Project Management Career Steps

There are five distinct project management career steps.

Getting into the Profession as an untrained PM

The process starts with becoming a  project manager and getting into the profession. This can be as simple as being in the right place at the right time. What I mean is that you’re an effective contributor in your organization and someone in management may tap you to run a project. When you do well, your project management career is launched.

Getting a beginner certification and basic skills
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

Other people carefully prepare themselves with training in the tools and techniques of project management. They use their credential to gain entry as an assistant or associate project manager. Once they have the job, good performance drives their career. They will be actively involved in planning projects, gathering requirements, developing schedules and tracking actual performance against the plan. On-the-job training can teach you a lot of that, but it’s also wise to take a course in the fundamentals of project management. You’ll learn techniques and a proven methodology that you can repeat on every project.

Steps in a Project Manager Career

Getting Certified

The next project management career step is moving up to a full-fledged project manager position. A functional or specialty certification is very valuable during your first or second year in project management. That certification gives you proven techniques for doing the things you may have been doing by guess work. These functional or specialty certifications also teach you some of the unique project management techniques required in information technology, construction, healthcare, consulting and general business projects.

project management careerIndustry Specialization

With your industry specialty certification, you are positioned for the next career step which is getting a higher-paying position to manage larger projects. After three years working in your profession, you probably have sufficient project manager hours to qualify for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. To earn that certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI), you need to document your project manager work experience and project management training classes and then pass a difficult 4-hour examination.

You can earn a certification in your project management specialty area: IT, construction, healthcare, business  consulting.  Then earn the PMP certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) as you move up to senior project manger and program manger.

Program and Portfolio Management

The top run on the ladder is positions and certifications for managing multiple projects and programs which can also include managing all the projects and programs in the organization which puts you into the executive ranks with appropriate compensation.

PMP® Certification Training

How to Qualify for the PMP® Exam

The PMP certification requires that you:

  • Document 4-5 years of PM experience with references
  • Show you have passed a  project management course
  • Pass a 4-hour multiple choice exam.

The PMP® (Project Management Professional) is awarded by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is an internationally recognized credential in project management. It is a door-opener when you hunt for a new job anywhere in the world. It’s also a very good credibility builder within your organization. 

The PMP certification exam is a 4 hour, 200 question multiple-choice exam. The test is exceedingly difficult and PMI reports that approximately half the people who take it worldwide fail. Taking a formal PMP exam preparation course where you learn all the best practices in project management is the best way to pass the exam and is useful for your career.

How Do I Pass The PMP Exam?

The challenge in the PMP exam comes in two areas. First, you need to forget how you manage projects in the real world and learn to answer the questions according to PMI’s way of doing things.  Second, you must understand all the best practices in project management and when to use them. You can’t pass the exam just by memorizing that information. You need to know when to apply a certain technique based on the situation you are given. A very large proportion of the questions on the exam are situational questions.  They are lengthy questions that detail the situation of a project.  That situation is defined by one or more of the following:

  • what sort of organization you’re working in
  • what kind of project you’re working on
  • what sort of project team you have
  • what project process or output you have just completed
  • many other variables

After reading the situation, you must choose from four multiple choice answers.  Each of those answers may be correct to some degree.  So you have to decide which is the most correct answer in the particular context of the question. This is enormously challenging because you have a very large body of knowledge you have to learn. Then you have to be able to decide what to do in a very complicated set of situations.

Multi-media Learning

You need to select the correct learning methodology for you to master all of the information you need to pass the PMP exam. You need to learn about the various contexts, including organizational types and the impact each organization type has on the challenges a project manager faces. That context includes the best techniques to use in the project situation, the environment  in which it is taking place, and where the project managers and stakeholders are in the project management process.  You can’t learn the correct interplay between those elements just by memorizing.

The best way to learn all this information and how to apply it in situations is our PMP Exam Prep course. You’ll have study materials that actually give you scenarios of project  managers executing various projects. As you read these scenarios, you see the logic the project manager uses to pick the appropriate technique. You’ll also read about the explanations the project manager gives to project sponsors and stakeholders about the risk management or estimating techniques the PM decided to use. By learning how project managers operate in these different situations, you will learn to interpret a situation and pick the right techniques when you answer a question on the exam.

Our PMP prep course gives you a multimedia learning experience. You aren’t just reading and rereading the same dictionary over. Instead you are learning the material in a multimedia sequence:

  • first you read about a process and its inputs and outputs
  •  then you watch a video lecture about the correct way  to execute that process
  •  you have an opportunity to talk with your instructor (via video conference) about the process and its techniques
  •  then you watch a video of a project manager actually doing the particular process with the sponsor and project team.

