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Team Culture Components

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

When a project manager takes over a team from another leader, he or she must first learn the team’s culture.  That’s as important as discovering the project’s progress toward reaching their assigned goal.  You must examine the team culture and determine if it is contributing to the team’s success or failure. If the team is successful, it’s very likely the culture is the right one for the targets they’re trying to reach. It would be a big mistake to try and change the team culture to something you, the leader, are more comfortable with. You should leave well enough alone. A good leader adapts their leadership style to support an existing team culture that is working.  Leading Teams Main Page

Team Culture Foundation

The team culture results from a combination of several things:

  • the project manager’s leadership style and techniques
  • each team member’s personal experiences
  • the “baggage” each team member brings with them
  • each team member’s personality, standards and goals.

The team members’ experience on prior teams creates expectations for the current team culture. Those expectations cover everything from negatives like the need to avoid blame, to positives like the rewards they receive for delivering good results. If the existing team culture isn’t working well, you need to know the type of team culture you’ve inherited. That tells you what kind of problems you’ll have to solve. You need to understand the team members’ experiences and expectations to be able to build a successful team culture.    Team Building

Team Culture Components

Team culture is composed of four components. The proportions of each component determine the unique culture of each team.

  • Affiliation – this team culture component measures the amount of trust, feeling of partnership, and synergy between the members.  Some teams exist solely for the purpose of this togetherness.  Examples of teams with high scores on affiliation between the members might include social clubs, support groups and religious congregations.
  • Task control –  this component is an orientation toward predictability, stability and order. The team leader controls what’s happening to ensure the team follows the correct methods and procedures. They must follow all the rules to get the job done. Hierarchy, stability and proven methodologies are very important in these team cultures.  Examples of teams with high scores on task control orientation would be a group of workers on an assembly line working along side robots or a prison road gang cleaning trash from the side of a highway. (Do they still have those?)
  • Personal development – this component deals with the orientation toward the development and personal growth of the team members.  Creativity, dedication and commitment to the purpose of the team are very important. Examples of teams with high scores on personal development might be computer skill clubs or leadership clubs.
  • Professional competence – this component of the team culture deals with the orientation toward achieving excellence in their work and profession. Here there is pressure on team members to be “the best.” That means they are creative professionals who know their business and use the best practices when they do their work.  This ingredient is very strong in management consulting teams and winning sports franchises. These team cultures put peer pressure on all the members to be the best at what they do. Team Motivationteam culture

Team Culture Rules and Behavior

No team has only one of the four components. Every team culture has all four components in various strengths.  Teams blend these four components into a culture that defines the rules people must follow to be a member of the team.  The team members, not just the leader, enforce the team culture. A new team member joining an established team will make mistakes. There is a learning process to understand what rules and behavior are important in that team culture and which are not. A new team member finds this out by trial and error and by watching other team members as well as the team leader. They learn how to behave and how to talk to other team members in a way that fits this team’s culture. For example, a team member coming from a team with a strong affiliation component will have a steep learning curve when joining a team where professional competence is the strongest component.  They will behave in a way that is very nurturing and supportive of other team members. The existing team members will view this behavior as inappropriate. Their culture uses peer pressure to emphasize performance excellence and being “the best” in the profession.  Leadership & Team Performance 

You can learn how to build a successful team culture in our online project management courses.

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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

Improve team performance must start with 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 look 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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3 Point Project Estimating: Padding, Accuracy, Commitment

Dick Billows, PMPEstimating is tricky for project managers who have to balance conflicting pressures from the sponsor, stakeholders and their team:

  • The customer or user wants the project done quickly and cheaply.
  • You, as PM, want to finish on time and within budget.
  • For commitment, the team needs to participate in a process their perceive as fair and not feel like they are sure to fail because their estimate is impossible.
  • The estimating technique should yield accurate numbers and some assessment of the accuracy.
  • Decision makers need information of the certainty of the project finishing on time

That list of requirements is a tough one for any project estimating process. The only process that meets all those requirements is 3-point estimating, which formerly called PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique).

