PM Traps: Over-Optimism and Lack of Self Awareness

Have you ever worked with someone who consistently says she’s going to do something and then doesn’t?  And then you wonder..

Is she just saying she’s going to do it so I’ll go away? . . . Or so the client will feel satisfied for the moment? . . . Or is she just a flake and forgets what she promised?

This is a fatal flaw for project managers – the client might be OK with an excuse the first time a deadline is missed, but after that they loose faith.  And once you have a reputation for over-promising and under-delivering, your chance of getting the next project goes way down.

If you or someone you know has a problem keeping their promises, here are a few tips that may help.

  • Make a sign.
    Hang it somewhere prominent so you’ll see it – use giant type and put the most important stuff in all caps

(not the other way around)

  • Take a moment to think.
    When your client, your boss, or a member of your team is asking you to say when you’ll have something done, don’t blurt out an answer immediately. Really think through when you’ll have time to do it and then add some extra time on as a buffer. Or better yet, say “let me regroup on a few things and let you know.” Then make sure to follow up.
  • Set a standing meeting for getting back to people.
    Put a standing daily appointment in your calendar so that you have dedicated time reserved for getting back to people.  Keep a list so that you remember who you need to respond to and with what information.
  • Keep your priorities straight.
    If you are a full time project manager, your top priority should be to delight your client. Your second priority should be to help your team function effectively. If you have to put something off until later, put off anything that doesn’t support these priorities.
  • Track your progress.
    Write down every promise you make – along with the details (who you said you would get back to, by when, and with what) – then track how many times you deliver what you said you would and how many you didn’t. Strive for 100% success.

A good project manager should never surprise the client by missing a deadline. This is not to say that things don’t go off track sometimes, but if you’re watching your project (except for natural disasters and other unpredictable events), you’ll know ahead of time when something is going wrong and can proactively re-set your client’s expectations. Once you’ve built that trust with the client, your project can easily survive the hiccups that will inevitably occur.

Posted in Client Service, Role of the PM | Leave a comment

Consistently 5 Minutes Late: OK or Not?

Client annoyed about timeWe’ve all been on those conference calls – where you’re listening to hold music and wondering if you got the time wrong while waiting for the leader to show up.

If you’re the project manager in charge of starting the call, is this OK? I vote not. Especially when the meeting is with a client.

Even if you email 2 minutes ahead and say you’re running late… even if the client himself is usually 5 minutes late, it really isn’t OK for the project manager to be late to start the meeting.

The client’s time is valuable, and its better for the PM and the project not to waste it. Being late is like saying that the client is not important enough for you to show up on time.  Saying that you were tied up doing something else doesn’t help since that just means some other project, client, or task is more important than the meeting.

No matter how busy, or how much internal stuff there is to do, it pays to put the clients first. For those of us who work where projects are the company’s business, it is easy to make a great argument for why work should be prioritized this way. If the issue is time management, those outlook reminders can help. In those rare situations when running late is unavoidable or if there is a history of chronic lateness, it can help to give someone else on the team the leader code so they can start the call. Better that than to let everyone sit there wasting time listening to hold music and wondering if the meeting is still on.

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5 PM Best Practices to Implement on Day 1

Getting a project off on the right foot can be a challenge.  There is so much to figure out you can feel like you’re drowning right from the very beginning.

These 5 best practices can help – implement them early and they’ll become like second nature. Then your brain can be free to focus on the project details. They’ll also make you look like you know what you’re doing in front of your client, and they’ll help your project go more smoothly too.

