5 Steps to Kick Start Any Project

Project Charter

Draft a Project Charter that describes the project in concise terms.
What is the purpose of the project? (Why is the project being rolled out?)
What is the scope of the Project?
What are the main deliverables?
What are the key milestones?
List the risks, assumptions and interdependencies?
What is the project budget? Who is on the project team?
How is progress monitored and success measured?
The charter can be the basis for the formal agreement or project contract between two parties.

Define the Project Requirements

Are the user requirements clearly documented and understood? Is it clear how the main deliverables of the project will satisfy the needs of the business or end user? Has the scope of the project been assembled based on the user requirements?

Planning

In order to produce a plan – you need to understand every task that needs to be performed in order for the project to be delivered. Every task, every document, all items that need to be procured and installed, servers, software and the resources need to do each task. A work breakdown structure should be produced that details all the above-mentioned tasks.

Detailed Planning

There are no shortcuts here – you will need expertise from a number of areas to provide input in order to produce a detailed plan. This may take a number of workshop in order to gather the correct level of detail. Once the tasks have been listed – the order, inter-dependencies and estimated time can be defined. The tasks must then be assigned to resources to perform the tasks – from this the project cost can be estimated.

Depending on the business need to have the project implemented by a specific date – more resources may be required to deliver the project. But depending on the process of delivery – it may not be possible to resource load some elements of the project.

The team selection is crucial for success here – choosing the right people that will work together as a team is vital. Don’t go on experience alone – enthusiasm, attitude and personality will benefit a project and compliment technical expertise. Ensure that everyone is clear on their responsibilities and roles within the project.

Estimation

Now that the plan has been developed and the costs understood. The risks and dependencies need to be overlaid on to the plan to understand the potential impact of the risks in terms of cost and time. Once this final estimate is assembled there may be some higher level approval required so that all the main stakeholders understand and approve the project, the scope, the budget, the risks, the timelines and the key deliverables. This may be a formal approval in most organizations.

This is also an opportunity for all project team members to refine the plan and provide further input on the task estimation and duration so that they are comfortable with this prior to commencing execution.
Perform a detailed risk assessment in order to identify the potential impact on the project in terms of time, cost or scope.

Project Kick Off

Once the above criteria have been approved – a Project Kick off needs to take place. This is normally in the form of a day-long meeting / workshop and should include but not be limited to the following topics:

Summary of the Project – i.e. Run Through the Charter
The Objectives of the Project
Key Performance Indicators
Project Plan
Budget
Project Team
Risks, Dependencies and Assumptions
Monitoring, Governance and Reporting

Also as part of the kick off, define and communicate the Day 1, Week 1, Month 1 activities. This is basically a list of tasks for all project resources so that they are clear on what is expected of them within the first month of the project.

Need help?

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: info@systeme.ie with some background on your particular issue and we’ll be in touch.

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TROUBLESHOOTING & INVESTIGATION

Want to Convince Your Clients? Just Be Honest.

Whether you’re in a direct sales role, in a support role or a technical role, you will be expected to convince someone to do something at some stage in your career. That may be a decision or a purchase or a choice of some description but we all need convincing skills. Look at the dictionary definition of the verb “Convince” – Convince – to make (someone) agree, understand, or realize the truth or validity of something.

I’ve looked at this from a number of perspectives over the years and what I’ve seen is that in order influence someone or convince someone you have to be credible. The best way to be credible is to be honest in your convictions.

The Sale
If you know your product and understand your business, then you will be more relaxed in front the person you are trying to influence. When we think of trying to influence or convince someone we can all cite examples of the door to door salesman or used car salesman trying to get you to purchase something that you don’t need or will not be of any real use to you. These guys are normally found out very quickly after the sale. They leave a bitter taste in your mouth and therefore a lasting distrust of salesmen.

OK so I’m not having a go at salesmen in general but think of the drive that the salesman has – commission. There’s nothing wrong with an incentive to perform but it can drive the wrong behaviour in the wrong person.

On many occasions I watched salesmen and women sell equipment, software, solutions and projects to clients and the clients were convinced they needed them. From the organization’s perspective the sales person had done his or her job, deal done – commission in the bag. Much of my work involved either delivering the project or solution and dealing with technical issues after the sale.

After the Sale
The after sales situation was often quite different. Typically following one of these sales there were some problems – the software or project was not fit for purpose. Once we got to the root of the client’s needs the actual requirement was something quite different from the solution they were sold. We then had to renegotiate to encourage them to purchase the right project or solutions and the sales pitch starts again.

Epiphany
As I became more experienced in the field of customer management, something quite profound occurred to me.

1. When I followed the lead of the sales team to just get the sale (i.e. Commission Driven), I found it very difficult to convince the customer to buy from us and trust us.