Briefly, 3-point estimating has three-steps.  In each, the PM works closely with the people who will be doing the work. The first step is to discuss the deliverable the team member will be accountable for producing. This discussion includes the “good” risks that could cause this task to take less work and the “bad” risks that could cause it to take more work. Second, the PM notes these risks on the work package form that also contains the approach the team member will use. Third, the team member makes three estimates: an optimistic estimate, a pessimistic estimate and a best guess estimate. The PM applies the 3-point formulas (at the end of the article) to those three estimates to come up with the actual data that you will use in the project schedule.

Common Estimating & Risk Issues

Two mindsets often plague the estimating process:

  • Executives often believe that projects have no risks that affect duration or budget.
  • Team members think that padding their estimates will protect them from blame.

Both of these mindsets are false but they certainly get in the way of accurate estimating.

The 3-point estimating technique deals with both these mindsets. It gives PMs a data to communicate the risk of a work estimate. It also lets everyone stop pretending that task #135 is going to finish in precisely 15 days or that the project will absolutely finish by August 30.  Three-point estimating is a straightforward process for developing estimates using just a little bit of statistics. It gives you a tool to address the issue that most projects are launched with less than a 35 % chance of finishing by their promised due date.  Because no one talks about that issue, executives think the completion date is 100% guaranteed. It’s only missed when someone goofs off.

The best project managers have risk data for their sponsors.  They can document why a project has a 65% chance of finishing by August 30, as an example. These PMs also explain what they can do to increase those odds to 75% or 90% and what it will cost. Those same PMs manage the assignments of their project team members with an understanding that there is risk on each assignment. They use 3-point estimating techniques to get data on the risks.

Three Point Estimating in Detail

The 3-point estimating process starts with a discussion with the team member about the risks inherent in their assignment. You discuss the bad risks that will make their assignment take more work and duration (time). You also discuss the good risks that will cause it to take less work and duration (time). Why should you do this step? Because you need an estimating process that addresses the team member’s legitimate concern that bad things will happen on their assignment and they’ll be blamed for not meeting the completion date.  With agreement on the risks in the assignment and work package notes what you will do about them, you go on to the estimates work and duration.

As the name implies, 3-point estimating requires three estimates for each task. That sounds like it will take a lot of work but it takes a matter of minutes.  You and the team member develop an optimistic estimate, a pessimistic estimate and a best guess estimate for each task. By developing those three estimates, we get estimates that are more accurate from team members and assess the assignment’s degree of risk and the range of durations.

Padding Estimates

Before we go on, we need to talk a little bit about risk. When you ask me how long it will take to read this article, I might estimate five minutes. Am I guaranteeing you that no matter what happens I’ll be able to read the whole thing in five minutes? No, what I mean is that 5 minutes is my best guess. That means there is a 50% chance it will take me less than five minutes and a 50% chance it will take me more than five minutes.

However, if you were my project manager asking me for a task estimate, I would be a little hesitant about giving you an estimate in which there was a 50% chance of an overrun. What I would rather give you is an estimate where I’m 90% confident that I can finish in that amount of time or less. As the project manager, you would probably regard that estimate as padded. As the team member, I feel more comfortable with a 90% estimate. Unfortunately, there is no consistency in the amount of padding your team members will use.

Reducing Padding

You want your team members to leave the estimating process knowing that you considered the fact that things can go wrong on a task assignment. That’s why you identified risks at the beginning of the discussion and documented what you could do about the risks. With that recognition of the risks, we move on to gathering data on the impact those risks could have on the assignment. Using the three estimates enables you to do that. It’s better than having a team member give you a single estimate and play the padding game about how certain that estimate is. The three estimates tell you the variability in the task.

Best Guess, Optimistic and Pessimistic Estimates

Now let’s start the estimating process.  Your team member estimates that a task has a best guess estimate of 80 hours of work.  That means that 50% of the time it will take more work and 50% of the time it will take less.

