Recognizing and Avoiding Project Team Burnout

“Death march projects are the norm, not the exception,” says Edward Yourdon, the author of the Death March, a book about surviving highly stressful, irrational projects in the software industry. Many organizations promote “death march” projects – those with unrealistic goals and schedules – to keep up with the competition in their respective industries. As a result, project teams work overtime to meet unrealistic goals and schedules, sometimes with insufficient resources, only to reach the burnout phase. The productivity declines, the absenteeism rate increases, and the team is unable to meet requirements. A burnout team means that the employees’ job satisfaction diminishes and that they cannot perform their tasks and meet deadlines. The consequence is a failed current project and a high probability of failure of the next project.

Recognizing team burnout and taking steps toward avoiding it are essential for avoiding cost repercussions for the organization.

“Burnout can be defined as feelings of exhaustion, a cynical attitude toward the job and people involved in the job and through a reduced personal accomplishment or work efficiency,” according to a dieBerater report.

Many things can trigger team burnout besides death march projects. These include poor project planning (cost, time, and resources), customer changes, micromanagement, high workload, time pressures, insufficient project manager support, as well as insufficient training and decision-making opportunities.

Exhausted teams tend to focus on achieving the results by working harder rather than smarter. The team members fail to use creativity to develop efficient solutions, so they become frustrated, communicate less, and work inefficiently. Read the rest of this entry »

Costly Mistake: Communicating Ineffectively with Project Stakeholders

More than half of what an organization spends on a project is at risk due to ineffective communication, warn the authors of PMI’s Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications. Over 50% of the project managers surveyed by PMI researchers nominate effective communication as the most important factor that contributes to any project’s success.

Since the project manager is the main person responsible for communication, a project manager that engages in ineffective communications endangers the project. Communicating effectively with all stakeholders starts with understanding what effective communication is and who the project’s stakeholders are.

Defining Effective Communication

“Effective communication takes place only when the listener clearly understands the message that the speaker intended to send.” (University of Pittsburgh)

“Effective communication is about getting your message across.” (Nature)

Effective communication is transmitting a message the receiver clearly understands. Since most messages a project manager transmits are time-sensitive, effective communication in the project management realm also implies timely transmission and reception of the correct message.

Tips for Communicating Effectively with Stakeholders

Identify all stakeholders of your project, starting with the team members, project sponsor, and the customers. Rank their communication needs and define a communication plan. Who and when do you need to update? Whose feedback do you need and how often do you need it? Since stakeholders in each category have different levels of technical expertise, pay attention to the language complexity. For example, you can use technical jargon with your team members, but you might need to convey the same message for the customer in layman’s terms so that you do not bury the message in jargon.

Besides transmitting the right message to the right stakeholder at the right time, effective communication implies effective listening to the stakeholders. Ensure there is no misunderstanding in the messages you get from the stakeholders just like you ensure they understand your messages.

Formal and Informal Communication

A good way to ensure effective communication with your team members is to promote informal communication besides reports, status updates, or planned team meetings that are part of your communication plan. Ensure all your team members can openly express their opinions. Let them know your door is always open for informal discussions about the project. And when they do have questions, give comprehensive answers. Read the rest of this entry »

5 Reasons Even a Small Project Needs a Project Manager

Why hire a project manager for running a small project? “The team can multitask; they just need to organize their workload.” “The project is simple; the team needs no leadership – they just need to get the work done.” “We can spare no money; a project manager is a luxury we cannot afford.”

A project manager may seem an extra cost to the organization, but in reality, a good project manager helps to keep the cost of the project low, the customer’s satisfaction high, and the risks to the project under control. If an organization wants its small project to succeed, that project needs a project manager. If resources are limited, a part-time project manager might be the choice. Indeed, some small projects may be simple, and team members can, and usually do, multitask, but the need for a project manager remains. Project managers do more than just organizing the work of the team members. Here are just five reasons even a small project needs a project manager.

