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February 3, 2011, Sponsored by RMC Project Management, Inc.

From the Editor

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most frequent questions we get revolve around how to be a better project manager -- how to be sure we're doing the job right, how to understand what our true role is, how to understand whether we're doing enough, or too much, how to keep everyone talking and collaborating and sane and get the project done. We love getting these questions of course; it's why ProjectConnections exists. But it's a truism of any service industry that if one person is asking, at least ten others are thinking it. We've been hearing these far more frequently for the last few weeks, so we decided to devote this issue to the answers. We hope they'll address some of the questions that have been on your mind, but if we missed anything, just ask! We're always happy to help.

Executive View

Avoiding "Spirit-Killing" Project Management
by Cinda Voegtli

Cinda Voegtli Someone once asked me, "How do I know whether I'm using 'just enough' project management on my project?"

My thoughts went immediately to the environments I've witnessed or experienced on projects, because the use of too much or too little project management typically shows up in the emotional state of the team. I refer to the use of too much project management as "spirit-killing project management." Sounds horrible, doesn't it? Well it really should, since in the end it can produce the exact opposite of the results we want.

My first experience with spirit-killing PM was as a line manager in charge of a hardware engineering department in a start-up. We were bought by another company, and right away we were sent our very own project manager! But rather than feeling a sense of help and support, I remember feeling a sense of immediately being weighed down by all the pieces of paper that were suddenly thrown at me as "must-dos." I frankly didn't see the need. We had managed just fine before this. It just seemed like a lot of busy work for someone else's benefit, not something that would help me and the team.

Not an auspicious introduction to formal project management. "No value added" is the initial impression I had. And it did deflate me, energy-wise. Now, on top of everything else I had to get done, I had to do some useless paperwork for someone else.

I've hit this again and again in environments where people are diligently and with the best of intentions trying to bring more project management discipline to the company's work. The reception can be chilly at best! Although sometimes that resistance is unreasonable, sometimes it may have to do with how well we're attempting to apply techniques to specific projects. I've also seen spirit-killing PM attempts totally turn around, due to someone recognizing the counterproductive nature of what was happening and engaging the team to come up with something that would work. Read the rest »

Featured Article

Avoiding Stone Age Practices in the Age of the Internet
by Kimberly Wiefling

Kimberly Wiefling The widespread availability of inexpensive, even free, internet-based collaboration tools has made working with people scattered around the planet relatively easy compared to even a few years ago. (In the not-so-distant past I was sending memory sticks of big files to Japan through the physical mail!) Today, wikis, Skype, and shared document services such as Sharefile, Dropbox, or Box.net have given even small companies like mine the ability to do business around the globe almost effortlessly -- at least from an IT standpoint. And yet I'm personally aware of large, so-called global businesses that are still hampered by issues like these.

Naturally, my suggestions to explore using commonly available tools like Google Sites (Google's version of a wiki), Skype (free videoconferencing), and cloud file storage tools are met with the standard retort: "Our IT group won't let us use that due to security issues." Point well taken. Security is certainly a valid consideration. But so is getting our work done, eh? And if email were invented today, I am quite sure it would be forbidden by IT departments worldwide due to similar concerns, as would credit cards (they track everything we do!) and cell phones (and they know where we are!). Perhaps I'll be deluged by responses full of cautionary notes, but I personally would prefer an onslaught of email answering the question, "What would make it possible?" Read the rest »

Reader Question

Q: I'm new to Project Management. Can you tell me where I can go in the ProjectConnections site to start learning about the project management activities, roles, etc. in a systematic way? I need a roadmap which will help me easily slip into the shoes of a project manager.

A: Far and away the best resource we can direct you to for detailed, basic project management activities is our New Project Manager Fast Track. This page is all about helping the new project manager (whether or not they actually have that formal title) get oriented to the role, understand all the activities and how they relate, and figure out how to do the job. We place a special focus on understanding the real purpose of the activities, and how to avoid getting bogged down in bureaucratic paperwork and documentation for the sake of documentation.

