Team Leader: How To Improve Team Performance

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

The first step in improving team performance is reviewing the team leader’s performance.  Project managers are team leaders who are often unaware of how their own performance affects the team’s performance and attitudes. We’ll start by looking at six ways project managers try to improve team performance that do NOT work. And we’ll analyze why they negatively impact the team. Then we’ll discuss four positive team leader techniques for improving team performance. Leading Teams Main Page

Poor Team Leader Technique #1: “Variances Are a Personal Betrayal”

Let’s look at some examples. It’s a few weeks into a project and Jill, a project team member, reports that her task is going to slip four days past the due date. She explains that all the managers who need to sign off on the design are at an out-of-town offsite meeting. She has no way to contact them until they return. The project manager slumps down head in hands, and moans, “How can you do this to me? I thought we were friends.  You’re gonna get me in big trouble with the VP.  You were the one team member I thought would never do this kind of thing to me.”

Assessment: This ineffective technique makes the team member feel guilty and it doesn’t solve the problem.

Poor Team Leader Technique #2: “You’re The Problem, Not The Assignment”

Bill is a subject matter guru who sends an email to the PM and the team stating, “Unexpected technical difficulties may cause the completion of my task to slide a week or more.” That afternoon the PM spots Bill in the hall, calls to him and says, “What the heck’s the matter with you?  Do you think you can re-set the completion date without talking to me? I’m going to look into these “unexpected technical difficulties.”

Assessment: You should never give negative feedback in public.  And never suggest “something is wrong with a team member.  You should criticize specific behavior, not the individual; and always do it in private.

Poor Team Leader Technique #3: “Every Slippage is a Catastrophe”

One of the trainees, Miles, comes to the PM’s cubicle and says, “I’m going to finish later than I planned by one day; but just one day. My boss gave me a high priority assignment that will interrupt my project work.” The PM glares at the trainee and says, “Don’t give me this ‘just one day late’ stuff.  You have to fix it so you don’t have this kind of disaster.  This is what makes projects fail!”

Assessment: You should not blame a team member for being pulled off your project by their department manager. That is not their fault. It is your job, not theirs, to solve the work priority issue with their boss. Also, one day late is not a catastrophe.

Poor Team Leader Technique #4: “You Have to Fix This Today”

Mary calls to report an 8-day slippage on her task due to the new technical requirements she just received.  The PM says, “Well that means your overtime starts tonight. And I’ll need your entire team in here all weekend.”

Assessment: This slippage was probably beyond the team member’s control.  Trying to recapture the lost time, starting today, is often the least effective solution.  There are times when you have to ask for extra hours. But “all hands on overtime” is foolish and it punishes the whole team for something that is not their fault. This does more harm than good.

Poor Team Leader Technique #5: “I Have to Watch You Closely From Now On”

Jack tells the PM he’s figured out a way to cut the five-day variance he reported last week to only two days.  The PM says, “Just make up your mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s 5 days or 2 days. You shouldn’t have ANY variances. I’m going to have to watch you a lot more closely from now on.”

Assessment: This is a great technique for discouraging team members from creative problem solving.

Poor Team Leader Technique #6: “Guilt, The Great Motivator”

Jean reports a two-week variance. The PM reacts by saying, “You’ve let every member of this team down. We were all counting on you to come through and you didn’t. You have no idea how badly this will affect the whole project and many people’s careers.”

Assessment:  An experienced team member will shrug off this foolish reaction; and they should.  But a new employee may think you are speaking the truth and become very upset and feel guilty.

Your Poor Team Leader Behavior is Always Onstage

Handling performance problems with even one team member puts you, the team leader, on stage in front of the entire team. You should assume the team member who’s going to finish late will talk to others about your reaction. And don’t think their peers will treat them like an outcast because they won’t.  Team members usually assume their peer merely had some bad luck on their assignment. They judge your reaction when they hear about it (and they always do) based on your bad news behavior. They won’t share or support your opinion that the team member’s work was bad or that they’re a “bad person.” When you treat the team member reporting a variance as if they’ve spread the plague, you will get an adverse reaction from the entire team. You can count on the fact that your project team members regularly talk to each other about your behavior. And they will tell everyone how badly you react to a negative situation.

Effective Team Leader Performanceteam leader

The first effective team leader guideline is to handle each performance problem as if your words and actions will be broadcast on Twitter, Facebook and CNN. You can also be sure that this broadcast of your behavior will focus on the juiciest aspects of the story, not a balance of good and bad. Because team members will broadcast your handling of performance problems, you should have a script for each situation. This role is called “Bad News Behavior.” Each “appearance” always has four acts.

You’re probably asking, “Why must I play a role?” “Why can’t I just be myself?”

The answer is that your natural tendency is to express your emotions. These include disappointment, worry and even anger when a slippage or overrun occurs. Remember that dealing with a project team member’s overrun is not an opportunity for you to get your frustration “off your chest.” You must focus on engaging that team member in finding and implementing the best way to solve the problem. All the negative responses we saw above came from project managers without a script for an effective “Bad News Behavior” role. They were disastrous attempts to improve team performance. Here are the fours acts that define your role.