Large or small implies the same constraints

A small project is no different from a large project in terms of constraints like cost and time. All project constraints must be taken into account for the project to succeed. To complete a project in time and within budget means the team needs to work efficiently. But usually the project team is more focused on making the deliverables successful than they are focused on making the project successful. The project manager focuses on both the success of the deliverables and the success of the project. By taking the burden of project management from the team members’, they can fully focus on executing the project. The project manager manages the project so that the team can manage the work.

Planning is a must

It is too easy to skip the planning phase of a small project. Because a small project is considered simple, the team might be tempted to skip planning and start working on the deliverables. But the lack of planning triggers rework, missed deadlines, and schedule delays. The motivational speaker Brian Tracy said, “Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution.” The project manager plans the project so that the team can efficiently execute the work and complete the deliverables. Ideally, there is no rework and, thus, the team spends less time on the project, which translates into lower costs for the organization. Read the rest of this entry »

RationalPlan Is Now Also Available In Google Chrome Web Store

Stand By Soft is pleased to announce that RationalPlan products are now also available within Google Chrome Web Store. Users will have the possibility to install and run the preferred product directly from browser and from any location with Internet access.

RationalPlan is a project management software that puts the accent on productivity, ease of use and fast learning. It was designed to help different types of users starting with newbie project managers, continuing with users that need an environment to handle multiple projects and up to companies that need a distributed solution with concurrent access.

RationalPlan suite includes several products:

RationalPlan Single Project – an alternative to Microsoft Project and the perfect solution for novice or accidental project managers
RationalPlan Multi Project – project management software for multiple projects, projects that are interconnected through dependencies and share common resource
RationalPlan Project Viewer – a free viewer, the solution for anyone (from project stakeholders to team workers) to view projects details
RationalPlan Project Server – a centralized place to manage the company’s projects while offering concurrent access to different users

Although the first three products are basically desktop/stand alone applications they can also be run now through a browser from any location. All users need is just an Internet connection. More than that the integration with OneDrive (ex. SkyDrive),  Google Drive and Dropbox storage services, offers increased collaboration and productivity and makes the application completely independent of the operating system and the storage location. Users can now manage their projects without worrying if their data is safe on their local hard-drives. All they need to do is to keep their files stored on any of the above three storage hosting solutions.

For companies RationalPlan also offers a web management solution (either as On Premise or within the Cloud) where multiple users have the possibility to work concurrently on one central location with access rights. Read the rest of this entry »

RationalPlan Project Management Software Version 4.7 Is Publicly Available

Stand By Soft is pleased to announce the release of RationalPlan version 4.7. Current version comes with many changes both on the core side and on the clients side: faster execution, improved reporting,  better integration with the underlying operating system, improved critical path management and much more.

RationalPlan is a project management software that started as a desktop application designed to run on all major operating systems Windows, Linux and Mac OS X but it evolved to an embedded management system well suited for companies that need a distributed solution with concurrent access from multiple users.

Important changes for this version:

  • Possibility to use RationalPlan in full screen mode on Mac OS X
  • Added possibility to save page printing settings
  • Added #ProjectCode and #ClientAddress placeholders
  • Possibility to insert a note with current date and time to project’s Notes
  • Display the work load statistics also for assignments in Timesheet view
  • Display assignment units near task bars on Gantt chart
  • Added Reschedule Date and Responsible columns in Portfolio view
  • Added the possibility to show all columns or to reset to defaults for tables
  • Added more settings per application
  • Possibility to manage (store, load, delete) application settings
  • Export baselines in .xls format
  • Added filters for Resources view
  • Added individual slack per task and not only per project
  • When computing the critical path also consider the MSO, MFO, SNLT and FNLT constraints, deadline dates and the percentage completion
  • Reduced application loading and execution speed: start-up, scrolling, etc.
  • Broken compatibility between RationalPlan Server and older RationalPlan Multi versions

The application execution speed was improved and starting with this version it runs smoother. Start-up time was significantly reduced and working with large data makes scrolling and dragging feel more natural.

