Listening Plans

October 30th, 2012

We need fewer Communication Plans and more Listening Plans

The communication plan has become an element of focus on projects today, especially with the realisation that Change Management needs to be a greater part of the effort that brings projects to successful outcomes. Many who are a part of the growing “change management” community face challenges with the effectiveness of the communication plan, as traditionally laid out in the project world.  Stakeholders cry out when they are not part of project planning, the changes being thrust upon them are not practical, and have not come with sufficient training. Perhaps a communication plan itself is not enough; rather we need to add or incorporate a distinct Listening Plan.

Most communication plans focus on the methods, timing and media that will be used to communicate project status and milestones to stakeholders. Although typically there are also discussions about collecting information and opinions from stakeholders, the emphasis is clearly on what will be communicated OUTWARD. Even if the project team included requirements and opinion collection exercises in the communication plan, the description often gives the stakeholders the perception these activities are secondary in importance.  A Listening Plan would provide greater detail in describing the process approaches for information and opinion collection, how that data will be captured, what will be done with that information, and how it will be fed back to stakeholders.

Often managers struggle with “buy-in” and want fewer issues with uptake from stakeholders – they end up saying “why can’t they just roll with the punches and apply the changes.” Maybe WE need to change a bit – change our language, change our emphasis and give up a bit of control – and institute a sincere and well thought out listening plan. Therefore our stakeholders get the perception we care about their views and in return we receive critical information vital to the success of the program.

Are you getting the buy-in you are hoping for with your change initiatives? Are you willing to modify the way you approach your planning? Maybe the Listening Plan is an approach you should consider.

Additional “listening plan” and change management support is available!

 

Mindavation team members have been involved in substantial change initiatives for over 20 years.  Our consulting services include assistance in the planning, transition and execution of project and change management programs. For details, email us at info@mindavation.com. You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at www.mindavation.com or www.mindavation.com.au.

 

A Whole Different Kind of Resilience

October 9th, 2012

As the instigators of change, project managers and business analysts require a whole different kind of resilience. Project leaders can be subject to the whims of senior leadership, who are trying to balance significant and conflicting priorities. They also have to deal with the workers on the coal face, who are trying to make sense of changing goals, business processes and expectations. Both senior leaders and workers can present their concerns with a vein of fear, and people in a position of fear are rarely predictable, nor easy to deal with. At the same time, the project managers are dealing with the very changes they are instigating. This begs the question, who does the project manager turn to when they need to deal with change and the corresponding fears that may surface?

The answer to this question can differ from person to person, however there are three different approaches a project manager can take:

  1. Talk to someone! A mentor- the best mentors know when to just listen, as well as when to guide or question and share their experience to support you.  A coach- the best coaches know what to listen for, what to reflect, and what questions to ask in service of moving you forward toward your intended goal or result. The very act of describing the challenges you are facing may help surface a viable solution.
  2. Other project managers. Inherently, leading a project can be a lonely task, but it doesn’t need to be. Reaching out and sharing your project issues and concerns with your project manager peers can produce ideas or a “united front” that can be the catalyst for change in an organisation.
  3. Go away and hide! Seriously! Taking 15-30 minutes with yourself and your thoughts to focus on the issues at hand and let your mind fully engage in solving the problems you are facing can be very beneficial. Find an empty conference room; go for a walk and turn off your mobile phone or go have a coffee and release the power you have to work through your issues.

Whether you follow one of these approaches or a different one, taking the opportunity to focus on solving your own project issues can be instrumental in delivering projects successfully.

Do you have a project issue that requires your focus…today?

Project coaching is available to you NOW!

Mindavation team members have been delivering project coaching services for over 15 years. For details on individual and group coaching packages, email us at info@mindavation.com. You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at www.mindavation.com or www.mindavation.com.au.

 

Outsourced Service Certification

September 25th, 2012

It has been interesting to read about the progress made by Australia on deriving a certification regime for cloud computing. As a relatively new, very popular and pervasive variety of  outsourced service it seems appropriate to certify, however it makes us wonder why popular certifications of outsourced services has not come earlier.

