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4 simple questions that can help boost team spirit, performance and results


Every morning our team got together for our morning stand-up session.  It had become a daily routine.  The structure of these 15-minutes standups was simple: we reflected on our accomplishments of the previous day, our planned deliverables of the new day and any impediments we were facing and for which we were asking for help from within the team or outside.

More than a normal team sync session

This routine is common to many other teams.  What made our daily standups special was that we added a fourth element.  Once every team member talked about his or her accomplishments, planned deliverables and inquiries for help, he or she shared what would make him or her happy that very day.  This could be anything the team member deemed valuable.  For example, a desired outcome of a meeting, a report, a breakthrough idea, or an evening activity may it be sports, dinner, cinema or anything else.

Silly? No. Inspiring? Yes.

In the beginning adding this fourth element in our daily standups felt odd and, to some of us, even funny and silly.  Then, slowly things changed.  Sharing your personal desired happiness moment of the day by itself was special.  What made it unique was that every team member was listening to the others.  Knowing about what my teammates would make them happy, gave me a better understanding what moved them.  Then there were the happiness moments where my daily goal was to make my teammates happy, i.e., help them achieve their happiness moment.  This could be that I took over some of their work so that they could leave on time for their date in the evening.  Or, helping them prepare a session.  In either way, making my teammates happy, increased my own happiness even more.  And this showed in my own work, performance, mood and, last but not least, results.

Adding the fourth, decisive fourth question to your daily standup’s

Next time when you conduct your daily standup with your team, suggest to add a fourth question.  That is answer the following questions:

  1. What have I accomplished since yesterday (or the last standup meeting)?
  2. What do I plan to accomplish today (or until the next standup meeting)?
  3. What impediments do I face or see? Where do I need help?
  4. What makes me happy today?

Is it that simple? Yes, it is. Try it for a couple of 1-2 weeks and find out by yourself.  Of course, as always it is your choice to be happy or unhappy.

Posted in: Centeredness, Happiness

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The Difference Between Focus and Tunnel Vision


tunnel-vision-01‘One more click, save the file and then close it.’ This is what I thought and did.  Or so I thought.  Because, did I really?  A few moments later my computer gave me the error message, “file upload not possible”.  Oops. What happened?
The last two hours my team and I were working on a project plan for the next six weeks.  It was a really creative and productive meeting.  Spirits were high. Not only could we reflect on our past accomplishments of the last three weeks.  We also had a clear picture of what we wanted to achieve the next couple of weeks.  In order to save time, we captured all planned work packages in an Excel file on a big screen for everyone to follow.  Once our session was finished I did some minor cosmetic changes to the file, saved it (or thought I did) and then closed it.  But, things did not go as planned. – Soon I found out that not only was the file not uploaded to our server, but it was nowhere to be found on my local computer.  If you ever worked on a file for a long time and then had to find out that the work of the past hour or so was erased, well, let’s put it this way: it does not make you happy.  So, this is where I was yesterday.  When I realized the dilemma I called our local IT support and asked for help.  Gee, I had no idea how these folks can be so calm and patient in moments like these.  They listened, asked some questions, guided me through some procedures on my computer.  And then – nothing.  The file could not be found.  Sh…t.  Furor and frustration grew in me rapidly.  ‘How was this possible?! I saved the file before I closed it.’ The next 2 hours I continued sorting through all the files I touched yesterday.  Time stood still.  The more I searched the more my frustration vanished.  And was replaced by resignation.

What does this story have to do with ‘focus’?  A lot.  In the moment of ‘crises’, if you want to call the described dilemma, I completely concentrated on this one file, the product of two hours of work.  I tried everything technically possible to retrieve it.  And I lost time for other, more productive and creative things.  When it became clear that the file was lost, I should have stopped looking for it.  This is hard at times, very difficult indeed. Facing the unquestionable truth often is.  And yet, it may be the only thing to do.
What I mixed was ‘focus’ and ‘tunnel vision’.
The only thing I could think of was this one file, the energy it absorbed to create it and the frustration I felt when I was afraid that I lost this piece of work.  I did not look left or right.  As a result, I did not only lose the file I also relinquished valuable time for other things.  The 2-3 hours I spent searching for the file could have been used to re-do the work.  As a matter of fact it would have taken me probably only around 45 to 60 minutes.  I may not have been happy about this extra work.  But possibly even improving it.  And I could have done something else afterwards.  Learn from my technical incapabilities and move on.

