Bangers and Mash

August 19, 2016

Now if you are from the UK you will 100% know what I am talking about, and if you are from Canada, Australia or New Zealand (I am reliably informed) you will also have a good chance of knowing what ‘bangers and mash’ are. But, if you are from elsewhere and haven’t had the personal pleasure of enjoying a mouthful of ‘bangers and mash’ (tasty) then you are probably completely confused.

For the record, ‘bangers and mash’, also known as sausages and mash, is a traditional British dish made up of mashed potatoes and (typically) fried sausages.

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The sausage part (or ‘banger’) may consist of a variety of sausage flavours made of pork or beef or a perhaps even a Cumberland sausage (if you are being posh) and the dish is sometimes served with onion gravy, fried onions, baked beans, or peas, preferably – in my personal case with ‘mushy peas’. And so we are off again aren’t we? You have no idea what mushy peas are do you? Sorry, go look it up on the world-wide web of wonder.

Why ‘banger’ I hear you ask? Well, the term is attributed to the fact that sausages made during World War I, when there were meat shortages, were made with such a high water content that were very liable to pop under high heat when cooked, whereas modern day sausages don’t have this attribute, they just sizzle, delightfully so.

I wrote an article a while ago on ‘The Business of Meaningless Words’, about the growth in bland tired and need-to-be retired clichés LinkedIn Article but there is another aspect to such ‘code’ that isn’t meaningless but still needs to be known, or translated, in order to communicate efficiently.

‘Bangers and mash’ for example is not shorthand for ‘sausages and mash’ but rather an alternative term, colloquial, perhaps even slang, but still if you say started work in an English pub that both served good beer and ‘pub grub’ food then you would need to know what it was for sure. I’d be in there ordering it!

PMI’s White Paper on Communication states ‘Communication is what allows projects — and the organization — to function efficiently. Conversely, when key players at any level fail to deliver their end of the communication bargain, projects face unnecessary risks’

And one of the levels of failure can be in not explaining terms to people who do not know them and, here’s the balance, asking what terms mean if you don’t know them or understand their meaning.

See what I did there? Yes, it is a two-way responsibility. Explain, don’t assume understanding together with ask, don’t fake understanding.

Got it? Excellent.

Right I’m off for a quick bevvy, and fancying a nice plate of bubble and squeak for supper with perhaps a chip butty on the side[1]. How about you?

 

 

 

Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion-dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com  – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

[1] You have no idea what they are either do you? Go look it up on the world-wide web of wonder.

Life or Laptop

August 12, 2016

In my bestselling book ‘The Lazy Project Manager[1]’ I have one chapter entitled ‘Breathe Normally’ where I describe the following situation:

You are on yet another flight, either to or from your latest project engagement, somewhere in the world. Maybe you have been lucky, maybe the flight is on time and you know your luggage is safely stored in the overhead locker, you are not seated in the middle seat between two sumo wrestlers with body odour and this flight does offer complimentary in-flight beverages.

You settle back in your seat and begin to drift in to that ‘yet another flight’ snooze, vaguely aware that the cabin crew member is, for the one thousandth time, explaining to you how to complete that complex conundrum of buckling and unbuckling your seat belt. You begin to disengage from the world around you…

But wait! The lady in the uniform, vainly talking to everyone but knowing no-one is listening in return, is about to utter a supreme piece of wisdom.

In the event of an emergency, an oxygen mask will drop in front of you from the panel above. Place the mask over your mouth and nose, straighten out the strap, and pull the strap to be sure it is tight on your face. After you are wearing it securely, a tug on the hose will start the oxygen flow. It makes sense to put your own mask on first, before helping others. Breathe normally.

Breathe normally.

To begin with I used to think that this was the craziest thing possible to say. If I was ever on a flight where the oxygen masks were to drop down you can be sure that I would place the mask over my face, pull the strap as tight as possible, tug the hose until I felt the sweet taste of oxygen flowing. But the last thing I would do would be to breathe normally. I would breathe like it was my last moments on this earth (or air at this point, earth presumably about to enter the equation in a rather nasty crashing, crushing, exploding sort of way).

Breathe normally.

Not a hope in hell!

But actually breathing normally is really, really good advice. Being calm, wasting less energy, wasting less oxygen, thinking clearly and considering the situation in a reasonable, objective manner is absolutely what is most likely to help you to survive.

In the project world when all around you are going crazy with panic then breathing normally will allow you to consider the situation, assess the core issues, plan a response and carry out the actions with the minimum amount of effort and to the maximum effect.

Emirates_logo_svg

 

I was sadly reminded of this advice when I read about the crash of Emirates Flight 521 which was a scheduled international passenger flight from Thiruvananthapuram, India, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, operated by Emirates using a Boeing 777-300.

On 3 August 2016, the aircraft carrying 282 passengers and 18 crew crashed while landing at Dubai International Airport. All 300 people on board survived the accident and were safely evacuated from the aircraft. This, of course, is an excellent outcome considering what happened to the aircraft very shortly after the evacuation had been completed, and all credit to the crew for managing this situation.

Emirates is one of my preferred airlines and I have only positive experiences from the many miles I have journeyed under their care.

