8 Steps for Better Listening

In my last post, I discussed the benefits of learning to listen. Here, I will share easy, actionable steps to help develop your listening skills. While going through the steps below, please remember, listening more and talking less are two sides of the same communication coin.

1. Start your discussion by praising the other person who has just finished talking, even if you disagree with him or her. Normally we do not disagree with all the points of the other person, but we tend to ignore the points of agreement. Starting with praise will help you listen to the other person completely, and you will be compelled to try to find points where you agree rather than disagree.

2. Remember that more talkative people spill more information, and that can be used against them. As talkative people listen less, their questions also often go unanswered. When you are aware that you may be providing unnecessary information to others, you’ll make an effort to speak about only what is necessary.

3. Better listeners get more information from others, which they can use to fine-tune their point of view and present it more effectively. When you’re eager to improve your thoughts, you listen more carefully, because that helps you strategize. Listening will make you a better negotiator…

This blog was for PMI and posted on PMI blog site “Voice on Project Management”. Please read it here…

http://www.projectmanagement.com/blog/Voices-on-Project-Management/7933/

Listen Up…

Project management is about making decisions and actions, and actions don’t require words. Speaking is inversely proportional to the exchange of information. By focusing on listening, you can know the issues beforehand and can sense the problem before it hits the project. And when you know issues and problems, you solve them before they damage the project. Here are a few scenarios that illustrate the power of listening.

This blog was for PMI and posted on PMI blog site “Voice on Project Management”. Please read it here…

http://www.projectmanagement.com/blog/Voices-on-Project-Management/7941/

I resolve, every day in 2014, I will give…

I resolve, every day in 2014, I will give my team members a life of self-respect, inclusiveness, rewarding, growth and personal touch.

When a new year starts, we make some resolution to quit something, to leave something or achieve something for I, me and myself and sooner or later they get vanished somewhere in busy life.

This year, let’s make a resolution to include something in my life every day for someone who works for me, whom I expect to follow my instructions, who live around me whole day, whose success depends on me and who makes me succeed.

Self-respect

Some people do everything right, some make mistakes, not so intelligent, not so hardworking and not so focused but every one expects some respect. Most of the people are average performers who often make some mistakes. They need a person who can speak to them in private, explain the impact of their mistake, guide them to correct and support their corrective actions. You put them in defaulter’s list, tell in front of everyone or even in private how their mistake has caused the damage, make them feel foolish and they will forget all your advises and remember that moment forever.

Inclusiveness

We prepare a plan and show the team members what tasks they need to execute and later complain that people are not taking the plan seriously. How many times we care for their opinion about my plan? How many times we discuss with team to form strategy before directing them to execute. We fear that it will be difficult to build consensus among so many people, we cannot implement all suggestions, it will take long time to prepare a strategy but in hurry we forget that it would take longer to execute if we don’t do so. Let’s sit down with our team to take their suggestions, seek their opinion and understand their concerns while planning. Agree, you cannot incorporate all the suggestions but what about taking out some time to explain why a suggestion cannot be incorporated now and may be reconsidered later? Let’s try out. Give them feeling like they are driving the project. I believe, it may take longer to plan but execution will be faster and smoother. If I ask you what is important? Plan or Planning? Nouns are normally outcome of verbs. If verb is right, noun would be right.

Rewarding

Every organization and project have rewards for their star performers but our bell curve shows most of the employees are average. We say giving reward to star member will encourage other average members. I have seen award ceremonies for the students who scored 95% but could not see any student who scored 60% getting any motivation as he knows he will never score 95%. 60% is not bad, right? What about a student who scored 60% last year, achieves 66% this year? Doesn’t 10% improvement deserve a reward?

Your average employee may not solve your most critical problem but they will execute most of your project work. What about rewarding them on improving by 10% or so? Don’t you think it is achievable by everyone and inspire them for higher performance every period?

Growth

When we take a new member on board, we ask several questions to check if he has required technical skills, if he has right attitude, if he has capabilities to deliver what we expect. Did we ever ask, what he expects from us? When people come on board, almost everyone try to judge if new project and manager will help him getting a raise, promotion, a chance to do something meaningful, challenging or get recognized. Just knowing what I want is not enough, even more important is what I can give back. We should understand what our people want from us and create opportunities for their fulfilment. We should provide a platform to nurture their talent, polish their skills, prepare them for a raise in financial status and develop them for higher roles.