Learning to focus

clarityToo often when we focus on something we completely phase out our surroundings.  Losing sight of the bigger picture.  We are trapped in our tunnel vision.  We think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But actually it may only be a remnant of our imagination.  When you want to or need to focus, do so with a peripheral vision.  Relax, breathe, become aware of what’s happening around you, then start your work.  But not without closing your eyes, ears and senses for your surroundings. Be present and focused at the same time. It is not a contradiction; it is a help and path to a fuller awareness, concentration, more productive and meaningful work and happiness.

So, what happened with my lost file?  I never found it again. Luckily I had a printout of the table my team and I were working on.  Retyping the file we actually found a number of mistakes, shortcomings and gaps we did not recognize earlier.  We corrected them in no time and after less than an hour we had a new, corrected and actually better project plan.

Posted in: Centeredness, Miscellaneous

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Why ‘Job Satisfaction’ May Be The Wrong New Year’s Resolution


As the new year is just around the corner it’s this time of the year many of us come up with glorious (or not so glorious) New Year’s Resolutions.  Unfortunately, most of these don’t last long.  Makes you wonder how sincere they were in the first place.  Excuses vary from “it was not the right resolution”, to “I was just too busy” and “my job doesn’t allow me the space for my resolution”.  And there are many other excuses.  And they are just that:  “excuses”.

But what a resolution which may very worth the investment?!  Let me suggest one which I strongly believe in.

Don’t be misled by the lofty goal of “Job Satisfaction”

We all have to work.  However, how many of us are really happy with and in their job?  Does your job merely satisfy your needs?  Do you like it?  If so, what is it that you like?  Is the people, the environment, the salary, other perks?

Job satisfaction is definitely something worth striving for.  And I believe that every employer should care about its employees being satisfied with and in their jobs.  For, if not, performance is likely to suffer resulting in poorer productivity, lower quality, dissatisfied customers, less sales and hence profits. It is a spiral downward.

However, job satisfaction is not enough!  Satisfaction is great, at first sight.  But then it is just that “satisfaction”, it is enough, mediocre, average, far from better or even best. Why should “average” be sufficient?! It is not.  What to do instead?

Happy 2015Create a happy workplace!

As an employer, find out what makes your employees happy.  Not solely in the sense of pleasure.  Happiness is much more than that.  It involves passion for doing something or being with other people or in a specific environment.  It involves purpose, i.e., something people can relate to and identify with.  People know why they are doing something and they believe in it. They share a common purpose.  They are driven by it.  Hopefully, this purpose coincides with the purpose and mission of your company or organization.  If not, well, you may have a problem or two along the horizon (meaning de-motivated employees).
These days it is no longer sufficient to hire people and expect them fully believe and support the purpose or mission of your company.  If you want to attract and retain talents you have to find out what drives, what motivates them.  What makes them happy.

As an employee, what do you love about your job? What makes you happy?  If you don’t have a happy workplace, of course, you could go to your boss and ask for help.  But, hey, it is your life.  Rather than looking for outside help, start with yourself.  What drives you day in day out? What are you passionate about? What gives you pleasure?  And how can you bring this into your job, where you can find it?

Hence, here is my suggested New Year’s Resolution:

Create a happy workplace!

P.S.:  Here’s a link to a related article.

Posted in: Happiness

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This Season Give Yourself One of the Greatest Gifts Possible


Holiday Season – It’s the time of the year when we spend extra time with our beloved ones, family and friends, celebrate, exchange gifts, having a wonderful time.  And be happy.

What is it that makes us happy?  Is it the special time of Christmas?  Or is the moments where we make other people happy that give us this special kick?  Or is the many little things that make us happy, that make these days truly special?

