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Project Management Blog

paulIt’s time. It’s time for strategic project management to be directly represented at the executive round table, in board meetings, and in the ‘C’-suite. It’s time for singular ownership and accountability for organizational strategic planning and execution. It’s time for dedicated focus on organizational resource planning, allocation and utilization. It’s time for focused attention regarding return on investment, earned value on execution, appropriate risk management and post-execution benefit capture. And finally, it’s time for single-sourced, unambiguous communication regarding strategic balance, allocation of resources and prioritization of the directives that constitute the portfolio of investments that the organization makes on its own behalf.

What you have just read is the opening paragraph of the article It’s Time for Project Leadership To Have A Seat At The Executive Table written by Paul Williams (http://www.thinkforachange.com/aboutpaul). In it, he emphatically argues that project management is just as important as any of the other more traditional business departments such as marketing, finance or operations.

In our interview, Paul and I review his general argument why project leadership needs a seat at the executive table, what the roles and responsibilities of our representative are, what skills he or she needs, and what you can do as part of your career planning to become that very person.

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Here is another one of our Best PM Podcast episode that garnered 38,928 total downloads.

In this 120-page book Yaron mostly discusses many best practices and gives excellent advice on managing your projects. However, in our interview we focused on just the last 15 pages where he outlines 5 steps that will help you avoid project failure. The first one is all about defining project objectives and I’ll let him discuss the rest in the interview.

http://bit.ly/1Ya83a3 ‪#‎BestofPMPodcast

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joe drammissiWe spend most of our waking hours at work, yet for many among us the time spent there is unrewarding, unfulfilling, and often just unpleasant. If that sounds familiar, then we can help.

Today we are going to be talking about Enlightened Project Management with Joe Drammissi, PMP (http://enlightenedpm.com/about). At first, this sounds like a method that comes straight out of a new age textbook, but it is in fact a worthwhile concept that helps us project managers not only make a positive difference, but also puts us at the leading edge of change. So keep on listening!

In our interview, Joe and I talk about what enlightened project management is but then quickly talk about the traits that an enlightened project managers has. We review what such a PM strives to do, believes in and how she or he works with stakeholders.

We close out the interview by learning how EPM is applied on a project manager's day-to-day work, and Joe gives us a technique that is easy to apply to get us started -- all based on his book 101 Tips for the Enlightened Project Manager.
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You all know the drill. You are juggling managing a project, solving problems, providing leadership to the team, and trying to get all the work done on time and within budget. However, when your manager or your customer asks how the project is going, you simply reply “fine”.

Many project managers try to communicate with the minimum possible effort. Part of this hesitancy is a lack of comfort with written and verbal communication in general. It could also be that most project managers simply do not understand the value that proactive communication provides on a project.

Like it or not, communication is one of the core project management processes. However, the communication process can be scaled based on the size of the project. For small projects, the level of communication might be as simple as making sure the business customer understands that the work has begun, and notifying them when the work is completed. Nothing fancy there.

Status Reports Satisfy Basic Communication Requirements

Problems can occur when you apply this small project model to much larger projects. As you get into larger projects, you will need to get into status reporting. Status Reports provide information to the key stakeholders on the current status of the project and what work has been completed since the last communication. These are also forums to discuss outstanding issues, scope change requests, risks, etc. The main purpose of the status reports is to manage expectations and make sure there are no surprises. Delivering bad news is not a communications problem. Not effectively managing expectations is a problem. Lay it all out in the status report, and don’t surprise your stakeholders.

Create a Communication Plan for Large Projects

On larger projects, especially those that impact a wide variety of people, the basic status report is no longer enough. The communication needs to be proactive, multifaceted and targeted. This is the time for establishing a formal Communication Plan. In a Communication Plan, you think about your major stakeholders, their information needs, and the best way to satisfy those needs. Then, you can tailor specific types of communication to meet the particular needs of each audience. In a Communication Plan you identify and plan for three types of communication:

Mandatory communication such as budget and status reports.