Personal touch

Everyone including us come with a question “What’s in it for me?”. Level of interest and commitment is directly proportional to the answer of this question. Many times we reject this question by terming it hidden agenda. We forget that we also have hidden agenda. In fact hidden agenda is not as bad as we think but definitely difficult to understand. This is also a question if properly satisfied, can bring highest level of commitment. Our challenge is to understand everyone’s “what’s in it for me” and connect them with the project work and objectives. To understand it, we need to connect with the person personally going beyond project and organizational boundaries and formal position. We may need to lower down our bandwidth to match with the individual. This is where meaningful discussion takes place and magic happens.

A good performing senior analyst sitting on bench for some time now, was allocated a project of regular maintenance due to technology match. This project can hardly offer any challenging assignment. The analyst was reluctant to join the project. Manager went into personal discussion to figure out that analyst wants to do a certification. Discussion goes as follows…

Manager: You were sitting on bench for some time, why didn’t you take this opportunity to attempt for certification exam?

Analyst: It is uncertain. You never know when you get a project and once you are in project, you don’t get any time to prepare.

Manager: Bench are uncertain and projects are demanding. You know this project is quite cool. No such pressing assignment. You will get time to prepare and pass the certification exam.

Analyst: That’s right but many times assignment can be pressing?

Manager: Possible but on this project such incidences are less. Let’s take a target of 3 months. You join the project, apply for certification exam and set a date 3 month down the line. I will see you will get time every day for preparation. May be you need to stretch a bit some time but I believe, you will not mind it for this certification.

Analyst: Ok, will you release me after three months?

Manager: It is give and take. When this project helps you achieving your goal, I am sure you will be eager to help this project back. You can help me in another area. I have an agenda to improve the performance by 10%. Currently we are serving 10 service requests per person per day. We need to take it to 11 service request per day. This could be challenging.

Analyst: Looks interesting but how long I need to stay on the project?

Manager: Minimum 1 year. During this time, you can also work upon some of the softer aspects which will help you taking higher roles. We will identify some training needs. I will also help in identifying new role and assignment matching to your new skills.

Analyst: This looks good. When can I start?

Implementing little bit of this 5 points agenda can enrich life of members of any team at any level.

Will you make this resolution today for 2014? I look forward to hear your views…

 

Don’t violate the delegation

PM:     I am a business analyst and also playing a role of project manager for some time now. The plan was to completely move to project manager’s role and therefore we identified a good business analyst BA whom I wanted to takeover business analyst role completely. We initially planned for 2 months but it is now 4 months and I still do not see he is taking ownership.

VP:      Why do you think, he is not taking ownership?

PM:     I still take decisions for him. Some time back we took a project and told him that he was responsible for requirements completely. During the course, we found that the work is more than 1 person, so we added another resource RS and told him that she would work with him. I don’t see him coordinating with RS and trying to understand overall progress, I only have to do it.

VP:      Did you ask BA before adding RS to project?

PM:     No, the work was lagging. We needed one more person.

VP:      That’s right but don’t you think BA is owner of the module and should be consulted moreover allowed to take decision if additional resource was required?

PM:     Hmmm!

This is one of the biggest hidden trap in delegation. As we saw in above example, PM himself took the decision of taking additional resource instead of talking to BA and helping him to think over slow progress. We never know how many times we take such decisions and violate the delegation. This especially happens when delivery is time bound and progress is slow. The pressure starts building up, we become desperate to take action and if we do so, we violate the delegation.

Once we have delegated the work, we lose the right to take decisions. If we have planned regular follow ups, we will identify well in time that a decision is required but the person is not feeling the need of the same. In such situations we need to facilitate the decision. We should highlight the issues or problems to the team member and listen to his opinion. We can ask similar investigative questions to sensitize and make him feel the need of a decision. There is a fare possibility that the person has some alternative approach to deal with the situation. So be ready to accept, we mean business not the method.

We should remember that we can only facilitate, we cannot take the decision our self. If we take the decision, we take the ownership and violate the delegation. Then ownership stays with us, not with the team member and we should not expect him to behave as owner.

- X – X – X -

To Learn or to Execute? That Is the Question

When the project is in full swing and the team is chasing deadlines, you get an announcement of the training you were looking for. What do you do?