In particular, start with the first section of the Fast Track, Understanding the Role. There are several Burning Questions linked there that will give you a rough outline of what to expect. From there, you'll probably want to read down to the next section, Running Projects, which takes you step-by-step through the typical phases of project management and the practical issues that you're likely to encounter. Read the rest »

Site Highlights

Resources for New Project Managers

Project Manager/Team Leader Description: Roles & ResponsibilitiesSPECIAL
This Premium resource is free to registered Members until February 17!
Not sure what it really means to be a good PM? You're not alone. You'd probably be surprised at the skills that your executives and other higher-ups really value in a project manager. What's even more surprising is that some PMs go years -- even decades! -- without understanding these things. This guideline provides an overview of the PM role from the ground up and from the top down, along with extensive executive feedback about what they envision when they think "great PM." The paperwork, as you'll see, is pretty much at the bottom of the list.

Getting Relevant to Get ResultsMEMBER
"Nothing but bureaucratic overhead." Not a fun description of the job, but sometimes, when we're all caught up in our processes and their inherent worth, it's not an inaccurate description. The key is not to abandon all sense of process, but to make sure our processes are relevant (and if possible, nearly invisible) to the people doing the work of the project. This paper by Cinda Voegtli addresses the issue of project manager relevance from both sides of the fence, and proposes some practical techniques for bridging the chasm.

Adapting Processes for Different ProjectsPREMIUM
Make the process work for people, not the other way around. You don't have to be a slave to what's in the big process binder -- you know, the one that no one opens anyway, because even lifting it is too much effort. This guideline shows how several organizations have adapted their processes to fit different kinds of projects, and how they conveyed where the flexibility existed, and where the process really did matter. Study it for ideas about how you can cut corners "legally" in your organization, and start a dialog with someone in the PMO or in management if it's necessary to get the flexibility you need to do the job well.

Resources for People Managing Project Managers

Project Manager/Team Leader SelectionPREMIUM
Set your PMs and their teams up for success by making sure that you're assigning the right person for the project. This worksheet will help you evaluate candidates for a given project or position based on a variety of criteria -- including leadership, management skills, communication, and domain knowledge -- as they pertain to a given project.

PM Coaching GuidelinesPREMIUM
Whether you're coaching a project manager through their first project, or their first in a new domain, make sure you both understand how the arrangement will work, and how to get the most out of it. This guideline illustrates how to set up a coaching arrangement with another PM so you can help them get their project across the finish line and still have time to work on yours.

Project Process Philosophy ChartPREMIUM
If your organization is kindly described as "process averse," this chart can help you explain that the process does have some inherent worth. It's just one page long, so it will fit in a slideshow or in a desk chart. Use it to convey why the process is important, how it helps, and how specific deliverables support various important goals during each project phase. What's more, understanding how the process matters and helps can make it easier for everyone to see the places where the process isn't necessarily helping and can be trimmed -- or even eliminated -- to make things easier on everyone.

Premium How-To Course

Project Plans as a Thinking Tool: – The Project Plan, and the Process to Get TherePREMIUM
Cinda Voegtli, founder and CEO of ProjectConnections.com
1.25 Category A (formerly Category 3) PDUs

So you need to plan a project. What does that really mean? In spite of what many people think, a project plan is far more than just a schedule, and certainly far less than a book. Above all, project plans are -- or should be -- a thinking tool to help you and your team get started well.

This course by ProjectConnections CEO Cinda Voegtli walks you through what's included in a useful project plan (and what isn't) and explains how to get the most out of this critical project management document. Drawing on her extensive experience, Cinda also illustrates how the process -- and the plan document -- may vary for different kinds or sizes of projects, and why that is not only acceptable, but recommended. Learn More »

Where's ProjectConnections?

Kent McDonald will speak at Software Development Conference (SDC) 2011. SDC is being held at Wellington, New Zealand March 21 - 22, 2011 and Sydney, Australia March 24 - 25, 2011. At both locations, Kent will present Strategically Speaking: Why Are We Doing This Again? and Is It Worth It? Using a Business Value Model to Guide Decisions.

Corporate Subscriptions and Licensing

Want your team members to have their own access to templates and how-to resources for their project work? Need to share documents and deliverables beyond your project team? We make it easier with affordable corporate subscriptions and licensing. Detailed information regarding corporate options is available online. Give your whole team, or even the entire organization, cost-effective access to our comprehensive online library of resources. You already know how helpful it's been for you. Now it's time to share with everyone else. Find out more »

Not sure if corporate terms apply to you? Check out our licensing terms at the top of our Terms of Service page, in refreshingly ordinary, everyday English.


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