Tag Archives: status report

Learn from it, then leave it.

Last week is behind you. Are you working on your status report? Good. Now is a good time to pause and reflect, what lessons did you learn?

Depending on the template you use for your project status, you are probably answering questions like:

What happened as planned?   What did not go as planned?   Why or why not?

The real learning comes from that last question. Why did things go as planned? This represents the actions you want to carry forward. Why didn’t things go as planned? Not the excuses, what are the real causes? For example, did a task go uncompleted because your subject matter expert was ill?

Great, never allow your subject matter expert (SME) to be sick ever again. That is NOT reasonable. If your SME is the only one who can complete a particular activity, then you have a risk. And if you are not able to cross-train or to have more than one resource with this expertise, then the time will come when work will not go as planned.

Now is the perfect opportunity to capture lessons learned. In fact, I once worked with a project auditor who required a lessons learned section in all project status templates. Her point was that if we do not capture the lessons as we go, we will forget them. And she was right.

The end of each day, each week, each month is a perfect time to reflect. So far, we have been discussing your project status report. Now is the time to take an honest look, not just at your project, but at yourself as well. What are the personal and professional lessons that you wish to carry forward? And just as important, what do you need to leave behind?

Happy is the person who knows what to remember of the past, what to enjoy in the present, and what to plan for in the future.
– Arnold H. Glasow

Several years ago, I worked for a manager who was very Theory X. He did not seem to believe in our ability to behave as professionals. He would go through our files and folders on a regular basis to ensure that we were not hiding anything from him.

He was a big believer in the post error walk through. It did not matter how small the error, you needed to resolve it and then you needed to sit in his office and go through what you did step-by-step. He always made sure to ask you multiple times exactly what your mistake was. I always walked away feeling like he had rolled up a newspaper and smacked me on the nose with it saying, “Bad software developer, bad software developer!”

Lessons learned are not just about what to repeat and what to improve. Lessons learned are also about letting go of the things that do not serve you. Not every mistake needs to be examined and discussed and turned into an opportunity for growth. Some things just need to be released. That one time error that your overworked and overtired team member made? Let it go. Or take the lesson to stop over allocating your resources.

Move forward with the valuable lessons and leave the rest in the past.

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 Curse of Knowledge in Project Management

Made To Stick

Made To Stick

It delights me every time I discover a way that the world of knowledge available to human kind is applicable across disciplines.

Granted, the book Made to Stick which I am reading right now is intended to apply as a guideline without any particular discipline in mind, only communication and retention of ideas in general.

While driving to work one day, I realized how the ideas can and should apply to project status meetings. There are usually specific points that you want to highlight with those in the room, be they the sponsor, project team, customer, etc. You may want different ideas to stick with different groups of people, too. This book is all about how to craft and present ideas to make them stick.

Let’s say you have a particular risk on your project that is looking like it may be a big issue, and you are asking for your sponsor’s help in mitigating or preparing for it. If that is the biggest issue for your sponsor to help with, you want the risk and what they can do to help to stick with them, and make it a dominant thought when they leave the meeting. Whenever they think of your project, they should associate it with that risk they need to help with.

OK, so now you are holding a status meeting with your team. You want to review progress over the last period, talk about what is happening now and coming up, and make sure everyone is away of risks that could impact their work. This is an opportunity to recognize people for their accomplishments, and it would be very helpful if the idea that “this project manager appreciates our effort, and recognizes us for it” sticks with them. You also may want to pick out a few key milestones that everyone is working towards, and major risks they should look out for so you can be notified as early as possible if something comes up.

With every example you care to come up with, it is important how you craft and present the message. There are many techniques described in the book, relating to the content of the message itself, associations, and many other helpful principles.