Sunday, February 27, 2011

Key to success: preparation

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I've watched today "The Mechanic" with Jason Statham in the main role, as a paid killer. As always, ingenious ways of making the most well guarded people lose their defence, and get them killed, and a lot of action and muscles.

One quote though raised my attention and was a guiding line throughout the whole action: "amat victoria curam", or "victory goes to those who prepare", or... in order to succeed, you must first prepare. It is not a new discovery, just a restatement of something that we've known since ever, and that we always forget about in the rush of our lives. So I am not going to teach you how to leave your life...

When we try to apply this principle to project management, it becomes obvious that this is what we have to do, and this is what the theory states so boldly. When preparing for the PMP certification, for example, the topic where you spend most of your time is on planning: you have to plan everything: your resources, your communication, your financial, your procurement, the quality, the acceptance, and of course the risk.

It is important to leave nothing to chance, and try to foresee almost everything about your project. You also need to find the right balance between planning and execution, of course - if you spend most of your time in planning, and thinking about what might go wrong, it's not good - but rushing into execution is as dangerous.

But... what is the right amount of time to spend in each phase of the project? There are many answers to this question, and - depending of the project type, domain, business needs, clarity of objectives, existing expertise - you might spend anything between 10% to 30% in drafting your plan.

What I usually do is plan the major milestones of the project, and go down into the details of the first phase, and maybe the second one as well, and the rest stays a little bit in the fog. As the project progresses, you will uncover more details, you will better understand the project environment, your stakeholders, the expectations, and you will be able to detail each phase.

During the project plan development (and as the project progresses), it is important to review your assumptions, and make sure that they still hold true - or re-assess them. You should avoid being too over-confident about your plan, as circumstances can become deceiving. Use the incremental development method, in a rolling wave style, and your project will be a successful one.

Coming back to the movie, you might believe that finally the son of McKenna has accepted that Arthur has killed his father and he's fine with that - but the end proves it completely wrong. No, I won't spoil the ending, I let you watch it first.

Oh, one last point: you should not confuse planning with scheduling: you should start the scheduling only when you are done with the planning, and you know WHAT you want to schedule. You need to decide WHAT your project is about and HOW you want it done, before scheduling all steps.

What are are success factors, from your point of view?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Motivation Reward Compensation

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We talk a lot about what are the best ways to keep our employees motivated, and which would be the most appropriate way of rearding the good and top performers, in a manner that continues to be attractive to them year over year.

In order to better understand the motivators behind each of my team members, I've started with an open discussion about what motivates them. One or two told me that indeed salary is a motivator, and as we digged further more we have uncovered that money was actually only the means to attain some of their objectives.

Returning to my initial question, we have uncovered quite a few interesting motivation drivers for each of them, quite unique from one individual to the other, and not so much related to money as you might think.

Here is what made it to the list from some of them:
- travel opportunities (for job purposes)
- access to knowledge (technical trainings or materials, time to do self-study)
- formal recognition of their performance (email to officials, some internal prizes, just a pat on the back)
- team members (the atmosphere at work, collaboration) and the ability to choose them
- pleasant environment (although ranked quite low overall by all employees)
- career development opportunities and options
- fairness in conversations
- constant feedback
- work-life balance
and the list continues.

I was quite amazed to see what was actually important to each of them - as this has also helped me in re-directing my efforts into creative ways of recognizing their achievements in a way that was actually meaningful to them.

There is also a downside to this approach, if you as manager fail to take into account their motivator factors, and do the same things after having discussed with the employee about it. One approach that I've used was to let them know immediately if something was not really possible, now or never, so that we were aligned.

Another thing to take into account: the motivators may change over time, and you should re-check their relevancy after some while. Many factors can be "blamed" for this, to count only progress of the individual (maturity, personal life changes), changing needs, other opportunities etc.

What's your approach to motivation and reward? What worked, what didn't?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Is this IMPORTANT? or just URGENT?

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Our life is inevitably assaulted with urgent, important or both urgent & important requests. Nothing is no longer unimportant, almost nothing can wait until tomorrow, everything has to be done TODAY, NOW, IN THIS SECOND. Like reading this post :-) You just couldn't stop clicking on it.

And you did well, as I'm going to share you the secret of sorting out between all these concurrent requests, separating Urgent from Important, putting them in the right order and making everybody happy. And if there are still some guys mumbling, it's just because they did not know the most important thing: what's important FOR YOU.

Yes, it all starts with YOUR priorities, with what you want to achieve, and not with what others want from you. But how do you distinguish between the two?

You might want to classify as IMPORTANT what helps you reach your own goals, and as URGENT what helps others.
IMPORTANT is also something that has to be done at some point in time - maybe not right now, but you would better give it enough time or otherwise will fall under IMPORTANT & URGENT.

It happened to me just this week: I had to do an analysis to evaluate some options, and - while I knew it was IMPORTANT - I kept postponing it (due to more urgent requests), until my boss said it's becoming URGENT... not great, as I had to work longer hours just to finish it.

Also, IMPORTANT does not mean it will take a lot of time - but it might require some focus, and some careful thinking about the best approach to do it.

On the other hand, URGENT is something important for the others - just like the above IMPORTANT in my example was suddenly urgent for him.

URGENT is also when it has to be now or never, like a fire burning, or child crying, or a birthday you forgot about :-) and you need a present.

My suggestion for you on how to manage this delicate balance between URGENT and IMPORTANT:
- make sure you keep an eye on your priorities
- maybe the urgent can be: delayed, delegated, changed
- understand the why's behind every request - you might be solving the wrong problem
- put some deadlines (or intermediate milestones) on your IMPORTANT. When deadline is there, the IMPORTANT becomes both IMPORTANT and URGENT. With no deadlines, you might procrastinate, and never get it done.

I have also learned that no matter how well you plan your time, the unpredictable will happen, so save some time in your calendar for the unknowns.

What does your system look like?