Most probably, you will say no as you may like to focus on execution. The problem is that if this situation makes you postpone your learning again and again…

While learning is necessary to stay up to date and meet future challenges, execution cannot be ignored…So the question is Learn or Execute?

I have discussed this question in my recent blog posted on PMI Voice on Project Management blog. Please click on the URL below to go to the blog.
http://www.projectmanagement.com/blog/Voices-on-Project-Management/8075/

Plan your resolution for New Year 2013

Welcome my friend, I wish you a very happy new year. Adding value to a manager’s life is my sole motto. Years come and go, we make some commitments to our self and regret later for not accomplishing them. Under the pressure of several urgent items every day, we keep postponing actions that matter to us most. How can we take out time for things that drive our life? How can we live a life we want? How can we make a commitment to our self this New Year and hold it. The key is there in the planning.

Hardly, we will have a project that runs for a year but does not have any plan. Either high level or detailed, some kind of plan is available that guide us in a direction to achieve project objectives.

Have you ever prepared a plan for yourself, for the objectives you set in the beginning of the year or for a commitment you made to yourself? If there is no plan how you will move in a specific direction and achieve your objectives.

I will help you here planning for yourself, for your commitment and for your resolution for this New Year 2013.

I will suggest you some activities and contents to move towards your objectives. I don’t know about your resolution/objective, so please make change based on your resolution. If you are not sure, please start moving with suggested plan and make changes later when you get more clarity.

Let’s get into actual plan

1. First commitment – Will read at least one book in 2 months.

This plan is for the people who rarely or do not read books. You can start from these books. This is the first step as solutions to all your problems are there in books.

  1. First Thing First
  2. Power of positive thinking
  3. 7 Habits of highly effective people
  4. Bhagwat Gita
  5. How I raised myself from failure to Success in Selling
  6. 4 Hours work week

Half an hour investment every day. If it takes too much to read a book, the good news is that most of the books are available in audio format nowadays. Start listening to these books while traveling to office and back.

Book lovers can make their own plan. I am not competent enough to suggest.

2. Second commitment – Will add at least one skill every month

Some suggested skills are…

  1. My Time Management Skills
  2. Learn self-defense (Specially for Women)
  3. Appreciating people Top, Down, Left & Right
  4. Lean Management
  5. Delivering defect free product the first time
  6. Defining flawless scope (without killing your client)
  7. Preparing effective schedule
  8. Managing Gross Margin (Without killing your team)
  9. The art of delegation
  10. Art of coaching your reports
  11. The Real Risk Management
  12. The art of informing to your stakeholders

Half an hour invetment every day. Please reorder, add, modify or delete in above list after defining your priorities for which master the first skill first i.e. time management.

3. Third commitment – Will make me more effective

Some suggested actions are…

  1. Doing yoga/exercise for 1 hour 3 times a week
  2. Jogging/Playing for 1 hour 3 times a week
  3. Listening to one of my reports or younger one for 10 minutes without interrupting her/him (once a week)
  4. Make a new friend every month whose views are quite different from me

One hour invetment every day. Is this making any sense to you? If yes, let’s move ahead. After reading list of actions above, are you getting some more ideas? Good, take pen and paper and note down. Make as many changes as you want in above list but first write down your objective – your resolution for 2013 and then select actions and contents based on your resolution.

Does it appear bit hard? As I said, my sole motto is to add value in a manager’s life, I will make it convenient for you to plan and track.

I have prepared a Microsoft Project Plan for you to download. Right click on the link provided below, select Save as.

Download Microsoft Project (2010) Plan for Resolution for 2013

Download Microsoft Project (2007) Plan for Resolution for 2013

You don’t have Microsoft Project? I know many of you may not have it, so you can download same plan in excel format. Right click on the link provided below and select Save as.

Download your plan for Resolution for 2013 in excel format

The success is not in preparing your plan but it is the start of the journey. The success is in discipline execution of the plan. There is no success without discipline so discipline is an important word here.

Does this look a tall order? You can reduce it to your comfort level.

Some people will reduce it to luxurious level, some will reduce it further and further until it eliminates but let me tell you one thing…

You run an organization called [Your Name], You are CEO and MD of this organization. There is only one employee in this organization and that is you.  Success of this organization solely depends upon you. If you don’t act, this organization will starve and become weak and then it will go where others will push it not where you want to take it. Will you allow this to happen?

