Thursday, 15 December 2011

Pastures New

It is now time to pack up my desk for the second time in the same year.  This is quite strange for me, even through I am a contractor.  Usually I will stay with a company for a year or more, meaning that I never pack up my desk more than once.  This contract was originally for three months, but has lasted six, with two additional extensions.

Yesterday I handed in my notice and have managed to persuade my client to release me tomorrow.  This means I can start my new contract on Monday, giving me eight days of work between now and the new year at the new client.  These eight days should be sufficient to get my feet under the table, understand the project(s) and to get an overall picture of the situation.

The new client is a Bank.  This will bring some increased awareness of risks, issues, overall communication and (of course) Red Tape.  I have already been warned that there will be many hoops to go through and paper work to complete to "get things done".  The upside of this, is that the design phase of all projects becomes a very important and extended phase, with the view that once the solution and plans are accepted, the project is set in stone.  As the Project Manager, it will then be my task (or head!) to make sure they stay on time, to plan and within budget.

I cannot wait.  Exciting times ahead...

Friday, 9 December 2011

What is required from a person to be an effective and effecient Project Leader?

An effective Project Manager has to be a strong communicator and leader. They must be open minded to change and far sighted for direction.  An effective Project Manager needs to ensure the project team have a synchronized mind-set and vision. Ensuring the team is on-board  trusting your planning skills and decision making ability is key to the success of project delivery.

A Project Manager must have the courage and ability to make a clear decision and decide on direction in the face of conflicting demands. To be an effective Project Manager, the following skills are required:

1. Communication
2. Direction
3. Vision
4. Motivation
5. Caring

Being an excellent communicator, both verbally and written are essential tools for an effective Project Manager. You must be able to reason with conflicting demands and to listen to all parties involved. Most projects will introduce change into a company and the Project Manager must facilitate all of the negotiations between the affected departments and teams. A clear project plan and presentation(s) will aid in the communication of both good and bad news and will help ease any misunderstanding from all stakeholders.

Part of the communication will require the Project Manager to set a clear picture of the direction of the project. The immediate future of the project will rely on a clear direction and plan from the Project Manager. An effective Project Manager will have the next 6 - 8 weeks planned out to show the direction of the project to all the stakeholders involved and will be a baseline indication of the project status. This must be regularly updated to show the progress and confirm that the direction is being followed as planned.

The Project Manager must have a clear vision of the goal of the project. This must be communicated tot he stakeholders and the project team to show that the Project Manager is in control of the final deliverables. A clear vision will include the steps of how the final goal will be achieved, but the smaller details must be given the appropriate level of attention in order to achieve the final output.

As the project progresses, the motivation of the team can become stretched. Some decisions will be required along the way and the project team may become de-motivated by issues that arise. It is the role of the Project Manager to keep the project team delivering and motivated throughout the project. At times, the team may be overloaded with work and other times they may be under-utilized, so as an effective Project Manager you must check and amend the plan to utilise your team. I personally tend to breakdown the project into many smaller deliverables, which means that each day, or week, the team is constantly delivering and progress can be seen, which is motivation within itself.

The final point I make, is to care. As an effective Project Manager you must have apathy with your team. Problems arise and the Project Manager must be there as an effective listener to understand and deal with the issues as they arise. You must care for both the project team and the deliverables. You must care that the deliverables are at the expected quality of the customer's expectations and for the overall delivery of the project.

To summarize  to be an effective Project Manager you must have excellent communication skills and care about your team and deliverables.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Standard Project Documentation

Is there such a things as Standard Project Documentation. I know different methodologies state that there should be x, y and z, but is there any standard format to these? … and should there be?

Most companies have a communications department, which designs templates and colour schemes for corporate literature, usually limited to external communications.  I have worked with guidelines for logos, colour schemes and fonts, but usually this has been for external documentation and website designs.

The Project Management Office has a role to perform in terms of providing some standard documentation, but I have found this is limited to Report formats and PowerPoint presentations.  For the last two corporations I have worked in, both of which have a PMO, there has not been any standard documentation for other project documents.  

I am a believer in simplification.  I feel that standard formatted documentation should be available and reused, such as reporting, RAID and Project Documents.  I would go one stage further and ensure that there is a library of standard documentation for all of my projects.  I do not just mean that there should be a font, colour scheme and logo, but I feel the content should be "standardised".  I feel that a new Project Manager should be able to pick up a template and have a baseline for their documentation.  For example, the Test Strategy should have a number of sub topics that would help the Project Managers ensure that all of the required information is captured, then the Stakeholders would read and understand each test Strategy and be able to compare on a Project by Project basis.

If a Senior Stakeholder is running many projects, it would be beneficial for them to understand the documentation they can expect and the content and purpose of each of these documents.  A further example could be for the Project Charter, which should have a standard format and content for all project, no matter how large or small.  The topics of content of the documents for every project will be the same for this document, however the content and length may be different.  

