What a Project Manager Wants for Christmas…

christmas_presentsIn lieu of the holiday season, I thought it might be both whimsical and informative to determine what might be on the average project manager’s wish list when it comes to the type of ‘presents’ they would not mind receiving.

Unfortunately, most of the types of things a project manager might wish for probably do not exist in reality. Nonetheless, as a bit of tongue and cheek homage to the holidays, here are some of the things I certainly would not mind receiving for Christmas not only for their ability to make my job easier, but because they would be cool. :-)

Feel free to add some of your Project Management Wish List ideas in the comments section.

My Top Ten Holiday Wish List

1. Electroshock Through Telephony Device

lightning_phone

For those frustrating meetings where someone just refuses to shut up or is being stubborn. How nice would it be to be able to press one button and send them some gentle encouragement regarding their viewpoint. Just be mindful of which button you press lest you accidentally shock the project sponsor. :-)

2. Scope Creep Magic Eraser

erase

Make that pesky scope creep vanish before your eyes! Let’s face it, there isn’t a project manager on this planet that hasn’t come close to having a stroke every time a team member, stakeholder or sponsor has decided last minute to add that ‘one little thing’. And of course, always ensuring us that the change is ‘minor’ and will have ‘little impact’. Guess our notion of the words ‘minor’ and  ‘little’ are a tad different from those we often work with.

3. Resource Matter Transporter & Replicator

teleporter-transporter-star-trek

replicator1

Actually a combination of two technologies: a replicator, that can create or duplicate objects from a template and a transporter to send objects anywhere. Gone will be the days where resources are a limited concept; instead, they can be shifted and moved at a moments notice. Need a resource? Fire up the replicator! Need that resource to be in New York tomorrow? Fire up the transporter! (Note: if I could actually invent either of these devices, I would not be a project manager anymore; I’d be lounging on Richard Branson’s island having margaritas with the Swedish Bikini Team)

4. The TARDIS from Doctor Who

Tardis-in-Space

Travel to any time or any place. Imagine being able to take the project stakeholders for a ride into the future to show them the project failing due to scope they just asked to add. Or go back in time to tell yourself that some of your resources will be taken away shortly, so adjust your schedule ahead of time! Mind you, if I had a TARDIS, I would probably just travel back in time and tell my younger self to go to Med School instead. :-)

5. A Star Trek Phaser

trek_phaser

It’s a phaser. Do I really need to say more? And note: this is not a cheesy JJ Abrams pee shooter or a lame Next Gen Dust Buster. I am talking old school, solid beam of vaporizing energy phaser of the Kirk era. Can stun a Klingon at a hundred yards. And also, I am pretty non-violent, so I would only vaporize non-organic things, like a TPS report or the latest HR newsletter. I would have fun with the stun setting though. If someone really gets under your skin, you could zap them all day. :-)

6. A Crystal Ball

crystalballMoving from the science fiction to the fantasy fiction realms, how handy would it be to just ‘know’ the future? To be able to gaze into the haze of a swirling mass of vapor within a spherical shell and be able to ascertain EXACTLY how elements of your project and its timeline will unfold. To be fair, I have come across many individuals in Northern California who claim they have seen ‘amazing things’ after having partaken into inhaling vapors from some of the local fauna in the area. Not exactly the same thing, I know.

7. Romulan Cloaking Device

romulan_cloaking_device

The ability to become invisible at a moment’s notice. Comes in handy when you are attempting to get through the day with minimal interruptions. (Note: the cloak from Harry Potter would work here as well, but I wanted something that could make a large area invisible, in case you need to hide more than just yourself)

8. Vice President & Executive Universal Translator

trek-universal-trans

Vice President: “We need to a adopt a more transparent, cloud-based implementation strategy and adjust our technology paradigms to meet the shifting needs of our organically growing customer segments. “

Translation: “Me and the rest of the VPs heard a bunch of buzz words at the latest tech conference. We have no idea what they mean, but we were hoping you guys could figure it out.”

9. Personal Robotic Assistant

vincent

This one is virtually a no-brainer. A robot that never tires and is available at a moments notice to help with those last minute rush operations that come down the pipe-line. Now why did I choose V-I-N-C-E-N-T from the Black Hole instead of the more ubiquitous and well known R2D2? Simple. Vincent has lasers…

10. Luxury Supercar

astonmarton

Ok, I will admit there is little value add here from a project manager perspective. Then again, if I do opt for the James Bond Aston Martin with all its bells and whistles, I am sure there would be one or two gadgets in that vehicle that would be beneficial to a project manager. Plus, it will make date night all the easier. And believe me, as a project manager and self-described ‘nerd’, I need all the help I can get.

Have a GREAT holiday season everyone! See you in 2015….

Managing Your Meetings

meetingAny project manager in the industry is going to spend a fair amount of their time both attending and organizing meetings. They are a quintessential component of any project manager’s day-to-day duties and will likely consume a large portion of their time.

