Posts Tagged 'project success'

Ready to Make a Change to Agile? Make it STICKY!

“Change means uncertainty; uncertainly breeds opportunity.”      Japanese saying

 “Uncertainty is the breeding ground of all great possibility!”        Jennifer Chrisman

Are you ready to adopt Agile project management to improve project delivery and complement and enhance “traditional” project management rigor? If yes, then you need a change management approach with actions that can make change happen — and make it stick.

In their 2007 book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath explain six principles to make change stick.

Let’s look at each principle:

Simplicity: Find the core idea; keep it simple; overcome the curse of knowledge

Unexpectedness: Surprise generates interest and curiosity to grab attention; opens gaps that you can fill with knowledge

Concreteness: Be specific (i.e., Put a man on the moon by the end of this decade and bring him back safely); no abstract speak

Credibility: Use relevant experts; size your statistics (use a human scale—i.e. don’t say “micro-seconds”); use the power of details (if suitable to the audience)

Be careful  . . . don’t declare victory too soon. To embed the change and ensure that it sticks, acknowledge the lessons learned. Engage and involve project team members over the long term. Reward best practices to capture the full benefit of the change.

Emotions: Tap into things people care about, appeal to self-interest, appeal to identity

Many project leaders excel at building the rational case for change, but they are less adept in appealing to people’s emotional core. Yet the team members’ emotions are where the momentum for real transformation ultimately lies. “Make it stick” communications need to be targeted to each segment of the project team, and delivered in a two-way fashion that allows team members to make sense of the change subjectively.

Stories: Tell stories, it’s the next best thing to doing it; incorporate as many of these sticky principles as possible.

Maintain continuous effort to ensure that the changes are indeed working. Keep talking about how well the project is doing with the change to Agile to encourage people. When hiring new project team members, make the Agile approach stick in their minds.

Read Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath and learn why some ideas survive and others die.

If you are adopting Agile project management, a change management approach such as this can help you enhance your overall transformation capability, increase the speed of implementation, and improve the probability of success.

To learn how to apply Agile project management principles and the Scrum framework to create software-intensive products, check out Learning Tree’s course – Agile Project Management with Scrum.

James L. Haner

Project Outsourcing Does Not Equal Simplicity

How’s that project outsourcing working for you? In my experience, entire projects or just some of the project work can be outsourced for a number of reasons.  Sometimes organizations are required to outsource project work due to a lack of resources, lack of skills or a need to reduce costs. Whatever the reason for outsourcing all or part of your project work, project managers need to be prepared for an additional layer of complexity within their project structure once outsourcing takes place.

I grew up working on Information Technology  (IT) projects, and it was no surprise for me to read that IT takes first place in most studies for the percentage of outsourced jobs. According to many of these studies, the most popular destinations for these outsourced jobs these days are in India, China and the Philippines.

Let’s take a look our projects and see where outsourcing might have an impact on our project, our project plan and our internal project team members.  There are three key parts of our project life cycle: the controlled start, middle and end of the project.

Controlled Start. The controlled start to a project includes the pre-project activities where we determine if this is a viable and worthwhile project for the business. A project’s controlled start where we do more detailed planning for both our overall project and the next stage. At the end of initiation, we should have our project scope finalized, our project plan built, and be ready to get to work.  Outsourcing can add some serious tasks here, such as making the decision to outsource work in the first place.  Once the decision is made, we need to get the approval and the funding for the outsourcing that is to take place.  Then it is time to find the right contractor, consultant or consulting firm to work with.  Vendor selection requires negotiating the proposals, bids and resulting contracts.  And don’t forget to clearly define and agree upon the requirements for the scope of work.

Controlled Middle. The controlled middle of a project is where the technical work gets done, one stage or phase at a time. The project manager is using the plan to measure and monitor project performance and to control what is taking place. When we are outsourcing project work, everything we do needs to include the vendors – regular status, informal conversations, checking the health of the project, dealing with stakeholders, forecasting future performance, and dealing with issues and risks.

It can be challenging to rely on an external person or a company to get your project work done.  Outsourcing adds some overhead to the project manager’s day job, including managing the administrative overhead of outsourcing for accounts payable purposes. Someone has to educate the outsourced staff members on our internal project processes, procedures, goals and operational requirements.  It can be a challenge to track project progress without direct authority over the outsourced staff members.  What do you do when you find yourself, the project manager, relying on project team members that may not be “visible” to you or that you have never actually met face-to-face? You may find yourself juggling priorities as you managing your outsourced team, your in-house team and any resulting issues that occur.

