Monthly Archives: February 2010

Writing Better Project Charters

I recently wrote a piece on writing better project charters for the Project Times, which can be found here.

Time’s 50 Best Inventions of 2009

Time Magazine’s list of the 50 best inventions of 2009 is worth reading.

My favorites: Portable ultrasound, vertical farming and the bladeless fan.

Innovation at Anheuser-Busch

Interesting guest blog here on the HBR site concerning how Anheuser-Busch (the US beer company behind Budweiser) thinks about innovation. What I liked about it was not so much the plan they outline, but how it is communicated very clearly.

Sometimes coming up with a plan is the easy part. The challenge is sharing the plan clearly and simply, and Patrick O’Riordan appears to communicate the plan well.

Holding better meetings

Even if you attend just 2 hours of meetings each working day over the course of your career, then that’s easily 2 solid years worth of meetings over the course of your life. Meetings are a crucial part of any project, but insufficient time is often invested in them, here are a few ideas for improvement to make your ‘2 years of meetings’ better:

Each meeting should have a clear goal

Meetings have multiple functions these including: deciding, informing, asking for something or brainstorming. Be clear on what your meeting is for and make this clear in the meeting title, and whilst you’re at it, consider if you really do need a meeting to meet that that objective – would an email or memo suffice? If so, use an email or a memo. You’re saving not just your time but that of participants so the benefit is magnified. 

Finishes meetings early if you can

If you take a moment to think about it, it’s bizarre that most meetings take exactly the time they’re alloted. If you scheduled an hour to write a report on your own, it may ultimately take anywhere between 15 minutes and 4 hours. However, meetings tend to take the time they’re given, this implies that, to the point above, goals are not clear. Once the goal is met, end the meeting. People will always invent topics to fill a blank agenda – don’t allow it.

Scope the invitee list

Meetings are not a spectator sport. If you have a clear goal, it should be clear who should attend the meeting. Often people attend meeting because they want to know what’s going on, you can avoid this problem by writing crisp meeting summaries and sending them once the meeting ends.

Don’t be scared to cancel meetings

Just as finishing early is good, so is cancelling a recurring meeting that isn’t needed. Recurring meetings can easily invent their own purpose, rather than meeting clear goals. If you don’t have a clear objective cancel the meeting.

Do you really need an hour?

A hour seems to have developed as the default time for meetings, however, that might be too long or too short depending on the topic at hand. Consider huddles or micro-meetings of 15 minutes to coordinate activities without getting dragged down into the details. Equally, real brainstorming can take over an hour to produce really good ideas, because it takes time to build on conventional ideas and innovative thinking.

Three Tips For Better Post-Mortems

As I’ve mentioned before, post-mortems are a critically important mechanism for driving continual improvement. Below are three tips for improving post-mortems themselves:

Assign ownership – when areas for improvement come out of improvement, assign ownership of them. Of course, you may not know the exact next steps required, but clear ownership empowers the owner to take the required actions.

Don’t truncate the list – it can be tempting to focus on the major items coming out of a post-mortem, but this can mean overlooking some ‘low-hanging fruit’ and demoralizing those who submitted ideas that didn’t make the cut. Go as far down the list as you can.

Be transparent – post-mortems are a tricky topic, sometimes they find errors, and certainly things that could have gone better. However, this is best addressed by openness and transparency.

Hard conversations

Project management success depends on communication. Often project management failure is driven by poor scope and requirements management, but the root cause of that is poor communication.

The important thing to focus on is that the harder a conversation is the more useful it is likely to be to your project. The easy conversations, the ones without tension, with people you know well, people you like – those are important and need a regular cadence to keep things on track. However, it’s the hard conversations, where relationships are strained, where there’s underlying tension and disagreement. We can tend to subconsiously avoid them, think of reasons not to have them and spend time on the easy discussions so we feel productive. But the project suffers in the end.

Are you having your hard conversations often and early enough?

Innovation Whack Pack

Simply asking people to brainstorm doesn’t always achieve the best results. This pack of cards from Roger von Oech is $10 well spent, each card contains a strategy to help you create and implement better ideas. For example, one card suggests changing the name of the object you’re trying to create. If you ask an architect to design a door, you’ll get a door, but if you ask for a link between two rooms, you open up your thinking to many more ideas. This pack of cards is a cost effective way to revitalize your next creative meeting.

Project Management Salaries – Are You Paid Enough?

I recently performed a statistical analysis of project management salaries in the US. This analysis applies to publically listed full-time project management roles in January 2010.

The average salary for a project manager was $89,442, but more interesting was what drove the differences. Having a PMP certification was not statistically significant, nor were industry or sector differences. The two things that mattered were level of experience and the managerial rank of the position (whether it was for an individual contributor, a manager or a manager of managers). The implication is that general management skill is more relevant than project management skill in determining salary. The other point to note is that not all “experience” is created equal from a job application perspective, most positions listing experience wanted specific industry expertise, whether with specific software, power generation systems or government contracting methods. Again, these skills were not specific to the discipline of project management per se, but instead specific to the industry in which the project manager operates.