Archives for category: Lessons Learned

Getting things done through others can be the most satisfying or the most frustrating part of our work life.

As a Project Manager, I am often responsible for reporting to stakeholders on the progress the team is making on the project. My job is a whole lot easier when the individuals accountable for the work get the work done when they committed to get it done, at the quality expected by the organization.

Things get difficult when that work doesn’t get done as committed to.  As the the person accountable for reporting status my role becomes a bit of a verbal balancing act. I have to let my stakeholders know that the work that was committed to get done by a certain date is not done. At the same time I can’t throw the team member under the bus who failed to deliver the work as promised. The whole thing starts to boil over for me when the person who failed to deliver is unapologetic and dismissive of letting the team down.

The above scenario isn’t a singular anecdote from one frustrating project. In my 17 years of leading projects I’ve seen it occur many times.  As the Project Manager, I have a responsibility to work with the challenging party. Sometimes, the organization itself enables the behavior. There are tools to help the Project Manager, such as RACI tables (Responsible | Accountable | Consulted | Informed.) But tools only take us so far.

I suggest that creating a strong culture of accountability will significantly increase project success. Aligning individual performance appraisal with project performance helps. Enlist the help of the team member’s manager to ensure that she is aware of what their direct report is accountable for on the project and determine a realistic game plan for successful delivery.  Be sure that the team member is aware that his lack of accountability impacts the entire team and doesn’t go unnoticed.

What has been your experience and what has worked for you?

Space is almost infinite. As a matter of fact, we think it is infinite. – Dan Quayle

I recently had a discussion with a colleague about getting things done between meetings.  The challenge we discovered was two-fold:

  1. We have all the work that is part of our day-to-day responsibilities – for purposes of this post I’ll call this day-work.
  2. We have all the work that is produced as outputs from the meetings we attend and/or facilitate – I’ll call this meeting-work.

We both were faced with the fact that we participated in a lot of meetings. [Note: for purposes of this post let’s assume that these meetings are meaningful and need to take place.]

While in our meetings our day-work was not getting done. At the same time many of the meetings were creating new work: next actions, new problems, etc. So we now had meeting-work  to accomplish.  When we arrived back at our desks we were faced with the dilemma of getting our day-work and meeting-work completed in the space left between meetings. Sound familiar?

We thought of some tips that might be helpful:

  • Get next actions right: Be sure any next actions that are identified in the meeting are specific, actionable, have an owner, a due date, and who gets the report out of the results.   Honestly, I do not always get this one right and our teams end up with ambiguous actions that when reviewed later are met with confused stares. This way the meeting work can at least be clear and unambiguous and won’t require too much investigation time.
  • Build meeting processes that complete the work for you: When facilitating, I try as much as possible to build meeting processes that result in final product for the group. This means that at the end of the meeting the desired meeting deliverables should be as close to their final form as possible. When done well, this will minimize your post-meeting work.
  • Schedule your meeting work time: As hard as you try to minimize post-meeting work as mentioned above, we often have work to complete as outcomes of our meetings. Use your calendars to hard-schedule that time in to complete the work. This could include 30 minutes prior to the meeting to ensure that you are well prepared for the meeting and 30 minutes post meeting to process the output, get a start on next actions, or schedule future time to handle the work.

What ideas do you have for creating space for meeting work?

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is. – Winston Churchill

It’s our regular weekly meeting.  We are going from manager to manager giving a debrief on our team’s performance and project updates.  My mind is wandering as my peers give their summaries. I’m thinking to myself, “Is this it? Is this what it’s all about?”  I know what you’re thinking, pretty existential stuff.

Seriously, though. You’ve all been there. Wondering if what you are doing is what you are suppose to be doing.  If what you think you should be doing is something you are capable of getting done. Do you have the capacity, courage?

We have to step back and take a bit of a reality check at times.  Often I can get caught up and start to romanticize what work should be like – in my world. But, I’m learning to check that at the door and make mental compromises and adjustments.  In Monday Morning Choices, David Cottrell writes:

Understand that choosing reality may not always be the easiest path, but bottom line, it will push you ahead on the road of life.

[Note: This is the 11th in a 12-week series of posts that will discuss “choices” from the book Monday Morning Choices by David Cottrell.]