Tag Archive: critical path

Best Practices in Project Teamwork

December 19th, 2016
project teamwork

Since projects lift bottom-line business results, companies depend on these initiatives for growth and profits. Cultivating a strong project team and handing them a clear goal are keys to success.

In working with clients ranging from small businesses to large, complex, global organizations across multiple industries, I’ve yet to run across a client that doesn’t rely heavily on project results to support customers, grow the business and increase profitability. What else could be more important to business success?

Since projects cannot succeed with a sole participant, project teams are essential to success. Therefore, discovering the best ways for project teams to work together will lead to results. After leading and participating in hundreds of major projects and many smaller projects over the last 25 years, I’ve compiled a short list of best practices for project teamwork.

1. Clarity of Goals

As with almost every team, the team will be far more successful if the individual teammates understand the goals. Start with the goal of the project. Why are we doing this? What does it accomplish? What are the expected results of the project? Answering these questions will provide clarity of the overarching goals.

Next, go over the critical path milestone. What is the goal of each milestone? Who needs to do what to make them happen? Following this exercise provides clarity of the project plan and project objectives. All team members are on the same page up front.

2. Resolve Goal Conflicts

Of course, gaining clarity on the goals and critical path alone won’t foster teamwork. The next step is to resolve goal conflicts. I’ve found that as teams go through this process, 80% of the time, some sort of conflict will arise. The main conflicts fall into two categories – resource availability and department conflicts.

In today’s Amazon-impacted world, speed is of the essence. Equally troubling, since the recession, organizations are running lean and so time is limited. Thus, conflicts related to resources are commonplace. For example, let’s assume there are 16 hours remaining this week, and one team member has to complete a project task on the critical path that would require 8 hours of time by the end of the week in order to keep the project on-track. Alone, this is not a problem. However, his/her line manager also has a priority task that requires 16 hours of time that must be complete by the end of the week. An inherent conflict exists. The sooner this problem is uncovered, the sooner it can be resolved.

Equally commonplace are inherent conflicts between departments. For example, if a project task requires Purchasing to get volume discounts while a different task requires Planning to reduce inventory which would require more frequent deliveries, even though both team members are available to complete their tasks, there is a conflict between the two. Again, the sooner this is uncovered, the sooner it can be resolved.

3. Reward Project Goals; Not Individual Goals

One of the most common issues that arise is when the individual is rewarded for doing what benefits them instead of the project team. Similar to aligning goals, rewards and recognition need to follow the team. If each person does their part to contribute to getting a milestone accomplished, the entire team should celebrate success. If one person can be rewarded for achieving an individual goal while the team doesn’t meet its goal, a miss-match will occur.

4. Metrics

I’ve found that one of the most important ways to align teams is to have a common set of metrics. What is measured will be achieved. Thus, if the team has a clear set of metrics, everyone will be tracking the same items. Thus, as conflicts arise, the metrics will provide initial direction. Also, the metrics focus teams on what is most important. In my experience, the simple act of selecting and tracking a few metrics can create significant teamwork. The team unites behind improving the metrics.

5. Celebrate Successes

Lastly, celebrating success is an important way to tie it all together. Teams unite when the individuals get to know one another. Celebrating success allows the team to connect in a different way and it creates momentum. Thus, celebrating small wins along the way (such as the achievement of critical path milestones) can go a long way to enhancing teamwork.

Teams with stronger levels of teamwork surpass the results of those with high individual contributors that do not work as effectively together. In my experience, even if the high individual contributors are the best of the best as compared to medium contributors that work well as a team, the team of medium contributors will win that race. Appreciate the value of teams and consider implementing a few of these strategies to accelerate success. Bottom line results will follow.

 

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How to Keep Your Team’s Morale Up During Change

Vision Backed by BIG Goals and Leadership

 



How to Keep Your Team’s Morale Up During Change

December 8th, 2016
team morale

Team morale can take a hit during times of intense change. Motivate your team with a relatable, easy-to-understand vision and keep them informed every step of the way.

Dramatic growth is commonplace. Companies are looking for opportunities to improve margins, accelerate cash flow and cut costs. Only those companies that change will endure. And only those teams that embrace change, and the leaders who engage people around change initiatives will thrive. The others will be left in the dust.

