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7 Great Collaboration Tools for Your Business

Jt Ripton

There’s a reason why Silicon Valley firms fret so much about talent: the best business ideas in the world have no chance of being successful without the right team behind them to execute.

But hiring the right people is only part of the story; businesses also need employees to be able to work seamlessly together.

Collaboration is arguably the secret sauce of successful businesses. A collaborative culture attracts the best team members and inspires the best within them — and helps a team get more done on a higher level at a faster pace. A Stanford University study found that those companies that promote collaborative workplaces were five times as likely to be high-performing.

Here are seven solutions to empower collaboration at your organization.

1. Project management: Quire

Good project management creates a sturdy foundation for increased creativity, improved brand messaging, enhanced employee confidence and supports operational innovation. Current technologies help maximize project team performance in all of these areas by optimizing workflow and promoting productivity.

Quire is a collaborative project management software, a simple, straightforward yet powerful tool that facilitates good project management.

Pros: While teams can lose control and focus while tackling endless to-do lists, Quire spurs dynamic workflow by organizing action items into a nested task list that breaks ideas down from big goals to digestible tasks. A Kanban board gets team members focused on crucial tasks of the day and its visualization functionality makes for simplified task supervision. Teams can view tasks either in list view or the Kanban board, making it easier to manage tasks.

In addition to streamlining to-do lists, Quire’s sync feature delivers real-time collaboration by allowing team members to work anytime, anywhere and track progress instantly.

Cons: Quire lacks private chat, which limits its use as a full-fledged project management solution for some teams. It also would be useful for the service to have more theme options for custom branding and a visual layout more customized to the needs of a given team.

2. Communication: Slack

From business as usual to special project management, startup teams must communicate to get work done. When you’re a very small startup  —  just two or three people  — ad-hoc communication can work. Still, it’s never too early to be proactive and organize the way your team handles communications.

Slack provides teams with a single location for all their communication needs.

Pros: Offering real-time messaging, searching and archiving capabilities, the platform also integrates with several external services and third-party apps including MailChimp, Google Drive and Zendesk. Slack also comes with native Android and iOS applications allowing users on-the-go access to direct and group messaging. Being able to access team members anywhere, anytime cuts the need for endless meetings and emails.

Cons: At times, the platform encourages real-time interaction when more asynchronous solutions such as email might actually be better. While Slack has created a whole new category of collaboration software, its focus as a chat board can sometimes create false urgency.

3. Collaborative funding: CoBudget

Perhaps the most difficult thing to discuss, startup or otherwise, is money. Typically, the chief financial officer bears the burden of gathering and validating information from multiple sources. Then it’s onto piecing together a spreadsheet and applying formulas and macros to make projections.

Budgeting can be a much better and more collaborative process, however. The open-source online tool, CoBudget, turns budgetary decision-making into a participatory activity for all members of a startup.

Pros: It works like an internal crowdfunding app that uses shared resources. Members can propose ideas for funding, and discuss and improve upon those ideas before they’re approved. Each member can then receive a portion of the funds from the shared resources and allocate to the projects that support the startup’s mission and goals.

Cons: This participatory budgeting isn’t right for every team — sometimes airing out budgets to all members of a team is a little too transparent and collegial.

4. Content creation: Creativity 365

Every business is in the media business now. Customers want businesses that tell a story.

And even if storytelling is not a high priority for a company, standing out among the competition certainly is important. That means content — and lots of it.

But coming up with content on a consistent basis can be hard. Designed to produce and cultivate team-generated ideas, Creativity 365 offers a wide range of content solutions, whether you are creating original video or making interactive marketing presentations. There are so many options and capabilities, playing around with it will invariably spark new ideas.

Pros: Easy to use, tons of creativity-sparking options to play with, and supports iPhone, Android and iPad as well as machines operating on Windows and Mac.

Cons: Some creatives might hesitate at using a platform they aren’t familiar with if they’ve worked with more well-established video editing platforms.

5. Crowdsourced decision-making: Loomio

Creativity means nothing without action, and action is fueled by effective decision making.

Collaborative decision-making is about arriving at the best possible solution — and those don’t always come from the boss.

Pros: The Loomio app democratizes decision making by displaying a discussion with deliberation and conclusion presented side by side. Any disagreement is visualized with a pie chart that can not be ignored so that concerns can be addressed and resolved.

Cons: While this tool gives everyone a voice in decisions that affect them by recognizing the unique value and significance in every perspective, it also gives a clear picture of when your opinions or ideas are not being used.

6. Writing together: Google Docs

Hands down, the best tool for document collaboration is Google Docs. This free app makes it easy to create and share documents in real-time whether those documents are notes, spreadsheets or presentations.

