The easy way to develop your skills

People generally learn a range of skills when they’re at school/college/university. Then, for various reasons, some people stop learning. It might be initially frustrating, or they may think they lack motivation or opportunity so they stick with what they know.

But they’re missing out on a lot – often learning a new skill can blossom into an unexpected passion, introduce you to a whole new circle of people, push your career in a satisfying new direction or give you a whole new perspective on the world.

And it doesn’t have to be work-related skills – interests like learning a language, or how to cook, or how to appreciate art will enhance your life, and you never know where they might lead.

The easiest way to make this happen is to schedule your learning into your routine, perhaps just a little time, but regularly – that’s the secret. Just keep showing up – building your skills little by little.

You’ll look back in a year and realise you’re well on your way to mastery. And as well as your new skill, you’ll also have a great sense of satisfaction.

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A smart Project Update meeting technique

I was once involved in a project where the project manager did something that struck me as unusual at first, but which I came to find was quite an effective technique.

At the very start of every meeting he asked “How are things going? Do you have any feedback to give on the project?”

In the early meetings the response from the stakeholders was usually a polite “Everything seems to be going well” kind of comment, which our PM recorded in the minutes. Over the course of the project though, the feedback became richer and more beneficial, often praising the efforts of particular team members.

The value of this is significant.

  • Firstly, it opens the communication channels and lets all stakeholders know that their feedback is invited and valued.
  • Secondly, it establishes a positive atmosphere in the early stages of the project, and gives excellent opportunity for people to provide positive feedback on team members.
  • Thirdly, it allows the PM to keep a close eye on the sentiment of the project – especially if he is not on site every day to observe it for himself.

This is an excellent project management device that is really easy to implement – start asking for feedback in every project meeting and see it work for you.

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Don’t stress – Just focus on the facts

As a project manager, one of the most difficult balances to maintain is your emotional buy-in to a project. Many project managers become so involved that they end up stressed and burned out.

Sure, to motivate your team, you need to care about the project and want it to be successful.

But the real opportunity to reduce stress is when you’re presenting information to stakeholders so they can make decisions. They’re relying on you to present them with all the facts, good or bad, and have done some analysis so it’s relatively straightforward for them to decide on a course of action – what’s not needed is your emotional involvement in their decision. It’s your job to manage the project, and theirs to steer it.

For example, you might have to inform the project executive that a project is behind schedule. You’ve done everything you could to minimise delays, you’ve informed them in a timely manner and you’ve provided them with fact-based estimates and possible mitigations to support their decisions. You’ve done all you can – stressing about the situation won’t change the facts, and it may reduce your ability to deliver the best possible outcome after the executive makes their decision.

Don’t shoot the messenger

And the better you get at analysing and communicating facts, the better your reputation will become. You will become a facilitator of good and timely decision making – what more could your employer and customers ask for?

So save your emotion for motivating your team, and focus on the facts when it comes to communicating with your project stakeholders and customers.

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Business Cases: Official vs Personal

Rock climber hanging on by his fingertips

We all know the rules about business cases:

  • A project should not be initiated unless the appropriate stakeholders accept the business case;
  • The outcomes of the business case form part of the success criteria for the project, and;
  • The project manager is responsible for achieving those outcomes.

The project manager periodically checks that the project is delivering a solution that satisfies the business case and, if it’s not, puts it back on course.

From time to time, the project manager also confirms that the reasons for the business case are still valid. If they aren’t, the project is cancelled so the people involved can move onto work that serves the business.

A project can have a couple of different business cases. It will always have the official business case, created by the business to fulfill their goals. It can also have a vendor’s business case – this is created in response to their customer’s business case and incorporates both the customer’s and the vendor’s reasons for being involved in the project.

But there’s another business case that usually doesn’t get the attention it deserves – your own.

Your personal business case consists of the reasons why you’re involved in the project, such as monetary reward, reputation, job security and/or the intellectual challenge. But like any other business case, if you’re not really clear about your goals up front, and don’t review your progress towards them regularly, you run the real risk of putting in a lot of time and effort to find you haven’t met them in the end.