In order to create this type of engagement, leaders must support team morale during change. But if you think about it, why should this be an issue, if the change is presented properly from the outset? Who wouldn’t be excited about positive and interesting new opportunities?

Here are seven key ways to keep your team’s morale up when there’s a change under way.

1. Start with a compelling vision. People don’t fear change. They fear the unknown. Thus, one simple first step in overcoming this hurdle is to provide a vision (e.g., a reason for the change). Start by clearly answering the questions:

  • How will the change help the company succeed?
  • How will it help your customers?

For example, when I was VP of Operations for an adult incontinence manufacturer, we saw our job as helping our parents and grandparents maintain a quality lifestyle in their older years. It certainly provided a sense of purpose and vision to our projects —and this is valuable!

2. Translate the vision. Although lofty visions can be quite valuable, it’s also important to be able to translate those visions into something tangible. You want to be able to show how each department, team and person will relate to that vision, add value and contribute it as well. I’ve found that the most successful leaders take the time to help team members understand how their piece of the puzzle contributes to the bigger picture.

3. Collaborate on the plan. When team members participate in a change, rather than have it dictated to them, they’ll buy into the new way of doing things and feel good about it, too. You can make this happen by collaborating with your project team to build the new plan.

Provide guidelines, ideas and advice in order to spur the process forward. Ask for input and ideas from all team members. Don’t dismiss ideas without explaining why. And don’t just accept ideas to include input if they’re not optimal for the end result. Instead, be willing to take the role of a coach and facilitator.

After partnering on hundreds of projects over the years, I’ve yet to see one fail when it’s approached in a collaborative manner; but I’ve seen many fail when the approach is: “Just do it because I am your manager.”

4. Communicate the plan. A critical step for keeping morale up during a change initiative is communication! Just as people don’t fear change, they fear the unknown; they fear not understanding how they will get to the vision. In essence, the fear lies in no-man’s land —the uncertainty in getting from Point A to the “Promised Land.”

Thus, communicating the plan and allowing ample time for questions and answers is paramount to success. Again, feedback and ideas can still be incorporated if it makes sense. There is no reason to drive around the block three times to get to the same place you could get to by walking next door. In addition to providing information and comfort with the plan, you could pick up on superb ideas that will ensure success.

5. Manage the critical path. As in all projects, the critical path should be the focus. If the critical path stays intact, the project will likely succeed, even if it runs into non-critical path task bumps along the way. On the other hand, if the project team becomes distracted during the bumpy times and loses focus from the critical path, the project will veer off track.

Begin by explaining the importance of the critical path up front, so team members will understand why the focus might not be on their tasks. Make sure everyone knows they have an important piece in achieving the vision, no matter what the role. Ask all task owners to help each other and to succeed together.

6. Adjust as needed. As simple as it seems, don’t become so focused on your project plan that you lose sight of adjustments that should occur along the way. Since change is the only constant in business today, change will occur. Make sure you consider any changes that relate to your project and adjust accordingly.

7. Feedback. Last but not least, celebrate wins. Focus on strengths but do not ignore weaknesses that will impact success. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, have a conversation with them. One of the main ways to keep morale up is to address roadblocks and issues in an honest and respectful manner. Provide suggestions.

Once again, it’s not change that people resist, but the unknown. Strong leadership and project skills will go a long way toward navigating your team through the bumpy waters and on to success—and keeping morale up along the way!

Originally published @LiquidPlanner, July 20, 2015. http://bit.ly/2hoPOy0

 

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Winning Leadership Traits for Project Success

September 22nd, 2016
leadership

The most successful project leaders have passion, vision, and focus — key leadership traits needed to successfully manage cross functional resources.

No matter the topic of your project, it will be more successful if the project leader utilizes winning leadership traits. As our HR mentor used to say, “It begins and ends with people!”

Therefore, leadership is the name of the game, assuming you want to win the game. In project management, this is even more critical because most project teams are groups of cross-functional resources who do not report to the same line manager. Thus, the project leader has to use influence leadership in addition to command and control leadership. Actually, command and control leadership doesn’t even work long-term for those who are “the top dog”; thus, these traits are even more important to learn.