Informational elements such as an online repository of project documentation, lunch and learns, and frequently asked questions.

Marketing elements such as pep rallies, success stories, testimonials, and posters to display in the company lobby.

Communication - Just Do It!

Project managers must get over the fear and reluctance to communicate proactively. There are some projects where the project manager thought he had done a good job, but the client was not satisfied because he or she did not know what was going on. There are also projects that went badly overbudget and deadline, but were still viewed as a success because the client knew what was going on and the expectations were managed well.

You have all heard the simple saying, “communicate, communicate, communicate.” Project managers should take this to heart. There are many aspects of a project that are not totally within your hands. Communication, however, is something that is directly within your control. You might be surprised how smoothly your project progresses when you communicate proactively to the team, customers, and stakeholders.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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David Hillson
This interview with Dr. David Hillson was recorded at the 2015 PMI Global Congress in Orlando, Florida. We discuss his paper and presentation "Weight Loss For Risky Projects". Here is the paper's definition of Risk Obesity:

“Risk obesity” occurs when there is too much risk in the system, resulting from uncontrolled risk appetite (Hillson, 2014). This can affect the business as a whole if strategic risk-taking decisions by the senior management team lead to risk exposure that is greater than the organization can manage. But risk obesity can also occur at the project level, when a particular project is carrying levels of risk that are too high, posing a significant threat to the project’s success.

Each of the characteristics of physical obesity has parallels in risk obesity, where we accumulate excessive risk exposure that threatens the ongoing health of our project, and that may ultimately be terminal. Risk obesity also makes other risk ailments more likely, as high levels of risk exposure challenge the ability of our risk management processes to cope.

The main cause of risk obesity is an uncontrolled or inappropriate risk appetite (Hillson and Murray-Webster, 2012), leading us to take on too much risk without the ability to digest it and deal with it effectively. It is also possible in some cases that there is a built-in tendency to risk obesity arising from the “organizational DNA,” with a corporate ethos and culture that lead to excessive risk-taking.

The good news for projects suffering from risk obesity is that it is both treatable and preventable. This paper provides clear diagnostic symptoms to determine whether a project is risk obese, as well as proven treatment options.

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Wednesday, 13 January 2016 20:08

How to Deal with Uncertainty on Long Projects

Many times you are asked to manage a project that starts off with a lot of uncertainty. You may not be 100% sure of the resource requirements, final deliverables, cost, schedule, etc. You may also be working within a matrixed organization where team members are not allocated full-time to your project. They may be either assigned to other projects, or else to the support of production applications. Part of the planning process involves deciding how to manage the unknowns.

The good news is that project managers deal with the uncertainty associated with large projects all the time, and it is very likely that you can be successful. You can imagine projects with dozens (or hundreds) of workers, and very long timeframes. If those project managers can be successful, you can too.

Okay, so what should you do? Here are a couple suggestions for you to consider, depending on what you think will work best in your situation.

Break the work into smaller pieces

The first thing to do with a long project is to break it down into smaller pieces if possible. For example, let’s say you have a traditional waterfall type of project. Although you are not sure about the work to be done in nine months, you should at least know what you will need to do over the next few months. You are probably going to start in a requirements gathering process. Instead of defining a one year project, start by defining a project that will cover only the analysis phase. After that project, you can redefine and estimate the remainder of the work. If you still feel uncomfortable doing that, then perhaps you can create a project that just covers the design phase. Ultimately, you may complete the work in three or four smaller projects instead of one large one, but you will get there nonetheless. You will also be able to more easily confirm the resources you need for each of the shorter projects.

Provide less detail as the planning horizon gets further out

Many organizations are not structured in a way that allows you to break a large project into a set of smaller ones. These companies only want to pay for one project, and track one project. If you break it up into pieces, people could become confused.

The next idea is to estimate and plan the work for the entire timeframe, but understand that there will be less detail the further out in the future you get. Again, you should have a firm and detailed schedule for the next three months, but then the planning will be at a higher and higher level. You have a framework for completing the project, but only the short-term activities are planned out in detail. This is probably the approach most project managers take on long projects.