Personally, I think it is the combination of these things.  And more?  Whatever it is, enjoy it, live it, feel it, be actively aware of these special moments, be and live in the present to the fullest.

And then, go a step further and ask yourself how you can carry this spirit to tomorrow, next week, next month and next year.  I am not talking about developing a big new year’s resolution – which most people tend to forget after a few days anyway.  I am talking about a simple, yet possibly disturbing, life-changing and at the same time exciting thing:  being yourself.

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/when-you-start-being-yourself-these-10-amazing-things-will-happen.html?fb_action_ids=10152654440889315&fb_action_types=og.shares

When You Start Being Yourself, These 10 Amazing Things Will Happen

When you start being yourself, amazing things will happen.  Not for last, you will be happier.  Explore yourself, be.

Then share your experiences.  Create the space for others to find and accept themselves. This way you, too, can contribute to making others happier.  And this in return will make you even happier.

Simple? Yes. But who says that happiness has to be difficult to find.  It’s already here.

Happy Holidays!

 

Posted in: Centeredness, Happiness, Institute

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How to Effectively Lead While Running Multiple Projects


Project leadership can be a complicated responsibility, especially when you’re managing multiple ventures at once. It’s important to think proactively and plan ahead to realize success. Gain a solid understanding of the leadership qualities needed to motivate your team and keep them inspired. Learn to delegate effectively, assigning the best possible people to complete each task.

Get Organized

Organization is key when managing multiple projects simultaneously. As the leader of the initiative, it is your responsibility to know the deadlines and goals associated with each project and ensure all activities stay on track. Meet with team members frequently for status updates, so you know exactly where each project stands. Pay close attention to how team members are working with one another to gauge the group dynamic.
It’s inevitable that you’ll incur roadblocks and unanticipated changes along the way, so prepare for these issues in advance. Coach your team on ways to manage change, so they’ll have the ability to effectively cope with potential setbacks and turn them into positive adjustments. Schedule regular meetings with stakeholders to provide updates and communicate changes.

Motivate Your Team

The motivation of team members has the ability to make or break the success of an entire project. It’s your job to lead by example, setting a positive tone for the entire group. When initially distributing assignments, make sure each person has a solid understanding of their responsibilities and your expectations. Ask for feedback and listen to all suggestions, as having a stake in the project allows a team member to feel a sense of ownership.
Maintain a high level of involvement in the project process and regularly acknowledge employees’ positive contributions, as people are motivated by praise. Help your team solve problems and stay focused on their tasks. Create a culture of communication, where people feel comfortable coming to you with questions. When changes need to be made, approach the situation carefully, explaining the need for the adjustment and the benefits it will bring. This can help team members maintain their sense of purpose.

Delegate Responsibilities

An effective leader doesn’t try to control every aspect of the project. Put your trust in employees by delegating assignments out to create a sense of shared responsibility, build trust, save time, increase skills and conserve resources. Make your expectations for each assignment clear and be sure each person understands the importance of their tasks. Provide feedback to let people know how they’re doing, allowing them to learn and grow. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised at what your team can achieve when given the freedom to reach their potential.
Staying organized, learning to effectively motivate team members and properly delegating responsibilities is the key to successful project leadership. When you lead your team the right way, you’re able to manage multiple projects at once without a hitch. Take the time to develop a system that works for your team and you’ll realize results you never thought possible.
Marwa Hijazi | University Alliance | Notre Dame

Marwa Hijazi writes about business topics related to leadership and management on behalf of University Alliance, a facilitator of leadership and management programs online.

Posted in: Guest Blogs, Leadership

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Applying Leverage Points for Greater Project Success


Project, program and portfolio management are people intensive activities, subject to personalities, differing agendas, and misunderstandings. Successful managers are those who, while not immune from these challenges, correctly assess and determine how to navigate political minefields. Personal case studies, along with examples from other people and industries, provide a proven means, first to accept that these challenges will arise, and second to work through them and achieve desired outcomes.

balance_bar_tipped_400_clr_6313Leverage points are activities within a complex system where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything. This idea is embedded in legend: the silver bullet, the trim tab, the miracle cure, the secret passage, the magic password, the single hero who turns the tide of history, the nearly effortless way to cut through or leap over huge obstacles. We want to know where they are and how to get our hands on them. Leverage points are points of power.