Pros: The app allows your team to access documents from anywhere, and control the version of the document on which your team is working. Collaborators can be added and removed at will with all users being able to access and edit the same document simultaneously. Users also can see who else is in the document and making changes.

Cons: Google Docs struggles with document management; it lacks meaningful tagging, which help with search, and its file organization is peculiarly weak. Some teams also avoid Google Docs because file ownership can become an issue when team members leave.

7. Collective Knowledge: ProProfs

Whether your startup is focused on internal improvement or customer care, actionable knowledge is key. As a centralized platform that gathers, organizes and stores information, ProProfs knowledge base software makes information accessible to anyone.

Pros: The knowledge management software employs a comprehensive approach to constructing and managing private wikis. In just a few clicks, everything your team members need to know is available. Organizations also can use ProProfs to develop FAQs, manuals, and self-service knowledge bases for customer access.

Cons: The downside of ProProfs is that it doesn’t always play nice with certain business systems. While it is great for internal teams, you’ll want to check its integration with your existing business systems before using it with customer-facing interactions.

For any business — whether a startup or multinational mainstay — collaboration is the key to sustainable growth and longevity. Connections formed with others, especially among team members with a shared vision, will help your business operate like the global corporations do. Thanks to modern tools and technology, creating these powerful connections within your organization doesn’t have to take forever. And it doesn’t require a global corporation’s budget. That should be plenty of motivation to get in the team spirit and check out these tools today.

Read more from the author here

What can we do when a team member isn’t pulling their weight? | Easy in theory, difficult in practice

Kiron Bondale

One of the learners in a class I taught asked me how self-organizing teams would handle the situation where a single team member is not performing a fair share of the work.

In a traditional, push-based work assignment model, this issue can also occur. Usually whoever has pushed the work onto the low performer will follow up with them in a timely manner and take direct steps to ensure that performance improves, the work gets re-balanced or the team member is replaced.

But with a pull-based approach where individual team members sign up for work items as capacity frees up and where the focus is on how much is getting completed by the team as a whole, the concern is that someone could take advantage of this by letting their peers take on the more challenging work items leaving them with a relatively lighter work load.

From the outside, it would appear that the work is getting done but the contribution imbalance will be less evident.

On a mature self-organized team this is not likely to be an ongoing concern. Team members recognize the importance of demonstrating courage and showing respect for the team and will exert the necessary social pressure on the low performer so that they will either feel embarrassed and start to improve or will be transferred out of the team. If the team uses agile ceremonies such as sprint planning, daily standups or retrospectives, these provide an opportunity to provide feedback with radical candor to the low performer.

But on those teams which are relatively new to working in this manner, the team members might not possess the confidence to openly discuss or challenge such dysfunctions. Passive aggressive behavior might occur such as remaining silent during a retrospective and complaining around the water cooler afterwards.

In such cases, the agile lead or Scrum Master might need to get involved to eliminate the impediment.

This intervention could start in a subtle manner such as asking the individual at a daily standup if they feel comfortable with their workload for the day compared with their team members, or “seeding” the conversation during a retrospective when the topic turns to what could be improved. They might encourage other team members to ask the individual to give them a hand with their work items or to conduct a non-solo work experiment (e.g. pair programming).

If this soft approach doesn’t work, the Scrum Master may have to more drastic steps such as confronting the individual one-on-one, speaking with their manager or some other type of escalation.

Deferring decision making to the Last Responsible Moment is a lean principle. While a Scrum Master shouldn’t intervene if the rest of the team can address an issue for themselves, they should have the judgment to know when they will need to take a more direct approach.

Read more from the author here

What Everyone Should Know About Running Agile Projects

Alison Renfro

If there’s one thing that everyone should know about running agile projects, it’s this:

They’re all inherently (and wonderfully) different.

Lame, I know. But this is real life, and in real life, each and every project has wildly different challenges, successes, and people.

I wish there was a secret sauce. “The ONE thing you should know about Agile”. But to be truthful, the only thing you can be certain of is that you’ll never be 100% certain. It’s just always different.

Different isn’t bad, though. In the following paragraphs, I’ll show you why this isn’t necessarily a problem. Nor does it hurt our progress, products, or careers. In fact, I believe we can capitalize on the rich variety of personalities and challenges in your agile projects.

You can jump on these opportunities to amplify team members’ strengths—and your ability to capitalize on these differences can be the single most determining factors of success.

You’ll celebrate more successes.

You’ll forge stronger relationships.

A Quick Recap of Agile

When we consider Agile as a whole, it’s important to think back to the Agile manifesto.

It illustrates to us that “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” and “responding to change over following a plan” are core focuses.

This sets Agile apart from other types of project management, because it creates a focus on improving and reducing risk while creating processes to build a better overall solution/product.

Agile centers in on assigning real-time value to the components that make people (and situations) different, and utilizes those differences to help mold and develop teams.