Effective Team Leader Technique #1: Use Data to Judge the Severity of the Problem

The first act for the “Bad News Behavior” role is to determine the severity of the problem. To do this, you must have a proper project plan, a dynamic model of all the tasks, predecessor relationships (the sequence and dependency of tasks) and work/duration estimates. With this information, you can quickly assess the severity of the problem. The actions you take should be based on sound analysis and judgment. If you react to every problem as if it was a catastrophe, you will quickly lose your ability to engage your team in problem-solving when a serious matter arises.

The data in your plan and schedule will tell you if you are dealing with a task that is not on the critical path and if it has enough slack to cover the variance without affecting the project completion date. You’ll handle that problem very differently from a variance on a critical path task. That’s where every day of delay affects the entire project’s completion date. The data lets you live with some variances and focus your attention on the significant problems. This assessment makes your “Bad News Behavior” reaction appropriate for the problem.

Effective Team Leader Technique #2: Determine the Extent of its “Ripple Effect”

You will also use the project schedule to analyze the “ripple effect” of a variance on the tasks that follow the slipped task. The severity of a variance may increase or decrease based on whether resources are available on the tasks that follow the slipped task. You may be able to assign some of those available resources to work on the task with the variance. This “ripple effect” analysis also sets up your next step.

Effective Team Leader Technique #3: Pick the Best “Action Point” for Recovery

There is a natural tendency to think that you need to solve any variance on the task where it occurred. Of course recovery to complete that problem task on time and within budget is nice. But often adding resources or taking other corrective action on the problem task is not the best way to recover. It’s not easy to get additional people to work on the problem task. And when you do, you must quickly bring them up to speed. The net result may be that the problem task is further behind than if you left the existing people alone to work on it. Sometimes it’s easier and more effective to take action on a later task. That will give you more time to organize the recovery and find resources to regain the lost time.

Effective Team Leader Technique #4: Discuss the Work Package With the Team Member

Your response to improving team performance should be finding the solution, not assigning blame to the team member. So you start the discussion with the team member by talking about the solution and getting their thoughts on a solution the you two will jointly implement. You need to review the work package that was the basis for the team member’s original work estimate and approach to the task. Take a look at the team member’s availability and the risk factors included in the estimate. By using the original work package as the basis for discussing the problem, you focus attention on your previous discussions. The flaws are in that document, not the team member. The big advantage of this last step is that it focuses attention on the work, the assumptions and the estimates, not the personal characteristics of the team member.

Now you are ready to talk about solutions to the problem and improving team performance.

Effective Team Leader Techniques Summary

These four team leader techniques will help you improve your team’s performance and avoid a “shoot from the hip” emotional reaction that leads to ineffective problem-solving behavior.

To learn more about using proven team leader techniques, building dynamic project plans, using effective estimating techniques, and improving team performance, consider taking one of our private, online courses. We offer courses in team leadership and project management techniques. We also offer on-site training for implementing these processes at the organizational level.

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Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder Management; Controlling Expectations

People’s expectations of the project results are the primary factor in their level of  support for your project and their final judgement as to the level of your success or failure. Stakeholder Management sounds pretty simple.  I want their expectations high enough to causstakeholder managemente them to cooperate but also to be low enough to be achieveable within the budget and duration.  Sounds reasonable.

But when you stand infront of  of the client executive or your executive stake holders seeking project plan approval its pretty easy for the audience to hear things your didn’t say so we need to be carful.  Like this:

  • Stakeholder, “I understand about the project reducing the error rate on our employee paychecks. But how about the security on the whole payroll system and  protection against hackers”
  • Bad PM answer, “We are going to ratchet up security at every level in the system including the people who take employee phone calls.
  • Better PM answer, “You are correct our focus is reducing errors to less than 1%. We are going to adhere to  all of the security standards the company has set and include every  control process presently in place.

Why is the first one bad? It creates expectations you are not going to meet.  That stakeholder will be wondering about and asking about all the new payroll security you promised and be disappointed when there is none.

The second answer is much better.  You start of by complementing the stakeholder on knowing the scope, which reemphasizes it.  Then you say no new security by telling the person that the new process will have all the controls the current one does. The answer may not thrill the stakeholder but you have restricted the expectations.

Steps in Stakeholder Management

This kind of careful speech is something you will use continuously with your stakeholders. But there is a lot more to stakeholder management. Here are the steps:

  1. Identify your stakeholders, anyone who will be affected by your project. You are interested in all of them, but focus on stakeholders in management.
  2. Unearth their expectations for the project and correct those expectations immediately if they are different than your project scope.  Letting an incorrect expectation just hang in the air always come back to haunt you.
  3. Regularly monitor the management stakeholders feeling them out for issues they have with the project and any changes in expectations.

Follow those steps and keep good notes of each Stakeholder’s expectations so you can spot changes.