Next, the optimistic work estimate is less work than the best guess.  The optimistic estimate is low enough that the team member thinks they can get the task done for less than the optimistic estimate only 20% of the time.  The task will require more work than the optimistic estimate 80% of the time.

The pessimistic estimate is more work than the best guess. It is not a “disaster” estimate but we want an estimate that’s based on the bad risks that we identified happening.  The pessimistic estimate is high enough that the team member thinks they can get the task done for less than the pessimistic estimate 80% of the time.  The task will require more work than the pessimistic estimate 20% of the time.

Now let’s dip our toe into the statistics and look at two tasks, Alpha and Beta, and the calculated work estimates we would use at three different level of confidence (* see formulas below).

What we did was take the three estimates and use some simple formulas to calculate the task’s work estimates and calculate the mean and standard deviation.  Using standard statistical tables (z-scores from a table of standardized normal deviates); we can take those means and standard deviations and use them to calculate levels of confidence of finishing within the estimate.  In other words, for task Alpha we could say that we have a 50% chance of completing the task with less than 54 hours of work.  For an 80% confidence level, we would calculate that 69 hours of work would be required.  This is the data to use with a client or project sponsor to quantify the cost of higher levels of certainty about a completion date. In the previous example with Alpha, we have to buy an additional 15 hours of work to move from 50% confidence to 80% confidence of getting the task done within the work estimate.  The beta is much less risky task than alpha. The mean work estimates are very close but the standard deviations are very different. To move from the 50% level of confidence that is 50 hours on task beta we would need to increase the work estimate to 51 hours. So for task beta higher levels of certainty a relatively inexpensive. Extending these calculations to the entire project is very easy with a spreadsheet such as the one we use in our classes. It gives project managers the ability to discuss the cost of higher levels of certainty. Sponsors always say they want to be 90% confident of finishing on time. When you present them with the cost of that level of certainty, it often is the case that lower levels of confidence would be acceptable.

Using 3-Point Estimates

All of the better project management software packages, such as Microsoft Project®, enable you to use 3-point (PERT) estimates and create a variety of reports that communicate the project’s risks. You can take estimates like those above and calculate the odds of finishing the entire project within various durations.  That information is a solid basis for a discussion with the sponsor about the tradeoffs between cost, scope, duration, risk and staffing levels.

To learn these 3-point estimating techniques and the entire estimating process, consider our private, online courses where you work individually with your instructor. They are available by phone, video conference or e-mail whenever you have a question or need help on an assignment. We can also deliver a customized training program at your site for up to 25 people. Call us at 303-596-0000 and speak to an instructor.

*Three point estimating Formulas

Mean= (4*bg)+OE+PE/6

SD= (PE-OE)/6

Probability level = work= Mean + (z-score for probability)*SD

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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.

These tasks are particularly challenging because most project managers are technically- oriented people with little experience or skill in motivating others. Another factor that makes project leadership difficult is that the project manager often has very little or no formal authority over the project team. The lack of formal organizational authority is the number one challenge to project leadership.

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 Plan for Small Projects: Fast Food Approach

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

Creating the Project Plan for a small project is difficult for many reasons.  One of them is that the boss wants you to start as soon as possible without “wasting” a lot of time with meetings and paperwork.  Also the boss usually doesn’t give small projects much thought before dumping them in your lap. You clearly see that this is a recipe for failure.

Good project managers know that for every minute you spend on your project plan you save 10 minutes during the execution of the actual project. The reason for that 10 to 1 payback is that a plan allows the team to focus on executing rather than deciding what they’re going to do next.  A project plan also communicates to everyone what you’re going to do and how you’re not going to do it.  So how do you deal with the boss and still get even a basic plan?

Project Plan: Drive-thru Window at “Projects Are Us” Fast Food

You can do your project plan like the order-taker at a fast food drive-thru window. The fast food approach to planning is focused on getting started quickly by finding out what you. Here’s an example of how to apply that approach to a new Supply Room Project the boss emailed you about. You’d go to his office and the conversation would go like this:

Project Manager: “Exactly what do you want me to deliver on the last day of the project?”