However, truly successful agile teams are the ones who amplify their individual abilities and strengths to the advancement of the whole team and product. It takes a sincere, ongoing effort to develop the soft skills that can make or break Agile projects.

I want to provide you with inspiration and direction as you develop your soft skills and see new ways to apply them to your Agile projects.

What Everyone Should Know About Agile Projects

1. Setbacks are completely normal—and not entirely bad.

Each Agile project is different, which means you’ll face unfamiliar challenges in every single one.

You’ll always have setbacks, and this is completely normal, and not entirely bad. Understanding the nature of challenges, at their core, is incredibly important because—quite frankly—you’re going to come across a lot of them in Agile.

No single tool or development language is ever going to be an entirely perfect fit for what your specific circumstance calls for. Your team will have to problem-solve and find new ways to make things work.

Sometimes it’s going to take a lot of planning, sometimes it’s going to take a lot of research. Sometimes, it’s just going to take a lot of trial and error.

These are the types of challenges you’ll likely find yourself in, and they’re going to be different every single day.

If I’ve learned anything in the world of digital project management, it has been to adjust my perspective of what a challenge is. Instead of dreading it, I learned how to use it to the advantage of the team; to view it as an opportunity for growth and learning.

Example: Project timelines

Project timelines are something that we all (at times, to our dismay) work alongside. Timelines help motivate team members and stakeholders to make tough decisions, even if they can’t reach a full agreement with everyone on the team.

Each project timeline acts as its own path—turning, bending and shifting.

We lean into our timelines to help guide us, but the decisions we make in order to stick to timelines are always going to be carefully tailored to each circumstance we encounter.

When you come up against too-tight deadlines, you’re actually forced to answer some pretty significant questions that reveal important information about priorities:

What feature is most important? Why? What can we downsize?

Where can we save time? What are we doing that’s really unnecessary?

How can we communicate better with clients to get faster approvals?

The challenge of hitting milestones—and the tradeoffs we make to ensure it happens—are ripe opportunities to mine for hidden assumptions, inefficiencies, weaknesses, and more. Once they’re out, only then you can tackle them and make your projects better.

How To Deal With Setbacks In Agile:
So, how do you do it? Not on your own, that’s for sure.

Lean into your team of experts.

  • Developers are there to help problem solve with you.
  • Designers are there to help create and map out solutions.
  • Clients are there to give you the information the team needs to solve the problem.

Lean into your end-users.

  • End-users use your tool, and they need it to work well to continue to do so. Use their experiences and opinions to guide the decisions you make.

View the full story here… https://thedigitalprojectmanager.com/

5 Trends that are Reshaping the Future of Project Management

By Zoe Price

Creating a project plan and executing it is challenging enough.

This has led to the rise of a number of tools to make the job easier. The project management toolkit is always evolving as is the job itself. At the same time, manufacturing processes, market demands, industry regulations, and every other aspect of the job changes regularly.

This means that what you were doing last year may not cut it when you start your next project. Here are five trends that are reshaping the future of project management.

The Growing Demand for Project Managers

The biggest employers of project managers a few decades ago were major manufacturers and construction firms. They might have designed an automobile before determining how to manufacture it. Or they’d oversee the production plant, keeping all of the parts humming so the final product could roll off the assembly line. Project management was the only way to cope with the complex interdependencies to get things done.

The world has grown more complicated since then.

Demand for project managers is growing because they are being hired to supervise projects in software development to healthcare system reorganizations, publishing, and education.

At the same time, project management is becoming a recognized profession worldwide, and the number of project managers is growing worldwide. This explains why the number of project managers employed in 2027 will approach ninety million. The increasing appreciation of project managers has led to project or program management offices as a distinct department in many organizations.

We’re also seeing program management offices establish centers of excellence, creating shared business models and processes that flow down to every project in the organization. This allows businesses to quickly implement process improvements or make changes that the organization sees as necessary.

The Expansion of Kanban

What is Kanban? Kanban is an old system originally used to improve inventory management. The Kanban or inventory card system relied on people drawing from two bins of parts.

When they finish with one bin, they’d raise the Kanban or colored card to tell inventory control that they needed more parts. Parts were only delivered to those who needed them when they needed them, while the system ensured no one ran out.

But what is Kanban today? While it rests on the same principles, it has evolved into a full-fledged visual management method, allowing teams to see what metrics they are supposed to measure their performance by.

It shows them the status of all tasks to be done and what is available to be worked on. Tools like Kanbanize allow you to replace the traditional, cluttered Kanban board with a digital dashboard with the same functionality. Tools like these can also be accessed from anywhere, not just the shop floor, which can boost the productivity and functionality of agile work environments.

Kanban systems in the modern workplace, whether digital or on a traditional Kanban board, continue to help organizations minimize storage areas and more efficiently use space. It reduces labor costs for supply chain management and those doing the work.