Although there are countless traits that go into being an effective leader, these are the ones I’ve seen the best leaders across our clients employ:

Demonstrates Passion

Even the most exciting of topics can become humdrum if the leader doesn’t show passion. Each project team member is typically working outside of their typical routine. Often, the project leader cannot significantly impact the employee’s pay or bonus. Thus, passion becomes even more important. If the leader is excited about the results that can be achieved, each team member is likely to become excited as well.

For example, when I was a VP of Operations and Supply Chain, our CEO was passionate about what we could achieve with new products, reduced costs, new markets and the like. At the time, I was responsible for a cross-functional team in the thick of whether we’d achieve these lofty goals. We had barely avoided bankruptcy and had to work long hours just to keep things going. Without his passion for these topics, it is likely we would have lost motivation as well. We knew there were no bonuses or raises until we got the ship turned around which wouldn’t happen overnight. What kept me from leaving was his passion and excitement about the future – and my contributions to it. Don’t underestimate the importance of passion.

Creates A Vision

Although passion is important, it cannot be successful without going hand in hand with the vision. Executives with passion but without vision are just seen as aimless and not worthy of following. Since leaders should forge the way, this trait is rather essential. Create a vision of where you are going and why.

In my last example, the CEO created a vision of being the best provider of incontinence care. Think about what type of diaper you’d want your Grandma to use. One that was absorbent and made her feel better and almost like she wasn’t wearing a pull-up or diaper or a leaky, inexpensive one. At the same time, since it is your Grandma, how much do we want her to pay for this pull-up? Perhaps we should find a way to make it better yet cost less for her. Now we are talking.

Focuses On the Critical Path

When it comes to projects, it is easy to work hard yet not get far. There are always hundreds of tasks that need to be completed. People to appease. How do we accomplish this with a part-time, cross-functional team of people who report to different leaders? Spend the time upfront to put together the project plan so that you can focus the 80/20 of your energy on just the critical path. Instead of wasting time following up on every task, follow up on just those on the critical path. These are the ones that will keep the most important elements going.

For example, in the cross-functional team that had to redesign the incontinence product so that it would perform better while cost less, there were countless tasks involving not only every department but also customers, suppliers and other partners. Since we had a small team (certainly not adding people, following a near escape from bankruptcy), we had to work smarter; not harder. Thus, we focused in on just the critical path. If these tasks didn’t get accomplished, the rest wouldn’t matter. You had to finish or at least make progress on these tasks in order for the next critical path task to be accomplished successfully. When we used extra resources, we focused them on the critical path. If we invested money, we would focus it on the critical path. The rest would have to sink or swim on its own. The bottom line was to focus on priorities.

Since no executive or project team has extra time, money or resources, we must make good use of what we have to ensure success. And, since leadership is the 80/20 of success, it has proven successful to focus in on creating, nurturing and encouraging winning leadership traits in our project managers. Give these a try and let me know how it goes. 

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How to Increase Teamwork to Ensure Project Success

March 17th, 2016
teamwork

Encouraging strong teamwork paves the way for successful projects completion which contribute to company improvements and growth.

As I work with manufacturing and distribution clients from all industries such as aerospace, building products, and medical products and across a wide range of sizes from a few million to multi-billion dollar companies, I find that project management is one common thread across every client. Since growing the business and improving performance is of paramount importance to compete, new programs, process improvements, and other organizational changes continue to increase in numbers to support this expectation. Thus, project management is increasingly a strategic imperative to success.

We can be more assured we’ll achieve success with our projects if we have strong teamwork. Two minds are better than one tends to come true 99.9% of the time. What one person misses another one catches. What is one team member’s strength is another’s weakness. One person’s relationships supplement the other team members’ relationships. Thus, a team can accomplish at least 10 times what any individual can achieve. It is well worth it to figure out how to increase teamwork success. Several keys to success include:

  1. It starts at the top: As with success overall, it is most easily stimulated from the top. If the project leader and project sponsor foster teamwork, it will occur. As project leader, notice when team member’s work together to brainstorm ideas or when they help each other with tasks. If you notice and communicate the value of these, teamwork will increase.
  2. Communicate the value of teamwork: Again, solid leadership will “win” the day. Set your project up for success by communicating the importance of teamwork. Make sure you provide examples and clearly communicate the importance and how teamwork will tie to the end result and the value to the organization.
  3. Establish common metrics: One of the keys to increasing teamwork is to establish common metrics. If one member can succeed while another fails, teamwork will not occur. The team must understand that they are in “it” together. Make sure your metrics drive the behaviors you want to occur.
  4. Ask teamwork questions: While following up on the critical path and project progress, make sure to ask specific questions related to the importance of teamwork. People do not pay attention to what you pontificate about; they pay attention to what you seem genuinely interested in on a day-to-day basis. Thus, include questions that demonstrate that you value teamwork.
  5. Bring out individual strengths: One value-added way to encourage teamwork is to bring out each person’s strengths. If the team can leverage the collective strengths of its team members, there is no doubt success will follow. Search for the strengths of each member. Highlight them. Encourage people to focus on strengths and deter the parts associated with their weaknesses to teammates with strengths in that area.
  6. Communication skills: Develop your project team. Teamwork can be a learned skill. Help each person understand the best ways to communicate and collaborate to aid teamwork. Provide examples.
  7. Mentoring: As much as we’d like to think that a training class solves all ills, it is just the start. Mentoring is required for success. Dictating teamwork is like dictating to complete calculus homework without any idea of how to complete the problems. Mentoring means “living an example.” Make sure you exemplify the right behaviors. Find other exemplars to refer to as well. Give people an opportunity to test new ideas. Do not beat them up for mistakes; instead provide corrective feedback and make sure they know that you believe in them.
  8. Critical path focus: Typically, the critical path is focused on cross-functional tasks as they are the ones that directly contribute to the project’s timing and success. Emphasize the importance of teamwork as it relates to cross-functional tasks. Undoubtedly, teamwork is bedrock to succeeding in a cross-functional environment. Make sure your team understands this tenet.
  9. Performance feedback: Since project metrics have been set up to track team progress, make sure that performance feedback also aligns. Again, as obvious as it sounds, the team member must receive performance feedback from their manager that aligns with the value of teamwork. They cannot succeed in getting a huge raise if they acted as a lone ranger on a project. If so, teamwork will fail. Follow up with the managers of your team members, and make sure they understand the metrics, their employee’s strengths and weaknesses as it relates to the project, etc. Make the time to ensure this feedback makes its way into their performance review.
  10. Communicate, communicate and communicate: Just as in real estate where location, location and location are the three most important attributes of a new house, communicate, communicate and communicate are the three most important attributes in achieving any desired objective. If all team members, supporters, sponsors and other related parties understand and value teamwork, it will succeed.

Since executives count on projects to deliver the vast majority of improvements to their company performance, fostering teamwork can greatly increase the chances of delivering a project on-time, on-budget and on-results. Those who follow these 10 strategies will succeed significantly more often than those who don’t. Why take a chance on what’s vital to business success?

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Top Tips to Ensure Execution Success

March 7th, 2016
project execution

Project execution is an uphill battle. Ensure success by devising a blueprint from executive commitment to follow up.

  • Executive commitment – start with executive commitment. Otherwise, you might as well hang up your hat, as it is really unlikely to succeed. Provide a compelling case to senior leaders on why your particular initiative should be pursued. Put your energy here before anything else!
  • Choose your initiative leader carefully – since leaders make or break success, it is important to choose carefully. Find a leader who is willing to go the extra mile to keep executives up-to-speed, and one who will share success and accept blame. A good leader will create success; whereas a so-so leader can kill even the best of teams.
  • Explain the why behind the initiative – team commitment will also make or break success, especially as team members have multiple conflicts on a daily basis. Make sure your team understands why the initiative matters.
  • Develop a plan – even the best of teams will fail if they don’t have a well-thought out plan. Make sure you look at the critical path, assign task owners and understand sequencing.
  • Follow up – last but not least, follow-up. Check in with team members. Find out what issues might occur. Ask about them. Find out how you can help avoid potential pitfalls. Don’t leave it to chance; follow-up!

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