Boss: “I want you to clean up the file room!”

Project Manager: “That’s what you want me to do but what is the end result you want me to deliver?  What should I be able to show you at the end of the project?”

Boss: “I am too busy for games.  I want you to show me a clean file room!”

Project Manager: “What is your standard for a clean file room?”

Boss, irked: “Nothing on the floor and everything stacked neatly in part number order”

Project Manager: “I can deliver that.” But then you remember how the fast food folks at the drive-thru window always ask if they can supersize it. So you add, “Do you also want to make it easier to find supplies? Not everyone knows the numbers of the parts.”

Boss, smiling for the first time: “Good thinking. I get a lot of complaints about things being hard to find.  Let’s kill two birds with one stone.”

Project Manager: “Great. Give them to me and I will suggest some additional deliverables before I leave today!”

What did the project manager accomplish here?  First, he/she improved the chance of project success.  They would have been near zero if the project manager had just started work with a scope of “clean up the file room.” Second, the project manager enhanced their credibility by asking some good questions that earned the boss’s praise. The approach used here appeals to a lot of bosses who sponsor projects. Particularly the ones who often complain about the planning meetings and paperwork that are necessary to start a project. In the fast food approach, you’ll forget all that PMBOK® stuff and reach agreement with the boss on the project’s scope. The project manager’s “supersize” question got a great reaction from the boss and they could continue talking about what business value the project has to deliver. The the project manager can get to work.

You can learn these skills for small projects in our project management basics courses.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

 

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Project Manager Credibility- Sell Yourself and the Project

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

If you want credibilty and support from users and executives you must “sell” yourself and your project.  If you ignore selling or you try to impress them with technical jargon they will see you as irrelevant to their issues.  Let’s look at a PM’s fantasy of how they are perceived by the user and then see the harsh reality.

PM’s Dream Credibility…(That Never Happens)

An expectant buzz of conversation fills the meeting room as the assembled “suits,” await the project manager.  Each executive knows that he or she will leave the project presentation enriched with new knowledge and a PURPOSE. Suddenly there is silence.  Then they hear a faint swishing noise as the PM’s belt-mounted cell phones, three pagers and two Palm PCs jostle against one another. The crowd parts and the project manager swoops into the room with a stack of Gantt charts in one hand and a pile of PERTS charts in the other.  The PM glides to the head chair, nods to the hushed throng and says, Selling projects“Here is the Project Scope:. The AFR443 project will have a gooey interface and 354 nano-gigabytes of ROM, RAM, TAM and PAM. We will not impact the bandwidth on advertisements for customers and will not inflict trauma on the techno-workers who morph customer service.”

The executives shriek their approval of the project plan.

One executive slams a hand on the oak table and shouts, “If anyone fails to cooperate instantly, you may flog them.”

Another flaps a sheet of paper at the PM and yells, “Here’s the title to my BMW.  If I ever suggest a change in the scope you have so clearly enunciated, you may have the car.”

A third screams, “You can take as long as you want and spend as much money as you need.”

Additionally, the support continued that same way for the life of the project.  People who said, “You have my full support,” actually meant it. There weren’t new #1 priorities daily that changed the scope.  Team members treated project assignments as if they really mattered and not as work for times when there was nothing more important to do.  No one vanished into the underbrush just when their critical path task was about to start.

Selling Projects – PM’s Real World

You can count on this fantasy or recognize the need to sell your projects.  This need is most clear before project approval. But it is required through the entire project and the lesions learned at the end. The twin concepts of selling the project and having people “buy” it are most obvious when you do a project for a client. But the are also necessary when the “buyer” is your boss or a user department.

So what are you selling? How do you sell it? And what are they buying? Do you sell a lot of technical lingo, a 40-page scope narrative and an endlessly long Gantt chart? Too often that’s all you have to sell.  It’s no wonder that few people “buy” it and whatever support exists on “approval day” fades quickly. With it go the odds of your project success.