The Increase in Collaborative Remote Teams

Project managers a generation ago mostly worked with people in the same office. A remote worker was someone at the construction site calling into the main office to report problems.

Today, entire teams may work at scattered sites around the globe. They may never meet each other in person.

The growth of remote teams is driven in part by the lower labor costs available in many parts of the world. It is also partially due to the rise in gig work and the outsourcing of entire departments so that companies can focus on their own core competencies.

This means a project manager is coordinating gig workers scattered around the world, marketing, and programming teams on opposite sides of the planet. Furthermore, they’re doing so while supervising any other functions that remain in-house.

The Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence

The growth of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence go hand in hand. AI is necessary to mine the massive volume of data generated by the IoT and control the many more smart devices connected together in the modern factory.

The data collected includes tracking the location of workers and valuable equipment for monitoring employee’s health. This combination of technology comes into play when a worker is injured or ill; the AI alerts the manager and nearest co-workers of the person’s location so that they can be aided and sent for appropriate medical attention.

More Emphasis on Soft Skills

But while we’re seeing a shift towards more automation and artificial intelligence, the emphasis is increasingly being put on emotional intelligence as well.

New PMs while have to be able to navigate both worlds and be as emotionally intelligent as they are skilled in using the technology at their disposal. Remote teams need the kind of supervision needed to both empower them but keep them within objectives.

PMs will also have to become coaches and learn how to get the best out of their employees without coddling them.

Social skills like the ability to teach and vulgarize, negotiation, and flexibility are increasingly being viewed as some of the most crucial professional assets.

As we learn how to use machine intelligence to solve some of our process issues, it only exacerbates the project manager’s role as a coordinator, empathetic listener, tactful negotiator, and motivational leader.

Conclusion

The role of the project manager is changing, as are the tools they use and the challenges they face. However, project managers who understand the long-term trends affecting their roles will be able to handle what is coming.

Scrum For Kids?

By Jim Johnson and David Johnson   

Once upon a time, the principal of an elementary school, Joan Fanning, was daydreaming about how she could help her students learn more and have more fun along the way. Her husband, the Scrum Master for a software development firm, had explained the Scrum method to her, and they both thought it could be useful for her students.  He introduced her to a local Scrum trainer, and they talked about what kind of time and resources she would need to implement Scrum. Her husband also brought her around to other organizations, including some non-profits, that had implemented Scrum successfully. Fanning decided to implement Scrum in her school and in every classroom.  She called her program “Scrum4Kids.”

Fanning brought her teachers together and laid out a vision of how they would implement Scrum in the school. All of the teachers would need to take a two-day class with a certified Scrum trainer to learn the Scrum method and the Agile process.  Not all of them were happy with this decision, but Fanning was able to gain consensus and set expectations on changes going forward. (She also wanted to make sure that none of the teachers would sabotage the program before it got started. The fact that they could use the Scrum training as part of their continuous education credits was a plus.) In the end, Fanning inspired one of the teachers, Ann Jones, to be the first to try this new approach; hers would be the pilot Scrum4Kids program.  The assistant principal, John White, volunteered to be Jones’s “product owner” and keep track of the work backlog. Fanning had enough money in her budget to send Jones and White to Scrum Master training and to send White to a Scrum product owner class.

A few weeks later, Fanning and White sat in the back of Jones’s classroom and watched the teacher present to her class a “Little Scrum Board” that featured three columns headed “Tasks To Do,” “Doing Tasks,” and “Tasks Done.”

Example ‘Scrum Board’ – also known as a Kanban board

Jones proceeded to explain, in simple terms, this new and inspiring self-directed methodology.  She asked the children to list tasks that they normally did every day—at home and in school—on sticky notes.  She showed the children some examples of how these lists might look. The class would do their tasks daily, updating the Scrum board and creating new tasks from a backlog created by White.

After two weeks, Jones’s class had completed their first “sprint” and were ready for their first retrospective. Principal Fanning wanted to be part of this retrospective, and White, as well as some of the other teachers, also wanted to join in. (One of these teachers was Mr. Walker, who at every opportunity had criticized the Scrum4Kids program and made light of their efforts. He hoped to sabotage the project) In any event, the retrospective went well and resulted in many improvements to the class functions.

For the next three months, Jones ran two-week sprints.  Every morning the students would stand up and say what they had done yesterday, what they planned to do that day, and if they were having any problems with their tasks. Once a day, Principal Fanning would walk by the Scrum board and review it.  At the start of every two weeks, Jones and White held a sprint planning meeting.  At the end of every two weeks, they held a retrospective.  Sometimes Fanning would join them.