Wise project and program managers understand that any service they depend upon for delivery of successful project outcomes needs to be “certified” by  formal or informal means. Leveraging service providers – either internal or external to the project manager’s organisation – requires the project manager to fully understand what will be provided, what the project team may have to  accommodate, and what the timing is for service delivery. As with many things in project delivery, the project manager needs to behave as if they are the “centre of the project universe.” Many project managers are required to go through procurement organisations when contracting services, the experienced project manager will invest time working with the purchasing specialist to ensure the right services are acquired with appropriate terms and conditions. Focused project delivery attention when it comes to using outsourced services is not only a requirement, it is vital. The ramifications of error with contracted services can be substantial.

Having spent 12 years managing outsourced accounts, our experience has shown it is the content of the defined services, followed by the relationship that exists between the outsourcer and the service recipient that are the pillars of success in an outsourcing engagement. The project manager is at the heart of both of these success factors.

Are you utilising outsourced services on your project? Have you performed the appropriate amount of “certification” on the services you are planning to receive? Are you being the “centre of the project universe”?

Additional contract negotiation and outsourcing management tips are available!

Mindavation team members have been involved in substantial outsourcing contracts for over 20 years. Part of our consulting services includes assistance in the negotiation and management of outsourced contracts. For details, email us at info@mindavation.com. You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at www.mindavation.com or www.mindavation.com.au.

 

A Formula for Capturing Sponsor’s Time

August 21st, 2012

Back in March we posted a blog entry which stated that the most important factor for successful sponsorship was time. You can review that blog entry via this link:http://mindavation.com/IDBlog/2012/03/time-–-the-most-important-sponsorship-factor/ ?

A number of people have asked if we have hints or tips to help convince sponsors to spend more time working with their project teams. Being mindful that sponsor’s time is limited due to the responsibilities they have, there is a factor which we find gets the attention of sponsors who are “time poor” and struggling to keep all of their responsibilities in order. That factor is the time to budget ratio.

The time to budget ratio is simple and uses a single data point as an example. 30 minutes constitutes 1/80th of a 40-hour work week. Therefore, if the sponsor’s project will take up to 1/80th of their budget, then spending 30 minutes a week on the project is justified and is appropriate. If the project is greater than 1/80th of their budget, then more time may be appropriate. However, if the project takes up less than 1/80th of the sponsor’s overall budget, you may be dealing with a sponsor that is too high up in the organisational hierarchy. In this case, sponsorship responsibilities should probably be delegated to a person whose scope or budget would be more appropriate – that is, at least 1/80th of their budget, therefore being worth more of their attention.

Now, not all sponsors time allocation can be tied to budget; government managers often are not measured or guided by a budgetary factor. In this case, the element of scope can be applied, using the same ratio. If the project affects at least 1/80th of the scope or responsibilities they are expected to manage, then the 30 minutes a week ratio applies. If not, then sponsorship responsibilities should be delegated.

Is your sponsor’s time to budget ratio appropriate? Maybe a discussion or a re-evaluation of who should be your sponsor is in order.

Additional sponsorship management tips are available!

Mindavation is offering a workshop on Successfully Managing Sponsors that discusses working in various sponsorship structures and how to deal with various sponsorship challenges, including the challenge of time. For details, email us at info@mindavation.com. You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at www.mindavation.com or www.mindavation.com.au.

Discovering More of What You Already See

July 30th, 2012

For a project to be successful, the requirements of senior sponsors need to be understood, as well as those of the people who will utilise the products of the project. Performing this requirements collection successfully is critical for success – but many organisations do not do this effectively or efficiently. Most organisations boldly send a business analyst, subject matter expert or the project manager to work with the necessary stakeholders. This sounds reasonable, but significantly sub-optimises the use of people’s time, and the schedule for your project.

