Author Archives: PMStudent

Fact NOT Fiction

“If you’re not gonna tell the truth, then why start talking?”– Gene Wilder

You are the project manager of Project Big. It is Friday afternoon. This is your project status:

Your team is behind schedule by two days.

Because the project is so critical and the deadline is the most important constraint, team members working on critical path activities have agreed to stay late tonight, and to work on BOTH Saturday and Sunday in order to get back on track.

Your sponsor just sent you a text asking for project status. Your sponsor does not know that the team is behind schedule by two days. She was out of the office for two weeks on an international vacation and is just returning. Everything was fine when she left. That will teach her to take a vacation!

You consider the following options:

  1. Tell her everything is fine because you feel confident that everything will be fine, why upset her? You are thinking that her text is just a check-in, to let you know that she has returned from her vacation and that she has not forgotten about the project. By the time she is really ready to pay attention, everything will be fine.
  2. Reply that you will schedule some catch-up time with her for Monday. Then on Monday you can have a project overview and status with her and let her know what has been happening. At that point, the team may have completed the required work and will be back on schedule, or they may not be back on schedule, but you can talk about how hard they worked all weekend. Of course you are secretly hoping they are back on schedule.
  3. Ignore her text until later in the weekend and then once you are back on track send her an update. Your thought process here is that in your corporate culture, a text is not considered to be a formal communication. In fact there have been times when you texted your sponsor and she did not reply for 24 hours. You feel justified in waiting. This will allow you to see how much is accomplished tonight and tomorrow. Your hope is that the team completes the planned amount of work and you can text her that all is going well.
  4. Tell her the truth about the status and the plan – right now we are off by two days, we are working the weekend to get back on track. Of course this makes for a long text. If texting is her preference you find a way to be concise yet reassuring. Otherwise you call her or send her a brief email.

What do YOU think, one of the above, none of the above? What would YOU do?

The Good News is YOU have BAD News

It is going to happen. You will have to deliver bad news. Not all of your projects are going to run perfectly. When they don’t you want to do a good job delivering bad news. How you deliver the news can make all of the difference in the world in terms of what happens next, how you are perceived as a leader and the strength of your professional relationships.

Consider the following scenario and then take the short quiz on how you will react. You have just learned that a key customer is putting all future project work with your company on hold. This customer contributed 25% of your organizations earnings for the next six months. This news is very upsetting to you and it will be upsetting to your management as well.

1. What is the first thing you do:

A. Text your manager that you have bad news and that you need to talk ASAP.

B. Take the afternoon off and get a massage or meditate to calm yourself down.

C. Take some time to process this information yourself and then schedule time with your manager for a discussion.

D. Do nothing and wait for a few days, perhaps the customer will decide to continue with future purchases as planned.

2. As you prepare to deliver the news you decide to present three other very good ideas for projects with other customers, all of which have the potential to bring in new business within the next few months. This is an example of:

A. You overstepping your boundaries as you are not in charge of proposing project ideas.

B. You bringing solutions while communicating bad news.

C. You trying to deflect the bad news with other potentially good news.

D. You tying to protect your job and earn your next promotion.

3. Before you begin to discuss the bad news about the customer and the now on hold projects, you decide you want to say something positive so you say to your manager:

A. “You can really tell that you have been working out.”

B.”Good news, we can cut back on overtime.”

C. “Soon we will not have to deal with one of our most demanding customers.”

D. Nothing, you do not have an appropriate positive comment to make.

4. The truth is that although the news about the customer is upsetting, you are about to give notice, so you are not that concerned. Despite this you say to your manager

A. “I can see where this is very upsetting for you.”

B. “I don’t know about you, but this is devastating to me.”

C. “Maybe this is the wake up call we needed.”

D. “I will leave you alone to start coming up with solutions.”

5. You happen to see your manager walking to the cafeteria. You decide to:

A. Tell her the bad news as you walk with her to the cafeteria.

B. Advise her that you have scheduled some time with her that afternoon.

C. Approach her at the crowded sandwich station and tell her the news.

D. Follow her to her table in the cafeteria and tell her while she eats.

Looking forward to reading your thoughts. Be sure to read next week when we discuss the answers and take a closer look at how to present bad news at work. In the meantime if you would like to learn more and earn a PDU check out ‘How to Deliver Difficult News’ over on, there is an audio version: and a video version:

Here’s Your Deadline!