But there were some disturbing images recorded in the smoke filled plane with passengers attempting to retrieve luggage from the overhead compartments instead of focusing on the clear priority of getting everyone off the plane as quickly as possible. Perhaps this is human nature, certainly this is not the only example of this behaviour – other plane emergencies have experienced similar actions.

The thing is we all face priorities, daily, and we all have to make decisions, sometimes difficult ones, but rarely can you be faced with such a simple decision as in the case of EK521. There is nothing I own that outweighs my own life. Simple. And there is nothing I own that outweighs another person’s life either. Simple.

Breathing normally is critical and sometimes those decisions that you have to make, for yourself, and for those around you aren’t even decisions at all, there is only one answer.

Thoughts

Whilst no passenger died sadly Jassim Al Baloushi, a firefighter, died while battling the flames aboard Emirates flight EK521 and my thoughts go to his family for their loss.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, commented ‘We offer our condolences to the family and friends of the nation’s martyr and we pray Allah grant them patience and solace’.

Saif Al Suwaidi, director of the General Civil Aviation Authority, said: ‘I salute his ultimate sacrifice that kept many from harm’s way. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family’.

 

Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion-dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at http://www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/dp/1908984554/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_x_1LxRxb8Y62D8J

Presentation Counts

August 5, 2016

I was recently in a restaurant in a foreign land (well foreign to me of course but less so to the locals).

Lazy Peter Taylor

The location was good, the décor and ambience very acceptable, the company most enjoyable, and the snow fell softly outside providing a winter wonderland visual delight through the large windows.

But sadly all of that positive build-up for a great evening’s dining was almost outweighed by the food and service.

After an initial ordering experience the diners elected to eat the same main course but each agreed that the chef’s vegetable of choice for the evening was not to their personal liking. It was the humble Brussels sprout, a member of the brassica family that enjoys a somewhat tarnished image which, considering its status as a nutritional powerhouse, is perhaps a little unfair. Its reputation is perhaps mostly due to the great British Christmas Day cooking technique: take sprouts, cut, trim, boil until at least twice dead and then for five minutes more. Then, finally, pile into a large dish and leave – because nobody actually likes Brussels sprouts (at least not cooked this way).

Anyway the request was made to replace said evil vegetable with an alternative, and asparagus tips were requested. And so the meal continued through a mediocre appetizer and on until the main course finally arrived … without Brussels sprouts (the good news) but also without anything in their place as requested (the bad news).

The waiter was recalled and cajoled and encouraged to resolve this rapidly, at which the staff applied all of their skills and training, by ignoring us and disappearing. Eventually after a long period, during which most of the meal was consumed, the waiter did reappear and proceeded to almost, but not quite, save the entire situation.

With a silver platter and a silver fork of delicate proportions the waiter proceeded to ceremoniously, and with great flourish, place two small asparagus tips across the centre of each diner’s remaining half-eaten meal.

It was theatrical and exaggerated and, had it not been for the sheer humour of the whole thing, he may just have got away with it. Presentation can win the day.

There is an old story about a crisis in a company when it was discovered that one of their products was actually killing customers. This was a major issue and one that delivered headlines that were very bad news for the company. However a savvy and spirited marketing executive quickly went to work to resolve the situation. After a few days of bad publicity and press, with the death toll mounting, the marketeer launched a major fight back.

The first press release read ‘Company X extremely concerned for its customers…’

Sadly the problems continued and more customers met their maker as a result of the killer products. The bad publicity continued and the situation looked desperate.

The marketing executive did not walk away from the challenge nor did he give up the battle. He worked late into the night thinking blue sky thoughts about a solution to this issue and finally came up with a plan.

The next day a press release was delivered to the world at large that simply read ‘Company X sees a massive reduction in dissatisfied customers…’

It is all in the presentation and in turning negatives in to positives.

Our waiter tried but just failed; he couldn’t carry it off completely and is probably from Barcelona anyway (yes that is a Fawlty Towers[1] reference and not an insult to wonderful Barcelona, one of my favorite cities).

As a project manager you have to be calm, confident, assured and in control at all times. There will be times when you need to recover from sticky situations and on those occasions you need to have the skill to find the positive and the will to present it convincingly.

Presentation counts!

 

 

[1] Fawlty Towers is a British sitcom produced by BBC Television and first broadcast on BBC2 in 1975 and 1979. Twelve episodes were made (two series, each of six episodes). The show was written by John Cleese and his then wife Connie Booth, both of whom also starred in the show.

The series is set in Fawlty Towers, a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay, on the “English Riviera”. The plots centre around rude and deranged manager Basil Fawlty (Cleese), his bossy wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), a comparatively normal chambermaid Polly (Booth), and hapless Spanish waiter (from Barcelona) Manuel (Andrew Sachs) and their attempts to run the hotel amidst farcical situations and an array of demanding and eccentric guests.

In a list drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted by industry professionals, Fawlty Towers was named the best television series of all time.

 

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion-dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

Warning Signs Your Sponsor Doesn’t Care About the Project—and How to Change That

July 8, 2016

Critical to any projects success is having a good project manager we all know but after that then it is pretty important to have a good project sponsor, in fact it can be argued that the project sponsor is the more critical role; but, like the saying goes, ‘you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your relatives’ and the same is true of project sponsors.