Controlled End. A controlled end to a project is when we are wrapping up a job well done. We are taking stock of achievements, reporting on the effort, ensuring objectives and acceptance criteria are met and transitioning the final product of our project into its operational life.  If you are outsourcing work, be sure to plan for knowledge transfer to operationally maintain your project’s solution and deliverables after your outsourced team is gone.

Seems like outsourcing is just like any other tool project managers use for project definition and delivery. As such, outsourcing must be carefully weighed, planned and managed as part of your project to ensure project success.  So, how’s that project outsourcing working for you?

Susan Weese

Using PRINCE2 to Achieve High-Performing Project Teams

How do experienced project managers create and nurture a high performing project team?  In my experience, a high performing project team has a mutual purpose that binds them together and ratchets their performance to an exceptional level that is more than the sum of its parts? In their book, The Wisdom of Teams, Katzenbach and Smith list five qualities of high-performing teams that make those teams different from an “ordinary” team. Those qualities include:

  • Deeper sense of purpose
  • Ambitious performance goals
  • Better work approaches
  • Mutual and individual accountability
  • Complementary skill sets and interchangeable skills

Many of the fundamental aspects of a PRINCE2* project can contribute to a high-performing project team. Of particular interest to me is the Organization theme, where clear roles and responsibilities on the project are defined, agreed-upon and used on a daily basis. These roles and responsibilities encompass all areas of the project – business, users and suppliers. They also define each level of the project as far as who directs, who manages and who performs the actual specialist or technical project work. PRINCE2, with it’s strategies and other management products, provides an excellent framework for making decisions and resolving project-specific conflicts.

Another thing I have experienced with my high-performing project teams is the extraordinary level of trust between the team members. The team members are able to align their personal interests and expertise and focus them on achieving a successful project outcome. In the case of a high-performing project team, the sum that defines the team and its efforts is definitely greater than just adding up all of the people on the team.

Team members on high-performing teams are not afraid to communicate with one another.   The PRINCE2 Communication Management Plan defines the more formal communication mechanisms for the project.  The team itself can take communication to the next level between team members, particularly in a work environment with a high level of trust.

Many times, I have found that my role as the project manager on a performing team is to get external obstacles out of the team’s path and let them get their work completed without my involvement. On the one hand, my performing teams have made me feel a little bit “left out”. On the other hand, why complain about such a wonderful and often unexpected level of team performance?  High-performing teams are what make being a project manager such a great experience.  Using PRINCE2 and it’s thorough approach to managing your projects and your project teams is certainly a step in the right direction.

Learning Tree offers a range of PRINCE2 certification courses in the UK for those who are interested. PRINCE2®: Achieving Practitioner Certification is also available in the US and in Canada.

Susan Weese

*PRINCE2® is a registered trade mark of the Cabinet Office.

Reference: Katzenbach, J.R., & Smith, D.K. (1994). The Wisdom of Teams. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Project-Managing Your Writing

Wouldn’t you like to write better contract proposals, business plans, executive summaries, recommendation reports and internal business communications, such as e-mail?

The element of persuasion is what sets business writing apart from other forms of writing. Professional business writing convinces your audience to do what you want, even though there may be initial resistance.

You need to project-manage your writing by breaking it into tasks (WBS), scheduling them (Gantt Chart), and identifying any resources you need (RAM).

A four-step technique is:

  1. Identify the objective
  • What exactly are you being asked to write about?
  • What do you need your readers to do when they have read your text?
  1. Analyze your audience
  • Who are your readers?
  • What do they need to know?
  1. Research
  • What sources will you use for your research?
  • Do you need help from a Subject-Matter Expert (SME)?
  1. Draft, edit, and revise
  • Improve the quality of your writing

When Stephen King finishes a book he puts it away for 2 months and then looks to cut 15% before his editor even sees it.

Crow and Parkin-Dillon suggest the POWER process for project-managing your writing.


  • Plan
  • Identify objective
  • Analyze audience

Organize information

  • Perform research
  • Generate topics
  • Reduce topics
  • Structure topics


  • Prototype document
  • Test prototype
  • Draft document


  • Review
  • Proofread
  • Mark up pages


  • Implement changes

Editing and Rewriting are iterative and interactive steps of the POWER process. Using the POWER process helps you avoid last-minute crises and meet due dates with ease.

