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All GBMC Past Newsletters are available here you can also join our Newsletter email distribution if you wish through this link.
Leading Virtual Teams
The perils of overdue action items! They eat away at your budget and schedule.
Project managers who follow the good practice of tracking and closing action items may find this difficult to do remotely. It takes more effort and it’s harder to engender team-driven accountability without the peer pressure, normally associated with social interactions. It’s even harder if the PM doesn’t have a method for monitoring and controlling action items.
This month, we continue our exploration of virtual project leadership. Here are some tips for identifying, tracking and closing project action items in a virtual world, assuming PMs already use a tracking system for action items.
Closing action items begins with accountability. Improve your PM’s leadership skills in the area of accountability. Very often, action items don’t get closed on time due to a lack of accountability in the team, and this can be traced to how the leader behaves. The team should hear and see the leader model accountability for him/herself and others. When leadership takes ownership for an action item, and admits (without blaming others or circumstances) that it didn’t get done, the PM sets an environment where it’s safe to be transparent about missing deadlines and asking for help. The PM needs to be explicit in holding team members accountable. Ask those who are tardy what support or resource is needed to get an action item closed. Give recognition to those who close on time. Set up an early warning system for those who know they may be late, so they can get help early.
Instil a sense of caring. Teach PMs to ask about team members’ well-being, and in particular, about their work/life experience working remotely. Coach them to ask about their plans, problems and aspirations. For some team members, virtual work is less stressful, less costly and provides more autonomy. For others, it may result in opposite outcomes. In the latter case, find out and help with a remedy if you can. Team members who are shown care, tend to work more effectively with and for their PMs. (Lominger, 2010)1. This can be a boost to closing action items. In most instances, when action items are closed on time—and meet the performance standard—the team is actively involved in project control. Encourage PMs to promote team-based project control through caring.
Teach PMs Effective Virtual Meeting skills. In the virtual world, planning and conducting meetings can be challenging. Ensure your PMs have the basic skills to plan, facilitate and follow up meetings and provide tutorials or coaching on how to succeed leading online meetings. In virtual meetings, some good practices may need to be exaggerated slightly. For example, have all or part of the meeting standing up, use an online timer (visible to everyone) to monitor the agenda timing, or put a walk around break in the middle of the meeting. Consider having two or three short meetings rather than one long one. Keep the action item status visible and dynamic. Promote innovation in good meeting practices so action items are respected.
1 Lominger (2010). For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching. Minneapolis: Lominger International: A Korn/Ferry Company.
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GBMC Belgium has formed a consortium with CAPGEMINI Academy for the provision of Consultancy and Training Services to SNCB-BelgianTrain. Since 2010 the consortium partners have trained thousands of PM² certification candidates both within the European Institutions and in the private sector.
GBMC is PM² Alliance Affiliated Training Provider (ATP) and its trainers are PM² Certified Trainers by the PM² Alliance. GBMC has helped with great success in large organisations and public sector organisations to roll-out PM² in their organisations and projects.
CAPGEMINI trainers are also experienced in PM² and currently provide in-class and online training to the European Commission and other EU Institutions.
The objective of this collaboration is to deliver expert assistance to support the tailoring and implementation of the PM² Methodology (B-PM²) at BelgianTrain. The B-PM² aims at improving the collaboration and management of projects across SNCB departments aligned with a common PM² (and portfolio) approach, governance, best practices, tools and processes.
The consortium will support the SNCB Corporate PMO (cPMO) to:
Global Business Management Consultants have already delivered a large number of PM² trainings to YPTO – SNCB’s subsidiary that provides IT services to the rail operator. The trainings were successfully delivered in 2019 based on the European Commission’s PM² Methodology and on GBMCs experience in providing such trainings.
The PM² Alliance Trainer Programme has prepared all GBMC trainers to teach PM² and the highest level in accordance to the PM² Alliance standards so that in turn, they can also prepare SNCB staff in using PM² effectively in their projects and in achieving a PM² Certification.
Isolation has led many to muse that working remotely may become the norm rather than the exception for many organizations. With this comes continual virtual meetings. However, as weeks of isolation turn into months, we are seeing that effective team leadership via the screen is more complex than simply inviting everyone to a virtual meeting. So, what can we draw from our experiences thus far and what can we learn from others to optimize these “virtual interactions” (i.e. allowing others’ experiences to “sharpen us”)?
A March 26 article in The Economist provided insight by interviewing two tech CEOs with long experiences leading distributed workforces. The results highlight changes in how we should interact virtually for maximum effect. Let’s put some of their insights into practice by looking at how good project management techniques lead to better operations management in these times of screen communication.