Leading Teams: Six Techniques For Success

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

A highly motivated, problem-solving team is a key reason for every project success. These teams are committed to completing their assignments on time and within budget so the project goal is met. The proven techniques for leading teams to success include:

  • selecting the right team members
  • crafting the right-size assignment for each person
  • accurately estimating hours of work and duration
  • gaining team member commitment
  • receiving status reports
  • giving constructive feedback.

Leading Teams: Techniques for Three Sizes of Projects

The techniques are different for each project, depending on the size and scope. Here are the project size definitions:

Tier 1: Small – they’re done within one department
Tier 2: Cross-functional – they affect multiple departments and cross organizational boundaries
Tier 3: Strategic  – they’re organization-wide programs or projects for clients with strategic impact.

Leading Teams Technique #1: Selecting Team Members

In the selection process, you’re trying to get the best people for your project team. But you’re also gathering information about their work habits and personality so you can craft the right assignment for them.
Tier 1: Small projects: You are usually familiar with the potential team members’ work performance and quality standards when you all work in the same department. During the project planning phase, you need to ask the boss for the people you want on your team. That’s when the boss is focused on the project and can give you hints about the correct assignment for each person.
Tier 2: Cross-functional projects: When you have to borrow your team members froLead Teamsm other departments or organizations, it is more difficult to make sure you get productive team members. If possible, you should interview potential team members to assess their work ethic, problem solving ability and quality standards.
Tier 3: Strategic projects: On large projects for your organization or your clients, you may not be able to select the team members. If personal interviews are possible, you can gather information about potential team members’ experience and work standards. You will use that information to design the right assignments for each person.  If interviews aren’t possible, you will have to make an on-the-spot judgement about the right assignment for each team member. Leading Remote Project Teams

Leading Teams Technique #2: Designing Appropriate Assignments

You must design the assignments so they fit the capabilities and personality type of each team member. You want to give larger/longer assignments to people who have solid technical experience and are skilled problem solvers. They will appreciate the assignment’s challenge. You should give shorter assignments to people who are inexperienced and/or less capable. This will let you easily track their progress and help them when it’s necessary.
Tier 1: Small projects: You usually have flexibility about the duration of assignments. For trainee-level team members or less capable people, you want assignments that are 1 to 3 days long. For the average team member, 5-day assignments are usually the right size. For experienced professionals, you should design assignments that are 2 weeks or longer to give them a challenge and independence.
Tier 2: Cross-functional projects: With people borrowed from other departments, it is often acceptable to talk with their boss about the right-size assignment and the level of challenge you should give them.  If that’s not possible, then you will adjust the complexity and length of the assignment as they work on the task and you learn their capabilities.
Tier 3: Strategic projects: On larger projects with people who are accountable for major deliverables, you need to engage them in the design of their assignments. You must avoid micromanagement of these experienced people who are very capable.  On the other hand, you should give “rookies” assignments that are within their capabilities in terms of time and complexity. Team Micromanagement

Leading Teams Technique #3: Work Packages

You must clearly describe, in measurable terms, the deliverable(s) the team member should produce. And you must document their availability, as approved by their boss.
Tier 1: Small projects: This level of documentation is often skipped on small projects with three or four team members working on a project within a department. On the other hand, giving a simple work pack to each team member avoids confusion about your expectations for their deliverable.
Tier 2: Cross-functional projects & Tier 3: Strategic projects: For larger projects, you should document a work package for each assignment. It will make the assignment clear and document the deliverable you expect the borrowed person to produce. The work package also provides a standard information base for estimating the tasks’ hours of work and identifying their risks. It is best to document the work estimate and give a copy to the borrowed team member’s superior. Team Building Techniques

Leading Teams Technique #4: Estimating Task Work and Duration

A project management best practice is to estimate the required hours of work so you can measure progress during the assignment.
All projects: Regardless of the size of the project, you should engage the team members in the process of estimating the amount of work their assignment will take. The work package is the basis for the estimating effort. You should always estimate the amount of work (50 hours, for example).  You should never estimate just the duration (Oct. 21 through Nov. 7, for example). Estimating the amount of work required for the task provides you with the ability to more accurately track progress and spot problems. Their team member’s availability to do the work (halftime or 2 days a week, for example) is also documented. Team Building

You should also discuss the assignment’s potential risks with the team member and what can be done about them. This helps you avoid, eliminate or mitigate those risks. Finally, the work package should list the task’s required deliverable, the approach to take on the task and the inputs the team member requires to finish their task. Team Building video

Leading Teams Technique #5: Status Reporting

Team members should report status on their tasks every week. This allows you to find problems early so you and the team have an opportunity to fix them before the task or project is late or over budget.
All Projects: Data can come to you by phone, e-mails, a form, template or on “sticky notes.” The important thing is that each week you get the hours of work competed, as of that date, and the estimated hours required to complete the task. No narrative is necessary. You should make status reporting easy so people will do it.  It is a best practice to give all team members updated status data on the entire project.