Crow and Parkin-Dillon recommend these approximate times for a writing project:

  • Prewrite and Organize—40 percent

—   Plan

—   Identify scope and  objectives

—   Identify audience and scenarios

—   Research

—   Generate topics

  • Write—30 percent
  • Edit and Rewrite—30 percent

—   Review and edit

–    Proofread

—   Revise

—   Publish

Keep Prewriting, Writing, and Rewriting Separate

You need to plan, draft, and rewrite your document. Don’t rewrite as you write. You’ll drive yourself crazy and probably never finish.

Many people think revision means they somehow failed. Nothing has ever been written that wouldn’t have been improved by taking the opportunity to revise it.

Professional writers know the real work is done in the rewriting, not in the writing.

Persuasive writing is about assessing your customers’ needs and responding directly to those needs. Audience analysis, brainstorming, outlining, establishing credibility, stating credentials, avoiding logical fallacies and appealing to intelligence are persuasive writing tools and techniques you can use to be successful.

For more on how to project-manage your writing, have a look at Learning Tree, Intl. Course #219: Business and Report Writing Introduction.

James L. Haner

Six Actions to Take Now to Overcome Project Stress

If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the following six actions.

1. Maintain a balanced life: Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Nothing beats aerobic exercise for releasing pent-up stress and tension.

  • Balance of work and home life
  • Balance of exercise and relaxation
  • Balanced diet
  • Balance of your needs and those of other people

2. Live more in the “now”: Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.

  • Allows you to be more effective at dealing with current pressures
  • Focus on what is happening rather than past experiences
  • Deal with current issue rather than worrying about potential problems

3. Develop a strong sense of purpose: Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.

  • Having a clear sense of direction helps you maintain perspective
  • Allows clarity of priorities and values
  • Minimizes chances of being sidetracked

4. Monitor your stress levels regularly: If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.

  • Consciously evaluate how you are coping
  • Build self-awareness of how you respond to pressure
  • Take action early to avoid stress

5. Build a support system for yourself: As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.

  • Accept offers of help and support when necessary
  • Don’t be afraid to ask when you need it
  • Be prepared to reciprocate
  • Seek out a trained counsellor or a coach
  • Talk things through – expressing your feelings can reduce anxiety

6. Be as organized as you can: Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.

  • Develop time management skills
  • Clear out clutter – mental and physical
  • Develop routines
  • Meals, exercise, relaxation

For more on reducing your stress, have a look at Learning Tree, Intl. Course #297:  Personal Skills for Professional Excellence.

James L. Haner

17 Ways to Get to Know Your New Project Manager

“The speed of the project manager is the speed of the project team.”
Adapted from Lee Iacocca

It’s been said that the average project team member will have 10 or more new project managers over the course of his or her career. That’s quite a few adjustments that team members will have to make. Building a productive relationship with your new project manager is critical and should be a top priority for you.

Here are some tips that can help you adapt to your new project manager.

1. Set up a one-on-one meeting as early as possible to learn more about him or her.

2. Determine your project manager’s priorities, goals and metrics to use to evaluate success. In this meeting, make sure to give a little background about yourself and your role in the organization. Your project manager may not have had time to learn about what you do and your background.

3. Clarify expectations on your job so the project manager knows what is reasonable or realistic. Don’t make assumptions – get clarity on what is required or needed.

4. Secure a commitment to resources you might need to be successful in your job.

5. Find out what his/her work style is like. For example, does your project manager come into the office early, or stay late, or do both? Does the project manager like to be updated via phone calls, face-to-face meetings, or e-mail? How often does he/she want to be updated? Does the project manager like getting an overview or strategic view of the issues and projects or does he or she want detailed specifics? What type of decisions does the project manager want to be involved in?

6. Identify your new project leader’s style in terms of likes, dislikes, hot buttons and preferences.

7. Be open and flexible to your new project manager’s style. You must be willing to embrace some change. This is not only a new project manager, but it is a new person.

8. Make a good impression. I am not talking about being a “brown-noser” or a “yes person” who just agrees with the new project manager or strokes his/her ego with comments about how great he or she is. Rather, it is important to share your knowledge and organizational insights with your new project manager. Be careful not to just pile on the flattery. Be genuine.