  1. Assign yourself as the single point of contact with the client. Have the client assign a single point of contact on his side too.
    This doesn’t mean that other people can’t be involved or that other people don’t communicate with the client. It means that as the PM, you are the one person who is ultimately responsible, the one person the client can call to answer a question or deal with a problem. The same should be true on the client side – make sure that you have one person to contact to strategize, arrange meetings, gather feedback on deliverables, and determine next steps. Neither you or the client should be running around trying to get in touch with team members on the other side. That’s what the single point of contact is for.
  2. Send out a weekly status report.
    This may be the simplest thing you can do to make sure everyone is informed about the project.  It can be a 1 page word document or even an email that outlines these 4 key things: what was done last week, what needs to be done next week, risks, and upcoming milestones. Not only will you be keeping all team members and stakeholders informed of the project progress, you’re also creating a paper trail you can use if you ever need it (e.g., change order).
  3. Set up a weekly status call. Have the call even if you think there is nothing to talk about.
    This weekly touchpoint is critical to keep the lines of communication open and to discuss project progress, issues, or problems. If your project is delayed and there are no deliverables to discuss – have the meeting so you can discuss the delay and how to mitigate it. Its not hard, and it doesn’t take much time, but it does wonders for keeping your project moving and for maintaining your relationship with the client.
  4. Document all decisions and next steps.
    After each meeting or important conversation, send out an email to everyone involved with a brief summary and a list of next steps. Include action items with due dates and the names of the people who will complete them.  Not only is this a good reminder which your client and team will appreciate, its also a paper trail (see #2 above).
  5. Make sure deadlines are clear to everyone.
    Share the timeline details with everyone. When it changes, share the changes. Don’t expect everyone on your team to read the 32 page project plan, but share it anyway, then talk to your team members directly about the deadlines specific to them. If you communicate clearly and often, you have a better chance of noticing when something starts to go off the rails.

We know that all projects have the potential to go bad. The quicker you can identify potential problems, the better chance you’ll have to fix them before they become major issues for the project.

I think these 5 best practices can help – they don’t call them best practices for nothing after all.  What do you think?

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Before You Send: Formatting Checklist for Project Managers

Last week Seth Godin posted this on the “wrapper” – about how the box, the frame, the presentation matters, even if its not the point.

Earlier this week I saw a document that was sent to a client with no header, no footer, no logo, no title, and no page numbers – I was baffled.  I asked myself, how could the project manager look at this document and think it was OK to send?  Not only does it look unprofessional, but its also impractical – how can the client easily tell what this document is? If the pages get out of order, how much work will it be to put it back?  If someone finds the document lying around, how will they know who wrote it?

It’s part of the project manager’s job to present the company and the work in a professional way  – and that includes the wrapper.  So make sure the document is correct, that it reads well and is written well and covers all the important information, and also that it looks professional.

First, if your organization has a document template with pre-set headers/footers/logo, etc. Use it!  if it doesn’t, create one or lobby your boss to get one made, then insist that it be consistently used.  Until then, make sure the document has:

  • Title
  • Your logo/company name
  • The client/company name
  • Version number
  • Date
  • Page number
  • Header (sometimes repeats the document name beginning on page 2)
  • Footer (often contains copyright information or contact information)
  • Consistent font and font size
  • Consistent headings
  • Consistent use of bullets
  • Consistent spacing

And last but not least, make sure all track changes have been removed.

To download a checklist of these items, click here: Formatting Checklist.

This final check into the look and feel of your document will go a long way to making your work look professional.

Posted in Quality control, Role of the PM | Leave a comment

Just Show Up

Eighty percent of success is showing up
– Woody Allen

Is it ever OK for the PM to skip a client meeting?

Short answer – never.

Longer answer – maybe, if there’s a family emergency or a sudden illness. And even then you might be able to get someone to cover or to reschedule.

In most places I’ve worked, the PMs would agree. They’d be mortified at the thought of sending a writer, or a programmer, or even the account rep to a meeting without them. How can you manage the project, and the client’s expectations, and the stakeholders, and the team if you’re not there?

On the flip side, in one place I worked this kind of thing was common practice. It was no big deal for the PM to skip a meeting – or send the team to meet live and dial in – because the focus of the meeting was on some part of the project the PM didn’t think he was responsible for (e.g., the writing, the code, the graphics) or because he was “too busy” with his other projects to take the time.

But how does it look to the client if you can’t be bothered to show up?

When you’re the PM, you’re responsible for everything!  And unless you have one of those rare clients (I’ve never met one) that is totally fine with being reminded that your other clients are more important, skipping face-to-face meetings in order to work on other projects (or to miss the rush hour traffic to get home – I am not making that up), isn’t advisable if you want to keep that client very long.