Michael Pryor, co-founder of Trello (whose workforce is 80% remote) says that virtual communication must be more transparent and explicit than face-to-face interaction, and that documentation is key. Another Tech leader, Nat Friedman, CEO of the open source project company, GitHub, (which arguably is the world’s biggest distributed enterprise, managing millions of online projects) goes further. Friedman says distributed firms favor wordsmiths, not good speakers as traditional firms do, and good writing demands clear thinking and discipline.
Does it seem strange that virtual verbal communication requires better written discipline? It shouldn’t. When interacting virtually, you can’t be an effective communicator with vague, rambling, ad hoc comments. Crisp written communication, like a succinct, well-conceived verbal message is the product of an organized thought process. Here are some tips you can draw from the field of project management to better manage all virtual interactions.
Agendas are golden. The strength of a written agenda, sent ahead of time, sets the scope of the discussion and limits rambling.
Lead with a consultative, coaching approach. Ask leading questions of participants. It sets a tone of openness. A good leader has the Situational Leadership technique of coaching (when appropriate) mastered.
Break meeting issues down into explicit, bite-size chunks―what project managers call “creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).” All participants will benefit from a leader who applies this technique to framing complex issues virtually.
Make action items SMART. After the team discussion, when conclusions and actions are drawn, the discipline of leaving the meeting with SMART tasks (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) captured in written meeting notes makes expectations both transparent and explicit.
Motivate your team virtually. Finally, motivating your team to action online requires the leader to take a genuine interest in the career development of the participants. Explaining how a task assignment can help build a valuable skillset and passing along helpful topical articles you’ve read are two tips that can convey a sense that you care about people in a holistic way, not just as task machines.
How is this different from effective face-to-face interaction? It isn’t. It’s just that with virtual interaction, the bar has been raised. People listening via computer audio pay more attention to the leader’s content than when they relied on in-person visual cues. Transparency and explicitness are now at a premium. Writing things down before and after using techniques from the project management toolbox benefits any leader or manager who wants to optimize their virtual interactions.
If you want to explicitly learn how to sharpen the iron of your virtual leadership skills and those of your team on projects or in operations, GBMC offers proven results in project management training and coaching. One of our participants in a course last week said it all:
The value of training in the midst of a downturn
You probably read the headline of this newsletter and shook your head. GBMC cannot really be recommending an investment in training when the economics for my organization are grim.
Yes. This is an unabashed attempt to convince our readers that investing in your workforce, even in an economic trough, is one of the best ways to prepare your organization for the future. And we always recommend that any investment in your people be aligned with business strategy.
Here are some tips for how to align training with three different strategies for weathering the downturn.
Reduction in Force – In addition to the toll it takes on those who leave, research has demonstrated that it also takes a huge toll on those who stay. Reassure those who remain that the organization has a plan, and their ability to take on additional duties, or switch duties, is being supported by training. This investment signals confidence which, in turn, can improve motivation, which leads to performance. Show your resources they are valued and worth the investment.
Change Over in Products or Services – If your strategy is to focus on markets
that have greater need or potential, you’ll need a capable and willing workforce to execute that strategy. Re-tooling takes care of the operational system, but our experience shows that if the human system is not re-tooled, most change strategies falter. Throwing your workforce “into the deep end” with no floaties is counterproductive. Communica
Ride it Out – If your strategy is to hold tight and stay the course, you can still reap benefits from investing in training. Perhaps the downturn means a reduced workload. It’s a perfect time to have your workforce catch up on the training they’ve been putting off. Provide positive incentives, and push some personal and professional development training to their training plans. Deeds, not just words, communicate confidence in the future.
Now comes the harsh reality.
How do we pay for training when the organization’s economics are so poor? Money-saving solutions are readily available: online, on demand, micro learning, royalty-free training, and so on. We all know the real cost is seat time. How do you fund your workforce on an already stressed overhead?
Linking Training to Job Satisfaction: One way to reduce PM talent turnover
What’s most frequently on the short list of reasons why employees quit? Lack of opportunities to grow. No matter which study, which expert you consult, this one factor shows up somewhere on the list of reasons why employees abandon their employers.
Sadly, we know intuitively when a talented project manager (PM) leaves, there are direct impacts (productivity, cost and schedule) and indirect ones (reduction in morale, engagement and trust). But do we know the financial impact to the organization? At GBMC we believe that business performance depends on project performance and successful projects depend on talented PMs with high job satisfaction.
Know the reasons PMs are leaving. Along with that data, calculate the average cost of replacing a PM. And here’s the biggest “wake up” data set: How much is at risk if you can only get a warm body as a replacement? This endeavor can be fraught with pitfalls. The data taken from exit interviews is rarely accurate. Find the metrics that matter to your organization and the best way to get actionable data.