9. Help your project manager to be successful. This is critical for a new project manager. Help him/her get up-to-speed on the organization. It will be appreciated. At the same time, remember that your project manager is the project leader. So, while you might offer help, you don’t need to step in to take over.

10. Anticipate your new project manager’s needs. Show initiative and ask the project manager how you can help. Go beyond the call of duty.

11. Stay positive and enthusiastic. This can have an impact on having everyone around you have a positive outlook.

12. Watch what you say about your project teammates. It is not a good idea to say negative things about other project members. Be careful about making comparisons (even positive ones) between your new project manager and the previous project manager.

13. Find out who the project manager admires and is influenced by. Make sure to develop good relationships with those folks as well.

14. Keep a “new project manager list of questions or information” to share with him/her throughout the day. Use those short snippets of time to ask questions or share insights. Be organized in case you do not get larger blocks of time with him/her.

15. Get feedback. Set up a meeting within the first month or two to see how you are doing (from your project manager’s perspective).

16. Bring solutions to meetings, not just the problems.

17. Try to score some early wins and successes. Make sure to give them updates about what you are doing.

Remember, getting a new project manager brings with it new opportunities. Use this time as a way to try out some things you have always wanted to do: Speak up in meetings, take on new tasks/activities, etc. Also, remember that it is an adjustment time for the new project manager, too; so cut him/her some slack by giving time and space to adjust.

“No project team member goes before his or her time, unless the project manager leaves early.”
Adapted from Groucho Marx

James L. Haner

Five Easy Steps to Get Some Grit!

 “Perseverance is more than endurance. It is endurance combined with absolute assurance and certainty that what we are looking for is going to happen.”     - Oswald Chambers

“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” - William Feather

Do you want to be a successful project leader? Project leadership takes a certain amount of grit, integrity and clarity. It takes grit to act on the hard issues; to be bold and stand strong- when it may be easier to blend in . . . to fit in.

It takes courage and integrity to live your values, and strive for your dreams and it takes clarity on knowing and sharing your desired outcome. What does winning look like to you? Find out and then tell the project team.

Mental toughness can be learned and whether or not you have it will determine your future project leadership success. It’s not as hard as you think; it’s less about will-power than it is about creating the conditions that bring out your best.

Mental toughness (or “grit”) is a habit. Those who persevere naturally have a tremendous edge over those who quit. Simple as that. It’s obvious, but how to develop this elusive skill is not.

Grit is one’s ability to carry on toward a goal in the face of adverse conditions.

Cognitive psychology recognizes that grit is a factor totally unrelated to intelligence, but that is just as likely to augment one’s chances for success. That is, all things being equal, those with grit are more likely to succeed than those without it. Therefore, developing this habit is a very worthy endeavor.

While grit is largely an individual thing dependent upon one’s personality, goals, and situation, this 5 step cycle from will allow you to formulate your own grit-development strategy to suit your needs.

1. Focus
This is the fundamental core of grit. If one can not remain focused on what they are working to accomplish, right out of the gate they are unlikely to achieve it. Using Start My Day every day in accordance with the Productivity Habit is the best way to remain focused. Click the “Do Today’s Training” button and complete the training there if this is not already an unbreakable habit for you.

2. Belief
Your belief about three things will greatly affect your ability to persist toward your goals. Your target: Is is achievable? Is it worthy of you? Yourself: Are you capable? Are you worthy of it? The World: “There is no failure, only feedback.” And so on …

3. Deck Stacking
Deck Stacking is all about preventing obvious problems. Perseverance is hard enough as it is. Make things easy on yourself by developing an excellent work ethic (see the Productivity Habit), by having vibrant health (see the High Energy Habit), by creating an environment conducive of success (use “Kankyo Kaizen”), and so on …
Staying the course will create momentum which is the best way to stack the deck of all.

4. Observation
No matter how much positive belief about yourself and your future you have, you must continually make real-world observations about the way things actually are. This is essential for minor course-corrections along the way.

5. Validation
Validation can occur either internally or externally. In an ideal world one could have absolute internal validation and no matter what happens in the outside world they would remain undeterred. Of course no one has perfect stamina, so it’s essential to organize things such that you experience a steady stream of internal and external validation.

Grit is a learnable skill – and it’s an even better predictor of project leadership success than intelligence. Follow these five steps to create the conditions that support your mental toughness, perseverance and GRIT!

James L. Haner

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