Leading Teams Technique #6: Giving Feedback

All projects: You must give feedback to team members on a timely basis. People want to be praised for a job well done. Remember that public praise is the most effective. People also need to be told when their performance does not meet your expectations. This should be done in private and include what they can do to improve. You must deliver feedback in a way that encourages people to tell you about problems early, when you and the team can define a solution or a “work around.” Constructive Feedback

It is extremely ineffective for you to get angry with team members who report bad news. This action (or reaction) causes team members to hide problems. Then you are doomed to find out about problems when it’s too late to fix them. Dysfunctional Project Team video

Leading Teams Summary

Use these proven techniques to successfully lead project teams:

  • select the right team member for each task
  • assign the right size task for their capabilities
  • create a work package to define their deliverable
  • involve the team member in estimating the amount of work required and the duration of their task
  • receive weekly status reports from the team members
  • give team members constructive feedback and praise

Matrix Teams

Project Team Culture

You can learn these techniques and enhance your skills for leading teams in our online project management courses and certifications. You begin whenever you wish and control the schedule and pace. You work privately with an expert project manager and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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What is Project Leadership? – Video

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

What is project leadership? It consists of proven techniques that project managers use to:

  • set standards of behavior and performance
  • motivate the team members to high performance and
  • rally the team members when the project has problems to overcome.

The number one challenge to project leadership is the fact that the project manager has no formal organizational authority over the project team. Another factor that makes project leadership difficult is that project managers are usually technically-oriented people with little experience or skill in motivating others.

Project managers must tailor the interpersonal techniques they use to fit the personality of each team member and stakeholder with whom they work. That’s the only way project managers can make up for their lack of formal authority.  Once they have “typed” the person’s personality and selected the right techniques for dealing with them, they have won half the battle. Here is a video on Team Member Personality Types

Another technique of effective leadership is to apply the best practices in terms of how the project manager trains and treats their project team members. Watch this video of a PM dealing with a situation where a team member has been pulled off the project and assigned elsewhere. In the first video, you see the PM use a technique that does not fit the personality of the team member. The result is complete failure. Then watch an analysis and see the PM do it the right way, using the right technique for the team member. Leading Teams

Communicating with the team member who has a problem

    You can learn all of these skills in our online project management basics course. We individually tailor this course for business, IT, construction, healthcare and consulting specialties.

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    Project Management Career – How to Join a Fast Growing Profession

    Dick Billows, PMP
    Dick Billows, PMP
    CEO 4pm.com

    A Project management career offers you a fast growing profession, world-wide demand and high incomes. A Project Management career gives you mobility between employers because your skills are applicable in any company.

    Project Managers who have the ability to deliver business results on time and within budget are needed in every organization. Project managers are in demand  in both public and private sectors. Salaries are high with the average income of a certified project manager (PMP®) averaging $114,000 US.  In this article will summarize the steps in a project management career: from first getting into the profession, to learning the basics, to your first certification and then up the ladder to multi-project and portfolio management. First let’s do a quick overview and then we’ll get into the details.

    Project Management Career Progression

    More than half of the project managers in the profession were pushed into it. Executives noticed they were good performers so when a hot project came up, the executives dumped it in their laps. Learning on the job and on-the-fly, these people got through that first project and then decided they liked the work. They learned the “right way” to manage a project later on.

    Other people consciously decided to enter the project management profession. They prepared themselves for their first job as a project manager by learning the basics of project management. Then they got an entry-level project manager certification for credibility. These steps helped them get their first chance to manage a small project. How To Get into Project ManagementProject Management Career

    No matter what route people take to start their project management career, they need to have training that teaches them the fundamentals of planning, scheduling, executing and tracking projects. Many people also get their first certification at this point because it helps in job hunting. That first certification is often the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) from the Project Management Institute (PMI®). That certification requires no project management work experience. But it does require learning the processes, definitions and terms of the profession and passing a 3-hour exam. Pass the CAPM Exam

    Functional/Industry Project Management Certifications

    Another route early in a project management career is to earn a certification in a specialty area. This is a popular route if you are already working in IT, Healthcare, Construction, Consulting or Business/Manufacturing. The certifications are:
    Certified IT Project Manager
    Certified Healthcare Project Manager
    Certified Construction Project Manager
    Certified Consulting Project Manager
    Certified Business Project Manager
    These certifications give you credibility in a project management specialty area and confirm your knowledge of the basic through advanced project management skills. Then you can “sell” yourself as someone who can manage small and medium-sized projects using the best practices, tools and techniques.

    Project Management Professional (PMP)® Certification and Beyond

    After you have several years of experience managing projects, you will be qualified to earn the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI®). This is an internationally recognized credential for experienced project managers and is highly regarded in all industries. You must apply and get PMI’s approval to take the PMP exam. PMI requires you to document 4,500 hours of project management work experience if you have a university degree or 7,500 hours of project management work experience if you don’t have a university degree. They also require 35 hours of project management education. You need an exam preparation course to teach you PMI’s best practices in project management. Then you must pass the very difficult 4-hour PMP exam. About 50% of the people who take the exam world-wide fail.