Want to say something? You can leave your comment by clicking on “Add new comment” or simply send it to me on dialogue[at]pmwares.com.

Wi

Ten symptoms that will tell you, your project is moving into trouble

  1. Your manager asks the status more frequently than ever
  2. Your manager asks others to verify what you are saying is true
  3. Your client speaks about the problem in status meeting than telling you separately
  4. Your client complains about insignificant things
  5. Your client does not respond to your email/message
  6. Your manager or client is trying to micro manage, asking about every minor things and giving directions.
  7. Your team members do not turn up for project meetings
  8. You need to remind your team members about deadlines and important dates
  9. Your team could not find any significant defects in the deliverables before delivering to client
  10. All is going absolutely well in the project for some time

If all are present, it is too late now

What all I need to pass PMP Exam?

After talking to many PMP Aspirants, I found this is the single most important question on the mind of every PMP aspirants. Below I try explaining few points where a PMP Aspirant often gets confused on what he/she really needs to become PMP and often takes decisions that are not best in his/her interest. Hope these points help taking well informed decision.

1.   You need an excellent trainer not a big institute

Ask any student or ask yourself, you would be student at some point of time. Who made the difference in your life? The answer would less likely be an institute. You probably remember a professor or an individual who provided guidance or made you think over and over that changed the way you were thinking and acting. Similarly it is the trainer who made all the difference in the classroom. He/she would make you to think, understand and grasp the underlying concepts.

Do not go on the name of the institute. A big institute does not ensure that you get a good trainer or many times it is other way round.  Either you enquire a small consulting firm or a big institute, always insist on who the trainer is, his/her credentials, experience and the most important is the feedback from previous participants which will tell you what exactly you are going to get in the training.

2.   You need excellent guidance not just Q/A

Due to getting advices from various people around, PMP Aspirants often focus on question and answer too much. Q/As are definitely important but what is more important is to understand why an answer is right or wrong and the principle behind it. You need a person as guide or coach who provides direction for study, what to prepare and what not, the perspective of PMI (say PMIsm), studies on related subjects and specially relate the study with practical real life examples. PMP Exam questions are getting more and more situational.

3.   Do you know, REP is not a must?

This is a big confusion not only among the PMP Aspirants but even among the people who are certified PMP. There are vested interests in keeping this confusion that the training from a REP is a must. However IT IS NOT. PMI in its PMP Handbook have given following option to get 35 hours of contact training program…

QUOTE

“You can satisfy the educational requirements by demonstrating the successful completion of courses, workshops and training sessions offered by one or more of the following types of education providers:

A. PMI Registered Education Providers (R.E.P.s)*

B. PMI Component organizations*

C. Employer/company-sponsored programs

D. Training companies or consultants

E. Distance-learning companies, including an end-of-course assessment

F. University/college academic and continuing education programs

UNQUOTE

REP is one option out of six. PMI is a global, wide and believe in openness. So widen your scope.

4.   Passing exam is a milestone, not ultimate goal

PMP Exam gives you PMP designation, it is not an endorsement that you are an excellent project manager and succeed as PMP. Doing 100 Q/As every day for a month, may make you pass the exam but will it also give you success as project manager? PMP designation will take you to interview board but you have to perform in interview to get the job. PMP designation will help you to become Project Manager of a complex project but will that project achieve its objective and make client happy?

PMP Exam is a milestone, the ultimate goal is to become an excellent project manager and succeed as PMP. This will happen if your foundation is strong. You have spent your time understanding the underlying principle while preparing for PMP Exam. Look for a training that encourage discussions in the class which helps imbibing the concepts and reaffirm your understanding. Look for a guide (Ideally your trainer) who helps clarifying doubt by providing practical scenarios.

5.   It’s not easy but it’s not too hard as well

Believe me it is not as hard as it is explained in many books or in many classes. While I know uncounted PMPs who passed in first try, I do not know even handful of people who passed in second or third attempt.

Some institutes provide you guarantee for passing the exam. Quite possible they may be right however we must understand that guarantee can only be provided of a mechanical system. If you select a system which provides guarantee, you probably be part of a mechanical system where learning opportunities will be minimal and milestone will become your ultimate goal.