At the end of the three months, Fanning invited her peers from other schools to do an assessment of the program.  They found that, as a group, the students in the Scrum4Kids program had twice the material adoption and greater retention than other, similar classes.  They also seemed much happier and displayed fewer behavioral problems. Fanning presented her findings to the School Board. She asked for, and received, funding to roll out Scrum4Kids to the rest of the elementary school.  This funding included Scrum training for the other teachers and additional training for more Scrum product owners. Mr. Walker transferred to another school—with the help of Principal Fanning, who then Scrummed happily ever after.

For more posts from the authors, check out The Standish Group’s website

Decision Making in Complex Project Environments

Alaina Burden
How do you make decisions without all the facts, where challenges are less predictable and information is less reliable?

All we know is in this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complicated, Ambiguous) world change is constant.

Let’s take a moment to explore contexts; two operating environments where leaders of project-based work are comfortable making decisions, and where they are struggling.

Complicated vs Complex

Complicated, or technical contexts, are easy to identify and can be solved by applying tried and tested solutions, where the traditional approach to project management and decision-making still applies. When we switch to a complex operating context, we move across a certainty/predictability chasm where cause and effect cannot be foreseen, and therefore, a different approach is required.

For example, a complicated context is flying a plane where the pilot must deal with several changing environmental factors to land the plane safely at the desired destination. But a complex setting in comparison is air traffic control that has been designed to continually adjust as conditions change to one another.

A highly skilled leader will be able to identify the context they are in, but also work to cross the chasm between the two, to bring something that is complex into a state where we can start to plan and use tried and tested knowledge from the past.

Making the Right Decisions

Let us consider why we make decisions. To get results and outcomes. To commit to a course of action. To affect future progress. But it will be difficult to achieve these outcomes if leaders aren’t taking the appropriate action for the right context. It’s important to;

1. Decide what context you are in

2. Apply your appropriate approach

3. Be mindful of “slowing down” decision-making

Adaptive Mindset

When working in a complicated operational context, the traditional approach to project management still applies because there are a medium-high certainty and predictability, multiple cause and effect relationships and a requirement for expert analysis and diagnosis which can have multiple right approaches/pathways to a solution.

So we can plan and anticipate, exchange structured information with defined interfaces, track progress against targets and identify issues, develop a hypothesis and solve problems (Project Management 101!).

The PSC Model

In complexity, the VUCA environment has a bias for action rather than making decisions.

Perceiving (P), Sensemaking (S) and Choreography (C) has the intentional methodology to slow our thinking down as opposed to jumping to bias or past action/reaction.

The skills of perceiving (SEE differently) helps leaders reframe situations with a beginner’s mindset to avoid biases and default thinking.

The skills of sensemaking (THINK differently) helps leader fully understand the systems they encounter and use adductive logic to find progression paths.

The skills of choreography (DO differently) help leaders navigate informal networks and build collectives to solve problems.

Project Management

Perceiving

Despite our best attempts, it is impossible for humans to be completely objective when perceiving a context as we suffer from bias from our pre-existing notions and default to what we know.

Leaders must proactively seek to see things differently to understand the complexity and uncover the latent needs of the organisation, customers and stakeholders. When dealing with constant change, the need to see the big picture and to frame and reframe what you see is one of the most important roles a leader must take on in perceiving.

Having a beginner’s mindset (like starting with a clean slate) allows us to leave our biases behind and let curiosity in. In turn, we can then start to see a bigger and often different picture.

Sensemaking

Leaders need to see a system/issue in a holistic sense. Creating an integrated picture from multiple perspectives can help bring viability to the collective sense of the system at play. Working with others can improve decision quality by exploring alternatives and recognising where our thinking might be biased. Collaboration is the key to innovation where we can grow our ideas and stress test them with others.

Together leaders need to take adductive action and look for data and patterns that might contradict existing notions, ideas, and assumptions and then try to make sense of it to find progression paths forward that cuts through complexity.

Choreography

With several ideas on how to move forward, leaders then need to take the most sound idea and find channels and vehicles that help the journey. Complex adaptive systems cannot be controlled and must be solved by networks of individuals who hold different vantage points to make collective sense of what is going on and take action to move forward.

This requires that leaders build and influence the collectives of individuals outside their sphere of control to nudge the complex adaptive system into the desired direction. It also requires leaders to have the confidence to take action to re-establish order, test and iterate as many actions as possible and make go/no go decisions ruthlessly.

A common derailment in either context is the desire to make a decision quickly. In both contexts taking the time to stay away from an action/reaction response, whether we have experienced the situation before (complicated), allows time to move away from an automatic and emotional response and come to a considered evaluation with logical or idyllic conclusions.

View the full story here https://www.strategyex.co.uk/blog/pmoperspectives/decision-making-in-complex-project-environments/

Communicating Your Understanding

George Pitagorsky

Communication is the process of exchanging information through verbal and non-verbal messaging.