That this multimedia learning helps you gain the knowledge much more effectively. It is also a much more pleasant learning experience. You also add to your personal tool set and understanding of which techniques to use and when. That is invaluable for succeeding and advancing your project manager career.

Our PMP exam prep gives you the best passing guarantee available.  Your instructor will  continue to work with you  if you fail the exam after completing your course in its entirety. We also give you  the maximum flexibility in scheduling the course because you’re not tied to a rigid schedule set by the instructor. You set your own schedule and your instructor adapts to it.  You may wish to take advantage of our free instructor assessment which will help you decide if the PMP training and certification are right for you.

PMP® Certification Training Summary

The PMP exam is exceedingly difficult to pass. The experience and education requirements are enforced with random audits of candidates’ applications. The combination of those requirements and passing the 4 hour exam is what makes the PMP credential so valuable as a job-hunting tool. It’s also the reason that many organizations use the PMP credential as a screening tool when they are recruiting for project managers. People without the PMP are simply not considered for those positions.

Work Packages for Clear Assignments & Estimates

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

A key success factor for project managers is making crystal-clear assignments to their project team members. This ensures the team members understand what’s expected before they start work.

As importantly, clear assignments lead to accurate estimates for their tasks. This ensures the overall project estimates are accurate. It’s important for team members to be committed to those estimates and have some “skin in the game” in terms of hitting their work and duration numbers.  You get all these benefits by using a work package for each assignment.

Work Packages Store Data for Future Projects

Project managers need a vehicle to capture and store historical data on each project. So when you or other project managers have similar tasks on new projects, you can look at the actual assignments in the work packages from completed projects. You can use some of that data for the current project’s tasks. You should be able to retrieve the estimated hours versus the hours actually used and apply that information to the analogous estimates on your project. The use of the project work package addresses several success factors.

The project work package is a simple tool that improves the clarity of project assignments. At the same time, it increases the level of team member commitment to their estimates. In a very real sense, the work package is the contract between you, the project manager, and the project team member. In it, you make clear exactly what you expect of the team member on each task. The work package details the metric you will use to measure the assignment as well as the approach the team member should take to complete it. It also details the input deliverable(s) the team member needs to start their work. Additionally, it specifies the output deliverable(s) which are the things other team members need from this assignment before they can start their work. The work package also allows you and the team member to discuss risks and how to handle them. It is a very important part of the estimating process.

Learn How to Use Project Work Packages

You need to work with your team members to introduce the project work package. Be careful that it’s not viewed as “just another form to fill out.” You want to talk with them about it as a contract or agreement that the two of you will use on the project. It does the following:

  • defines an assignment
  • states their availability to work on the assignment
  • includes their estimate of work and duration.

You should point out that it offers them protection against changes to their assignments that don’t include adjustments to the work and duration estimates. You may honestly explain that the work package is a device to reduce the padding of estimates. That’s because it offers the team member protection against unfair changes to the scope of their work assignment. If the scope of their assignment changes, the two of you can can discuss a change to their work package.

It will take one or two projects for the team members to become accustomed to using work packages but the benefits are substantial. They are helpful on the current and future projects.  The project manager can review completed work packages to use as the basis for estimates on future projects.

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Emergency Projects

Dick Billows, PMP

Emergency projects challenge every PM’s professional discipline. When the emergency strike High ranking execs want fast action now… they don’t want thinking, or planning. If you are not moving at high speed… Get out of the way! Everyone else is frantic and if you don’t start responding franticly, they’ll think you don’t care. These hysteria enablers won’t be still until they have a to do list headed, “Start Work NOW!”

So give them the todo list and then use the resulting silence and calm to identify the decision makers who will judge the success of the emergency response. Let them define success then you can start the planing with a quantified deliverable which defines the scope. 

What if people/property are in danger!

If the emergency is in the “Act of God” category (fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami, meteor strike), there will be law, public  safety and political officials all over the place.  They each will have their own goals want to be in charge of saving people and property. You won’t begin work until all the people and property are secure.  But in the meantime, you can plan so once the people and property are secure you can start work with a developed and detailed plan for whatever type of emergency you face.

Marketing/Operational Emergency 

Another type of emergency is affects the organization’s:

  • market positions
  • product competitive positions
  • systems integrity
  • loss of prized human resources 

There are many examples of these emergencies. In one of them a competitor might exclusively acquire a new technology that will allow them to profitably sell your #3 product for 35% less than you do.  Resulting in a potential drop in your revenues of 23%. 