2. When I did what I believed was right for the client, when I had their best needs at the forefront of my objectives – the sale was easy.

This happened on more too many occasions to be coincidence. When I looked closer at the different approaches and listened to customer feedback, I could see the real reason. The customer was convinced because I was convinced. I was convinced that I was doing the right thing and I had complete confidence in what I was selling or what decision that I was advising them to make.

Previously I had overlooked that a lack of sincerity would not be spotted and would be challenged by our clients. When I asked one client for feedback on why he selected our company for the project we had just been awarded, he stated that it wasn’t price, nor the company reputation. He stated that it was because he was convinced that I believed that what we were offering was the best solution for the client. He chose us because he trusted why we were offering this solution. He believed that we were honest in our intentions and he trusted us. He could see in my demeanour and presentations that I was sincere.

Refer back to the dictionary definition above for “Convince”, does it have more resonance now?

The Story
In this particular case the original proposal material was adapted from a previous endeavour with another client and the solution was similar. At first I had spent so much time trying to make it fit, trying to adopt someone else’s creation to make it fit what we needed at the time I was blind to the above epiphany. I started from a blank document and produced a proposal that was a direct response to the needs of the client – not just a fabricated sales pitch that had the corners broken off it to make is suit the current customer needs. I completed the proposal swiftly and the resulting document was a very simple, clear description of what we would deliver, how we would deliver and ultimately why it was needed.
Since then I have always taken great time to get to know the client. Get to know why they need issues resolved and make clear to them the direct and indirect benefits of any solution that I have been responsible for delivering.

In Summary
No matter how big the organizations or how great the reputation, when it comes to big decisions, if they are honest, people do business with people. They do business with people they trust.
Once you are confident in yourself, confident in the solution that you are offering, and why you are offering the solution, the client will sense this confidence and will trust you. When they trust you and come to rely on you, you are destined for a prosperous customer supplier relationship.

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CONSULTING

Are You Making Every Meeting Count?

The Meeting

Something occurred to me recently. Why are most meetings set up for 1 hour? And why are there so many meetings every day of our working lives?
The 1 hour meeting seems to be the standard easy option. I have to stop and think what sort of planning has gone into a meeting where an invitation has been sent out and resembles something like this:

1. Duration 1 Hour
2. Brief Cryptic or Woolly Title
3. No Agenda
4. No Description
5. Double Booked Over another meeting
6. 20+ Invitees

The Response
My normal tactic when I receive an invitation to this type of meeting is to make the organizer work for my time. Depending on how far the meeting organizer is up the food chain my response will vary. We all after all serving some lord and master.
If the person has a track record of not making best use of my time, typically I’ll respond with a number of questions such as:

1.What is the objective of the meeting?
2. What are the various roles? Chair, scribe, timekeeper etc?
3. What will be covered on the agenda?
4. Do I need to prepare anything in advance of the meeting?
5. Why am I required to attend? What exactly do you need from me?
6. How much time will you need from me during the meeting?
7. Is there anything that I can provide in advance of the meeting that would remove the need for me to attend?

The response that you receive will depend on the individual. They may respond honestly or they may take offence. Either way they will think before inviting you to any further meetings.

The Life of a Meeting
The meeting doesn’t begin and end with the meeting event itself. The preparation and follow up are equally important.

I’m not going to bore you with the details of professional meeting etiquette. Many organizations have prepared guidelines and procedures for meeting that are outstanding and really practical. For me meetings have always been about preparation and follow up.
If you and the invitees are well prepared, have a clear agenda and a set of objectives, then the meeting should run well. The follow up needs to be equally prompt and efficient for the entire meeting to be a success.

Time
Timings and durations of meetings can also be critical. In a busy organization back to back one hour meetings are a common phenomenon. The issue here is that if all the meetings start and finish on time, then there is no time interval allowed for movement between meeting rooms. The result is that
many people are frequently late for meetings.

This issue is particularly relevant if you are based in a large manufacturing facility with long walks between different areas of the plant. I have often observed a culture of acceptable late arrivals and early leavers at meetings – this is both disruptive and unproductive.

Try something different – spend some time to think about the meeting in detail.

1. What are you trying to achieve – Objectives
2. What needs to be discussed or covered or resolved?
3. Who is needed to attend?
4. Who can we do without?
5. What material needs to be prepared in advance?
6. What time is needed to cover everything?
7. What day and time suit all participants?
8. Can some of them connect remotely to the meetings?

For people in Manufacturing, Mondays and most mornings are a challenge due to the daily operations updates that occur. Calendars are often littered with meetings and updates that no longer happen. Time is a precious commodity.