There are many ‘types’ of project sponsor and some are really good at what they do but most can, at best, be described as the ‘accidental project sponsor’ – never having been trained, supported, or advised as to what is expected of them.

In ‘Strategies for Project Sponsorship’ the authors offer advice on many types of sponsor with suggestions for ways to work with them, or compensate for their ‘skills’ or ‘interest’ gaps. They also speak of the concept of a ‘balanced sponsor’ – being involved in the project, being objective about the project, being supportive of the project, and being reactive to project needs.

If your sponsor offers none of these key attributes and remains distant from the project, disengaged and/or disinterested, then first you need to find out the root cause:

  • Do they not know how to act as a project sponsor?
  • Or do they not believe in the project and don’t want to be associated with it in any way?

Test the reality with a one-on-one with the sponsor. If they are willing to give you time for such a meeting then it may be more a case of the former in which case:

  • Speak honestly about the issues that you are facing and the challenges your project is dealing with as a consequence of their lack of involvement.
  • Discuss what is expected of project sponsors and what the business also expects.

If it is the second reason then go back to the business case and explore the original thinking:

  • Did they have concerns at the start about the business case – and if so what were they?
  • Or do they see the role of the sponsor as a nuisance that is an added burden to an already busy schedule?

Based on this understanding you can plan a means to re-engage the sponsor if possible, and if not you need to plan to ‘fill the gap’ through your own efforts and any additional executive support you can obtain.

It has been said that ‘A project is one small step for the project sponsor, one giant leap for the project manager’ – but wouldn’t we all be that much happier if that ‘giant leap’ was supported by a really focused and competent project sponsor?

 

 

 

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

Sharing Economy at work?

July 3, 2016

A guest post by my friends at Genius Project

The phenomenon of the sharing economy can be attributed to the likes of some popular names such as Uber and Airbnb.

The magazine Alternatives Economiques, defines it as people creating value together. This form of economy is actually developing itself in the context of social media and internet platforms. Sharing cabs, exchanging homes, sharing knowledge, borrowing supplies, sharing meals…the list is long.

Does this sharing economy have an impact on working styles?

And, what are we really sharing at work?

The question may sound naive, but it’s a question worth asking. Phone lines, emails, open workspaces…it looks like, especially in smaller companies, it’s becoming easier to share information and data. In theory, employees in an organization collaborate several times around a project. They share and comment on documents (the description of a document for example), analyze the results (if project X was not delivered successfully, we have to evaluate the reasons before launching a new project with the same partner), compare status progress (if the drawing phase is not finished, no need to launch the production), or share information on team member availabilities (if X is working on Project A this week, he will only be able to complete project B next week). The reality is in fact, quite different. We often observe that information and data are not reaching everyone in the company. The information and documents can be modified and evolve during a project. Documents can arrive with wrong information, become restricted or even disappear. The consequences are often late delivery, reduced efficiency or even disappearing information.

If our everyday lives are sharing oriented, the reality in the workplace is actually quite different. The early 2000s, we saw the development of social networks in the private sector. In 2016, we see these practices slowly making their way in the professional sphere.

When Facebook implemented Facebook @ Work, Microsoft deployed Yammer and Salesforce developed Chatter, enterprise 3.0 is gaining ground. Companies are offering more solutions in order to facilitate communication and increase collaboration within the company. A great example is JC Decaux, who recently replaced its intranet with a social platform. Software providers are now adding social functions to each of their solutions. Genius Project project management software, now has its own social collaboration platform. With Genius Live!, collaborators publish information relevant to their projects on a common wall. Documents are easier to share and emails are less in number. Social networks close the geographic gap between employees in different time zones. The company can then foster collaboration methods and share best practices. The corporate culture is also growing thanks to this collaborative innovation plan. Collaboration is part of the digital transformation. This transformation is moving full steam ahead.

Companies seek to work better together and to improve their productivity. The practices from the private sector arrive in the professional world. Now, to your posts…

To know more about Genius Project and its collaboration tools: http://www.geniusproject.com

Simply the Best

June 24, 2016

There was a very famous (at least in the UK) advertisement for a type of beer that is brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast at lower temperatures and for longer durations than those typically used to brew ales – I of course mean lager. Now, for those of you who may never have seen this advertisement, then the ‘joke’ was that whilst it was not allowed to declare that the goods a company sold and promoted were the best this Danish brewer (and their ad agency) came up with the tagline that their lager was ‘probably the best lager in the world’. Very clever – ‘probably’ the best.

Now The Lazy Project Manager received an accolade recently that, on the face of it may appear to be the exact opposite of such high praise and declaration, but which is, in my humble opinion, exactly that – high, high praise indeed. Better than even ‘probably’ the best.

With the benefit of the international success of The Lazy Project Manager book I have been extremely fortunate to secure speaking engagements in many parts of the world (still not Iceland though…hint, hint).

Now as part of this process you can get such speaking bookings typically in two ways. Someone finds you or has seen you speak, and contacts you to request your time or you submit, through some form of paper submission, an offer to speak at a future event. For example this is how the PMI Congress system works – you submit an outline presentation and, if they like the sound of it (and you) PMI request a full paper and presentation etc. Many events use such a mechanism.