Of course, you cannot leave everything at a high level. Every month you need to replan the project, validating the detailed work for the next two months, and then building the details for the third month out. This makes sure that you always have a three-month detailed planning window, and you are filling in more and more detail for the outer months. If the detailed planning leads you to believe that you will not hit your deadline or your budget, attempt to resolve the situation immediately or raise this possibility as a potential risk.

Use multiple estimating techniques

The classic estimating technique is to build a work breakdown structure, estimate the work associated with the lowest level activities, and then add everything back up for the final overall estimate. This approach does not work well when you are not sure exactly what the work is a long way into the future. Fortunately, there are other estimating techniques that will help you cross-check your estimated effort, cost, and duration. Fist, you can rely on outside experts to review your Project Charter and schedule to see if they think your estimates are reasonable. Second, you can see whether there have been similar projects in your company where you can review the prior schedule and estimates to see how they line up with your project. Third, you can use industry guidelines to create overall estimates based on how much time you think the analysis phase will take. For example, if you find estimating guidelines that say that the analysis phase of a project with your characteristics takes 28% of the entire project, then you can provide a high-level estimate of the entire project based on your detailed estimate for the analysis phase.

If you are concerned about the availability of resources, this approach should work. When you create the initial schedule, you can start to communicate regarding the specific people you will need in the next three months, and the general types of people you will need further out. If you keep a detailed three-month planning window, you will be able to give the resource managers up to three months lead-time once you finally nail down who you need for the project work. If resources are not available, you also have up to three months to escalate the problem or to look for alternatives. Two to three months notice should be enough time to manage through any of these resource scenarios.

Risk management

Generally, the problem with long projects is that there are many things that can happen in the future that you do not know about today. In other words, there are potential risks. We have already discussed some ways to deal with the uncertainty of schedule and effort estimating risks. There are other risks as well. For instance, there is a risk that resources you need in the future will not be available when you need them.

All of these risks can be identified, and then a specific plan can be put into place to mitigate the risk and ensure it does not happen. Every month you would update the risk plan to ensure known risks are being managed and new risks are identified. If you think there is risk associated with any aspect of the project in the future, identify it and mitigate it.

Summary

You are right to be concerned about the unknowns associated with long projects. However, there are a number of techniques that can be used to make you feel more comfortable. Being comfortable does not imply that you know everything. Being comfortable means that you have taken your best shot at laying the project out as best you can, and then relying on a good set of communication processes, good risk management, and good issues management to deal with future threats and current problems as they arise.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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Project management presents a bigger challenge than just telling everyone on the team to perform tasks in a certain way. People who are not used to working within a formal structure and framework can sometimes rebel when they are asked to do it for the first time. These people will first tend to get negative and view the new processes as overhead before they start to grudgingly see the value.

If you were trying to implement a project management discipline throughout your entire organization, the job would be very complex and time-consuming. In that kind of an initiative, you are trying to change the culture for project managers, team members, functional managers, and customers. When you implement project management processes on just one project team, the challenge is much more contained and within your control. On the other hand, the benefits are obviously more limited as well. First, the value that you are providing is limited to your immediate project team. You will also have to create some of the processes and templates your team will use, rather than having a consistent set that your entire organization uses. When your entire organization is moving in the same direction, you will really start to see the overall value that good project management processes can provide.

To help you be successful, focus these five areas:

Leadership

As the project manager, you are the primary person to lead this change. You set the priorities and you set the tone for how the project is run. If you make sure to define and plan the project well, and then to execute and control the project using good techniques, other members of the team should follow your lead. But, if project team members see that you are not communicating well, you are accepting new scope requirements on your own, or there confusion regarding who is doing what, they will obviously question the changes being made. Don’t let that happen to you. Talk the talk and walk the walk.