“Morning comes, whether you set the alarm or not.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

When we are fortunate, then morning comes whether we set the alarm or not. In our project work, our deadlines are going to arrive, whether we plan for them or not. This is not an argument in favor of fatalism and lack of planning, “Well the deadline will come whether we are prepared or not, so why bother?” It is a reminder that the deadline will come, so why not be prepared? Setting the alarm is a metaphor for planning and morning is your deadline. The deadline will come, whether or not you have a plan.

To return to the analogy of morning, you can face your day with calm and preparation or with surprise and chaos. You have at least one friend who wakes up everyday and everyday has a difficult time pulling himself together and getting out the door. Yet at least five days a week he has the same destination, the same commute and the same dress code. But each morning is like a surprise to him. He does not know where his clean clothes are; he does not have gas in the car or time for breakfast.

Then there is you, your clothes are ready, your lunch is packed, if you need to stop for gas you allow for time in your schedule, your morning routine flows smoothly MOST of the time. Your planning does not guarantee a perfect morning. Your planning positions you for an easier morning, even when things start to fall apart.

The purpose of the plan is not guaranteed perfection. The purpose of the plan is to provide for a better experience. To increase the likelihood of meeting your goals and when changes and issues arise (and they will), you will be less disrupted and recover more quickly.

The difference between you and your friend is that when he gets out the door and he is already late and running low on gas, even if everything else falls into place, he is most likely going to be late. On a day when he is already late and running low on gas and everything else falls apart (traffic jam, car trouble), he is going to be exceptionally late. You on the other hand will be on time MOST days and on that rare day when you are late, the fact that it was out of your control will be understood.

A project manager who does not lead her team in good planning will earn the reputation of being disorganized, and barely making or often missing deadlines on a regular basis. A project manager who leads her team in good planning will earn the reputation of being a strong professional who is prepared and makes deadlines with ease. Only situations beyond her control and the control of her team cause them to falter. And when this happens, they respond quickly and effectively.

Like it or not, the deadline will come. Will you be ready?

3 Ways to Crash and Burn with Your New Employer

Imagine the disappointment. You start a new job in a position that is perfect for you. You will be able use all of your talents working for a company that you really admire. You are off to a strong start, you are certain that you are making an excellent impression. Then you find out that you are not doing as well as you had hoped. Actually you are not doing well at all. The only impression you are making is a bad one, your colleagues want nothing to do with you and your new boss regrets hiring you.

Too often I hear from people who have joined a new organization only to crash and burn. Many times a complete and total disregard for organizational culture has played a part in this unfortunate scenario. Here are the 3 steps they took to crash and burn:

  1. Assume that because you were hired, you have something much more special than the people already employed at your new place of business.
  2. Complain about the way they do things, call them outdated or wrong.
  3. Talk loudly and frequently about how the way you used to do it at company X and how it was so much better.

Congratulations you are now ready to crash and burn!

Organizational culture is like the personality of that company or organization. You have a personality, so does your organization. How many people are you willing to change your personality for? I bet the list is not very long.

Why would you expect an entire organization to change their way of being just because you have arrived on the scene? Why would you assume that your way must be the best way?
Does this mean that you cannot change organizational culture? Of course not! Consider trying this approach:

  1. Assume that you are joining a team who can teach you how to be successful at your new company.
  2. Take time to get to know the people and how they do things and why they do things.
  3. Try it their way.
  4. Be respectful about their way do not call them outdated or wrong.
  5. Build relationships and gain trust.
  6. Begin to make suggestions for improvements.