So I considered a project management event in a certain part of the world and thought a) this would be good to promote The Lazy Project Manager in a new location and b) the place in question was a very attractive place to go to. This event required would-be speakers to submit a paper and once this was done that paper would be reviewed by 3 ‘peers’ in a blind review process. That is they don’t know who you are and you don’t know who they are.

All good so far and something I had done a number of times before (with a good success rate).

And so I duly submitted a ‘paper’ based on ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ to this certain event.

Now I absolutely freely admit that it was not a ‘paper’ in the official sense of the word. It was, in fact. an exact replica of a submission that gave me the opportunity to speak at a number of events around the world

This time it was not to be – my submission was rejected.

I was not overly surprised that my paper was rejected; the submission process and structure demands were a little more rigid than I had encountered beforehand, and – as I have already mentioned and come clean about – I didn’t make any additional efforts to enhance my existing paper or presentation in this particular case.

As a result I won’t be going to the ‘XXXXX’ Conference in ‘XXXXX’ after all. Not a big problem.

I was, however, a little surprised at the final review comment. As I mentioned you got three blind reviews in this process and the purpose is to a) assess for inclusion in to the event and b) offer guidance to improve the paper for a potential future submission. In my case two reviewers offered some guidance but for number three it was all too much.

What reviewer number three said was (and this is a direct quote here) ‘In short, it is among the worst paper I ever reviewed in my record’. Not even a ‘probably’ the worst – it was the worst. I am not sure they were supposed to make such an emotive declaration but they obviously felt that they had better things to do in life.

And the result?

I was a happy man.

Why aren’t I upset I hear you ask?

I had clearly plumbed new and so far unknown depths for good old reviewer number three and they just wanted to let me know – loud and clear. Well mission accomplished but I am really fine about it.

Here’s why.

Can the minority be right when the majority disagree?

Several thousand copies of The Lazy Project Manager sold around the world. 25,000 plus people have so far listened to me present and argue the value of ‘Productive Laziness’. I have had many, many great and positive points of feedback. And the world, it appears, wants to be lazy.

Is this what I aimed for?

Now, the book was conceived and written to be the antidote to the deep, dark and often depressing tomes on project management theory. It was about project management practice. It was a guide to real life project managers to help them manage themselves in a way that would ease their working life. It is about reality. And it was written to be read – easily read – and if easily read then the lessons, I hope, just as easily learnt.

‘Probably’ exactly what it is supposed to be.

It was never meant to be the subject of ‘papers’ and deeply researched matters; it was meant for the masses and the ‘coalface’ project managers.

So I thank you Reviewer number three – I salute your wisdom – and I appreciate the affirmation that I am pitching the message at the right (and useful) level.

‘The worst paper I ever reviewed’ means that I am speaking to the people I wanted to speak to – I am using the language that I wanted to use to reach these people, the project managers of the world.

The Lazy Project Manager is ‘Simply the best’, and by that I mean is it written ‘simply’ in a style that is accessible to all and it is the ‘best’ that I could do to share my experience and whatever wisdom I have gleaned on the way through project life.

I have no idea who reviewer number three is but I thank them and, should they ever wish to get in direct contact, then a copy of The Lazy Project Manager is theirs as a further ‘thank you’. They reaffirmed a key message in good communication.

‘If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words’ Cicero, Roman orator and statesman.

The Art of Productive Laziness: Simply the best.

Long may it continue – it is ‘probably’ the most ‘lazy’ thing in the world.

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

Communication Breakdown

June 17, 2016

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‘If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words’ Cicero, Roman orator and statesman.

The would be ‘lazy’ project manager will think very, very carefully about what they need to communicate and how they need to communicate it and why they are communicating what they are communicating.

The general guidance is that some 70-80% of a project manager’s time will be spent in communicating. That is 70-80% of their time!

So, if you play the productive lazy game at all, and you only apply it in one area of project management it makes blinding sense to do it here, in communication. This is by far the biggest activity and offers the greatest opportunity of time in the comfy chair.

Imagine if you would able to save some of that 70-80% of your time, how much more relaxed would you be?

There is, to my mind, a great book – Alpha Project Managers by Andy Crowe[1] – it talks about ‘what the top 2% know that everyone else does not’ and it certainly identifies communication as a key area that top project managers excel at.

The book, based on a survey of 5,000 project managers, states in its findings:

‘Good communication is comprised of more than how the message is delivered. The information itself, the method used, and the timing with which it is delivered all contributes to effective communication.’

Communication on a project is a two way process. You are communicating out and you are receiving communication back at you and the usual complexities of filters and noise typically confuse the process of giving and receiving clear, accurate and understandable information.

Communication is also sequential, communicated through chains of people, which will add that ‘Chinese whispers’ effect – either intentional or accidental.

Add to that the sheer volume of communication these days, email, phone calls (landline and mobile), written, presented, verbal and so on, then life can be very tough for project managers to learn what they need to learn and to share what they need to share.