    The next step in a project management career is to earn a Program Manager Certification which prepares you up for positions managing multiple projects and larger, strategic programs. Program Management

    Following that, your next move will be into senior management in a position like Chief Project Officer, CPO.

    We offer individual, customized online courses and certifications for every step in your project management career.

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    Project Planning from the Top Down

    Dick Billows, PMP
    Dick Billows, PMP
    CEO 4pm.com

    In many organizations, managers (and especially senior managers) view project planning as a waste of time. To them, the project plan is needless. They want to “start work immediately without wasting time in useless planning meetings and creating mounds of paperwork.”

    Project Planning: A Waste of Time?

    Why do many managers and executives have the attitude that project planning is a waste of time?  Why are they unwilling to invest their time in project planning? Here are a few of the reasons:

    • They have never seen a project properly planned so they have no understanding of how smoothly things can run.
    • Project planning requires that the sponsor and stakeholders know what business result they want the project to produce. Often executives start projects to fix a problem they have just heard about. They have no idea how to solve it or define what they consider to be a fix.
    • The sponsor and stakeholders are unwilling to make commitments about the acceptance criteria for the project’s deliverables. They are unwilling to take the risk of specifying precisely what they want. Project Plan Template Main Page

    Project Planning: A Waste of Time Reason #1

    The most common reason why they have never seen a project properly planned is that the organization doesn’t exercise control or require justification for starting a new project. There is no reason to plan if people can start a project any time they want. The organization also doesn’t require a return on investment (payback) from a project.

    On the other hand, executives must plan their projects if the organization requires the following:

    • a cost-benefit analysis for new projects
    • a clear specification for the business results the project will produce
    • its cost and duration.

    Project Planning: A Waste of Time Reason #2

    A second and very common reason for these “waste of time” attitudes is that many executives have never sponsored, run or even worked on a properly planned project. As a result, they don’t know the benefits a properly planned project can deliver. Their projects usually miss their planned completion dates and budgets. They rarely deliver the project scope or any business value. Project teams don’t know what they are accountable for delivering, what performance level the project manager expects or how the project manager will evaluate their work. As a result, the project manager must tell the team members what to do each week.

    The executives also have no practical experience with change control. They don’t realize that a well-conceived project plan gives them and the project manager tools to manage changes to the scope, budget, quality and resources.

    Project Planning: What Is Top-Down Planning?

    Despite the reasons why the executives have the attitude that project planning is a waste of time and resources, you (as the project manager) must persuade them of the benefits of planning a project from the top down. When executives want to start a project, you must describe the right steps and explain how that process benefits the organization. Finally, you must discuss the top-down project planning techniques, documents and meetings. Executives also need to understand that you cannot use the same project planning techniques for every project. You should not bury a small project in needless paperwork. But a large strategic project will suffer if there isn’t sufficient planning, control and risk management.

    A well-planned project uses the top-down project planning technique. Top-down project planning starts with a project scope that is defined in measurable terms. That means the sponsor identifies the overall scope of the project and the deliverable(s) the project has to produce. Then you and the sponsor identify the acceptance criteria that the executives will use to approve those deliverables. Next you break the criteria down into deliverables for each assignment. This lets you and every project team member know exactly what the executives want in a deliverable before you start work. On a well-run project, you and the team members don’t have to stop work to figure out what to do next. Each team member’s assignment or task is specifically defined so they know what they must deliver before they begin work.

    project planning

    Project teams that must stop and figure out what to do next are working on a project with a “To Do” list plan. In this situation, the project manager planned the first thing they’re going to do, then the second and then the third. Things get a little vague after that so the team members must stop work and ask the PM what to do next. That process continues until the planned completion date is looming on the horizon. At that point, the PM and team members must stop work and plan what they can quickly finish before the completion date. This is a disaster for the project and the PM’s career.

    Project Planning: Top-Down Benefits

    When you use top-down project planning, you make as many of the decisions as possible during the planning process which is before you ever start work. When the team does start work, they focus on executing the plan, not re-planning the project. You save several hours of meetings, talks and arguments for every hour you spend planning before the work actually begins.

    Top-down project planning also saves you from doing the wrong things on the project. That’s because you have done all the thinking on the deliverables before you start work. And that means you don’t incur the costs of having to produce “missing” deliverables at the last moment. In top-down project planning you start with a clear definition of the project’s scope. Then you can break it down into high-level deliverables. You continue to break these down into sub-deliverables until you get to the level of tasks you assign to the team members.

    Project Planning Summary

    You are certain to have a failed project if you fall into the trap of starting work immediately without using the top-down project planning technique. The executives who forced you to start work quickly will be exceedingly dissatisfied with the results as well as the money and the time spent to produce them. The only way out of this situation is to explain to the project executives that success is a direct result of a solid planning effort.  Working from the top down, you and the sponsor must define the scope of the work and the acceptance criteria that the project stakeholders will use to judge its success. The key to top-down project planning is having a clear scope definition that you can break down into high-level deliverables and sub-deliverables. Then you have the basis for a work breakdown structure (WBS) that minimizes the amount of work required to successfully deliver the project’s scope.