Instead of the usual start on the hour, finish on the hour arrangement – why not start at 10 mins past the hour and take whatever time is needed. I have found that I can conduct most meetings in 45 minutes if they are run correctly. A good time keeper is a great ally at a meeting.
If you are making the effort to invite someone to a meeting, make it worthwhile. You will not get any thanks for inviting someone to a 2 hour meeting when they are only needed for 10 minutes.

Making the Meeting Count
Make every meeting count. What are the actions and what are the deadlines? Issue the minutes and actions promptly otherwise accuracy and relevance can fade. Before an important meeting I always make time to prepare – block out the time if possible – it will be worth it.
Equally after a meeting, block out time in your calendar to produce the follow up minutes and actions.

Rather than hand writing notes, then transcribing them afterwards – type the notes or assign a scribe to support the note taking. This will save time.
So if you’re organizing a meeting – you should really book three appointments in your calendar. One for preparation, one for delivery and one for follow up.

In Summary
By adopting these principles you and your organization will benefit from each meeting while both your colleagues and customers will appreciate your effective preparation and follow up. We spend so much of our time at meetings it is vital that we get value from each encounter.

I’m not finished with this topic. To be continued…………………………………..
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project management

Project Team Motivation

The Project

Keeping project teams motivated always poses a challenge particularly when a project can span over months and sometimes years.

Over time energy levels and enthusiasm can be in short supply even among the most dynamic groups of individuals.

The problems normally start way back at the team selection stage of the project. Do you have a team of star performers? Do you have a mixture of youth, energy and experience? Or have you been landed with the corporate cast offs with whom you’re expected to perform miracles as Project Manager.

Most reasonably sized projects will consist of a good mixture of personalities and experience. It can take time to figure out the personalities and how they gel together. As with any leader your objective as a project manager is to get the best out of the team. Team changes can occur but unless you have a serious performance issue with one of the team, you are better off putting your efforts into team performance once you understand the individuals.

Selection Strategy

With large software projects there tends to be a back room team (developers) and a front facing team – test engineers and analysts. The observations here may be obvious but from a personality perspective the back room team tend to be introverts and the front facing team tend to be a little more outgoing.

So – as a strategy you need to understand your customer. To whom are they likely to respond better? Some clients and end users gain comfort from seeing the software being built and assembled so that they can better understand the risks and challenges. In this instance it may be a good idea to give them some access to allow them to meet and talk with the developers from time to time.

Do not however let them influence the scope of work in this way. Some clients are more about the use of the system for their business and are solution agnostic. These types of people will work best with the front end team. It can often be the role of the business analyst to control the expectations of the client and support the project manager.

As in life some personalities can overcome others, some will clash, and some will work well together. In the early stages of the project observe closely how the individual get on together then finalize the communication plan and meeting schedule clearly listing the attendees for each meeting and the objectives. Monitor meeting effectiveness and get feedback from all parties – this information is invaluable if used.

Energy

Once the personalities are working together and supporting each other you need to keep the energy levels high and ensure the enthusiasm for the work doesn’t die. There is a myriad of ways to do this depending on the situation.
The Project Manger should spend regular time with the team on the front line of activity. Don’t sit in the background updating charts and spreadsheets – Work With the Team.

Generally, people like to work independently. You need to judge this carefully though and this level of trust only comes with trialling this approach. Trust will come over time with delivery. Give an individual complete ownership of a deliverable and see how they perform. Risk assess the situation – i.e. what is the worst that can happen and can the team support them to be successful?

Have regular reviews of performance and processes with the team. Give everyone a chance to offer suggestions for improvement – and put it to the rest of the team to see if the idea has wings. If team members see their ideas being put into practice – there is no greater satisfaction. Once the selection and review process for ideas and suggestions is controlled and not a free for all this process will generally work quite well.

Working as a team and supporting each other is a motivating factor in itself. If the team can trust their colleagues and work together towards a common goal, the team can gain and maintain momentum. Having lesser experienced people being coached and mentored during a project by the more experienced team members is another way of building the team energy and gaining trust among the group. The lesser experienced people will be motivated by the fact they have a source of support. The more experienced people will gain confidence by training the lesser experienced people.

There are many examples of a team of individual average footballers (soccer players) performing at a higher level or as more than the sum of their parts taking on a way better team on paper and beating them. Give me a team of average people who value the team and teamwork ahead of a bunch of superstars any day of the week. The same goes for work teams.

Working as a team and supporting each other is a motivating factor in itself. If the team can trust their colleagues and work together towards a common goal, the team can gain and maintain momentum.

Make sure that you celebrate and recognize the small victories and milestones with the team as they are achieved – don’t leave it too long or it will lose its significance. Again the use of clear visual indicators and status updates here helps to get the message across to you r own team and to others.