Once you understand your new culture and how changes can be successfully introduced you can write your own steps to success.

The Best Way to Face Challenges? Together.

challengesFor more than a month Team 4 met every due date and challenge. And then it happened. In week 6 the team hit a major snag. At the end of the week they had not hit their goal. They had only completed about half of their planned work. Team 4 was the team to watch. They started their project off so smoothly. They avoided all of the pitfalls that had tripped up Teams 1, 2, 3 and 5. In status meetings it was always the project manager for Team 4 who delivered the good news. In fact the executive sponsor for the entire program began asking the Team 4 project manager to give her status last, so that the meeting could end on a high note.
But this time it was different. On Monday, the day of the status meeting, their project manager was very nervous. She had not had to report difficult news before and she did feel pressured to be the one who routinely delivered the good news. Her status was well received. Yes, the sponsor and other stakeholders were disappointed. But as one of them said, “It would be unreasonable to expect that Team 4 would not experience issues, when all of the other teams have had such difficulties.” The team was anxiously waiting for her to let them know how the status meeting went. She was able to tell them that nobody was mad at them and that everyone had complete confidence in their abilities.
By the end of week 7, very little progress had been made. MOST of the team felt very discouraged. They were wondering when they were going to be put on mandatory weekend work. They were wondering when they were going to be yelled at. At 11:45 am on Friday the project manager called the entire team to an emergency meeting. She went from cubicle to cubicle, saying, “Drop everything and come to the conference room right now!” The team shuffled in, waiting to be yelled at. Instead they found that their project manager had ordered lunch for them. She encouraged them to come in and sit down and enjoy lunch. There was just one rule, no talking about work. And for one hour they sat and spent time together and did NOT discuss the project, the schedule or the status of the current technical issues. At the end of the day she went from cubicle to cubicle, ushering them out and urging them to go enjoy the weekend and to come back refreshed on Monday.
On Monday, the project manager delivered the news to her stakeholders. There was no change and very little progress had been made. Once again, the stakeholders were encouraging. Once again, the team was anxiously awaiting the results of the status meeting, now they were concerned that their project manager would be yelled at, or worse – replaced. After the meeting she was able to reassure them that all stakeholders offered their full support.
Finally in the middle of week 8, there was a break in the case. An obscure piece of code combined with a rare piece of data was causing the problem. Cautiously a fix was designed and applied. By Friday of week 8 the team had caught up with the deliverables from week 6. Everyone went home that Friday evening feeling more relaxed and confident. And to their happy surprise when they returned Monday morning the team arrived to a mini breakfast celebration. There was fresh fruit and yogurt and cinnamon rolls and donuts. Every team member had a “Congratulations you survived the curse of Week 6” certificate waiting for them on their desk.
The challenge that surfaced during week 6 was really difficult. But it was NOT the only challenge that Team 4 would face. They continued to have their share of challenges. They still were a stronger team than Teams 1, 2, 3 and 5. They still maintained the best track record in terms of meeting their deadlines. It was not that their work was easier or that all of the strongest people were on Team 4. It was that Team 4 and their leader made a conscious decision NOT to let the challenges come between them and NOT to let the challenges break their spirit.
They were able to treat prevent their challenges from becoming obstacles.

Do YOU Recognize YOUR Team?

mystery-man“Don’t you recognize me? I am Sal. Your team member?”

The unfortunate truth was that Mary Carol did not recognize Sal. She knew someone from the team would pick her up at the airport. In fact, as he introduced himself, she did remember that it would be Sal who picked her up. But she had no idea what Sal looked like. Fortunately Sal recognized Mary Carol.

As they were exiting the airport, Sal commented again, “Don’t you know who I am? My picture is on our team site.” Immediately Mary Carol realized her mistake. She could have very easily looked at the team website and looked at Sal’s picture. She then also would have remembered more about him. She tried to brush it off as a combination of jet lag, plus asking if he had cut his hair differently. But he knew better.