Some PMs try to make up for the lack of value in what they are selling with a “silver tongued-devil” approach, like a used car salesman.  They may not wear a plaid outfit or mousse their hair but they say things like “I’m your strategic partner”, “we’re user-oriented”, and “I’m here for you.”  However, no sales tactic can make up for the fact that you have not created project value in the user’s, client’s or boss’s mind. So while you may be charismatic and cute, support based on “golden words,” strong personal relationships or charisma doesn’t give your projects the kind of support they need. This becomes painfully clear when you need more resources, need to cope with a problem team member or must exercise scope control.

Selling Projects – Project Positioning & Hidden Performance Pressures

In selling projects, you need to present your projects so the boss, user or client “buys” the value of the project’s business result.  The business result has value when it relieves a performance pressure that your decision-maker feels. What are performance pressures? They are the operating shortfall that the decision maker’s boss made a big point of at the last quarterly review.  They can also be what the newspapers wrote about last week that made all the executives frown.  The problem is that most of the time decision makers tell us what to do; not what performance pressure they want to resolve. And, whether or not they have told us about their performance pressures, they will judge the project’s success based on whether it relieves those performance pressures.

This sounds simple but there are a couple of problems when you are selling projects.  First, you must identify the decision-makers who have a stake in the project.  Often times, performance pressures ripple through an organization and the person who assigns the project may not know where the performance pressure came from.  Second, with the decision makers identified, you need to quantify the performance pressures they want the project to relieve. As projects get larger, your “map” of decision makers and performance pressures can become complex.  But keeping this mapping updated is a great tool for account management and positioning.

Let’s say you get a project assignment to change a billing system report by adding several data elements and altering others.  The billing supervisor who described the project may have no idea where the changes came from or what the higher up wanted to achieve.  As you probe for the performance pressures, you find out that things started with the CFO wanting to identify the biggest customers.  A marketing director complained about how hard it was to track the sales that resulted from special promotions to these big customers. When you convert these performance pressures into measured achievements (See AdPM™ Achievement-driven Project Methodology) you have value to sell these decision makers. That leads to higher odds of project success.

This sounds simple but there are some barriers to unearthing the decision makers and then quantifying their performance pressures.

Selling Projects  -“Buying Perception” Barriers

Why don’t many clients/users/bosses share this information?  First, sometimes it reflects badly on them and there are many who won’t talk about their problems or pressures.  Second, they may not know what upper-level performance pressures rolled down-hill to them.  But the dominant reason decision makers don’t tell you about their performance pressures is their buying perception of project managers.  That means what they think they are buying ,or can “buy,” from a project manager.  The worst project buying perception is when the user/client/boss sees you, the PM, as an order-taker.  With that perception, they share the same amount of information with you as with the person at the drive-through window at McDonald’s®. Here’s an example of a PM selling projects and probing for performance pressures with a decision maker who has an order-taker buying perception of the PM:

Decision maker says,”Here are the changes I want in the report layouts.”

PM says, “Great! Exactly why do you need these changes? What are you trying to achieve?”

Decision maker answers, “I need the changes by next week.”

PM says, “If I understand your business purpose then I can do a better job of …”

Decision maker says, “That’s not your concern. Just make the changes in these report layouts by next week!”

PM says, “You’re making me fly blind here.  If I don’t understand what you…”

Decision maker says, “Make the changes in these report layouts, you little geek.”

This PM made a strong effort to unearth the performance pressures that triggered the project request. But they pressed so hard that they angered the decision maker.  The PM failed to unearth the performance pressure(s) or the cast of decision makers involved. They don’t have much to sell and the decision maker doesn’t have much value to buy.  They PM only knows the decision maker wants them to start quickly and hit the due date.  This brick wall the PM hit was low-level buying perceptions.  It reflects poor positioning with the decision maker.  It might result from the decision-maker’s previous experience with PMs who operated in the order-taker mode and never even asked about the performance pressures.