Recovery Project Scope

The initial thinking about the scope of the recovery project is often focused on “getting back to where we were.” In other words, the recovery project should aim to make us just like we were before the emergency.  But a better way to think through the planning is to recognize that we may

Often the best thing to do is take 5 minutes to assemble a todo ir only It doesn’t matter if you are the most experienced PM out there or if you just started your career in this field. There will be times when things don’t go your way and  you have a crisis project. As a matter of fact, if things wouldn’t go wrong from time to time, we would not have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. However, it is also important to remember that no matter what the situation, a good PM always turns to problem analysis and planning first, that’s good crisis management. Project Planning Main Page

Towards the end of last year, I was reminded of the importance of planning during times of crisis. We had just completed a smaller migration project. This project was a rather routine exercise, as we had done similar projects multiple times before. The objective of the project was to move a number of trading transactions from one book to another in our main trading platform. We had a standard plan for this kind of project, everyone had signed-off on the plan, we had a number of test rounds, and finally, we did the migration in our production system. And then came the crisis. During our initial analysis and throughout the implementation phase, we had overlooked a small, but rather important parameter, and as a result we had produced a little mess in our main general ledger. Needless to say that most of our users had a tendency to panic, and the first thought was to move into action immediately, and to just adjust the ledger manually. This would have taken a whole day, and it would have bound numerous resources.

Crisis Planning

So how do you convince a crowd not to just jump into action, but to first perform an analysis and a planning session? You remind them about the consequences if the quick fix doesn’t work. The reason we had been in this situation was that we overlooked something before; hence, I reminded them that we don’t want to do the same mistake twice. Obviously, not everyone agreed, but most users understood the importance of analyzing the error and planning the response. So we did our analysis and created a simple “project plan”. This was not an endless document, on the contrary, it was an email, but a structured one. The email had the following sections:

  • Objective including a “business case”, which was the result of the error analysis
  • List of Stakeholders
  • Risks & Constraints
  • Procurement (we concluded that we can fix the problem ourselves)
  • A brief WBS
  • Communications Plan

During this “crisis” planning phase we discovered a very simple method of fixing the error, so the fix was truly “quick” and required a lot less time and resources than the original quick fix. Once the fix was implemented, I produced a lessons learned document and adjusted our standard plan for procedures like this. By following the standard project management during a crisis situation, we had forced ourselves to think first and agree on the way forward. In our case, the analysis part revealed a better solution, but even if we would have had to manually correct the error, we would have brought everyone back into the boat.

Managing Remote Teams for Projects

Over the last 10 years, technology has allowed team members to work at home in great numbers. That is in addition to the contractors and stakeholders from other locations. The technology for remote team members forces changes to the project manager’s leadership techniques.  The most frequent mistake we see (and we made it ourselves at first), is to think that technology will let you manage the team the same way you did when they were all in the same office.  Leading Teams Main Page

The truth is that your leadership style still has to accomplish 4 things with all your team members, no matter where they work. You must:

  1. Give them clear performance expectations and explain how you will measure their work.
  2. Gain their commitment to the team’s goal and understanding of how their assignment fits in.
  3. Ensure that they understand the status of the project and their assignment(s) each weekly.
  4. Practice giving praise publicly. That’s your most valued reward.
Live Video Conferences

PMs can use live video conferences to make their leadership effective for remote team members.  When you use the video conference as a substitute for face-to-face meetings,  you need to avoid falling into the video conference Tar Pit. Let me explain what I mean.

Video Conference Tar Pit

In the Tar Pit, managers start the video conference off by logging into the meeting, saying hello and then turning down the sound.  They proceed to catch up on emails and phone calls while occasionally glancing at the screen and listening to the muttering voices.  The Tar Pit spreads like the flu when these managers mistakenly call their subordinates who are in the same video conference. Oops! People quickly realize that faking their attendance and attention is the “cool” thing to do.  Soon no one is listening.

The project manager realizes that the absence of any questions from the attendees is a symptom of the Tar Pit.   So they start asking questions of random people or threatening the group with a test.  That works for a while until an attendee answers the question with, “I can’t hear you; there’s too much static” or “Excuse me, I need to use the restroom.”  The excuses and their entertainment value skyrocket until the PM stops asking questions. Here’s how you can avoid the Tar Pit:

  1. Limit the size of your video conferences to 1-4 people.
  2. Limit the video conference time to 30 minutes.
  3. Use the conferencing software feature to display everyone’s image, not just yours.
  4.  Keep the conversation moving. Schedule 1-on-1 sessions to discuss details that aren’t of interest to the entire group.
  5. Keep the meeting moving by asking people’s opinions.