Project management deliverables

You cannot successfully introduce good project management discipline without implementing a set of processes that everyone can see and understand. This starts off with the planning processes. With a large project, it should be understood that you need a Project Charter and a schedule. You also need to have a process for managing issues, scope, risk, communication, etc. These don’t have to be long, tedious procedures, but they have to be detailed enough that people understand what is expected of them and how the project management processes work.

Project management advocate

Try to find someone on the team that can be an inside partner. The team will accept the new processes much more quickly if there is another team member who is also on your side. This person should be a senior individual whom the rest of the team respects. He doesn’t have to be a cheerleader, but he will set a good example and encourage the rest of the team to go along with the work processes that have been established for the entire team.

Communication

You should make sure that the team is aware of what you are doing and why. Explain to them the perceived value and benefit to the project. This is not a one-time message, but one that should be repeated over and over. This type of communication can take many shapes over time. For instance, you can catch someone doing something right regarding the project management procedures and praise them for their effort. You can also track and publicize how the team is doing in terms of meeting commitments for schedule, cost and quality. It is very difficult to introduce a culture change without a frequent, ongoing and consistent message.

Training / awareness

Lastly, after you have dealt successfully with the people dynamics and the required processes, you should make sure that no one has difficulty because of a skills problem. If your project were long enough, you would expect to receive a positive return on your training investment. You should think about providing short awareness training to the entire team, and then sending your team leaders or other project managers to more formal project management training.

Summary

There are some advantages and disadvantage associated with trying to implement formal project management processes on a project team. In general, the successful implementation is within your control. If your project is large enough, you should easily see the value and you will have a chance to integrate project management processes successfully before the project finishes.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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Wanda Curlee
Wanda Curlee, PMP, PgMP

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the ever-growing network of physical objects that feature an IP address for internet connectivity, and the communication that occurs between these objects and other Internet-enabled devices and systems.

Internet of Things (IoT) projects are the projects that you and I will be managing in order to make these devices a reality, and according to Wanda Curlee (www.wandacurlee.com) these type of projects have the potential to fundamentally change project management.

The way that an IoT project is changing project management is not just because anything and everything can be and will be internet enabled, but also because the project management software we use will be more interconnected and developing these IoT devices will require us project managers to get a better handle on research and development, which can be extremely nebulous in the internet of things.

In a nutshell, Wanda Curlee says that IoT project management is heading our way and even if your projects are not internet related today, they will be in the future, She has no doubt that you will be managing an internet of things project.

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It is difficult to address all the potential services having to do with PMOs, but here is an attempt to summarize some of them. Keep in mind that probably no single PMO will undertake responsibility for all of the services mentioned below. However, understanding the nature of the many services that can be offered will help you determine the most important areas that will be offered by your PMO.

Establish and Support a Document Repository

One of the value propositions for deploying common project management processes is the ability to reuse processes, procedures, templates, prior examples, etc. However, the ability to reuse documentation does not come about like magic. If project managers want to see whether there might be pre-existing material that would help them, they are not going to be expected to contact every other project manager. To facilitate process and document reuse, the PMO needs to establish and manage a Document Repository. This could be as easy as setting up a directory structure that everyone in the organization can access. It might also be more elaborate and multi-functional, like a tool specifically designed for document management. Depending on how you implement this facility, you need to properly set up a classification structure, make sure that only approved information is posted there, make sure the information stays current and relevant, and make sure that the facility is actively marketed and utilized by the organization.

Convert Key Learnings to Best Practices

At the end of every project, the project manager, team, client and major stakeholders should get together in an end-of-project meeting to discuss what was planned and what actually happened. At some point in the meeting, you should turn your attention to lessons learned. The lessons should be collected and consolidated in the Document Repository. However, one problem with lessons learned is that they typically only apply to that one project.

As the PMO collects more and more key learnings, they may start to see patterns emerge in the lessons learned. At some point, lessons learned from projects can be raised to the level of a best practice. A best practice statement implies that the benefit can be gained for all projects, not just the few that reported it.