Make the Destination Real

In order to maintain focus for everyone on the end goal. I tend to have many sessions where we discuss the final stages of the project and handover to operations. What will day 1 be like with the new system? Use visual tools & demos to make this as real as we can. Towards the end of the project I encourage the end users to engage with the project team both formally and informally to make the handover go a little smoother. Even if there are technical challenges the personal relationships that have been built up will get you through the difficult times.

Make it easy for your team to know what the priority is at any one time. I often here people stating that they have a number of things to do on a project but they are unaware of the priority. If you utilise your weekly or daily touch points to make the priority clear then the team will always know the priority.

In Summary

Choose the People that will work well together.
Celebrate the Small Victories
Keep the team focused on the end game
Make the Priorities clear.

Need help?

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: info@systeme.ie with some background on your particular issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our project rescue guide here Project Rescue Guide

MENTORING & COACHING

Unlimited Access to People – Good Or Bad?

Modern Corporate Life

The modern corporate world isn’t getting any easier in which to survive and prosper. Access to people is almost ubiquitous. Individuals appear to be getting more and more emails. Mobile phones are a permanent fixture in most people’s hands. Instant messaging is taking the place of real communication.

A couple of years ago I did some work with a multinational client and due to data security issues they insisted that I used their own corporate laptop so that all access to their data was controlled and audit trailed. As the assignment was due to last a couple of months I agreed.

On the first morning when I logged on, I received 40 emails without prompting for any. Some of these were personally addressed to me. These were standard corporate information messages. In addition to email came the standard issue instant messaging software. Although useful at first, it some became clear that it was abused by some people. I started to get messages from people who decided that their query was your priority and this can lead to constant distractions. Even with the “Busy” or “In a Meeting” symbol displayed – messages still came in hard and fast. Although we try to ignore these – they are still a distraction. What I normally do in this case is disconnect from the network temporarily – remove the Ethernet cable or disable the wireless adapter on the PC. (Note: This will only suffice if you do not need connectivity to a network or database – that is if you are writing or reviewing a document etc)

 

Focus

If you have blocked the time out in your calendar and you need the time and space – then try working offline now and again to avoid interruptions. If someone needs you badly enough they will either call your cell phone or come and get you.

Fending Off Disruptors

You may then get someone approaching you at your desk with the opening line “Do you have a minute?” You may have a minute or not but my advice is to learn to say “No I don’t – I really need to get this task complete now.” If they do manage to just ask the question without confirming that you have time – then If you can’t answer the request in 30 seconds – simply say that you do not have time now but your calendar is up to date if you wish to set some time up at a later stage. The initial reaction from most people is one of horror as they may be well used to a culture of barging in to an office or a desk and getting attention. Judge the culture in the company – are they ready for this yet? Logical thinking professional people will always respect your space and will respond positively whereas unreasonable people will tend to resist this culture change.

The Daily Churn

Sitting in the offices with the other employees I watched the daily habits and interactions. e.g. Most people would spend the first 30 minutes going through their email to sift out any important ones. Among the deluge was the inevitable distraction, someone in their wisdom had sent a message and cc’d a few select others regarding an issue or task that required action immediately. (And this happened most mornings)

These types of email become a distraction in two ways;

1. The initial reaction of the recipient.

2. The recipient then brings others in on the issue.

Now we have a second layer of distraction – possibly even a group of people distracted. The email will be followed by the inevitable number of drafts until the message is received loud and clear. They send and wait for the response and the email tennis ensues.

Decontaminate and Conquer

In order to decontaminate this scenario here are some practices I use that almost always certainly manage and contain a scenario like this.

1. Don’t check your email first thing each morning unless there is a specific response or update you are awaiting in order to complete a priority task.
2. By checking email first thing you are inviting others to provide a distraction
3. Complete a task first then read emails. That way if you do get distracted, at least you will have accomplished something first.
4. If you do receive an email that you need to respond to in order to contain a panic, try to speak to the person first. If this is not possible, set up a brief meeting. If neither of these are possible in the short term, don’t respond until you have spoken to the person in question.
5. Unless needed for specific input or advice avoid bringing a wider audience into the issue. Your colleagues will appreciate it.
6. If you absolutely have to respond to an email that is likely to stir up a response that could escalate then be constructive. Before sending, print off a draft, go to a quiet office and read it aloud. How does it sound? If it is still the right thing to do, then reading it aloud will confirm this.

In Summary

So don’t be afraid to say “No” in the correct context, but be polite when you say “No”. If you need to get something done, then you don’t need distractions. Seek the space to focus. Avoid email tennis as it general only wastes time. Email should really only be used for booking a meeting or sending a document. Talk to the person first, in person or on the phone, if that is not possible – use email to say “Call me when you have time – we need to talk.”

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