    Consider our online project management courses to learn how to use all the tools and techniques for top-down project management planning. You’ll work privately with Dick Billows, PMP, as your instructor and coach. You begin when you wish and control the pace and schedule. You can have as many phone calls and live video conferences with Dick as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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    Team-building: Moments of Truth

    Dick Billows, PMP
    Dick Billows, PMP
    CEO 4pm.com

    Project team building is a critical success factor. As a project manager, you want a project team of highly motivated, aggressive problem solvers. You want team members who are totally committed to their deliverables, budget and due dates. And you want them to support you and other team members. Do teams like this actually exist?  Yes, but they are very rare. Here’s how to build yours.

    Many team members have suffered from the poor performance of other leaders and now you, the new project manager, have to fix it. If you don’t, bad team performance could kill your project (and your career).     Leading Teams Main Page

    It’s easy to say you want a motivated and committed team on the new “critically important” project you’re going to manage. But how do you build one?  What team-building strategy should you follow? There are certainly team building classes you can attend. Another option is using a facilitator to help create a more effective culture. But it’s easy, and common, for those behavioral changes to vanish as soon as the training session is over or the facilitator leaves.  Leadership and Team Assignments

    Team Building: Moments of Truth

    So it’s pretty much up to you to build a motivated and committed project team. You can’t just talk about how everybody’s going to be highly motivated and aggressive problem-solvers, etc.  Instead, you do it in three critical instances of your interaction with the project team. This is the heart of team-building. These instances are moments of truth that do the following:

    • establish the culture of the team
    • communicate your expectations
    • teach the project team how you will work together.team building

    These team building moments of truth occur at particularly important times in your relationship with each team member.

    Moment of Truth #1

    The first occurs when you assign a task to a team member. You must assign each team member tasks that are within their skill set. If you don’t, you will set them up for failure and undermine any trust that existed between you and the team members. Your bad assignment techniques alert the team members to start protecting themselves from blame. Team Motivation

    Moment of Truth #2

    The second moment of truth occurs when you work with each team member to estimate the duration of their task assignments. If you don’t consider the team member’s honest estimate of the work required, they feel they’re being set up for failure. And that causes the team members to pad their estimates.

    Moment of Truth #3

    Finally, how you handle bad news about an assignment is critically important. You can’t lose your temper or punish the team member if a problem arises or a task completion date slips.  Your behavior must encourage team members to tell you about problems as early as possible. That gives you time to work together to fix them. Problems are inevitable. So team members shouldn’t be punished when they make you aware of them.   Effective Feedback

    You can learn how to build a high-performance team in our online project management courses. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.

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    How to Become A Great Project Manager

    A great project manager is not created by a project certification that is based on their ability to correctly answer multiple choice questions.  The ingredients for the great project managers are a complex mixture of hard and soft skills. And please note that being a technical guru is not on the list of ingredients.

    Great Project Manager Ingredients

    Here’s what you need to build an impressive track record of project successes that make you a great project manager:

    • A tool kit of project techniques and the knowledge to select the correct estimating, scheduling, risk management and tracking techniques for each project. One technique does not fit all projects.
    • Interpersonal skills that let you motivate your team and make them want to work on your projects.  Team members value your praise as a reward because it is not empty words.  Team Motivation
    • Communication skills and the ability to read people and select the correct  communications style and content let you influence and persuade team members and executives.  Communication Techniques
    • Leadership style that convinces team members you will stand up for them. It gives executives confidence that you will not hide problems or blame others.  Leadership Skills
    • Management style that lets you anticipate problems and apply solutions before the problem grows large.  Management Skills
    • Use of project management technology to give decision-makers choices.  You present options and quantified alternatives for solving problems and taking advantage of opportunities.  PM Technology

    Great project managers are not born; they are made. Project management raining and practice are critical.  And you must be able to avoid the technology trap.  That’s where project managers think their success comes from making good technical decisions.  It is the trap door to micromanaging your team by making all the decisions for them. That takes so much time that you ignore the six characteristics listed above and wind up as a very ordinary project manager.

    Feedback That Changes Behavior

     

    Dick Billows, PMP
    Dick Billows, PMP
    CEO 4pm.com

    Feedback is not just sharing your evaluation of a team member’s work. An important part of a leader’s job is setting clear expectations and norms of behavior. These help the team members work together effectively and efficiently. You, as the leader, must set and enforce these expectations and norms of behavior. You reinforce positive behavior and change negative behavior by giving feedback to team members.    Leading Teams Main Page

    Feedback in the form of constructive criticism is one way to change a team member’s bad behavior. It is best to do this in private but occasionally it can be in public. It has the most impact early in the life of a team. During the “forming” and “norming” phases of team development, team members are most sensitive to your efforts to steer their behavior. A small disappointed frown from you when one team member criticizes another is often sufficient to stop that behavior. Later on, it is harder for you to change or stop undesirable behaviors. That’s because they have become ingrained.  It is important to avoid punishing people with your criticism. Punishment doesn’t change how people behave and it can produce negative results.