Yet despite the staple nature of meetings, often times, project managers can be surprisingly inefficient when it comes to how they set up, structure, manage and control their own meetings. This can become a very problematic issue, resulting in lost productivity and frustration for meeting attendees who may be required to attend follow-up meetings due to the manner and way the original meeting was handled.

With that being said, what are some policies and best practices that a project manager can and should employ to facilitate the best possible meetings for their given projects?

Come Prepared

This may seem like a no-brainer, yet it is quite surprising how many times a project manager will step into a meeting with little to no inkling of having things prepared up front. This can be as simple as ensuring that teleconference passwords are correct, the meeting room is functional in the form of having projection and display capabilities or that the WebEx, Live Meeting or Cisco Telepresence information was sent in advance. The more time that is spent having to wade through technical gaffes in meeting setup, the more time is wasted. Additionally, it sets a bad tone at the offset and gives the impression of unprofessionalism.

Have An Agenda

Somewhat of a carry-forward from being prepared, having an outline of what will be discussed in the meeting should be itemized up front. This will help encapsulate the meeting in an effective way and also give a better impression of how to manage time. In many cases, project managers can be too aloof in how they approach a meeting, many times underestimating how much time is available and how many discussion topics to cover. This can lead to situations where time essentially runs out because too much was spent on certain discussion topics at the expense of others. In many cases, certain discussions can be ‘shelved’ for the time being pending a follow-up meeting to ensure that all main topics are covered in ernest during the existing meeting.

Have Meeting Outcomes Itemized

This will be part of the agenda to a degree, but it is important to ensure that the meeting itself has some tangible outcomes that it yields. Otherwise, it is essentially not achieving anything. Meetings need to have some end result, whether it be simple status updates, architecture and design discussions, or general project related task overviews. Whatever the case, the meeting should be in place to achieve some goal and that goal should be understood up front, even if it is only the project manager that understands the outcome.

Keep Control of Your Meeting

Herding cats is a concept most are familiar with. And this concept is exemplified in spaces when it comes to controlling your meetings. As we all know in life, not all of us are created equal. Some are quiet while others are more boisterous. Some are reserved and others are opinionated. Whatever the case, it is important to recognize that in a meeting setting, you will have all these personality types often contained in one area, or connecting virtually. And if one is not careful about how things are being handled, a meeting can easily start to go off on tangents with the more dominant personality types driving the conversations in directions they want it to go.

As the project manager, the meeting is yours and it is up to you that it not only stays on topic, but that everyone is allowed to provide the necessary input. Having the agenda and a specific set of time constraints built into it can help tremendously in focusing the energy of the meeting on the tasks at hand. But you will also need to take steps to ensure things do not go too far off course. For issues that cannot be resolved easily in the meeting, shelve those for discussion later.

Start and Finish the Meeting On Time

A great way to ensure the future effectiveness of your meetings is to be diligent about time management. If you as the meeting organizer are complacent about when a meeting starts and how it ends, that will reflect on how people operate when attending your meetings. Someone who has a reputation as being prompt with start times, being focused to stay on course and being diligent about ending at the appropriate time will give attendees confidence that subsequent meetings will be dealt with just as efficiently.

Publish Action Items and Follow-up Immediately After the Meeting

This is probably one of the most overlooked yet extremely important aspects of meeting management. Generally speaking, when people leave a meeting, the ideas and discussion points are at the front of their minds. That goes equally for the meeting organizer, the project manager in this case. To ensure that momentum remains amongst the meeting attendees, it is important that all issues that were raised and all action items are itemized and published as soon as possible once the meeting has concluded. That will give meeting attendees the opportunity to review your meeting notes and provide any additional feedback while things are fresh in their minds. Waiting to publish meeting minutes and actions can degrade the quality of the notes as well as give too much of a gap for meeting attendees between meetings, thereby reducing the likelihood of staying ‘fresh’.

Do Not Hold a Meeting Just for the Sake of Holding the Meeting

In many cases, meetings become a recurring phenomenon. Especially for projects that have a long lifetime. However, there are times when a meeting is actually un-necessary and holding the meeting for no other reason than it appears in your Outlook calendar can actually detract away from  project momentum. Recurring meetings are fine in and of themselves but if you are struggling to find agenda topics or follow-up items for your meeting, than in all likelihood, the meeting is probably not required. By being smart about when to hold meetings and when to cancel them, your meeting attendees will actually be able to be more productive with regards to contributing to the overall project. It will also give the impression that you are not a creature of habit and are instead being pragmatic about how and when discussions need to occur in regards to the project.

Conclusions

Meetings are a general necessity when it comes to effective project management. Being smart about how you organize, handle and follow-up on your meetings is a major contributor to the success of the project as a whole. Understanding that meetings are meant to yield a specific outcome and are supposed to contribute to overall project success will give you incentive to be as diligent as possible in creating and structuring the best possible meetings that you can to achieve the desired outcomes you need moving forward.

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