Have confidence in yourself. Sincere efforts in right direction with focused mind and committed time are enough to guarantee your success in PMP exam.

Good Luck!!!

- x – x – x -

Get what you truly want and deserve

I got an email some time back from one of my friends Mr. Vikas Dikshit. As such he is much senior to me. He is a NLP Trainer and when writes, you can just feel the depth. The email goes like this…

Quote

This week, on Monday and Tuesday, I conducted a two day workshop for school teachers. In this workshop, as also in many other workshops that I have conducted, the participants become aware that using what they learn in these workshops, they can greatly improve their lives. When I ask them to describe their take home value, they speak about their desire to continue to use these techniques and enhance their lives. In reality only a few people continue to do that however, not only in my workshops but any other good workshop they may be doing such as Art of Living, SSY, Transcendental Meditation. This is also true about self- development and technical workshops in the corporate world. Why this is so?

What is happening here is there is no self-awareness. We are living smugly in our lives. One living within poverty learns to live with less money, rather than learning to make more money. One who has bad relationship with spouse and children, learns to live without love, rather than learning to improve relationships. One who has bad health, learns to somehow continue to live the same way, rather than learning how to have better health. One who discovers that he is a really unskilled parent, just imagines this is how the parenting is done and continues to behave in the same way, no matter how much damage that does to the future of their own children. And when there is an opportunity to learn better, all these people have a better (???) thing to do, may it be watching cricket match, may it be watching a movie, or it may be just taking a lazy afternoon nap. This way they are in a sort of comfort zone.”

Unquote

If I map this to corporate world, the situation is even worse. Too busy in executing, forget to learn new skills that can help executing the project better. For example one who has joined a project where work is not organized or processes are not followed, manage to live with such environment and adjust to the mess rather than learning how to do work better.

I have met people for whom going for a training is the least important item, their sole motto is execute, execute and execute…I say death by executing because if they do not take breaks, do not learn new skills and do not implement them in the work,  they will be dead very soon in their career. I found some companies, they just do not organize any trainings or facilitate learning for their people and expect more and more productivity day by day. Training means, they have got a project and they don’t have people on technology and hiring from outside is difficult and costly. Everything is running around saving cost or convenience. What about improving capability of people??? Most of these companies are in SME sector.  They often miss the fact that most of the projects fail not because of technical incapability but because of project manager’s incapability in planning & tracking, binding team members and motivating them.

Stephen Covey termed this as “Sharpen the saw”, the 7th habit in his book 7 habits of highly effective people. Too busy in cutting the wood, forget to sharpen the saw. What happen when you forget to sharpen the saw, your productivity of cutting wood goes down. Now putting more efforts and working hard will not improve your productivity. Even if it is, it will be incomparable to the productivity you will get by stopping the work, sharpening the saw once again and come back. One needs to do this at a regular interval. He specially emphasizes on reenergizing our own body.

This has come from a quote of Abraham Lincoln “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” When was the last time you sharpened your axe?

Once I was passing through Meerut Cantonment area where I believe Army has a training institute. I read a quote on the wall “ट्रेनिंग मैं पसीना बहाओ और लड़ाई मैं खून बचाओ” (Sweat in training and save blood in battle). In case of army, when the show is live, it is a matter of life and death. One has to go through regress training and has to be 100% sure before execution.

A sport person goes through regress training, coaching and practices endlessly for couple of days of match or few hours of game or in some cases just for couple of seconds of sprint. What happens when a team/player is failing, it is common sense for us to comment that team/players are not serious about their training, he/she has to correct his/her action etc. etc.. When it comes to our self, this common sense is not common.

In corporate world, it is execution most of the time. Some big organizations block some time for trainings but there also it normally does not go beyond 2 weeks. Comparing the time and efforts players and soldiers put in for their trainings, how precious every minute of a corporate training is? And you see all mobile phone, laptop on in the training room? Excellent multitasking!! What about people who think going to training to learn new skills is a toll on their execution. How much low priority, we have given to such important tasks without which all the paths of progress come to an end sooner or later. How long we will continue living in our comfort zone giving priority to least important tasks like watching Cricket, serials with no head and tale, aimless internet surfing or just gossiping.  Like axe or saw, skills and capabilities also get dulled over time and need to be sharpened.