An example in the physical world:  trim tabs are small surfaces connected to the trailing edge of a larger control surface on a boat or aircraft, used to control the trim of the controls—to counteract hydro- or aerodynamic forces and stabilize the boat or aircraft in a particular desired attitude without the need for the operator to constantly apply a control force. This is done by adjusting the angle of the tab relative to the larger surface. This reduces the work of the engine by reducing the amount of manual control necessary, as well as providing for greater efficiency by keeping the ship in the ideal orientation for the conditions.

What is the equivalent trim tab [leverage points] in the world of people and relationships? L2M2:  Leadership, Learning, Means, and Motivation. Examples where these “forces” apply include:

  • Speaking truth to power
  • Getting past resistance to achieve results
  • Working through a difficult encounter
  • Applying controlled anger
  • Negotiating with reluctant stakeholders
  • “Selling” and implementing a new process

The simple model of key leverage points—L2M2—may perhaps be sufficient as a recipe for greater project success. All four factors are necessary for this recipe to succeed:

Leadership is a well-articulated communication from the organization of what kind of new behavior is required and why it is required, along with a road map of the change that will take place over time.

Learning is the process of supplying the knowledge and skill necessary for individuals to carry out new behaviors. It includes learning support from the PMBOK, project leadership, and business skills, etc..

Means are all the resources necessary to carry out the behaviors, including tools, organizational policies and structures, and time.

Motivation is the formal and informal system of incentives and consequences that reinforce new behaviors. These are differentiated by role so that the required role-based behaviors are supported in all parts of the organization.

Behavior begins to change when all four factors work in concert. Without Leadership, people will not know how to apply their new knowledge and skill in concert with business strategic and tactical objectives. Without Learning, people may know what they are supposed to do from Leadership, but not know how to do it. Without Means, people may know what to do and how to do it, but not have the tools and resources to carry it out. Without Motivation, people may know what leaders want, and how to do it, and have the resources to carry it out, but simply not bother to do it.

Challenges present themselves on every project and program. An attitude of acceptance is required to get past initial paralysis and/or frustration, then to assess, design, and apply an action plan. Base actions on leverage from L2M2.  Foremost, a belief in ability to prevail is required. An individual’s positive attitude that today is a good day and tomorrow will be even better provides the means to embrace and implement leverage points.

It is important to focus on people, relationships, values, and skills. Modify an approach depending on the situation, always knowing there are patterns in how nature and people respond. Tap leverage points in those patterns as a means towards greater project success. Changing a mindset to embrace change or a new approach may perhaps be the simplest and most powerful leverage point for an individual to implement. Apply a key phrase:  “I can think differently about this.”

Examples and a paper on this topic are available from the PMI Global Congress North America 2014.

Randall L. Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy, www.englundpmc.com

Posted in: Guest Blogs, Leadership, Project Management

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Surviving in a Matrix: Simple Techniques for Effective Project Management in a Matrix Organization


You love projects.  You love good project management.  And you love the exhilaration of power teams and project success.  BUT you are struck in a matrix?  Not the matrix of the movie.  But the matrix of a strong line organization where projects have all but a miserable existence.  The line organization is dominating, politics is prevalent, people care more about securing their own posts, maintaining the status quo and thus focus on their daily tasks, not willing to look outside their box or even beyond their own desk.  Projects?!  Gee, hell no!  Those are activities where you have to work with people from other departments, maybe even in cross-functional teams.  But, what do those folks know about my area of expertise.  Nothing!  Hence, it is better to keep things as they are.

Does this sound familiar? Or, have you ever experienced or heard of such an organization and setting? – If so, continue reading.