I was taught a truth in my early project management days – reporting is not communicating! The fact that the critical facts and important truths are buried somewhere in a report that the right people may be in possession of does not, in any way, mean that they have received the message.

I have also learnt that to waste time and effort in ‘defensive’ and ‘offensive’ communication, typically email these days, is truly pointless and will distract the project manager from the real issues. I know building an email trail that, to put it bluntly, ‘covers your ass’ is easy to do but far better results can come from directing those same efforts in really effective communication.

Effective communication is about isolating the critical information, utilising the optimum communication method for the person (or people) that you need to communicate with, and delivering that information at the appropriate time. I would also add that to ensure that you receive the right information back to you then you need to educate people on what information you need, how you would like to receive that information and when.

Understand how communication works

Now; you can go and do your homework, you can read a book, you can attend a course, you can ‘Google‘ to your heart’s content, and you will find lots and lots and lots of information about communication[2]. I really don’t want to get too technical here but simply put, and just so that you have a basic understanding, here is a summary:

There is a source – someone/something sending out the information.

There is the medium – this is the means by which the information is sent. Maybe this is spoken or electronic (email, fax, web etc) or through the telephone, maybe it is paper based (letter, poster, memo, post-it etc), or it could be an image or visual, or a sound. It can actually be silent through a look, a smell, body language, colours, or the arrangement of text (numbers or letters).

Right then we have what is known as the receiver – someone/something that is receiving the information…

And the final part of the process is feedback – the source will not know whether the communication that has been sent has been successfully received unless some feedback is received (some action or change in behaviour).

OK, got that, easy? Well no, there is a little more (well lots more if you study the topic properly).

Communication is just not simple, there are lots of different types of medium by which to send information and the way that the receiver understands the information might be very different to that which was intended. Most of us will have received a text message from someone that was taken to mean something completely different to what was intended for example, the same can applied to email.

On top of all that there are actually barriers to communication that can add to the challenge of communicating in successful and clear way. These can include:

  • Language (you are communicating between speakers of different languages or, if in the same language there may be an imbalance in the level of those language skills, or local dialects may be in place)
  • Content (maybe there is some ‘deep space’ technical content involved or acronyms or just long words that not everyone understands. Another variant of this are the levels of knowledge and expertise of the sender and the receiver)
  • Understanding or the lack of understanding of what the receiver wants or needs (how they wish to be communicated with and what they want to communicated)
  • Feedback (there can be a level of inadequate feedback, or none at all – have you ever been on those long conference calls where nobody says anything apart from the speaker?)
  • Emotional – your very mood can cause communication interference (if you are angry or upset)
  • Quality of the information being sent
  • The medium used (resigning from your job by text is not advised for example)
  • Lack of trust or honesty in the source
  • Lack of attention from the receiver (maybe a matter of priority, the status of the source or just poor listening skills)
  • Cultural differences

There are so many that it is amazing that we can communicate as well as we do on a daily basis.

Well often I fail at this. For example, telling my three boys it is time for bed should be easy. ‘Children, it is time for bed’ – job done. In reality, they will be watching the TV or on their laptops or playing their game machines, or more typically doing all three at the same time. I will be somewhere else in the house and they won’t be listening anyway and even if they did, they would be filtering me out because they don’t want to hear this particular piece of information. And so it results in the message being sent many times, at varying ranges and volume (and accompanied by increasing threats/incentives).

Be honest and be open

So having solved all the above challenges on communication I would suggest that in order to keep the levels of successful and productive communication high then it is very important that you are both honest and open in all of your communications. Even if you cannot share everything with others you can at least be open and say that that is the situation and why.

Be honest and keep your promises, do what you say you are going to do, deliver what you say you are going to deliver. Trust is critical. The lack of trust or honesty in the source (you) is, as we have already seen, one of the barriers to communication. But if you fail someone then they are not only likely to resist future communications they are less tolerant on understanding such communications.

And finally honesty in communication should also extend to not overpromising or ‘overselling’ anything.

There is very good Swedish saying ‘Sälj inte skinnet förrän Björnen är skjuten’ which roughly translated means ‘Do not sell the skin before the bear is shot’. What is the point in successfully communicating to someone and overcoming all of the challenges that that entails, only to communicate something that isn’t even true?

Communicate in the modern way

Now I get started on the modern world. The world of emails and texts and electronic information, the world of mobile phones and Blackberry’s, the world of conference calls and webinars, the world of almost instant communication. Shouldn’t it be easy these days?

Well ‘yes’ but also ‘no’, and the ‘no’ is mainly because of three factors. One is the massive reduction in non-visual communication – email, text, phone, conference calls etc – and the less visual activity (both sending and feedback) the greater the risk of misunderstanding. You know we even try and compensate for this – think of the ‘smiley’ faces we add to emails and texts for example. Secondly there is an equally massive rise in the sheer volume of communication each day – how many emails do you get each and every day? And thirdly, the speed of communication development means less time considering the receiver(s) – in the days of letter writing far more time was put in to constructing these forms of communication – how many times have read something you originally wrote some time later and thought ‘I didn’t mean that’ or how many times have you copied someone on an email without checking the email ‘trail’?

Effective but minimal communication is always recommended.