But if you focus on selling projects, you know there are performance pressures behind the decision maker’s request.  You can just start work on the assignment and hope that the decision maker has correctly aimed the project so it relieves their “hidden” performance pressures.  This hoping happens too often. Hoping perpetuates the order-taker buying perception. And puts you in a position where you’ll need luck to have the project be a success.

Selling Projects – Building Bad Perceptions with Techno-babble

You can start to change poor buying perceptions when you work with the user/client or the boss by selling projects. However, what often happens when you get a chance to meet with a decision maker to discuss the project?  Out of nervousness, inability to discuss anything else or a desire to impress the decision-maker with your expertise, you drag the conversation into the project and technical details. You never focus on their performance pressures.  Is the decision maker impressed?  No, they’re thinking, “This person is really scary. They have absolutely no perspective on what we want to achieve for the business.” That’s another example of a PM’s bad efforts selling projects.

To get at a decision-maker’s performance pressures, you have to stop talking about the delicious technical details of the project and start selling projects. You must probe and listen for their performance pressures.  Even better, you will meet with the decision maker after you have gathered information about their likely performance pressures. You use these sessions to find out what they want to buy as an end result. That is very different from what they want us to do.

Selling projects is a process of positioning.  You work to elevate the user/client/boss’s perceptions of what they can “buy” from you.  Then you use those improved perceptions to position our project(s) to relieve their performance pressures.  Each time a project relieves a performance pressure, their buying perception of you improves, making it easier to get and hold support for this project. Additionally, it will be easier to sell the next one.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management
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Project Sponsor – How to Train a Bad One

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

Project sponsors should play a critical role in projects. They should set the goals for the project, use their authority & influence to help the PM get resources and solve problems. When there are conflicts the sponsor should protect the project. While many executives understand their role and play it well, there are many who do not. The bad ones won’t commit to exactly what they want from their project.  They  play it safe politically by never committing to a scope. These sponsors usually want to drive the project to a completion date they often pluck from the sky.  Talk to other PM about a new sponsor.  If the have many failed projects and often blame the project manager and team. You have a bad. Because sponsors outrank the project manager, often by many levels, you have to use a great deal of tact in using these techniques to guide an ineffective project sponsors toward fulfilling their project role. As a project manager, you will routinely face high-pressure situations with sponsors trying to do things that will harm the project. If you let the intimidation get to you, the project will fail. Here’s what to say, and what not to say, in each situation.

Project Sponsor Situation #1 Defining a Project Scope

Number one among the project sponsor’s responsibilities is defining the scope of the project.  Its the reason the sponsor initiated the project in the first place. Project sponsors need to give the you and your team a crystal-clear definition of what the project should deliver. The definition should include the acceptance criteria they will use to accept or reject the project.  If they’re playing political games with the scope, doing friends favors, or won’t committ themselves to exactly what they want, the project manager and the team members are almost certain to fail. When the sponsor demands the project team to start work without knowing what’s expected of them they are headed for delivering an unacceptable product, late and over budget.  There are other project sponsor obligations that project managers have to subtly guide them to fulfill. Let’s discuss them.

This occurs during the initiation of the project. In that first session you need to take a very strong position that the scope of the project must be defined in measurable terms, that is with a measurable metric. Often times you have to “sell” the sponsor on the benefits of a scope that defines what he or she wants with numbers rather than vague, subjective definitions.

Project Sponsor Situation #2

Another make or break situation occurs when you discuss your authority to direct the project team. If you are borrowing team members from another department, you want to be able to give them assignments directly rather than going through their supervisor.  You also want to be able to evaluate their performance and have input into their annual performance review.

Project Sponsor Situation #3

Other critical situations are change orders affecting the project scope, duration or cost. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Every scope change affects the project’s duration and cost.  Similarly, the project sponsor can’t cut the project’s duration without affecting the scope and cost or cut the budget without affecting the scope and duration. Project sponsors don’t want to hear this so you must be able to show them options for managing changes to the scope, duration and cost.

Project Sponsor Situation #4

Finally, status reports with a bad variance are a critical situation. You must present viable solutions to fix the problems of schedule or cost overruns.