How can you fix this waste of time? Never send the “Lone Ranger” into a situation to collect requirements! Send a team of people, with different styles, to the same requirements collection event or interview. We all review situations with different filters and we “see” different things from the same scenario. This is highlighted quite profoundly by the various versions of the popular “gorilla video” that has spread across the internet. The Live Science study of the gorilla video (http://www.livescience.com/6727-invisible-gorilla-test-shows-notice.html) highlights the lack of observation skills many of us have as human beings. We concentrate on things we believe are necessary or important, and we miss other things that are in plain sight (or in clear hearing). Sending a team of people maximises the amount of information that will be collected from any interview, enhancing the quality of the initiative, and maximising the usage of time.

Using a team to discover a greater richness of requirements is one of the “10 Mighty Tools” discussed in a presentation that is delivered by Mindavation consultants. This presentation is being delivered in Hobart, Tasmania in early August. Check out the Mindavation Australia website at http://mindavation.com.au/whats-new/presentation-schedule/ for details or to request this presentation for your organisation.

Are you making the most of your requirements collection exercises? Do you have team members with a diversity of expectations so you can collect more information from each of your gathering exercises? Bring multiple team members to the requirement collection exercise and watch your project quality increase.

What’s In a (Project) Name?

June 28th, 2012

As the instigators of change, project often present challenges to an organisation. However, we have become aware of a different project challenge. In this project, the senior leaders of the organization are engaged in a serious battle…over the name of the project! Why would that ever matter, and what would cause such a fight?

The cause of this fight is the SOLUTION options that might be brought to bear to solve the business problem. Treading into one of the most treacherous project landscapes – and leading causes of “troubled projects” – both managers in this scenario are looking toward the differing solution approaches they want to deploy, rather than the business outcomes they are seeking to achieve. This naming battle has led to various acts of posturing and a lack of communication that has severely strained the trust between teams in the organisation.

Outcomes are the very reason projects come to being. Good solutions are the result of thorough analysis of the business situation with existing and desired processes being carefully examined. Keeping the focus away from deriving a solution too early in the project lifecycle  is something with which many organisations struggle. Naming a project in a way that refers to a specific solution could well be the kiss of death. Good project habits should start from the very inception of a project, and with how the project is named!

So what IS in your project name? Are you implying a solution rather than a business outcome?

“Kerfuffle Planning” – An Adjunct to Risk Management

May 8th, 2012

So what exactly is Kerfuffle Planning? And what does it have to do with Risk Management?
Traditional risk management involves anticipating the business implications and conducting anticipatory planning for activities to reduce the probability or impact of those implications. However, in practice risk management frequently does not focus on the “people side” of the equation. How will your TEAM react to a significant risk event or events?

While traveling recently, I overheard a couple of my fellow passengers saying “you need to expect the unexpected when traveling.” Their calm demeanor, I thought, was not typical of many who face the challenges of cancelled flights, lost luggage and uncooperative weather conditions. Will your project or business analysis team be calm if major project risks occur and a “kerfuffle” is the result?

Understanding the disposition of your team members is critical to ensuring they continue to be productive in the face of a crisis. Will you need to calm them down? Will you need to SLOW them down because they will be too quick to act? Will they run and hide?

The wise project or business analysis leader will, via observation of past performance or discussions with team members, anticipate what their critical team members will do in “kerfuffle moments” and understand how they need to react to ensure the team stays together and rallies to move the project forward. This Kerfuffle Plan can be the difference between successfully weathering the storm or falling apart in challenging times.

People rarely react the same way under pressure as they do under everyday conditions. A Kerfuffle plan – probably not written down, but thought out in the mind of the project leader, is a good item to have in the arsenal of an astute project leader.

Do you know what you will have to do during “kerfuffle moments”?

Facing Reality – Pushing Forward When “the Boss” Won’t Help

April 25th, 2012

In some project environments, project managers and business analysis get bogged down because they expect their managers, sponsors or other key stakeholders to take some action and it doesn’t come to fruition. As a result, projects that would otherwise succeed come to a screeching halt.