So my ‘Top 10’ tips on being ‘productively lazy’ when comes to communication:

  1. Understand how people, individuals, each want to be communicated with and adjust your style to suit them
  2. Explain to people how you yourself want (need) to be communicated with (and why)
  3. Prioritise communication targets (if you do get temporarily overloaded reduce your communication to this list)
  4. Validate that the communication you are providing is working for the receiver – in particular for critical information does written communication need to be supported by your spoken clarification?
  5. Delegate by plan – you have a project team so you don’t have to be involved in everything (decide what you can delegate ahead and make it happen)
  6. Filter – what you do get, don’t get involved in those communications that you don’t have to and someone has just copied you on and delegate at every opportunity
  7. Delegate by action – as and when you get new topics of communication always consider who else can do this for you (and then enforce that delegation)
  8. Enjoy the real benefits of Self Resolution (I am not saying don’t do your job but actually it is amazing how many ‘issues’ or ‘questions’ can be answered or resolved without you getting involved, don’t leap in immediately, give others a chance)
  9. Don’t get involved just because it sounds interesting – ask yourself ‘do I want to get involved’ and then ‘do I need to get involved’, get involved only if you answer ‘yes’ to both those questions
  10. And now on to email, lovely, lovely email – the features and functions of Outlook are many but I personally feel this leads to many forms of abuse
    1. Firstly I would say don’t just save it – edit it – filter it – summarise it – store it, and don’t store it in Outlook, put the essence of what the email is about somewhere else for later reference. Typically I have less than 20 emails in total in Outlook at any time, but I get a lot of emails each day. By keeping the list low it is easy to see new mails coming and to deal with them almost immediately, I never feel overwhelmed this way.
    2. Many people will disagree with me regarding emails but I personally find that ‘If you have to scroll you have lost control’ so you can forget all your fancy email rules and filters and the like, I would say just deal with them and move on.
    3. And do yourself and everyone else a favour, don’t copy people just because you feel like it, don’t create ever growing distributions lists, do remove people from email lists if you can (why reply to all every time – it is not necessary), don’t use blind copy, do remove email trails that are unimportant, and don’t copy yourself on emails (if you do feel you need that sort of audit trail you are probably screwed anyway)
    4. Last but not least, if you have to forward something to someone, think about it twice, read the entire email trail carefully, and then think about it on last time before pressing the ‘send’ button. Email is great, but use it wisely.

Communicate the communication plan

Every project should have a communication plan in place. Make sure that everyone knows what this plan is and how they should be contributing to it.

Also, validate its effectiveness on a regular basis, if it needs amending do so – and let everyone know.

Reporting is not communicating

Another well known project management law, Cohn’s law, sums this up so well. The more time you spend in reporting on what you are doing, the less time you have to do anything. Stability is achieved when you spend all your time doing nothing but reporting on the nothing you are doing’.

Putting together fantastically accurate and detailed reports and sending them to anyone and everyone, is most definitely not communicating. They won’t be read, no one has the time or interest to do this, and they won’t be valued and worse, when they do contain project critical information, they will be ignored. You are wasting your time.

Conclusion

The would be ‘lazy’ project manager should think very, very carefully about what they need to communicate and how they need to communicate it and why they are communicating what they are communicating.

Remember, the general guidance is that some 70-80% of a project manager’s time will be spent in communicating. That is 70-80% of your time!

So, if you play the productive lazy game at all, and you only apply it in one area of project management then apply it here, in communication. Save some of that 70-80% of your time by applying productive rules to all of your communication and you will see the benefit very quickly.

You will be able to successfully communicate what you need to in an easier way and leave yourself free to focus on all of the other aspects of project management, or even perhaps take it easy for a few moments – you deserve it!

[1] One of the best ways to improve your performance as a PM is to hear how the best already do it.

Imagine having access to the top project managers from organizations and industries around the world. Imagine uncovering what they do, how they approach their challenges, and what they know. This book gets you inside the minds of these top managers and shares their practices, their attitudes, and their secrets.

 

This groundbreaking work is based on The Alpha Study, a landmark survey of over 5,000 project managers and stakeholders. ISBN: 0972967338 http://www.velociteach.com/books/alpha.aspx

[2] Communication is the process whereby information is imparted by a sender to a receiver via a medium. Communication requires that all parties have an area of communicative commonality. There are auditory means, such as speaking, singing and sometimes tone of voice, and nonverbal, physical means, such as body language, sign language, paralanguage, touch, eye contact, or the use of writing. Communication is defined as a process by which we assign and convey meaning in an attempt to create shared understanding. This process requires a vast repertoire of skills in intrapersonal and interpersonal processing, listening, observing, speaking, questioning, analyzing, and evaluating.

 

Peter Taylor is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’.

In the last 4 years he has focused on writing and lecturing with over 200 presentations around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

Are your Project Managers working too hard to be effective?

June 10, 2016

The_Lazy_PM_2

‘Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.’ Robert Heinlein

During my time leading a number of PMOs across different organisations one thing was common across all of the project managers that worked under the PMO, and that was they generally could be placed in to two groups.