You should also leave the video conference open to other team members. You can decide whether to admit them based on the topic being discussed. That gives the meeting a social boost which people working at home need.

Collaboration between remote team members

You need to give your team members tools to work with each other.  This collaboration is important for both efficiency and social bonding.  It’s where remote workers are made to feel they’re part of the team.

Most of the “remote team” software products provide several communication tools that can function between team members, working from home, in different offices, or another country.  In addition to video conferencing, they include: texting, email, Twitter, Facebook, live streaming of meetings and much more. These tools have enabled remote team members to collaborate effectively. But some programs have a few bad features. Among the worst are the “drop in” communication packages. They let you or a team member connect directly with another team member’s PC.  That team member is rudely interrupted (and possibly frightened) when someone’s face appears in a window on their screen.   Working remotely, however, can also create some challenges when working as a team.

Successfully managing remote teams requires keeping up with technology and producing the same, if not better, results than if you were working with your team locally.  Here are five suggestions for effectively managing your remote teams.

  1. Conduct the Remote Project Teams Kick-Off as You Would for Local Projects
    Managing a project remotely may not allow for a face-to-face initial kick-off meeting, but the same principles should apply during initiation, determining scope, etc.  Brainstorming sessions, although potentially easier in person, can still be conducted thoroughly via video conference.  This is opportunity to identify as many questions, concerns, ideas, timelines, constraints, etc., as possible to help ensure clarity toward the end goal throughout the project.
    Other Suggestions:  Kick-off with a clear agenda that includes project purpose, goals, and success factors. Ensure team member roles are established and explained and include appropriate people to positively support the project.
  2. If in Your Control, Form Strong Remote Project Teams
    If you have the opportunity to build your own remote project team, seek motivated, positive, self-sufficient and of course, knowledgeable people.  A self-sufficient and motivated team member will help offset the potential communication challenges a remote environment offers like time zone differences, meeting availability, or lack of face-to-face meetings.  An opportunity to work with the most qualified candidates increases with the pool of employees from across the country or even globe. This is a big advantage of managing a remote team.
    Other Suggestions:  Invest time in your project team.  Get to know your team members. You can use LinkedIn to learn something about them.  Also, it’s best to speak with your team members about more complicated items rather than using email.
  3. Conduct Regularly Scheduled Meetings (as needed – daily, weekly, etc.)
    Communication is key, especially when distance of any length exists among your team.  Project team members can easily get distracted and focus more on other tasks or projects when “out of sight, out of mind.”  Detailed status reports containing issues, items for attention, etc. should continue to be sent before each meeting and used as an agenda for the meeting. This helps keep meetings at an appropriate length. I have never heard anyone complain about a meeting being too short.  Please be mindful of time zone differences (if needed) to accommodate the entire team as much as possible.
    Other Suggestions:  Gain a reputation for being reliable and dependable.  These characteristics become even more important when working in a remote environment.  Respond to inquiries and issues in a timely manner.  This behavior typically is replicated and benefits the entire project.
  4. Set Expectations Throughout the Entire Project Lifecycle
    Similar to an exercise program, consistency is crucial.  In addition to regularly scheduled meetings, project statuses and updates should be communicated frequently. The team must be aware of exactly where the project is on the overall timeline, which tasks remain open, and the status of each task for each team member.  Consistent and appropriate communication should occur at both the individual and team level.
    Other Suggestions:  Customize for individual expectations.  Work with each member individually, as needed, to ensure expectations are clear.  While some members may prefer and even excel in multi-tasking various responsibilities, other members may be more effective with a shorter list of tasks.
  5. Recognize Team Members for Positive Performance
    Most people enjoy some type of positive recognition.  Recognition can be tailored to each individual team member depending on their preference.  For example, a team member might finish their task early, which could correlate to an earlier project finish time.  That person might appreciate even more responsibility and assisting with another task. Another person might appreciate getting the “extra time” to work on other projects. In addition, an email to their immediate superior recognizing their good work is always appreciated.
    Other Suggestions:  During each (weekly) meeting, do a “shout out” in praise of at least one team member and document the recognition  of their achievement in the meeting minutes.

Managing a unique project from start to finish, whether working with a local or remote project team, will always present challenges.  Working with a motivated team through appropriate and timely communication channels can help overcome at least some of these challenges.

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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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