Identify which PMs are flight risks.
Someone in the project organization must be on top of which PMs are vulnerable to poaching and whose leaving will have the biggest negative impact on the organization. This is talent risk management. Just like you do for your projects, the project organization should identify and qualify/quantify the risk and put in place your mitigations. Know your high likelihood / high impact PMs and ensure they have career growth opportunities.
Ensure the career development path is established and communicated well. GBMC is betting that lack of career advancement will show up in your top ten reasons—perhaps even your top five. We’ve seen it before. Management claims to have a career path, but employees can’t see it, can’t own it, can’t do it. Word of caution: Training should be treated as an important part of that path, but most definitely not the major portion of it. Great PMs are made through job experience. It’s management’s responsibility to provide larger scope and scale projects that challenge the PM. Put in place (or upgrade) the organizational support structure that coaches and nurtures your talent.
Here at GBMC, we often get requests for training. We are known for project management consulting and training. When we ask the now famous, Simon Sinek Golden Circle question: Why? (do you want this course) the answer can be, “… the department manager requested a course, so I’m contacting you to deliver it for us.”
While it is flattering to be the trusted provider of training services, the question of why we are doing the training is uppermost in our thinking—our motto is, “Improving performance through project management.” So, if we teach your employees how to manage projects, we believe it will have an impact on business performance.
We feel responsible to executives, boards of directors and shareholders of the organizations we work for. We think in terms of margins, return on capital employed, free cash flow and payback periods.
So the question is, “how do we best link what we do (i.e., training) to what matters most to executives (i.e., financials).” Perhaps you’re asking this question, too. If so, let us offer three thoughts.
Training requires a business case. Ask yourself the why, what and how questions before you decide to train. For training to really make a difference ask, “why would a shareholder see this training as a good idea, what is the specific, measurable problem or opportunity, and how does this relate to financial results of our organization? At GBMC, we call this the AIM of training. What business problem are we trying to solve, or what business opportunity are we attempting to exploit? Is it to improve service, increase revenue, or save/avoid cost? By starting with a quantified problem/opportunity, we will be able to design a training course that pays for itself in bottom line dollars and cents savings. This is a win for everyone.
Training must close a skill or knowledge gap. Require participants and their supervisors to ask: “In six months, where do we need to be?” This requires an assessment of the “as-is” (i.e., current level of competence), and the “to-be”, which is the desired end state. At GBMC, we use the “Assessment Inventory of Project Management SkillsTM”, but you can design your own assessment. The important thing is to have a before and after measurement. This analysis should result in the objectives of the training. What must the learner be able to think, say or do differently after the training? Have clear training objectives.
Training must be reinforced to be sustainable. Ask yourself, “how will the training stick?” We all know that training courses are good excuses for a free lunch or a break from the routine, but what happens after the training is done? Have we insisted on changed behaviors after the course? If so, are the behaviors linked to financially efficient and/or effective results? Accountability and reinforcement lead to changed behaviors and changed behaviors lead to lasting results. At GBMC, we abhor “scrap learning.” It’s wasteful. We recommend rigorous follow up and purposeful reinforcement in the workplace. Sustain the gains.
$37 billion per year is wasted on unproductive meetings in the U.S., according to the Small Business Newsroom.
Are your project managers (PMs) good stewards of your meeting money? If not, GBMC recommends the following three tips.
1. Review and revise company guidance for project meetings. Your PM organization should have established methods and tools for planning, conducting, and following up on project meetings. Give guidance about the type and frequency of meetings; whether a meeting is needed at all; the purpose of the meeting and how your PMs control the meeting. Train them to be efficient and effective meeting leaders.
2. Give PMs meeting tools. Once your organization is up to date with meeting technology, ensure your PMs have templates, checklists and the means to issue minutes of meeting quickly. Go with the philosophy of “less is more.” When your PMs are still learning, support them in the planning phase. Have a template that helps them think through the purpose of the meeting. Is it to pass along information? Is it for making a decision? Is it a bid review or clarification of a contract meeting? A kickoff meeting? Each type of meeting should have a specific way to conduct it, but all should have a timed agenda. And here’s a curve ball…Let them know it’s OK to not invite or even uninvite participants if the person cannot contribute to the purpose of the meeting. Help them reduce waste by providing the right tools.
3. Reward good meeting behavior. Here’s the tough part—the human factor. Many PMs struggle with controlling discussions, managing conflict and holding meeting participants accountable for actions. Even when your PMs master the planning skills, conducting the meeting requires additional skills in the leadership domain. Think through what should be on your PMs’ development plans: facilitation, negotiation, listening, even writing and public speaking. Show them what “good” looks like, and maintain a high standard.