The first group was reasonably successful in leading projects to the point of delivery and sign off by the steering board and sponsor. But so too were the second group, they also led reasonably successful projects. The difference was in the time that they invested in doing this work. One group averaged a ‘normal’ working week (of course projects aren’t flat in their demand of project managers’ time investment but I am talking averages here) and the second group didn’t. They average many more hours.

The output was similar but the input was very different.

In my first book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ I advocated being a ‘lazy’ project manager but by that I meant a ‘productively lazy’ project manager. I didn’t intend that we should all do absolutely nothing and I wasn’t saying we should all sit around drinking coffee, reading a good book and engaging in idle gossip whilst watching the project hours go by and the non-delivered project milestones disappear over the horizon.  That would obviously be plain stupid and would result in an extremely short career in project management, in fact probably a very short career full stop!

No I really mean that we should all adopt a more focused approach to project management and to exercise our efforts where it really matters, rather than rushing around like busy, busy bees involving ourselves in unimportant, non-critical activities that others can better address, or indeed that do not need addressing at all in some cases.

The behavioural differences in those two groups of project managers was that the latter had not matured their project management style and failed often to delegate in the appropriate way, involved themselves in too much communication (often becoming a bottleneck slowing the communication process down) and placed themselves in the path of the majority of the decisions that needed to be taken (often becoming a bottleneck slowing the decision-making process down).

They were working very, very hard but they weren’t being really, really effective.

If you truly want to be a smart project manager, and to work in a more effective and efficient manner, then you need to start by asking yourself some fundamental questions when the next project comes along.

In ‘The Lazy Winner’, my second book on ‘productive laziness’ I talk about the 5 key tips or questions that everyone should ask themselves.

Tip #1: Do I want to do this piece of work, job or task etc? Even if I do want to do it, do I need to do it?

Don’t do something just because everyone else does it or because it is the ‘usual thing to do’. Just running with the pack is never going to allow you to take control of your own time and will only lead you in to over-commitments.

If you really want to change things for the better then begin by asking yourself two questions: ‘Is this really necessary?’ and ‘Is this really worth doing?’

If the answer is ‘no’ to either of these questions then simply don’t do it! Of course there will be times when you ignore this advice because you are compelled to get involved because ‘it is the right thing to do’ but really you need to make these exceptions just that, exceptional.

Challenge yourself the very next time you consider taking on some new work – ask those two critical questions ‘Do I need to get involved and do I want to get involved’. By addressing objectively the decision making process, rather than being swept up in enthusiasm, acceptance of delegation, or assumption that you do have to do something then you will be better prepared to a) do what is important and b) do a good job on what you accept is important.

Tip #2: Is the result or outcome worth my effort?

Only do the things with the most impact. It is all about applying the good old 80/20 rule. What are the most critical things that you need to get involved in? What is the 20% that will deliver the 80% of value (and not the other way around that most people do – often the easier actions that deliver a false sense of progress). Get the priorities right and you will achieve far more, and by prioritising this way and assessing if the outcome or output is worthwhile then you can help do what is most important.

Your time is limited (some people seem to believe that time is flexible and infinite but they also tend to over-promise and under-deliver) so invest it only in things that give you the most return on your personal investment. As with all of these guiding rules there will be exceptions but at least by starting with the all-important questions as and when you do ‘break the rules’ you will have done so with the right level of consideration and planning.

Tip #3: Do I have to do this myself?

Ask yourself if you really are the best possible person to do whatever it is that needs to be done or is there someone else in your network who is better qualified than you to do this thing? If there is then be generous and let them help you out.

The principle here is that allocating work to the best-suited person benefits everyone in the long run. Of course this cannot be done just to avoid work. You have to pick up some actions yourself.

The strength of saying ‘No’ should not be underestimated and saying ‘No’ can be a very positive thing, if you don’t say ‘No’, ever, then you will never achieve anything. There is the ‘what goes around comes around’ idea as well. Sometimes you shouldn’t say ‘no’ because despite the fact that you may not want to do something, need to do something and there is someone who could do it better, you do want to help out and be that team player or Good Samaritan.

Or, it is in your interests to take on a project so you can learn some new skills, in which case you may well not be the most obvious person for the job.

It is all about balance and priority. Overall you want to deal with the important stuff plus a reasonable amount of other stuff.

If you keep saying ‘yes’ then your backlog will never go down and you will spend far too much time working on the unimportant.

Tip #4: If you have to do it, then what is the shortest path to the point of success?

Don’t waste your time on the unnecessary. If it works in black and white don’t waste effort in creating a technicolour dream version of the same thing. What is the point after all if you are ‘just getting the job done’ (to the right quality level of course)?

Can you simplify it? Can you shorten it? If there’s something that you do that is complicated and difficult, find ways to make it easier and simpler. List the steps, and see which can be eliminated or streamlined. Which steps can be done by someone else or automated or dropped completely? What is absolutely the easiest way to do this?

Can it wait? Is it really needed when it is supposed to be needed? Will it impact on others if it waits? Sometimes, not always you understand, but just sometimes, not rushing into something can turn out to be a productively good thing as it turns out it didn’t matter anyway, or at least the need has gone away. We live in a complex world of interaction so at any given time just about everything is changing.

Do only the things that are necessary to get the job done. Cut everything else out!