    Let’s look at the right and wrong way to handle several feedback situations.

    Feedback Situation #1: Team Member is Late For a Meeting

    You had e-mailed the project team the agenda for a 30 minute planning meeting.  The group assembled several minutes early, except for one team member.  There was informal and light–hearted conversation since most of the team members knew each other.  Then you started the meeting at the appointed time.  After 15 minutes, the missing team member arrived and made a couple of humorous comments as he took his seat.

    There are two parts to getting the change in behavior you want.  The most important part is to set the standard for timeliness. It may sound silly that you need to tell professionals to be on time for meetings.  However, being late for meetings might be OK on some teams. You must make your expectation and the standard clear because it may differ from the norms they have on other teams. Let’s look at the ineffective and effective ways to handle the first part. Team building

    Ineffective Feedback: Setting Standards

    “By being late you have wasted all of our time. That is unprofessional and inconsiderate. If you do that again, you and I are going to have trouble.”

    You are trying to punish the late arrival and this threat is an overreaction.  It only makes you look silly. There is a better way to define what you expect from all the team members.

    Effective Feedback: Setting Standards

    “When people are late for meetings I can respond two ways.  I can interrupt the meeting to let them catch up. But this wastes everyone else’s time. Or I can let the late arrival figure things out as we move on.  Those are both bad choices. So please, let’s all be on time for meetings.”

    The next part of the criticism is changing his behavior, not punishing him. So you should talk to him in private and give effective criticism. Two approaches to that next conversation with the late team member are below.

    feedback

    Ineffective Feedback: Giving Criticism

    “I find that people who are late also do sloppy work and are very unprofessional.”

    Stating stereotypes of people who are late as being sloppy and unprofessional is insulting. It may actually get in the way of changing the person’s behavior. You need to focus only on the behavior you want, not on personality traits.

    Effective FeedbackGiving Criticism

    We are all too busy to have our time wasted by someone who is late.  Please help me enforce the standard that everyone arrives on time.  Thank you.”

    There is no personal criticism in this feedback. There is no implication that the person who arrived late is a bad person.  This is a clear comparison of the behavior you want, compared to what you got.  The request for their help is a nice touch to make the criticism more effective.

    Feedback Situation #2: Functional Turf Wars

    As you continued to work with the team, you noticed sharp remarks exchanged between the team members from Marketing and Operations. The barbs seemed to focus on a previous, failed project.  Each side was implying that the other was to blame for the project failure.  You quickly decide you have to do two things. First, you have to define the norm and the kind of behavior you want from the team.  Second, you need to effectively criticize the barbs being made by each side to make clear how their behavior deviates from what you want.

    Ineffective Feedback: Defining Norms of Behavior

    “I don’t want to hear any more of these inter-departmental turf wars.  It’s stupid and completely unprofessional.”

    That statement is publicly criticizing certain people on a personal level. It produces resentment, not better behavior.

    Effective Feedback: Defining Norms of Behavior

    “Let’s focus on the future and the brilliant things we will deliver as a team; not on failed projects from the past.”

    Next you need to speak privately to the people involved about how their comments differ from the behavior you want. Let’s look at the effective and ineffective ways to do that.

    Ineffective Feedback: Past Grudges 

    “You can dislike the people from (pick a department name) on your own time. On my project, you have to work with them. So get used to cooperating with each other.”

    Effective FeedbackPast Grudges 

    “Everyone will have a separate, measured accountability on this project. And we will know if someone is not pulling their weight or trying to shift work off to other departments.  So let’s not re-fight old wars. Let’s focus on making this project a success.”

    Feedback Situation #3: Not Meeting Assignment Requirements

    You cannot wait for team members to deliver bad assignments to define your expectations. You must do it upfront during the initial project planning phase. Leadership and Team Assignments

    Ineffective Feedback: Meeting Expectations

    “Top management is watching this project very closely and they will know very quickly if someone is not doing a good job on their assignments.  So don’t let bad work on this project ruin your career.”

    This is the perfect way to have people start working on their excuses for avoiding blame. They’ll do this even before they start work on their tasks.  There is a better way to define your expectations.

    Effective Feedback: Meeting Expectations

    “The most important part of my job as project manager is to make sure you understand exactly what is expected of you. That’s why we are developing a work package that defines what each of you must do to succeed.  The work package describes the deliverable you are responsible for producing. That deliverable is defined with a metric and the standards you must meet. The work package also lists all the documentation that you must produce. If you produce what’s in the work package, your assignment will be a success.  If people in the organization want something that is missing from your work package, that is my fault. It’s not yours.”

    As you execute the plan, there may be assignments that fall short of the expectation defined in the work package. Let’s look at the wrong and the right ways to handle that situation.

    Ineffective Feedback: Falling Short of Expectations

    “You have not given me what I asked for because you didn’t listen.  This is all wrong due to your poor work.”