As for any other business case, your personal business case serves two purposes:

  1. It gives you the ‘it’s just not worth it –I’m outta here’ criteria, and, more importantly;
  2. It drives you forward – when you’re in the heat of battle, it reminds you why you’re working so hard and putting yourself under pressure.

So know your personal business case before the project starts – be very clear about the reasons you’re involved in the project, and define your exit criteria now, before the going gets tough. Then, with regular reviews, you’ll be able to keep focused on what’s important, stay motivated through those tough times and achieve your goals.

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Project style: Yellow is the new grey

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In a thought-provoking post on Ron Rosenhead’s Project Management blog recently, Ron talks about how ‘grey areas’ are areas of risk in a project.

These are areas where details are not well defined, information is incomplete or where no-one is taking responsibility, etc. Warning lights should flash where there are areas like this in a project – ambiguity makes bad things happen.

So should these be grey areas? Grey fades into the background and this is the last thing you want to happen to these risky areas – they should be called yellow areas. Being yellow, they’ll stand out and won’t drop off your radar.

So when you find a grey area, see it as yellow and you’ll deal with it before it starts causing you trouble.

Ron’s blog article is here.

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Doing a lot but not getting ahead?

Greg has a lot to do.

He begins each day with a huge task list, determined to complete as many things as he can. He gets through a lot but at the end of each day there are always a few tasks that don’t get done, usually the ones that take a little longer – so they’re moved onto the next day and become a little more urgent.

Greg is playing the volume game; he’s judging his performance by how many tasks he can do. While he feels like he’s getting a lot done, he’s constantly stressed out by the high number of urgent tasks that interrupt his day.

If Greg approached his task list in a different way, he’d find that while initially he might not get as many tasks done, he’d end up with a smaller number of urgent tasks, more time and less stress.

So how do you approach your tasks differently? Try to identify tasks that have specific benefits – these are the important ones:

•    Identify if a task is something that will save you time in the future. An example is taking the time to work out proper estimates for a project – if you estimate poorly, the impact on your time in the future will be much greater than the time you spend estimating.

•    Identify if a task will increase your understanding of a project – this will help you avoid a crisis in the future, which is always time-consuming. For example, forming a deep understanding of a new project today may result in a question which, if asked now, will allow you to decide a course of action that will avoid a problem in the future.

•    Identify if a task is directly related to generating income, either for your company or for yourself.

•    Identify if a task builds a relationship with a customer – relationships lead to business.

•    Identify if a task builds a personal relationship – personal relationships improve the quality of your life.

•    Identify if the task improves your ability to enjoy life – tasks involving health, personal financial security and stress reduction.

You’ll find the number of important tasks is quite small and on most days, you’ll have time for other tasks. And if you make sure you get the important things done, you’ll have less urgent tasks, you’ll be more in control and ultimately you’ll be more successful.

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What you need to get productive right now

Clarity and focus are all you needI meet a lot of people who are overworked, stressed out and generally feeling like everything is piling up on top of them. Many of these people work in IT, and for them I think that’s part of the problem.

The peculiar thing about tech-savvy people is that they tend to look for technological solutions to their productivity issues. They look for productivity software, mobile applications, collaboration tools and the like, but usually don’t get long term value from these gadgets. There is an initial flush of productivity when these tools are first adopted, but within a few weeks they’re back to where they were: stressed and overloaded. And their technological solution is languishing on the hard drive, half full of weeks-old actions and tasks. The ‘solution’ has just added to their workload.

Solve the issue

If you’re trying to get productive, there are really only 2 things that you need:

  1. CLARITY and
  2. FOCUS

Clarity

CLARITY is being specific about what the task is that needs to be done next. Define it, quantify it, and describe precisely what you’re going to do about it.

Focus

FOCUS is a decision to get that task done, forsaking all distractions till it’s finished. The phone rings – ignore it and get on with it. An email arrives – ignore it (or better still, close your email). Every time you decide to stay focused is a victory for you and it makes it easier to stay focused for the next task. And the next, and the next.

Productivity tools can help, but only after you’ve got clarity and focus.

So decide NOW to have clarity and focus, and your productivity will start to build. And as your productivity gains momentum, you’ll find your stress and sense of overwork will fall away – no technology required.

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