Coordinating a Common Resource Pool

All companies need to have a process to staff projects. In some companies, the resources are allocated per business unit. In other companies, all of the project people are assigned to one central staff. Since the PMO is a focal point for all project management-related activities, it is the right place to manage these common resource pools. The resource pool could be for project managers only, or it could be for all potential project team members. Creating a common resource pool involves taking a skills inventory of all shared resources and keeping track of when each person will become available from his current project. The PMO can then have the information available as new projects are ready to start. In fact, the PMO can have certain projects started based on the availability of skillsets.

Document Review Service

Document reviews can be offered on a stand-alone basis to help ensure that project managers are utilizing the standard templates as they were intended and that they are being completed clearly and consistently. This service basically just involves project managers sending in project deliverables to receive a quick review and feedback. The PMO is not “approving” the document, but they are providing feedback on the content, format and readability of the specified document.

Defining the Role of Contractors on Projects

Most companies utilize contractors for some portion of their workload. The question that your company must answer is how best to utilize contractors and how best to utilize employees. There is not one answer that fits all companies. Each company and each organization must determine the things that are most important to them and create an overall policy for utilizing contractors within that context. For instance, one company might decide that their business runs on their legacy systems, and they are not going to trust contractors to keep those applications running. Another company may decide that the legacy systems represent the past, and that new projects represent the future. In that company, they may decide to rely on contractors for support, but they may prefer to utilize employees for new projects. Likewise, some companies insist that all senior positions be staffed with employees. Other companies do not have a problem placing contractors in any position where they are short of employees or do not have the right employee available. The PMO can help determine the right policies for your company.

Benchmarking

As your company becomes more sophisticated at utilizing metrics, you might realize that collecting internal data on internal projects is valuable, but can only take you so far. You don't really know how efficient and effective your project delivery is unless you can compare how you deliver projects against other companies. Benchmarking studies (one-time) and benchmarking programs (longer-term) are a way to compare your organization against others. Benchmarking requires that you gather a set of predefined metrics that describe the result of very well-defined processes. The resulting metrics that are captured from other companies, using the same set of processes and definitions, can be used to create benchmarking statistics that allow you to compare your organization against others. This information can be evaluated to determine if there are changes that can be made in your organization to achieve similar results.

Benchmarking is an area that few companies want to try to start on their own. It requires a lot of work, and the processes you define need to be applicable to a range of outside companies. If you are going to benchmark, you are generally going to need to utilize an outside firm that specializes in benchmarking. This company may already have the core set of processes, metrics and benchmarks defined. They can also spend the time to get other companies involved, they can conduct the study and they can help interpret the results.

Summary

Many companies are finding that they must build project management capabilities if they are going to meet business challenges in the future. It is also important to implement project management processes consistently across the organization. This leads to efficiency and helps to deliver projects better, faster, and cheaper. The next step is to determine how best to identify the common project management processes and make sure that they are leveraged as needed by the entire organization.

Many companies give this responsibility to one or more people in a Project Management Office (PMO). There are many structures for a PMO and many types of services that the PMO can offer. Each organization must first determine the services that are important to them and then create an overall approach for implementation. Since this is a culture change initiative, the effort can be time-consuming and difficult. However, the rewards are also large. If the PMO is established with a clear vision, strong sponsorship and a solid approach, it can be a vehicle for creating a tremendous amount of value for the company.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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They say the only sure things in life are death and taxes. However, there may be a third – change. Your project team can be very diligent in defining the project and capturing business requirements. However, once you get going, changes will occur.

Why Change?

Project changes are typically caused by two reasons. First, the client does not understand all of the details and nuances of what they need before the project begins. This is normal. The project team sometimes thinks that their clients must know every detail about the solution, but that is too high an expectation. Some requirements will come up later. Some requirements won’t be known until the client starts to see how the solution is shaping up.

The second reason for project change is that the business is changing, the industry is changing, and the world is changing. Even if your specifications were initially perfect, business change might require changes to your work.