Effectively handling each of these situations is critical to your relationship with the sponsor and to the success of the project.

You learn all of those skills in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the basics course in your specialty.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management
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Project Plan: Surface Expectation Differences Early

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

Stakeholders and project managers often judge the success of a project plan meeting by how well everyone gets along. But they are making a mistake. One of the key outcomes from the planning process should be to surface any conflicts about the scope, deliverables and resources.  It is better to have those disagreements aired and resolved during the planning phase than have them erupt half way through the project. Project Plan Main Page

Project Plan Step One: Surface Expectation Differences

First, as the project manager, you do not take sides in the conflict.  Your best position is that you don’t care which side wins. You just want the conflict resolved before work begins on the project. Basically, you are on the sidelines for the whole project plan meeting. But you periodically sprinkle gasoline on any smoldering embers of conflict until they are all put out.

Why should you go to this trouble?  Why not smooth-over any conflicts about expectations and requirements now? That will get the project plan approved and let you start work.  That’s what the boss wants. The answer is that the conflicts you smooth-over in the project planning meeting always rear their ugly heads halfway through the project. Then they slow the work down and may even cause problems with the availability of team resources.  Experienced project managers know that there will be plenty of unexpected conflicts that arise as the project progresses. You don’t need to have known conflicts festering and bursting into flames late in the project. Resolving these expectation differences now, during the planning meeting, is a form of risk avoidance.

Project Plan Step Two: Draft the Project Plan

The second part of this technique is in how you write your draft project plan.  As an example, on a customer service project you would never define a deliverable with wording like, “Improve the quality of answers given to customers who call Customer Service.” That’s a terrible way to define a deliverable. It’s just motherhood and apple pie mush.  It’s not specific enough for anyone to disagree or raise differences of opinion. It allows every stakeholder to define their own expectation for the accuracy level. And their expectations will vary wildly.  You need to surface and resolve these differences, then get agreement on their expectations of the deliverable.

Here is another problem with the “Improve quality of the answers given to customers who call Customer Service” statement. It doesn’t give you or the team any of idea what the accuracy level goal is on the answers given to customers. Here is a better way to define the deliverable; “Improve the accuracy of answers given to customers from 61% to 71%.  Some stakeholders may want 90% accuracy and others will want less.  But now the discussion can focus on the differences in cost and time (duration) between various specific accuracy levels.project plan

Once again, your role is not to take sides or voice your own opinion.  Instead, your job is to quantify the tradeoffs in terms of cost and time between the various accuracy levels. You use project management software to model these options. For example, you would say, “Going to 91% accuracy would increase costs  by $18,000 and increase the project duration by 8 weeks.  Is that what you want?” The one issue you are very firm on is that no improvement in accuracy is free. The tradeoff always has a cost and duration impact. Your stance on this is very important.  If you let your stakeholders believe that they can change the project scope for free, you will face a constant flow of change requests throughout the project. And, stakeholders will be angry if you tell them there is a cost.

You learn all of those skills in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the basics course in your specialty.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

 

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High Touch Leadership

High performance teams are increasingly rare. Too often people don’t have much to do with their team members and they aren’t committed to the project’s goal. No one cares much if the project will be late and the only thing people are concerned with is avoiding blame. Here’s how to change that with your team.

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

In High Tech High Touch (1999), John Naisbitt et al, forecast that high technology makes team building and team member motivation more difficult; not easier. Many of the transactions between team members now happen via email, cell phone, blog and chat rooms rather than face-to-face: High Touch Leadership. This adds a strong impersonal element. Virtual meetings as a partial or total solution to team communication increases the distance between team members and their leader. It stimulates mechanistic, task-oriented management. There is little focus on leadership or identifying and meeting the needs of the individuals. Consequently, there is very little trust between members and leaders in the high tech team. And that lack of trust is devastating to the morale and culture of the team.