Starting with Mac OS X Lion Apple added the possibility for applications to run in full screen mode. Although a little bit late RationalPlan products can now also be run in full screen. Users will have now more space hence it will be easier to manage data or to analyze the reports. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Effectively Transfer Project Knowledge

Project knowledgeUnavoidably, some knowledge is lost, but your project team members can skip “reinventing the wheel” if you employ knowledge management. Although this comes at an extra cost, your team does not need to retain all knowledge because most of it becomes outdated or just impractical sooner or later. You want to retain the essential knowledge that can help you run smoothly your current and future projects. Since the team’s composition during a project’s lifetime may vary, knowledge transfer is imperative.

Project Information and Data vs. Knowledge

Unlike project data and information, which are part of project documentation, project knowledge includes all the team’s proved and effective methods of executing the project. Project knowledge is the team’s know-how. While project knowledge is specific to the project, you can extrapolate and apply it to other projects in your organization. In time, project knowledge becomes your organization’s competitive advantage.

In many cases, you can duplicate raw data and information (interpreted data). Recreating knowledge, however, requires much more time for the team members to refine available information through a combination of their intelligence, intuition, and experience, but also through innovation, practice, trial and error, and more. This is why project knowledge requires management: acquisition, retention, and transfer of knowledge within a project team.

Knowledge Acquisition

Knowledge acquisition requires time and experience. For effective knowledge acquisition, the team needs a suitable environment where there is no blame culture and where management promotes informal communication, innovation, and trial and error.

Knowledge Retention

Knowledge retention is more complicated than just creating a well-organized document repository available to all team members. This is because knowledge is more than just explicit know-how that you can easily index as a document. There is also tacit knowledge, or knowing how to do something, usually a prerogative of a few experts in your team. Knowledge, especially tacit knowledge, is transferred through people, not spreadsheets or slideshows. Read the rest of this entry »

Which Set of Skills Is Crucial for a Project Manager: Soft Skills or Hard Skills?

It is almost a consensus that good project managers need both soft skills and hard skills. Without soft skills, project managers cannot lead their teams; without hard skills, they cannot lead the projects. Soft skills, also called emotional intelligence, include skills such as communication, problem solving, negotiation, leadership, and influencing. Hard skills in project management refer to the ability of applying the right tools and techniques to run and successfully complete a project.

The right combination of soft skills and hard skills is a matter of training and experience, but also being the right person for the job. In general, experts say that no personality is better suited to project management than another is. People with more extrovert personalities are naturally drawn to management positions, but this does not mean they make better project managers than introvert people with the right skills.

Excellent Soft Skills or Excellent Hard Skills?

Since finding a project manager with the right blend of soft skills and hard skills is not always possible, organizations sometimes need to choose between a project manager with excellent hard skills and one with excellent soft skills. Evaluating which of the two is better suited to lead a project is not straightforward. But finding the solution to this dilemma involves looking at two aspects. One is training. The other one is knowing what type of manager the project needs.

Acquiring Skills

If hard skills can be taught through intensive training or coaching in a few months or a year, soft skills cannot be that easily taught. A person develops soft skills throughout experience, not intensive courses. There are ways to improve emotional intelligence, but since these skills are intangible, the assessment of the level of emotional intelligence is not as easy as taking a standardized test. Read the rest of this entry »

Building Trust: Why it Matters for the Project Manager

People can work together even if they do not trust each other, but only people who trust each other can collaborate efficiently. Project managers who do not trust their teams tend to engage in micromanagement, which translates into ineffective project work. Team members who do not trust each other spend energy on protecting each other’s interests and hiding relevant information, which may lead to the project’s failure. A project manager that lacks his or her team’s trust endangers the project, as team members are likely to feel unmotivated to complete the work and unlikely to communicate their ideas openly. Without trust, no effective collaboration or knowledge sharing is possible.

If you have yet to earn your team’s trust, you are likely struggling to lead your team. They may suspect that every recommendation you make is only in your own interest and not the team’s. You are likely finding that your ideas are difficult to implement, and you spend a lot of energy on trying to convince people that you are right.

How do you earn your project team members’ trust?