It is the single most critical part of project initiation, planning and performance. In fact, it is the most important part of working with anyone on anything. Communication is the foundation for all relationship and healthy relationships are the foundation for successful performance.

We must be able to share our thoughts in a way that promotes mutual understanding. That is the first step in being able to plan, solve problems, avoid and resolve conflicts, define and deliver products and services, and more.

Dr Stephen Covey’s fifth habit of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. He said,

“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Listening is the key to understanding. Intend to listen and then reflect on what you have taken in, ask questions about it and reflect your understanding back to the other parties to make sure you understand in the same way they do. Then, you can seek to be understood by communicating your views while being open to feedback and questioning.

Covey thought that most people do not listen with the intention to understand. Instead they listen with the intention to respond. Often the intention to respond leads to missing part of the content of the message and bypasses reflection of what has been said and understood. That opens the door to misinterpretation and unnecessary conflict.

Listening is not just about hearing. Listening in the context of the communication model includes seeing, feeling and hearing. It goes beyond the receiver intending to understand. The sender who “listens” with eyes, ears, and other senses picks up on the receiver’s needs and is more likely to be understood. So, when Covey says “seek to understand” we can include in that the idea that as senders we seek to understand the receiver so that we can send our message in a way that is most likely to be understood.

Saying you understand does not communicate that you understand.

You must show that you understand by saying what you understand and determining whether the others agree that what you understand is what they understand. That common or mutual understanding assures that further dialogue, debate and action will be effective.

Note that an understanding of what another person has said or written does not imply agreement.

You can understand what another person says and not agree with it. In fact, unless you really understand what the other person says and is thinking, you cannot know whether you agree or disagree.

For example, an IT project leader, in conversation with the people representing the client and the client’s end users, says “I understand” and in effect cuts off communication. To complete the circle of understanding, the IT Project Leader must show his/her understanding, orally at first, and then, if the information is to be used to initiate work or as a base for decision making, in some concrete form such as a document, email or prototype. The statement of understanding can be preceded by questions to clarify the understanding. Often, a dialog is needed to refine the understanding.

One communicator, the sender, encodes and sends a message, the other receives it, “decodes it” and sends feedback, which is then decoded and used by the original sender to determine his/her next steps. The encoding sets up the message. It is influenced by the sender’s field of experience. The decoding is based on the receiver’s field of experience.

The field of experience is the cultural background, language, knowledge, attitude, relationship, etc. that have come together to influence understanding. The greater the differences in the fields of experience between the communicators, the greater the need for care and effort in making sure there is a common understanding of the message.

A message travels from sender to receiver via a channel. The channel represents the media – the means by which the message is sent. It might be email, oral face to face or via telephone, video, etc.

Here is an example of how the channel effects the communication: in a discussion about a requirement, the client says, “I want a hard copy report of all transactions for a day and to have a PDF copy of it stored for future use.” That is the initial message. It is encoded by the sender. The analyst, hearing this, rolls her eyes and makes a face. That is the second message (sent using body language). If the channel is voice via telephone, that message will not get through. If it does get through, in a media that allows for visual contact, it will trigger a response from the client.

Noise is part of the transactional model. Noise gets in the way of mutual understanding. In the communication model, noise is not limited to physical sound alone. Noise may be physical, physiological, psychological or semantic.

Physical noise is sound or disruption in the communication environment. It might be loud music, static, the buzz of machinery. Physical noise distorts the message or disrupts receiving the message.

Physiological noise is related to the speech and hearing of the communicators. For example, physiological noise includes hearing problems, speaking too slowly, too softly, too fast or too loudly. It also includes poor pacing and creating run on paragraphs by forgetting to pause.

Psychological noise includes distracting thoughts that take the mind away from the topic at hand and get in the way of listening, wandering from topic to topic in an unrelated sequence, biases, beliefs, sarcasm, irony and unrecognized attempts at humor.

Semantic noise relates to differences in meaning. This is not limited to differences in natural languages. It includes differences in meaning arising from the use of jargon and terms that require common understanding of technical, scientific or organizational content.

With an understanding of the goal of communication and the nature of the communication process, it becomes possible to improve communication in the project setting. Be mindful of the environment, the needs and nature of the other parties and of one’s own tendencies and the need to minimize noise and accommodate the noise that will remain to achieve mutual understanding.

View the full story here… projecttimes.com

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Strategic Planning and the Intrinsic Elephant

Paul Taplin

Picture yourself and your colleagues invited to participate in the organisation’s strategic planning process, and settling down to several hours of facilitated discussions about planning the corporate future.

Chances are, firstly there will be an introductory talk from the Managing Director or CEO, followed by some further prepping from the corporate planning manager and others. Then you will probably participate in some sort of SWOT analysis, and generate all manner of things that will then need prioritising, consolidating and rationalising.