A good example of other standard documents would be the Risk Register.  In all of the companies I have worked for recently, there has not been a definitive standard for the RAID log.  This document is one of the most important, most used and updated documents in the Project Manager's Library. 

Friday, 2 December 2011

Project Planning

As a contractor, I have found that there is no standard tool for planning my projects. I can understand this as every project is unique and different companies work in different ways in terms of planning and reporting.

When I tell people that I am a project manager, they often jump to the conclusion that I am an expert with the well know software package, Microsoft Project. Well, I can say that I can use the software, but it is sometimes too much to use for smaller projects and too difficult to use for some larger, more complex projects.

In terms of reporting from MS Project, I like the way that the project can be broken into phases and a percentage complete can be marked against each task within a phase to give the Phase Percentage Complete, which in turn is used to calculate the Project Percentage Complete.

A tip that my first Project Management mentor taught me was to NEVER mark a task as a percentage complete, other than 0% or 100%. Something he installed in my thinking was that a task is either complete, or it isn't. If you want to mark the task as a part-completed, he told me to add sub tasks and mark each of those as either complete, or not. This way you can see a true reflection of the tasks that need to be monitored.

I find sending out a project plan is a little difficult. Most people,other than project managers, do not have MS Project, or even a viewer installed on their machines. This usually results in me printing the plan to pdf, which usually does not work very well. For this reason, I tend to use Excel to define the high level project plan and to show the progress. This was a tip passed on to me from an Australian college at a previous workplace. It is clear and simple, plus everyone in the company tends to have MS Excel installed.

What tools do you use and how do you share your project plans and progress?

Interview Questions (Part 2)

In a first interview, you tend to meet the manager or stakeholders to discuss the project and to discuss whether you are suitable and have previous experience to show you can achieve the goals.

The second interview might be to answer any unanswered questions, but is more likely to be a HR lead interview to make sure you are a suitable fit for the role.  Many companies use HR to ask some difficult questions and gauge how you react under pressure and make sure you can backup your answers with examples.

Below is a set of typical tough questions that can be used to prepare yourself for those tough answers.  I used the following list and wrote out my answers within approximatly 2 hours to make sure that I had answers prepared.... have a go...

    1. When have you had to discipline a member of the team.
    2. When has a project failed / missed a deadline. What did you do to resolve it.
    3. Do you have any weaknesses
    4. What are your Strengths
    5. Example of where something wasn't initially communicated properly. How was it resolved.
    6. Tell me about a time when you failed.
    7. Tell me about a time when you were faced with conflicting priorities. How did you determine the top priority?
    8. Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
    9. Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills.
    10. Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
    11. Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
    12. Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone's opinion.
    13. Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.
    14. Please discuss an important written document you were required to complete.
    15. Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
    16. Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks.
    17. Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split second decision.
    18. What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
    19. Tell me about a time you were able to successfully deal with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).
    20. Tell me about a difficult decision you've made in the last year.
    21. Give me an example of a time when something you tried to accomplish and failed.
    22. Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
    23. Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker.
    24. Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
    25. Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
    26. Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.
    27. Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.
    28. Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
    29. Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
    30. Please tell me about a time you had to fire a friend.
    31. Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low).

    Thursday, 1 December 2011

    Interview questions

    A few weeks ago I went t a very interesting interview. The role was ideal and one that I would be a perfect match for the Project Manager role. (At the time of writing, I am still waiting in anticipation for the result and hoping for a second interview.)

    I was interviewed by two people, one being the Head of Project Management and the other was Head of Systems. Both very nice people and the interview was friendly and relaxed. We shared some jokes discussed a few things off topic, however some of the questions were very interesting, so I thought I would share them.

    Describe your best day
    I started by saying "..with my family, on the beach, in the sunshine, with a cold beer in hand...", but then I thought I had better relate my answer to the job at hand, so I mentioned my ideal working day.

    I like to start the day reviewing progress from overnight/yesterday and to ensure we are completing tasks according to plan. This only takes a few minutes, as it is more of a fact finding, rather than actioning. The second task is to have a mini team meeting to find out if there are any pressing issues from the team. The next part of the day usually involves the project planning side of my role and then keeping on top of the issues and reporting that I need to do, which varies according to the day of the week.

    Describe your Worst day
    I don't really have a definition of my worst day, but I don't like it when people fail to listen and when people do not accept something.

    For example, in a recent project we were given a design for a solution and I had to implement it. Simple, in principle, but in practise the solution was not fit for purpose in the environment where we were working. The solution came from a different company, with a different environment and different working practises. For many week wee had to document and track all of our issues and communicate with the solution providers to prove that their solution was not working in reality. Finally, all of the issues we were having started to happen that their company, so the started to believe us.