Mary Carol had not only missed an opportunity to strengthen a bond with a team member, she had weakened that bond. She could tell that Sal was disappointed. After all, he had taken the time to know who she was. Did she think that because she was the boss, she did not have to know her team? Did she think that because they worked across the globe that she did not have to get to know them?

Mary Carol did NOT think she was better than her team and she did NOT think that she did not need to know her team members. The truth is she just did not think. In her preparations for her trip, she did not take time to think about accessing the team website in order to get to know those she was visiting. She prepared reports and presentations. She forgot to prepare for the people.

If asked about the team website, Mary Carol would definitely have spoken favorably of it. Her thought was that the team website gave the team members a good way to connect and to share and to get to know one another. The way in which she expressed these thoughts offered up a clue to the attitude that would place her in her current awkward situation with Sal. Mary Carol did not think the team website was for her, she thought that it was for THEM. This revealed a mindset of us or me versus them. Mary Carol was not thinking of herself as part of the team. She had two challenges to work on as a leader, the first was to understand that in preparing to deliver reports and presentations, she also needed to understand and get to know her audience. The second was to remember that tools used by the team are for her use too. Especially tools that are aimed at helping build and strengthen team relationships.

For the rest of her time with Sal and his co-workers Mary Carol felt uncomfortable. She knew she had made a mistake, one that was easily avoidable and one that she would not make again.

And of course YOU know better too!

Four Quality Management Basics

Whether you use Six Sigma or look solely to ISO 9000 for guidance, you need to plan for quality. A solid plan relies on a solid understanding of the basics. Consider this infographic as a start. If you are curious about Six Sigma versus ISO 9000, be sure to visit ISO 9000 vs. Six Sigma: A Visual Guide for more!


How to Handle a Project Management Crisis

Please welcome guest blogger Helen Sabell who shares with us some very helpful tips on how to handle a project management crisis:

When a project hits a roadblock the entire team can go into crisis mode. Alarm bells will ring, coworkers will panic and the stakeholders will turn to you, the project manager. Being able to handle sensitive situations with a time-conscious, solution-based approach is the key to success in this role.

A project manager will use a variety of approaches during periods of high-pressure to ensure that the team remains motivated and engaged, ultimately driving the project forward. Check out these 5 tips for successfully handling your next project management crisis.

Notice The Early Signs

Even challenges that appear to have come out of the blue can have warning signs and taking notice of these will make or break the project deadline. Staying aware of rumours, following statistics closely and identifying even minor stakeholder concerns are sure-fast ways to keep on top of a problem. Turning your back on an issue, no matter how small it begins, will only leave it to grow bigger while you aren’t looking.

Communicate With Your Team

It is important for a project manager to lead by example during a crisis and communicate clearly with the entire team. Open communication actively drives away any confusion and doubt, keeping workers updated with changes as they happen. Even established professionals can panic and become negative under mounting pressure – it is up to the project manager to enforce a positive and focused outlook at all times to help manage stress.

Update With The Bad

While nobody ever likes to hear more bad news during a time of crisis, being realistic with your team will help to ensure that the expectations are clear. It is important for a project manager to be unafraid of delivering issues to stakeholders and highlighting when a problem is urgent. It goes without saying that they will appreciate being kept in the loop and working alongside a professional team that is honest and trustworthy.

Be Solution-Focused

Focusing on understanding the cause of the problem will bring you much closer to finding a solution than passing blame, which could bring the project to a standstill. Facilitating negative communication will have no gain for you or your co-workers. A leading project manager will need to work tirelessly to ensure their teams stay positive and enthusiastic in searching for a solution.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

The only thing better than a quick, effective solution is for there to be no problem to solve in the first place. Eliminating any chance of a crisis before it can occur requires excellent communication, in-depth research and a fine attention to detail. Of course, there will always be situations that cannot be foreseen and in such cases, a project manager should use the challenge as a chance to excel and ensure the same issue does not happen again.