High Tech High Touch Leadership: Personal Interaction

So how can we fix this? How do project managers develop high performance teams with high levels of commitment and a strong bond uniting them in achieving the project’s goal? John Naisbitt et al believe the answer to overcoming the problems of high technology is High Touch Leadership. It requires a significant time investment and requires the leader to give up some of his/her decision-making authority to the team. This doesn’t mean that the team can merely participate in the decisions, it means that the team can actually make them.

The mechanistic project manager uses efficient but impersonal, one-size-fits-all ways of interacting with the team members. The High Touch leader spends a great deal of time personally interacting with each individual. How the leader deals with and communicates with each individual depends on their personality type and their needs. The interaction is customized for each team member. This is a very inefficient way to manage people and it certainly limits the size of the team. But that customization, along with empathetic interaction with each team member, can dramatically increase trust. This requires the leader to understand the personality type and needs of each team member. Building empathetic relationships between the leader and team members is the first step in High Touch Leadership.

High Tech High Touch Leadership: Trusting Relationships

The second stage builds on that trust between the leader and the team members. The leader must also work to develop the same trusting relationships between members of the team that he/she has with each of them individually. This second step is an even bigger challenge than the first because with just 5 people involved there are 25 relationships to foster.  That’s too much to handle if you have a three-month project and then each person goes their own way. But building that second level of High Touch leadership is very appropriate for small department or a small organization where the people work together on several projects. When the team has permanence that survives individual projects, the investment fostering those empathetic relationships is much more reasonable.  Let’s move on to the goal of that second stage.
High Tech High Touch Leadership

The high quality of the leader’s relationships with each of the team members allows the leader to accurately anticipate how each team member will react to an event. Also, each team member is able to accurately anticipate how the leader will react to an event. Next, the leader must work to increase the trust between the team members. This second step is more inefficient than the first. From a mechanistic task point of view, the team members are losing productive time when getting to know and understand each other better. This effort doesn’t get the project work done but it helps the team members work together in a much better way.

High Tech High Touch Leadership: Better Business Results

All this effort is very time-consuming and results in the loss of productive hours. So why would an organization make this kind of investment? They certainly wouldn’t do it on every project. But projects with a strategic rather than a tactical objective are different.  Outstanding team performance resulting from High Touch Leadership may yield significantly better business results than the product of an unmotivated, disconnected group of individuals. When the stakes are high and the skills on the team are only available remotely, the investment in High Touch Leadership pays off. It will also pay big dividends in small departments or firms.

You can learn these team leadership skills and become a successful project manager in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences with your instructor as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management
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Presentation Body Language Video

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

Effective project presentations don’t come from being a smooth talking project manager. You need a strong presence before the audience and that comes from your Presentation Body Language coupled with your words. Relevant content & media should be augmented by engaging body movements an gestures that communicate your message.

This video illustrates five common body language problems in presentations. Then it gives you an example of an effective use of body language in the presentation. Listen as Dick Billows, PMP points out  the good and bad techniques in each of the presentations as well as the professional level techniques used by the last speaker to make his presentation very persuasive.

Presentations & Body Language

Making effective presentations is critical to building support for your project and influencing people you work with and for. Both are keys to project success.

As you’ll see from various speakers in this video, the PM making a project presentation can use Presentation Body Language of facial expressions, hand gestures and body posture to accentuate various parts of the presentation. Body language can also help you engage the audience and cause them to want to listen to and absorb the information you’re presenting. Of particular importance is the use of eye contact with the audience. This does not involve staring down a select number of individuals. It involves sweeping the crowd with your eyes so that all the members of the audience feel you are talking to them. As importantly, use of your hands and arms to accentuate points improves your communications. You will be more interesting to watch that a person who stands still at the front of the room with their hands clasped, stuck in their pockets or gripped behind their back. Even worse are the people who play with their clothing, hair or jewelry during the presentation.

In all our courses, you make live presentations privately with your instructor over the web. You practice Presentation Body Language and get a video of your presentation along with your instructor’ feedback and coaching. Practicing presentations and seeing yourself on film are the best ways to improve your presentations.

You learn all of those skills in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the basics course in your specialty.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management