I don’t know” when appropriate. If you bluff about anything, your people are smart enough to judge that.
  • Seek early wins in the project. It not only increases team’s confidence but also clients’ comfort.
  • Avoid group think. Try to play “devils advocate” to encourage contrarian thinking.
  • Emphasize on shared responsibility. Project success cannot happen unless everyone plays their part well. Communicate this as often as you can.
  • Manage change effectively because change, as we know, is the only constant!
  • Treat people well when they make mistakes. Mistakes are always a learning opportunity, unless a mistake is repeated.

I recently read a very good quote on Twitter – We always get more from our people by building a “fire within them” than we do by building a “fire under them.”

I am in total agreement with that quote. And you?

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