Author Bio

Helen Sabell works for the College for Adult Learning, she is passionate about adult learning and the education of project management. She has designed, developed and authored many workplace leadership and training programs, both in Australia and overseas.

Prepare for the Unknown: AKA Risk Management

You never want your project sponsor to look at you and say, “YOU should have seen that coming.” Perhaps it is more reasonable to say, you never want your sponsor to look at you and say, “YOU should have seen that coming,” AND know that they are right.

If you and your team have done a good job with risk identification and in prioritizing your risks and preparing responses for those risks, then you know whether or not it was reasonable to see something coming. Some risks truly are the ‘unknown, unknowns’, while others are the ‘known, unknowns’. When you are able to assemble the right people with a depth of experience, you will be able to capture the risks that your project is likely to face. It is OK if some of you are new, as long as you have access to someone who has been involved in similar efforts. When you are new, some risks will be beyond your level of experience. To you, they might feel like ‘unknown, unknowns’. With experience your list of the ‘known, unknowns’ grows and you develop a sense of understanding exactly what it is that could happen on your way to project completion.

Risk comes when we do not know what we are doing. And each project we manage has an element of the unknown. This could result in threats to our success or it could result in opportunities.

The best time for you to imagine your worst-case scenario is long before it ever happens. You are not engaging in negative thinking, YOU are being strategic. The best time for you to imagine the best-case scenario is long before it ever happens. You are not just engaging in wishful thinking, you are being strategic.

Accept the fact that your project plans will change. And risks that become a reality are a type of change that you will experience. For the most likely and most impactful risks you will have responses. In this way, as our opening quote indicates, things will turn out best for you because with your risk responses prepared, you are able to make the best of the way things turn out. See how that works?

Get all the tips you need for successful project risk management in the new pmStudent Project Risk Management Course. Check it out here:

The Project Risk Management Course

Yes, you can prepare for the unknown.

Trust Makes ALL the Difference

Cover Image-Project Leadership (1)

It was my honor to be included with so many of the people I truly admire in Project Leadership, a new eBook sponsored by AtTask. This free eBook is an excellent resource. I am learning so much from the contributors and I think you will too. To see what I am talking about check it out here:

?There is something wrong; the conversion does not balance. We might have to call it off.? These were the words my team member blurted out as I approached. Unfortunately, not far behind me was my boss, the chief information officer. My boss was trailing me from desk to desk, because this was a large conversion involving most of our major applications. If one failed, they all failed. We had been rehearsing this for months.

I calmly asked my team member to tell me what had happened. He showed me the conversion report and the out-of-balance totals. On his face, I saw fatigue; at that moment, I could see that he thought the weight of the entire project was on his shoulders. I knew that he was smart and committed. He did not need me or my boss to jump in and start reviewing reports and issuing orders. He needed time to step back, take another look, tell me the nature of the situation, and offer a potential solution.

I looked at him and said, ?Okay, go take a quick break. Walk away from your computer and your desk. After your break, come back and revisit the report. I will check back with you in one hour.? Then, I walked away.

My boss trailed me; in not-so-hushed tones, he barked, ?Take a break? That?s how you solve a problem that could bring us to our knees? Take a break?? I looked at him and said, ?Just trust us and give us an hour.? In less than an hour, my team member called me over to advise me that everything was in fact fine and that in his nervousness and fatigue, he had transposed two numbers.

In this scenario, trust made all the difference. My boss grudgingly trusted me. I had to trust myself and stand firm in my approach, I had to trust that my team member could resolve the problem, and my team member had to trust in the fact that I believed in him.

Key Lessons 1 2 During projects, trust makes all the difference. Trust yourself, and stand firm in your approach. ?On his face, I saw fatigue; at that moment, I could see that he thought the weight of the entire project was on his shoulders.?

Thank you for reading one of my important lessons learned and do not forget that you can hear from 39 other experts by accessing Project Leadership