Tip #5: What exactly is that point of success and at what stage will you just be wasting your time?

Having said take the shortest path to success there is a counter-argument that says can you make this of greater value in the long run. Can this be reused again and again? Can it have more value than just a ‘one-off’ piece of work? If it can, then scale it for a better return on investment.

To achieve project success in the most efficient way you always need to think ‘smarter and not harder’ and find that ‘productively lazy’ approach that will give you just as successful project together with a better work/life balance.

 

Bio

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com  – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

Executive Project Ownership

May 25, 2016

I need your help with the research for my new book ‘ How to avoid getting Fired at the ‘C’ Level’ (working title) – looking in depth at the reality of executive level engagement and understanding of the business change that they have ultimate responsibility for, through the project portfolio that they own, for the organisations that they lead.

Your privacy is guaranteed and therefore I would hope for a completely honest response to all questions; good, bad or otherwise, plus we are only talking about 10 questions and so barely 5 minutes of your valuable time is required.

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You can access the survey here https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Executive_Project_Ownership

 

Thank you.

 

Peter Taylor

 

‘The Lazy Project Manager’ – author, speaker and head of a global PMO

 

Project Branding

May 20, 2016

Extract from my book ‘Project Branding’ published by RMC Publications, Inc.

Project_Branding

The project name is important in setting the tone and personality of the project, and this name can be a powerful marketing tool, or even a major part of the brand for a significant project. The name should reflect the overall goals and objectives of the project—what the project is about and what it’s meant to deliver. Over time, people will subconsciously start to link the name to a set of associations they make with the project.

Consider, for example, “Project Phoenix” (how many of those have you come across?)—a good enough name and one that is often selected to show the desire to resurrect or improve some system or other. But (yes, there is a “but” in this case) what happens when the project hits issues? Then the jokes about “burning up” or “going to ashes” or “this bird is dead” might come thick and fast, and the project name becomes tainted.

In short, the project name is a valuable aid to communications inside and outside the project team. So it’s worth taking the time to think carefully about a suitable name for the project. Make sure the name conveys the following:

  • The “big idea.” What lies at the heart of the project change?
  • The vision for what this project will accomplish. Where are we going? What will the outcome be?
  • The principles behind the project. What are the key features/characteristics that will be reflected in the project deliverables?
  • The personality of the project. How do you want the project to be perceived?

Typically a name falls into one of the following four types:

Descriptive: These are names that simply say what the company or project actually does. For example, “Move” was used to label an office move, saying all that needed to be said about what was happening.

Evocative: Names in this category suggest associations with the project or company, but they don’t try to describe it precisely. For example, “Advance” is a project name that evokes thoughts of progress, things getting better, and advantage.

Abstract: These names are unusual (in the context in which they’re being used) and therefore stand out from the crowd. They make no clear reference to the nature of the project. For example, “Blue” was a project name that came about because the supplier’s primary color for their marketing material was blue, but the name eventually came to stand for a brighter horizon/future

Acronym (or abbreviation): These are contractions of a title or phrase based on the first letters of each word. The end result should be a name that is easier to say and recall than the full version, but one that still clearly relates to the organization, project, or item. A simple example might be “RED” (Rapid Enterprise Deployment), a memorable acronym with a suggestion of importance and criticality.

Here are some other tips to consider when choosing a project name:

  • First, when you are brainstorming or collecting ideas for a project name, you will need to filter the suggestions. You will need to imagine the name in various potential moments—both positive and negative—of the project’s future. How will the name stand up at these potential points in time? Will the name work in all extremes?
  • Then, ask yourself if the name is politically correct, and not just in your mind. Remember here to consider the full spectrum of stakeholders, too: both those closely related to the project and those more widely associated with the project. In these days of multi-country, multi-cultural projects, just be careful what you end up with when choosing a project name. The clever acronym that you have constructed in Portuguese or English might well be just that at home—a clever acronym. But in another country, it might just mean or translate into something completely different.
  • Make sure your project name is easy to pronounce. If people can’t say it, then they won’t use it. And make sure it isn’t awkward. Don’t, for example, misspell a word to fit an acronym. You will get fed up with people telling you that you have spelled it incorrectly.

Now, you do need to think through your project name carefully, but don’t overthink it either. Too much can be made of a project or product name, but many great names start out with humble and less thought-out origins. In the biography Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson describes how Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak discussed many options for company names, including “Matrix,” “Personal Computers, Inc.,” and “Executek.” Jobs, however, had just arrived back from working on a fruit farm. He suggested “Apple” and the rest, as they say, is history.

On the other side of the marketing coin, Apple experienced some issues with the pre-Macintosh PC when it was named “Lisa” (allegedly after Jobs’s daughter). The official company line was that it stood for “Local Integrated System Architecture,” and the unofficial one was that it stood for “Lisa: Invented Stupid Acronym.”

There is a wonderful Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams that starts with the news that the company has run out of acronyms, and so they can’t start any more projects. They can’t create any new acronyms either, because that would then be a project, and they can’t start a new project because . . .they’ve run out of acronyms!

So don’t push that one too far. Be creative, but don’t constrain yourself by trying to be too clever or to force something out as an acronym.

 


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