It is vital that the project manager and project team recognize changes when they occur and manage the changes through scope change management. This allows the sponsor to make a decision on whether the value of the change is worth the cost to the project in terms of cost and schedule.

Change is not inherently bad or good. However, the team can react to changes in positive or negative ways, depending on the state of the project. Project teams will typically react to change with the thinking that if the project sponsor wants to make the changes, then they will go ahead and make the changes.

Changes Can Be Perceived Negatively

Some teams react to project change in a way that can be more problematic - the team may not want to make any more changes. This situation usually occurs on projects that have had problems, and there could be a variety of reasons for this reaction:
  • This may be a long project, perhaps requiring overtime, and people just want the project to end.
  • The proposed changes will require a lot of work, and the deadline date is being held firm. Again, overtime may be required from the team.
  • Members of the project team and the client have not had a smooth relationship on the project. There may be project team members that do not want to help the client and others that, again, may just want the project to end.
  • The changes require major upstream rework to the design, which will require changes to construction and re-testing of the entire solution.
All of these situations (and others) can result in a scenario where the project team is not motivated to support scope changes. This puts the project manager in a tough position. The project manager may also want to see the project completed; however, he usually does not have the luxury of complaining. (If he does, it should be to his own manager and project sponsor – not to the rest of the team.) So, the project manager has to get the rest of the team on board for one last charge.

It’s a Tough Sell

Frankly, it’s a tough sell. The team members are tired and they are not motivated. Morale may be poor. However, this is the time for the project manager to show leadership. Delivering yesterday’s solution is not going to help the company. The project manager must get the team motivated to make the changes. Since the cause of the team problems is probably complex, the solution should be multi-faceted as well. Here are some strategies for the project manager to consider.
  • Explain the facts first. Do not start with a rah-rah speech right away. First, meet with the team and explain the background and circumstances. Then, talk through the changes that are needed and why they are important from a business perspective. The project manager should make sure everyone has the same understanding of the problem and the challenges ahead.
  • Acknowledge the pain. The project manager must acknowledge the problems. Let the team know that you understand that they may not want to make the changes and that their morale is poor. Don’t dwell on it – but acknowledge it.
  • Be motivational. Now is the time to motivate the team. Appeal to their sense of working together as a team to get through this adversity. Let them know the value they are providing to the company.
  • Talk to everyone one-on-one. In addition to the team meeting, talk to the entire team one-on-one to understand where they are mentally. Listen to their concerns and get their personal commitment to work hard and keep going.
  • Get management and the sponsor involved. Now is a good time to ask your manager and your sponsor to talk to the team, thank them for their work so far, and ask for their continued help getting through the changes.
  • Look for perks. Little perks can help a team get through motivational and morale trouble. These can be as simple as donuts in the morning and pizza for those that have to work late.
  • Make sure the clients are in there with you. Normally if the project team is working more, the clients are sharing the pain as well. The project manager should make sure they are contributing.
  • Communicate proactively. Keep everyone informed about the state of the project and the time and effort remaining. If the project manager starts getting closed and secretive with information, it causes more morale problems.
  • Celebrate successes. The project manager does not need to wait until the project is over to declare success. Look for milestones, or mini-milestones, as opportunities to celebrate a victory and give praise to team members.
Summary

Some people might read this column and say that the team members are being coddled. After all, they are paid to do a job, and they just need to do it.

Yes, you can take that approach as well, but this is an example of a team that is already hurting. Taking an attitude of “just do your job” can result in people cutting corners, short-changing testing, and looking for the path that gets them to the end with the least effort required. In the longer-term, it increases burnout and makes it harder for the team members to be productive in their next assignments. It can also lead to turnover, which is exactly what you do not want to happen in a situation like this.

A project manager needs to have more management and leadership tools than simply telling people to “do their jobs.” This is a tough situation and requires good people management skills to get through successfully. Success is never guaranteed, but utilizing some of these tips can help you push though.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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