Resilient project leaders who engage in Intelligent Disobedience understand that what will push any project forward is substantial purpose. Short of moving forward without knowledge of a significant stakeholder’s requirements, the smart business analyst or project manager will face the reality of an unresponsive senior leader – whether it is due to time pressures, project knowledge or priorities – and proceed anyway. A project that has a genuine and meaningful purpose for the organisation will find its way to completion, if the project leadership team takes initiative, makes decisions themselves and communicates them, and seeks out other project supporters for their wisdom, experience and judgement.

The most successful people in life do not wait for others, nor do they hang their happiness on the actions or reactions of others. Intelligently disobedient project leaders embrace the same mantra; they are willing to take risks and move forward, as long as the purpose for a project is sound, pragmatic and reasonable.

  • Are you waiting for someone to make a decision when you feel confident you can make the decision and you know what you would do?
  • Do you have the capability to provide valid, sponsorship level input to the organisation, but are holding off and waiting for the “actual sponsor” to do so, and waiting is delaying your project?
  • Can you confidently represent the business and articulate risks, but are waiting for approval from others?

If any of the above is true, are you unduly delaying your project? Could you not document your decision with the direction you are taking, and ask for counter direction if it is desired for you to proceed differently? You may want to consider this – the purpose of your project may depend on it!

Time – The Most Important Sponsorship Factor

March 11th, 2012

When most senior business analysts or project managers think of a sponsor, they immediately think of “the person who funds the project”. Funding is a vital function provided by the sponsor; however the most important resource that a sponsor needs if they are to be an effective sponsor is TIME.

Time has many facets: there’s taking the time to understand the project, the project manager and the challenges they face; and there’s having the time to fully grasp the risks that the project team and the customer will encounter through a change process.

Although other factors, such as holding the financial control for the project are very important, a sponsor without time to deal with the project won’t readily provide the finances that are needed anyway, in most cases. They simply won’t be as effective as they could be.

Conversely, the sponsor without financial control but who has time can work with the project manager to reach and obtain finances from the appropriate managers in the organisation.

In an ideal world, our sponsors would have the financial control, they would have control over portfolio prioritisation, management of the required resources, knowledge of the business processes being changed by the project, the ability to help direct scope for the project AND they would have TIME. Unfortunately, that does not happen often enough.

Does your project sponsor have time for your project? Should you be asking your sponsor to delegate to others who actually have the time so that they can assist with the project sponsorship and all that it entails?

Help is now here!

Mindavation is offering a workshop on Successfully Managing Sponsors that discusses working in various sponsorship structures and how to deal with various sponsorship challenges, including the challenge of time. For details, email us at info@mindavation.com. You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at www.mindavation.com or www.mindavation.com.au.

Senior Stakeholder Management – Should You Always Bring the Answer?

February 12th, 2012

Recently, we have heard leadership “experts” present two completely opposite pieces of advice relative to managing senior stakeholders. Says one expert – the person who is bringing a problem to a senior leader should present the issue, then stop and listen for any feedback, questions or recommendations. On the other hand another expert advises to never bring an issue to a senior stakeholder without a recommended action, or a resolution activity already launched.

So which of these recommendations are appropriate?

The leader who is exercising intelligent disobedience will see these as alternatives that may actually be executed, but will approach the senior leader conversation having prepared something altogether different. In our Influencing without Authority workshops, we regularly examine the power of questions as being as crucial (if not more crucial) than any particular solution that is brought to the senior leader.

Well formed multiple choice questions are powerful for the leader who has significant influence or the employee who does not have a position of power within the organization. Multiple choice options which include pros and cons for each alternative suggested can reflect a broad and balanced view of the organization, and a degree of business savvy. When combined with rationale for a recommended option, individuals with little or no organizational power can leave a good impression and assert influence over decisions made.

Are you taking the time to construct crisp and reflective multiple choice questions when bringing a decision forward to senior leaders? Are you taking opportunities to increase your influence through the questions you pose to senior leaders?

Note: Mindavation delivers a two day workshop on Influencing without Authority that incorporates the concept of capitalizing on well crafted multiple choice questions. For details, email us at info@mindavation.com. You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at www.mindavation.com or www.mindavation.com.au.