You are probably fairly pleased to be involved because it means that you have been recognised as a worthwhile contributor, and you’ve got the opportunity to illustrate your insightful thoughts in front of your peers and bosses.

The potential weakness that I am alluding to is a diligent and frank assessment of the outcomes arising from previous years’ planning processes.

The whole point of the strategic planning process is to carefully and honestly evaluate the organisation’s corporate environment, and adopt a series of principles, policies, programs and projects that will be undertaken to improve the organisation’s performance against its adopted mission and objectives.

So, after the corporate prepping, one of the first steps in the planning process should be to look closely at the performance and outcomes of the programs and projects generated from previous years’ planning.

The problem could arise principally from one of two sources. Either the planning process generated the wrong outcomes, or the delivery process was flawed.

The most likely causes of a problematic planning process are unreliable data, a lack of authenticity and/or a major optimism bias.

Planning data is often laced with assumptions and predictions extrapolated from current performance. In a predictable world these assumptions may be relevant, but in volatile times any assumptions need to be robust enough to hold good for a variety of scenarios.

A lack of authenticity may arise if the provider has portrayed the information in a manner as the author wishes it to be seen rather than how it actually is, perhaps to support some preconceived actions that they would like the planning group to adopt.

Optimism bias is always present both in planning and the execution of initiatives. You can expect that estimated times and costs will ultimately be exceeded by 20-30% in many cases.

A flawed delivery process arises when the organisation fails to provide the right machinery and environment to plan, develop and implement important initiatives and projects. Careful attention is required to adopt adequate resourcing, competencies, processes and culture to successfully deliver the project.

Organisational maturity in project management is essential.

The proposed delivery mechanism needs to be discussed, tested and adopted at the same time as adopting that particular corporate initiative to ensure its robustness and practicability.

So, here are a series of questions to ask yourself in preparation for an upcoming planning session:

  • How are planning decisions actually made in your organisation?
  • Can you access and review any evidence about past and current strategic planning outcome performance?
  • Can you access and review past summaries of the close-out of strategic planning sessions?
  • Are you being invited as a valid contributor, or as part of a passive audience?
  • Are you confident enough to add your contribution, and perhaps call out any inauthenticity?

View the full story here… projecttimes.com

The PMO and Stakeholder Engagement

Lindsay Scott

It’s a question that still gets raised when the PMO looks beyond the more technical and analytical aspects of their work in supporting portfolio, programmes and projects in an organisation and thinks about how they can assist and support behavioural interactions.

Everyone knows that stakeholders are crucial to project success – and right now, stakeholder management has been sidelined to make way for stakeholder engagement.

In this article, we take a look at who stakeholders are – how they are engaged rather than managed – how a stakeholder mindset is established – the different types of stakeholders and finally how PMOs can get involved in project and programme stakeholder engagement and whether stakeholder engagement can also be utilised by the PMO itself.

We start by understanding who stakeholders are, and draw on the PMI PMBoK definition. Stakeholders are:

an individual, group or organisation who may affect or be affected by or perceived itself to be affected by a decision, activity or outcome

An even shorter definition, stakeholders in projects are “the involved or the affected”.

There’s been a real shift away from the term “stakeholder management”. Management implies the co-ordination and control of people (stakeholders) rather than the participation and responsiveness of the term engagement [Read more about the 5 ‘Musts’ of Stakeholder Engagement]

In projects today, we’re looking for meaningful engagement which roughly translates to:

It’s a two-way street and its the job of the project manager to be able to foster that kind of culture, create the right kind of environment to enable conversation, debate and decisions to be made.

It may feel like a subtle change – from management to engagement, yet we know wherever people exist on projects, it’s never going to be an easy ride.

We’re interested in everyone, the “involved and affected”in projects yet some stakeholders are more important than others. Traditionally, understanding role-based stakeholders are where most of the project management training has focused.

Role-based stakeholders – when we look at the different types of projects below – are the ‘involved’- the people and groups who have a defined relationship to the project. In less complex projects there are relatively few stakeholders and where there are, they tend to be role-based. As projects become increasingly complex, with more stakeholders, the profiles of these stakeholders change.

They become agenda-based stakeholders. These people and groups may feely very strongly  (passionately) about the project but you won’t necessarily identify them by going to your governance documents.  They may be obvious – they may not.  They may emerge late on in the project – if you like, the affected.  The way you identify, assess and engage with these groups is often quite different from the role-based stakeholders. You see these types of stakeholders a lot when the projects affect the general public, like a new runway or building a new nuclear power station.

The approach – the project management techniques, processes and tools – differ depending on the type of stakeholder.

They’re the custodian of the different methods, frameworks, processes and techniques. They’re there to assist the project manager in whichever activity they can.