Surviving in a Matrix: Simple Techniques for Effective Project Management in a Matrix Organization from Thomas Juli

On Thursday, 2 October 2014 from 11:30 AM – 1 PM EST I gave a free webinar for the IT Metrics and Productivity Institute.  The webinar is entitled “Surviving in a Matrix: Simple Techniques for Effective Project Management in a Matrix Organization”.  In this webinar I introduce a simple, yet very pragmatic approach to structure, plan and set-up a project in a matrix organization with strong line management and a weak project culture. I explain the need and value for developing a compelling project motivation, vision and objectives. I outline how to engage stakeholders in building a work package structure, outlining a project organization, implementing an early warning system for plan deviations, establishing risk analysis and management. Last but not least, I elaborate on how to cultivate continuous learning in a matrix organization.
Don’t stay stuck in your matrix.  Learn how to survive in your matrix, introduce effective project management techniques and become a master of your own project success.

Posted in: Empowerment, Leadership, Project Management, Project success

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The MVP Model for Project Success


I believe that for projects to excel and evolve into WOW projects it is not sufficient to focus on project objectives and even less so on requirements.  One of the reasons is that they are subject to change.  If involved project members and stakeholders believe them to constitute the foundation for the project, such changes ought to lead to terminate the project, unless they don’t really know what they want to do or strive for.

WOW Projects
WOW Projects are projects that add value, projects that matter, projects that make a difference, projects that leave a legacy. And those are projects that bring happiness into our daily lives – on the individual. team and customer levels.

Successful WOW projects are characterized by a strong, commonly understood and supported motivation and vision by all involved parties.

  • The motivation describes why the project starts in the first place.  This could be a problem that needs to be resolved or an idea worth exploring.
  • The vision delineates the ideal state in contrast to, for example, the problem that triggered the project.

Both motivation and vision are long-lasting, they are not necessarily time bound.  Unlike projects which are time-boxed, having a start and finish date.  Corollary, motivation and vision set the overall direction of a movement of which a project is a stepping stone.  In other words, motivation and vision may serve as a compass during the complete project life cycle.  Project objectives and requirements may change, the motivation and vision don’t.  If they did, a project lacks the necessary foundation of existence; if continued it may become a zombie project but that’s pretty much it.

In short,  for projects to excel and evolve into WOW projects you need the full understanding and support of your MVP – motivation, vision and project goals – by all project team members and stakeholders.

Sparks for WOW projects

Developing an MVP for a project is the first prerequisite for developing successful WOW projects.  It doesn’t stop there.  Project work is teamwork.  Hence, it is equally important to develop MVP’s for both the team and the individuals.

MVP Model and WOWRegarding the latter, individuals, project leadership ought to provide the space for individual team members to identify and share their personal MVP’s, i.e., what motivates them to work on the project, what they envision and what concrete goals they may have.  Sharing personal MVP’s may be strange for some people.  But then, if you are seriously interested in developing and sustaining a successful WOW project wouldn’t you want your teammates to know what drives you, what you expect, what you want to contribute and vice versa?!  Sharing personal MVP’s helps move a group of individuals closer together and thus contribute to team building.

Finally, aligning all three MVP dimensions – project, individual and team – is where magic can happen; it is the spark for WOW projects.  It takes teamwork to the next level.  It is like three separate entities moving into the same direction at an accelerated pace, not because of external pressure but intrinsic motivation.  The outcomes are greater happiness, productivity, quality and, last but not least, results.

Build your MVP’s for project success

Even the longest journey starts with the first step.  On this token, I encourage you and your team to have a closer look at your own project(s).  Please let me know if you’d like me to help you build WOW projects through customized workshops and trainings.  Workshops can be as short as 2 hours or several days depending on your needs.  Or, if you like, I can accompany your journey over a period of several weeks through coaching and consulting.

Posted in: Institute, Leadership, Tools, Uncategorized

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Let Happiness Turn Your Project Around



Ever wondered what could turn around your struggling project, or shape a project that it tells a story and convinces others just be hearing about the project?  Well, there could be a simple remedy.  And that is to link happiness to your project.  – Ok, let’s start slow.