We all know, we need to stop, re-establish our direction, re-organize our scheduled to accommodate time to learn new skills, build capabilities and implement them back at work until we get what we truly want and deserve.

Make a promise this New Year.

 

Wish you a happy new year!

God bless you what you truly want and deserve!!

Why is self learning MS Project not value for money?

When we do corporate trainings, some of the managers who were sent for training, invariably asked me this question. I am using MS Project for many years why you think I should attend this training.  My answer normally goes like this. We had several professionals in earlier classes who came with the same frame of mind and within couple of hours of training, you started hearing these voices….Oh! it is like that!!, It is so simple, Oh! I need not to enter any dates!!, Every time duration change was a big headache. Many of them shared that they had learned several things which they were not aware of and now the life would be much simpler.

Even in open house classes many people who were using MS Project for years joined us looking to learn advance features.  When they went back after the course they appreciated more the basic things they learned than advance.

I have seen many people telling me that they had stopped using MS Project because it was consuming lot of time, “my excel is ok”. The fact was that they did not use the MS Project properly.

Following are some common mistakes, most of the people do…

  1. Not setting up project options and continues working with default options. For example, efforts are estimated in person days but entered in hours by calculating every time.
  2. Not setting project calendar. Not defining holidays. This makes tasks to get scheduled on holidays when work cannot happen.
  3. Defining WBS incorrectly or on the run which keeps changing frequently.
  4. Estimating efforts in person days but entering in duration column which represent time span not efforts.
  5. Entering start and finish date for every task. That means using MS Project like excel, even worse.
  6. Using Must Finish On (MFO) constraint to track deadlines
  7. People are unaware but step 5 & 6 can generate enormous amount of work for project manager and take away flexibility of the schedule. If project is little big or complex, it may become unmanageable.
  8. Not scheduling ongoing or repetitive activities like status meetings, project tracking etc. Even if some people schedule these activities, they schedule them as normal project activities which are effort driven while such tasks are duration driven.
  9. Re-baseline the project on every change. It is like chasing a moving target.
  10. Not tracking cost of the project.
  11. Do not manage resources availability. Resources are scheduled even when they are on leave. This point and point no. 2 can give incorrect picture of project/activities finish dates.
  12. Only planning and not tracking the project as do not know how to track the project or it becomes very complex.
  13. Unawares of view customization and reporting features, prepare manual reports while MS Project can provide better presentable reports with minimal efforts.
  14.  Struggling with duration column, enter some value which gets changed as soon resources are assigned. Struggle to change this value every time, resources are changed.
  15. A task is to be stopped half done due to some temporary unavailability of resource but do not rescheduling uncompleted work when resource is available.

These are few of several mistakes project managers keep doing and make their life difficult. For project managers who are already overloaded in today’s world managing never decreasing large inventory of open tasks, these mistakes just make the situation worse.

Self learning is not as simple as it appears. It takes lot of time in doing R&D to learn new features. When a situation encountered of which PM does not have any clue, he/she takes help from peers who are as good as he/she is or use some books or MS Project help to come out with a workaround. These workarounds are normally not very efficient in managing the situation. There is no problem in using books or MS Project help but in absence of time, people do not read the full stuff.

Self learning does not come cheap. If we take average salary of a PM today as Rs.1,00,000/- per month in Indian scenario and standard working hours 160, per hour investment on PM is 100000/160 = Rs.625. If we say a PM spent 16 hours (2 days) over a period of time to self learn MS Project, total investment will be 625×16=Rs.10,000/-. More than the cost of 2 days training. And outcome is some workarounds and inefficient way of using MS Project. I have not included the cost of hours lost in making some of the mistakes listed above and struggling. Even in international scenarios considering $80,000 per annum as salary of a PM, cost of 2 days investment come out to be over $650. It is a good amount especially looking at the outcome.

This tool is there for Project Managers which must help saving their time and managing the project better but if tool is not used properly, it has an inverse impact, consumes time and mess up the things. MS Project is a rule based engine and before you use it, you must know how MS project functions, best practices, useful features and a systematic way to plan and track the project. This will help using the MS Project more effectively, saving precious time, better control on the project, better forecast and work as helping hand not as an overhead. A proper training needs some investment but it pays back much more than the investment.

 – X – X – X – X – X –

12