Sometimes the role of the PMO as a Centre of Excellence means they’re there to support/educate / coach – offer training for project managers if its felt it is needed.

Sometimes the more directive PMO will offer hands-on support in approaches such as SEAM (Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix), RACI (Responsibility Assignment Matrix) and the facilitation of them. They’ll also pick up communication activities that touch stakeholders frequently with the right messages.

For more agenda-based stakeholders, PMOs can work with project managers to determine Power – Interest Matrices, use their own connections and relationships to provide input into salience analysis and cognitive mapping. There’s much for the PMO to explore here, new thinking and approaches that can be adopted by the project delivery organisation.

The PMO as connectors are also very useful for understanding ‘who’s who in the zoo’, the political relationships in the organisation, the organisational network analysis of who is connected to who and with what agendas. The PMO see and hear a lot.

The PMO’s role is to support good project delivery – not manage it. The role of the PMO in stakeholder engagement is to help the Project Manager foster an environment where stakeholder engagement can flourish. The PMO has to take its own medicine and engage with the Project Manager to understand how and where it can assist.

The PMO should be exemplary and that starts with their own stakeholder engagement.

View the full story here… strategyex.co.uk

Top 5 Competencies for Strategic Project Managers

Elizabeth Harrin

I think that managing different types of projects requires different skills. There are a lot of overlaps and the core competencies remain the same. However, having worked on ‘ordinary’ and ‘strategic’ projects I have seen first-hand that the requirements of the project manager are different.

Here are the 5 top competencies that I think are particularly important for project managers in a strategic project delivery role.

It is so, so important that you learn how to communicate effectively at all levels. The types of communication you do when managing small, tactical projects are not the same when you are working on initiatives that are strategically important.

You didn’t get to manage a strategic project through being bad at communication, so you probably already have good skills in this area. But there is always more to develop.

On strategic projects, you will have more need to use your negotiating, influencing and conflict resolution skills – yes, these are a type of communication.

You might be giving more presentations, to more senior people who have a higher expectation of your delivery. You’ll be in meetings with external parties who have significant influence: perhaps government officials, regulators or industry representatives. At this level, there is more exposure, and more possibility to get it wrong.

Learning effective communication skills will help you get heard. And when you get heard, you have more chance of being able to secure the resources you need to effectively deliver your projects, winning the support required.

Having a business-orientated mindset elevates what you do as a project manager from someone who simply delivers what they are asked, to someone who adds real business value.

When you are on a strategic project, this is crucial. You have to understand the link between what you are doing and the wider business. You need to be able to see the implications for other teams. And if you don’t know what they are, you need to know that there probably are some implications and go out and find them.

Business acumen, and being able to think in a business-focused way, will help you communicate in a language that managers understand. It gives you the context for the change. You are better able to share the vision for the project with other people and see how it fits into the bigger picture.

I think this is probably the single most important competency to develop because it’s not often considered or taught on courses in the same way that skills like communication and interpersonal skills are. Yet it has the ability to set you apart from the crowd as the project manager who really ‘gets it’.

You might not have previously considered coaching to be a core skill. However, on strategic projects, it is essential that you have the right people doing the right work. That might mean that you are developing people as you go.

Coaching helps your team find their strengths. On large projects, you can’t always be there to hold someone’s hand. Team members need to be able to step up themselves, act confidently and do what is required. And you need to trust them to be able to do that.

Learn how to coach. It will make a huge difference in your team’s performance. And if you can get a coach yourself, you’ll see big improvements in the way you lead your team too.

Project managers know how to manage a budget. However, that’s typically a short-term endeavour that is separate from the profit and loss accounting of a team.

When you take on a role in strategic projects, you are more likely to need to understand the longer term financial implications of the project. Understanding how budgets are created and managed outside of a project environment can help.

This skill is also essential if you move into programme management, as many programmes involve an element of business as usual activity too. This would involve the day-to-day operational financial management and perhaps being responsible for the P&L for your area too.

Learning how to develop a budget from scratch is a helpful skill for all roles. You can take that further by improving your ability to talk about money, communicating why you need it, sharing the latest financial reporting information and decoding what the statements mean for your team.

Leadership isn’t always given to you. Sometimes you have to step up and take charge because no one else is.

On large projects, it’s unlikely that you’ll find no one in charge from an executive management perspective. All strategic projects should be sponsored by someone very senior in the organisation, so while you are in charge of the project itself, the outcomes and strategic direction will most likely be led by someone else.

However, you will find moments where there is a leadership vacuum. Someone is on holiday. A particular element of the project has fallen through the cracks as it isn’t clear where it sits. These are the times where you need to extend your leadership reach, step up and take charge – even if that is simply in an interim capacity until someone else comes along.

This is a difficult competency to practice, but you can improve your leadership skills for managing organisational change.

View the full story here… strategyex.co.uk

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