This week I conducted a seminar on project leadership.  In one of the central exercises smaller groups worked on fictitious projects.  Seminar attendants could pick whatever topic, issue or question they cared about.  One group chose to ponder how to improve time management for students obtaining a graduate degree while having to work full-time and nourishing a family.  Another group analyzed ways and means to improve a business partnership with suppliers.  And yet another decided to talk about the need of drones for the German military.  At the end of each exercise session teams presented their results.  They shared their views what motivated them to work on their particular project, what they envisioned and what specific goals they were pursuing.  Not too surprisingly the project with the military drone got rather passive looks and no real feedback when they presented their project.  This changed when I asked the teams to address a simple question with respect to their project.  “How does your project contribute to happiness?”  That’s it; just this simple question.

HappinessI was curious what the teams would come up with.  Especially the drone project.  After all, linking a military weapon, defensive as it may be intentioned, with happiness?!  That would be a tough sell.  Well, things did not quite work out as assumed.  When it was their turn everybody expected them to talk about the various functionalities of a military drone, its specifications and how to use it in combat.  But instead the group talked about peace enforcement, conflict prevention and support for human rights.  And they talked about it in an appealing way that reached people and caused their emotional reaction.  All of a sudden, nobody was thinking of the weapon any more but how to help achieve world peace.  What happened?  Addressing the question “How does your project contribute to happiness?” project members checked for their inner motivation – not warefare but peace and stability – and they shared it openly and honestly.  This touched people, they could relate to the team’s motivation, even identify with it.  Instead of being doubtful and deprecating, not only did they appreciated the project presentation but even asked how they could help the team.

A project which moments earlier was dull, cold and tiring became lively, meaningful and attractive.  A simple question “How does your project contribute to happiness?” triggered the change of the nature of the project, its momentum and the attitude of team members and observers.  So, next time you face a troubling project, ask the team this question, “how does your project contribute to happiness?, and see what happens.

 

Posted in: Happiness, Leadership, Project failure, Project Management

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A wide-angle lense for your project efforts


gripWhile some of my peers are still thriving for planning tools and methodologies to strengthen their grip on projects, others offer ten keys to a happier living and pursuing a great dream. It’s the summary of this month’s PMI Netherlands Chapter’s 3rd Summit on the thin line between project success and project failure. Discrete task management as a 20th Century invention, cultivated from the times of Frederick Winslow Taylor‘s book The Principles of Scientific Management to David Allen‘s Getting Things Done. Resemblance with the classic Divide & Rule strategy elements is surprising:

  • creating or encouraging divisions among the subjects to prevent alliances that could challenge the sovereign
  • aiding and promoting those who are willing to cooperate with the sovereign
  • fostering distrust and enmity between local rulers
  • encouraging meaningless expenditures that reduce the capability for political and military spending

Proven project success factors however are e.g. trust, collaboration, communication, and contribution to a greater cause. Research led Daniel Pink to rethink Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (I bet you know this pyramid) and come up with 21st Century drivers for our professional and personal motivation:

  1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives.
  2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
  3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

sagrada familiaConnecting dots, zooming out of discrete tasks to larger structures up to the organization, value chain or customer journey shows a wide-angled view:

  • Working on brick by boring brick appears to the final stage of the Sagrada Família in Barcelona.
  • A piece of Java code skips a mouse click in an application form, raising chances a customer will continue buying an insurance policy.
  • Implementing legislation in processes, systems and information products avoids penalties and saves cash for investments.
  • A proper configuration of a server keeps hackers out and the business focused on their core business.

A monthly review of your risk log or skipping the benefits section in a mandatory business case for a ‘compliance project’ will get a different meaning, once you understand the effects of your efforts. Costs turn into values. System integration enables business sustainability. Daily routines like a stand-up or check-in become an index of project health or happiness of team members. What drives you home? And back to work tomorrow?

Posted in: Guest Blogs, Leadership, Project Management, Project success

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