    This is too vague and does not tell the team member what they did wrong.  It also heaps a lot of personal accusations on them. This will not change their behavior for the better.

    Effective Feedback: Falling Short of Expectations

    “I guess the work package I wrote was not clear.  I would like you to complete the deliverable with this new, better defined work package.”

    Taking some of the blame, whether deserved or not, will make the criticism more acceptable to the team member. And, with the focus on the future, it may improve their attention to detail going forward.

    Effective Feedback Summary

    It’s easy to handle situations that involve good news, like finishing early and under budget. But it’s challenging to manage situations when the project that is late and over budget due to team members’ poor performance. You need to focus on changing their behavior, not punishing them. You do this with effective feedback delivered in private. It’s easy to lose sight of how your own behavior and emotions can get in the way of building a high-performing project team.  To master skills for giving effective feedback, you need to practice handling these situations the right way.

    You can learn and practice these skills in our private, online Project Management Basics course. You will work individually with an expert PM on a realistic project case study. You have as many e-mails, phone calls and live video conferences as you need.

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    Project Management: How to Learn It

    Dick Billows, PMP
    Dick Billows, PMP
    CEO 4pm.com

    Mentoring is the best way to learn project management. That’s where your company or organization lets you work with an experienced project manager on projects for a client or for one of your company managers. That’s how most of us at 4PM learned project management. We studied by working for an expert project manager on his/her projects.  Then the mentor let us manage small projects until we knew how to do it right. Unfortunately, the opportunity to learn from a mentor is very rare today. Most people who want to join the project management profession have to attend classes of 25 or more people taught by an academic.

    Project Management Mentoring

    At 4PM.com, however, we have created an online project management learning process that is based on the classic mentoring process.

    • Your instructor is an expert project manager with 10+ years of industry experience.
    • You work one-to-one with your instructor via video conferences
    • You work on realistic video project case studies
    • You practice dealing with the executives in live role playing sessions with your instructor
    • You practice answering executive’s questions in live role-playing sessions with your instructor
    • If you make a mistake, you try it again
    • You discuss every assignment with your instructor. You learn how to develop a project plan, create a project schedule using software and give status reports.

    Project Management: Step #1

    Our project management training prepares you for all of the challenges a project manager faces. They start when the boss calls you into his office and says something like, “We’ve got a big problem with the supply room. Our people are wasting dozens of hours every day because they can’t find the supplies they need to do their jobs. I want you to manage a project to fix the supply room problem.”

    That’s when you may do a Google search on “project management “to find out what the heck to do. Well, here’s the answer. The first thing you do is pin the boss down about exactly what he means by “fix the supply room problem.” To do project management the right way, you need to have a definition of the project’s scope, the goal that defines the project’s success. The boss’ statement of “fix the supply room problem” is too vague. It will be a moving target and the goal will change each week. That’s because everybody can interpret it differently. So you must ask the boss questions about how he will measure if the project is a success. When he says something like, “People will be able to find the supplies they need in less than 2 minutes,” you have a clear scope. Project managers know how to ask the right questions to pin down the project scope.

    Project Management: Step #2

    The second thing you do is subdivide that scope into the major deliverables that will take you from where things are now to the end result the boss wants. You will usually have 4 to 7 major deliverables and each one must be measurable. In our example, a major deliverable could be “fewer than two stock-outs a week in the supply room.” That’s a measurable deliverable. It clearly defines success before you and your team start work.

    Project Management: Step #3

    Next you write your project charter. That can be a one page document that lists the following:

    • your understanding of the project’s goal
    • the resources you need to do the work on the major deliverables
    • the risks you see in the project.

    When the boss signs off on the charter, you can start work creating the project plan.

    Project Management: Step #4

    Developing your project plan and schedule is the fourth step.  To do project managementthat, you work with your team members to estimate how much work each of the deliverables and tasks will require.  Then you lay out the sequence in which you will do them. Next you create the work breakdown structure (WBS). It is a hierarchy of the deliverables in your project. It’s easiest to use project software to develop your schedule and WBS. One of the best programs is Microsoft Project®, but it’s expensive. There are less expensive options like Gantter. That is a free project management scheduling software that you use with your browser. (I don’t think it’s going to be free forever.)

    Project Management: Step #5

    Then you get the sponsor to approve the project schedule. Then you and the team can start work on the tasks in your project plan.

    Project Management: Step #6

    Tracking actual progress on those tasks and comparing them to your approved schedule is the sixth step. You will give the sponsor status reports on how things are going and what problems you’re encountering. The sponsor usuallty tells you how often he/she wants these reports. You should also recommend solutions to the problems. However, your team members should give you weekly reports on the status of their tasks.

    Project Management: Step #7

    When the project is complete, the seventh step is to archive all the information about the project. That data will make doing the next project a lot easier.

    That’s what project management is in a nutshell. You can learn all these skills in our project management basics courses. You practice using them as you work one-to-one with your mentoring instructor.