Not to mention that if Woody Allen is even partly right, you’re giving up an easy path to success!  If you can get 80% of the way there just by showing up, why wouldn’t you do that?

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The (Un)Communication Trap

We’ve all worked with that manager, co-worker, client, (or dated that person) that for some reason doesn’t ever tell you the whole story. Maybe he’s “protecting you” from all the details that he doesn’t think you need to know. Maybe he’s especially forgetful or is hiding a mistake he made. Maybe he feels more important and “in charge” if he’s the only one with all the facts. Whatever the reason, it sure is annoying.

It takes a shared goal and vision to build a cohesive, effective project team. It doesn’t make you more important if you’re the only one in the know; it just cripples your team and makes you seem like a jerk.

A few good communication practices:

  • Hold an internal kickoff meeting. Before the project even starts, get your team together, tell them about the project, discuss scope, deliverables, goals, and answer questions about it
  • Include your team members on status update emails
  • Include core team members on status calls with the client (when in areas of their expertise, e.g., when you’re discussing graphics, include the graphics designer
  • When decisions about the project are made, share them with the team
  • Send out regular communications about deliverables and review dates, note who is responsible for what
  • Check in with the team members on a regular basis – ask them what they need from you
  • Hold full-team meetings to discuss project progress, potential risks, and mitigation strategies
  • Actively manage hand-offs. Rather than letting one team member throw her work over the wall to the next, hold a meeting to review and discuss. You’re running a project, not a production line

What are your best practices for communicating with your project team?

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Being the PM Means You’re in Charge. Right?

I thought I was in charge at the beginning.  it makes sense, right? You’re the project lead. The person in charge, the “one throat to choke” as they say.  You’re responsible for everything – even things you can’t possibly control – like the quality of work done by every person on your team, even when they don’t report to you and have no interest in working on your project. You’re even responsible for what you client does – she misses a deadline which sets off a chain of events that makes the project late. It’s still your fault! In the project-based world, it doesn’t matter what happens. With the possible exception of  natural disaster, if something goes wrong, it’s the project managers’ fault.

That’s a lot of pressure.  You have to own the project, but you can’t do the whole thing yourself. Yes you develop the schedule and coordinate the meetings and all that, but you’re not the decider of everything. What you’re really in charge of is setting up an environment so your project team members can do what they do best. And so your client can feel secure that her project will come out perfectly in the end – which includes being on time, on budget, and resulting in a promotion (for her, not you).

It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure this out. But when I did, it made a world of difference.  I sucked it up, admitted I wasn’t really in charge of anything (and yet responsible for everything) and that’s when things got better.

First, I worked a lot harder to make sure the people on the team were the right people. I fought the battles early to build a good team from the start. And “good” meant a variety of things depending on the situation – a certain set of skills, a positive attitude toward the project, enthusiasm to learn new things, compatibility with the client, ability to work crazy hours if needed – whatever it seemed like the project needed most.

Then, I did what ever I could to:

  • Involve the team in every stage of the project – from planning to design, development, implementation, and evaluation. I didn’t plan a thing without making sure I had input from the appropriate team members (in addition to the appropriate client stakeholders)
  • Communicate what was happening along the way. No more did I try to “protect” the team from things that weren’t important to them. Who was i to decide what wasn’t important to them? I told everybody everything and let them use the information as they saw fit
  • Encourage the team members to lead where they were strong – and support them when they needed it
  • Find help when necessary. If someone needed training, a mentor, or extra help getting work done, I found it for them.  It was so easy to just ask “Can you get this done or do you need help?”  It took awhile before people realized it wasn’t a sign of weakness to say they needed help. But once they did, it was a lot easier to end up scrambling and missing deadlines at the end
  • Be there to support when times were tough. When my team was working late to meet a deadline, I stayed. But I also stayed out of their way. If ordering pizza or making copies was all I could do to help, that’s what I did

At first I thought being a PM was all about managing the project schedule and the budget and the hours – and that was what made you in charge. But it turns out these “technical skills” are only a tiny part of the process. They’re important, absolutely. But its the easy part. Team development, stakeholder management, communication strategies, managing expectations, and delivering bad news…that’s the hard part. Funny how they don’t usually mention that when you sign up for the job!


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