    Other questions included
    What is your best asset? Communication, team building and morale boosting

    What do you most enjoy about Project Management? Communication, team work / building, delegation, monitoring

    What do you least like about Project Management? Simple one work answer - Budgets

    Wednesday, 30 November 2011

    Why don’t people listen

    As a Project Manager, I believe a smooth project can be achieved with communication. We have to communicate to our project teams, our stakeholders and other teams that will interact to aid the progress of the project and the customer.

    Warning: Moan coming.....

    So why is it that we are rolling out a new desktop application to 100 people per night and 85% of people read the instructions AND FOLLOW THEM and the others do not. For those that do not follow the instructions, they wonder why their system does not work.  

    The instructions do require patience, which a box on the screen counts (alphabetically) from A to H. The user just has to sit and wait for the count to complete and then a message to say "You may start using your computer." to be displayed on their screen.

    It does frustrate when you put as much as possible in place to ensure a smooth roll out and automate as much as possible to make the customer experience of change as simple as possible and then they cannot read the information given to them.

    .... rant over.

    So, how as a Project Manager do you prevent this?

    Monday, 28 November 2011

    Lead by big brother

    Recently I have taken over a project at a company, which is in Partnership with another company. The other company seems to be the big brother in the relationship and tends to enforce its policies and procedures down to little brother.

    The project I am running was not suitable for little brother and so the project had been running for 6 months with little progress at my company, but had been almost completed at the other company. I came in to fix the project and get it going (my favourite type of project management role).

    The main problem was the design of the solution. It worked for big brother, but it did not work in the company I was working in and would basically prevent 4200+ users from using not only their email/calendar, but also many of their business applications.

    The design was completed and tested at the big brother company and was minimally tested at my company. This meant that the full extent of user types was unknown and more importantly, not tested. This resulted in many changes to the initial design and caused many political contentions and delays in the project proceeding.

    The only way to deal with this was to stop the project from my end and to look at each problem to find a solution. This would then result in a 3 week delay to the schedule for a redesign and a new code to be written.

    We are now just 4 months into the roll out of the project and have completed 80% of our target. The initial project was supposed to last 6 months to roll out to 4200 users, but we have rolled out to almost 3500 in 13 weeks.

    Sometimes it is of greater benefit to stop a project to understand why it is failing. Fix the problems, design the new solution and start again. This has had a positive affect on the morale of the people in the project team and the acceptance of the business change to our customers.

    Thursday, 24 November 2011

    Stuck in a Rut ?

    As mentioned in earlier posts, I have a strong historic background in development, but recently I have been trying to be more Project Management focused.

    I see Project Management as a broad topic which encompasses many aspects such as team/morale building, time/risk/issue management, stakeholder management, project progress, milestones, reporting etc... all which boil down to good communication.

    Therefore, my "gripe" for today is... why does it matter what technology you are running a project for? 

    Introducing me

    I am from a development background. I gained my BSc (Hons) Computing for Real-Time Systems from the University of the West of England back in 1997. This was a tough, technical degree and only 30 of us passed of the original 150 (just 20%).

    For the last 12 years I have been working in the Lotus Notes arena and have worked on a multitude of projects for various industrial sectors and in many countries. I have blogged within this technology and have enjoyed the life as a Lotus Notes consultant. There is not much that I do not know about notes, and if there is, I usually know someone who will know the answer.

    In the last few years, I have been mentoring developers and leading projects. I have found that I enjoy this more than the actual development. Leading projects and teams gives me a buzz and is rewarding when things go from bad to good. I like to solve problems and enjoy joining companies with problems and leaving them in a better state.

    I am keen to study. If there is ever an issue that I do not understand, or there is a technology that I have been using, I try to be the best. Examples of this are my qualifications as a Prince2 Practitioner, and IBM Advanced Application Developer and recently ITIL.

    I try to study for 30 minutes per day. This means that I try to keep up with the latest industry news, technology and best practices. If I miss out on my 30 minutes, I do not carry it over to the next day as this could affect my workload, but feel guilty for missing an opportunity. 30 minutes a day does not impact your work, but it actually broadens your outlook.

    Finally, I enjoy being a contractor because I have had the opportunity to work with various companies, with a variety of projects. I am always surprised at how many companies (big companies) fail to have simple procedures and workflow for the simple tasks. It also amazes me that some large companies do not have a complete handle on their full assets (hardware, software and people) to enable IT project to work with fluidity.... hopefully that is where I make the difference.

    Friday, 4 November 2011

    First Post - Ideas

    Hello readers.

    This is going to be a no holds barred blog about the day to day workings of a Project Manager.

    My identity is not a secret, but I don't mind.  This is hopefully going to be an insight into my daily dealing (good and bad) as a PM.

    I hope you enjoy and I hope to post on a regular basis.