Have you ever funded a successful project that had unintended and undesirable consequences on the organization? Launched a new product or service that didn’t land well with the customer? Or designed an improvement to an internal system that employees then resisted using? GBMC believes it’s critical to manage not only change to the project but also change caused by the project.
Here are three tips for doing so:
Determine the breadth of organizational change – The business case, the project charter, and the project plan must all consider what is required to successfully deliver the expected project objectives and benefits. While it’s important that your projects have efficient processes for change, they also should recognize the need for change within the performing organization, within client or supplier organizations, or even within broader stakeholder groups. The change may be temporary, while the project is underway, or permanent as a result of the project. Some projects, like organizational change projects, have as their primary objective implementing change into the organization. Others, like a software implementation, may have product installation as their primary objective. However, regardless of the main purpose of the project, be ready to manage organizational change as part of the project scope.
Use established change models – Project teams should take advantage of established models to help guide them to identify, plan for, and manage change to the affected organization(s). Many change models are available to help the project team identify organizational change requirements and navigate the change management process. These include:
– Kurt Lewin’s Change Model (Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze)
– Proci’s ADKAR® Model (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement)
– John Kotter’s Eight Stage Change Model
Select the model that ‘fits’ the project and makes sense to the team and other stakeholders.
Align project outcomes with the project executive’s expectations – We should consider the project from a business executive’s perspective because they are one of our most important stakeholders. At the end of the project, what does the executive want and expect to see? …usually a complete, successful change to the business. For example, the executive doesn’t look at a new product development project as just delivering a working product. They want to realize benefits from the working product. For example, the executive probably wants to see:
Looking at the whole value stream gives insight into the degree of change that is necessary if the project is to be successful and therefore helps identify the true scope of a successful project. The example above could easily be rewritten for an internal software project, a bridge construction project, or a new school curriculum development project. But remember, all projects involve people, so all projects will require changes in what people do. Managing organizational change is not a luxury, it is a requirement for project success.
Leading organizations are adaptive in response to increasing complexity and disruptors in their industry. A tailored PMO Framework can be implemented quickly and with low cost. It drives focus and agility through proactive decision making based on an integrated, consistent, data-driven approach.
Recently, GBMC worked with a publicly traded, multinational cloud-computing and software company that needed to undertake a strategically important transformation project.
The project’s complexity was driven by the high number of international stakeholders involved and the risk to business continuity of the Inside Sales and Tech Support functions. Key stakeholders included valued sales team employees across multiple countries and regions whose work directly impact the company’s bottom line.
Unlike typical technical, IT and finance functions, sales and marketing team culture is often less structured with lower adoption of project management practices. This business transformation project would require a highly diverse, cross-functional matrixed project team coupled with a consistent integrated approach, underlying structure, and common language for measuring and communicating progress.
The Approach – Measure Benefits and Realize Value in a Sustainable Way:
GBMC was engaged to establish a PMO framework for the geographically dispersed, cross-functional project team. The scalable PMO framework approach provided the foundation for streamlining the flow of project critical information, exception-based reporting and progress tracking against deliverables tied to milestones, and a dashboard for multiple levels of key stakeholder reporting.
Project Dashboard: The heart of the effective PMO framework is a dashboard driven by an exception-based reporting approach, with progress tracked against an agreed plan of deliverables and completion dates linked to key project milestones. The dashboard forms a ‘bridge’ between the high-level view of the project work-streams and milestones created as part of the initial project creation process, and the detailed schedule. This high-level view was adapted to include progress updates from the detailed schedule and utilized by the Steering Committee for monitoring overall performance.
The dashboard was used in two ways, for briefing the team, and as further back-up information for the Steering Committee when dealing with exceptions.
The dashboard was designed to provide an integrated view and communicate both overall project “health” and at the work-stream level to:
The Impact – Measurable Benefits and Realized Value
The timely execution of strategy via the sales transformation initiative directly impacted organizational performance. The investment made in the PMO framework reduced the complexity risk from the large number of international stakeholders (external and internal) and potential disruption in business continuity ultimately contributing to fewer delays.
Key intangible benefits attributed to the tailored PMO framework included:
Key tangible benefits from increased effectiveness (through reduced progress update meeting time and better alignment with jointly accountable stakeholders) included:
The tailored PMO Framework was implemented within two months, had a low administrative burden, and drove focus on what is important. Project execution became more effective by shifting from reactive to proactive behavior and applying an integrated, consistent, data-driven approach.
This timely, actionable information for proactive decision making by the Executive Steering Committee, the Project Manager, and the team ensured alignment with business needs, reduced risks and increased benefits realized.