Progressively, in time. You do not gain people’s trust as you would gain a prize. You accumulate bits of trust, and you preserve that trust through your actions and words. It may take you a lot of time and effort to build up a decent amount of trust that allows for effective collaboration with your project team. And sometimes it is impossible to gain everyone’s trust.

What is trust?

Trust is intangible, and it means different things to different people. In general, having your team’s trust means that people believe:

  • What you say is true: Communicate effectively and be transparent with your decisions and the way you lead the project. Demonstrate you have no interests that conflict with those of your team members. They should trust that you are all working together towards the same goals.
  • You do what you say: Keep all of your commitments and build a record of respected promises.
  • You are open with your intentions: Communicate effectively and keep everyone “in the loop.”
  • You are qualified for your job: Demonstrate your project management skills rather than boast that you have the right PM qualifications or experience. Be consistent in your decisions and treat everyone fairly.
  • You trust them: Trust comes both ways. Have confidence in your team members’ skills and their capacity to deliver what they promise. Read the rest of this entry »

Are You Micromanaging Your Project Team?

Being a diligent project manager is a quality, just like being detail-oriented is an advantage in most professions. Over-diligence, just like perfectionism, is desirable in some situations, while in all others over-diligence becomes an obstacle in the way of getting things done.

Micromanaging means over-supervising each task that the team members need to complete, not delegating tasks, and, ultimately, not trusting the team members and their competencies.

Micromanaging is not bad essentially. It is just a very inefficient, and thus costly, way of managing people to achieve the desired outcome. Micromanagement is actually useful in some situations, such as when an inexperienced team member needs to complete a task that would be too risky to not complete perfectly, or when an employee has demonstrated that he or she cannot be trusted. Micromanagement, to some extent, may even be useful in the early stage of a project.

In most other situations, micromanagement frustrates everyone involved, and hurts the project. It steals the project manager’s time that should be spent on motivating the team and keeping the project on track. Micromanagement undermines the team’s morale and impedes the project’s progress.

Are you Micromanaging?

You are “guilty” of micromanaging, in situations when you should not, if you recognize yourself in all or some of the following statements:

  • You prefer to complete the team members’ tasks yourself because you are convinced you can do it better than they could.
  • You organize several-hour-long status report meetings more often than you need to.
  • You tell your team members all the tiny steps they need to take to complete their work.
  • You monitor everyone’s progress closely, but you are losing sight of the project’s progress.
  • You allow your team members to make no decisions.
  • You think perfectionism is the best quality of a project manager. Read the rest of this entry »

CAPM® Exam – How to Pass It and Is it Worth It?

As any internationally recognized certificate from a reputable institution, CAPM® is not just a piece of paper, although if it were, it would be the kind that can get you shortlisted for an assistant project manager position.

CAMP®, or Certified Associate in Project Management, is a certification you can obtain from the PMI institute if you are a beginner in project management, you had some formal project management training and/or experience, and you need a proof that you understand the fundamentals of this discipline. If you already have many years of experience in project management and want to certify that, there are more advanced certifications than the CAPM®, like the PMP® or PRINCE2®. In some cases, you may not need any certification at all, unless the organization you work for, or want to work for, requests it.

To obtain the CAPM®, you need to pass an exam with 150 multiple-choice questions, not very complicated, but not simple either, based on project management theory. To sit for the exam, you also need to have a bachelor degree and to have completed at least 23 hours of formal project management training or have at least 1,500 hours of demonstrated work experience in project management. These prerequisites may vary, and to get an updated list, it is recommended to have a look on the PMI institute CAPM® website.

The exam is not the simplest, nor the most difficult you will ever need to pass. Probably, the best strategy is to enroll in a great project management class if you need formal training and get a good textbook. Here are some tips, some of them more obvious than others:

  1. Only register for the exam if you really need the certification. If the organization you work for requires it, your employer should offer to cover your training and/or examination costs. Neither the exam nor the training is free.
  2. If you are a job seeker, especially a fresh university graduate, the CAPM® might be the thing that distinguishes your CV from the rest of the applicants with the same degree. Many organizations, especially research and governmental institutions, conduct projects and require staff with some knowledge of project management. Read the rest of this entry »