Buy Lunch for Your Project Team

There are a lot of food related phrases that can be thrown around over here that say exactly how important food is to the soul; basically our mental and physical well-being depends on it. But even more than food itself, it’s the act of sharing it with others that makes it such a pleasant experience. Food brings people together, and there’s nothing like sharing some laughter over a nice meal. So for a Project Manager, it’s a no-brainer to treat their team to a lunch from time to time, as the essence of the job is team work. Here’s why you should buy your project team a lunch one of these days:

Get to know your people

As a project leader, you need to get to know the people working for you, and while there is lots of chances of doing that during work hours, the sad truth is that it’s really difficult to open up to your boss in a strict work environment. In a more casual setting, with some good food and drinks, you can get to know the real person within, their likes and dislikes. What makes them tick and what motivates them, how important is their family to them, all of this you cannot find out in the office, and are things that can really help you manage your team effectively.

Create a Bond

Sharing meals with your underlings outside the confines of the office will not only help you create a bond with them but will also create one in between co-workers, especially if the team has just been put together for a specific project. For a project team that needs to work together hand in hand, this can be a great asset. They are more likely to see eye-to-eye and work with each other in harmony, solving problems and helping each other out in hours of need. They will go above and beyond for each other, and will go above and beyond for you.

Develop loyalty

When you get to know your team on a personal level, listen to their problems and share stories and laughter with them in a casual setting, they get to know you as more than just a project director; they get to know you as a person. This can go a long way in fostering loyalty in them towards you. They will be more willing to listen to you and trust you to guide them, and will take the project at hand more seriously. As a Project Manager, you will be able to delegate and count on your workforce a lot more.

Boost Morale and Performance

Everybody loves a party; it gives a good respite from work, you can get together with people and have some fun, and you can meet new people and create new friendships. All of this directly affects work performance, and especially in project management where deadlines are short and stress levels are high, it is good to unwind from time to time and give your mind a rest. It lets you take a step back from work and enjoy a change of scenery to put things in perspective. It helps your mind work better. Plus, team members will be working together, and the overall work environment will be more friendly, which will keep everyone motivated and will improve performance, allowing you to lead best project team and meet challenges head on.

Using Exam Simulators for your PMP Exam Prep

Taking the PMP Exam can be one of the most important and difficult things you will have to do. The prep time requires you to be incredibly focused on your studies, and various study guides, books, mock exams and training videos can help you be prepared for the final exam. However, no matter how much you know, the day of the exam, you might find yourself unprepared to apply that knowledge and perform well. This is because exam prep is more than just studying; it is having a game plan, an exam taking strategy, and knowing what the questions are actually asking and not getting overwhelmed or ahead of yourself.

These skills are something no book or training video can teach, as they differ from person to person and every individual has to come up with their own strategy. The best way to discover yours and to learn how to apply it is to use exam simulators.

PMP Exam Simulators create an authentic PMP Exam environment and puts you in the middle of it to give you a taste of what the actual exam will be like. The questions are structured like the real exam and you will feel like it is actually the big day, so you will have a real and accurate idea of where you stand in terms of your preparation.

Online PMP packages, such as the ones offered by PM Champion, offer a complete step-by-step prep plan which includes study plans, video training, chapter tests and formula guides, all based on and integrated with your PMBOK to help you prepare for the exam. Included in this is an exam simulator, which you should take after you have taken all other steps and are thoroughly sure that you are ready. However, do not expect to be perfect on your first try. Exam simulators let you take several complete exams so you can keep trying till you have perfected your exam strategy. You will start to see improvement with every test you take, so don’t be discouraged and treat it as a learning experience.

What you can achieve with a PMP Exam Simulator

–          With a PMP Exam Simulator, you will be able to practice several exams under authentic and realistic test conditions, so you will have a good idea of what you are in for. This way, you will not be taken off guard or be overwhelmed on the big day.

–          This will help you learn to manage your time effectively and efficiently.

–          You will also gain confidence and reduce study time, with a realization that you know your stuff, and also which areas you need to concentrate on specifically.

–          You will formulate your test strategies and learn to apply them effectively. For instance if there are topics that you have to memorize you will become aware and start planning for it.

–          You will also know exactly how much you are improving and how long you have left to go. You will also know when you are absolutely ready for the real thing.

PMP Exam Simulators are definitely a great tool to aid you in your studies. They are the perfect way to gauge your preparation in a realistic way, so you can truly be prepared for the big day.

 

How to Isolate Yourself for Your PMP Exam Prep

Deciding to take on a PMP Certification Exam might be one of the biggest career choices you’ll ever make, but most of you will be doing this at a point in life when finding the time to study might be the hardest part of the process. You might be juggling a job, a family, excessive business travelling, or any number of other things while trying to do your PMP Exam prep.  Isolating yourself is an important part of concentrating on the material and here are a few tips on how to achieve this:

Plug Out and Disconnect

Today we have a million more distractions than we did even a decade ago, with too many gadgets supplying too many functions right at our fingertips. Even if you’re quite over Facebook and Twitter (which no one really is, ever), when you’re studying your mind tends to find a dozen more interesting things to do. The best thing to do during your prep time is to completely disconnect from technology. Don’t worry, the world will not come to an end, but it might just slightly unravel if you fail this very important exam.

Find a Fortress of Solitude

The next thing to do is find a quiet place to study with absolutely no distractions. You might have disconnected your gadgets and from social media, but you can never really disconnect the TV or the computer, or even your phone, not completely, especially if you live with other people. So your home and your room is out, so is a friend’s place. The library is your best bet; but if you have any other quiet places where you can really concentrate, like perhaps a personal study, an office, or a study hall, those could work too.

Draw Up a Schedule

If you know how to stick to it, a schedule with realistic goals could work wonders. No one can really isolate themselves completely, and in order to really find peace and quiet for a little while, you need to plan it out properly. You probably have many other important engagements, chores, and responsibilities to take care of, and you need to find the right time to get those done so that your mind is clear when you sit down to study, because a lot of distractions come from within. Isolate your mind by either getting other stuff out of the way, or knowing in your mind that there will be time later.

Headphones Are Your New Best Friend

Many a times when you’re trying to concentrate, the tiniest of noises can be distracting. Headphones go a long way in isolating these sounds and replacing them with white noise, tracks of which you can find on many websites and stores. You can also use these to listen to audio lectures and training sessions while your hands are busy with other mindless chores, such as doing the dishes.

Moderation is Key

Even after all this, your mind might still wander, this is because no one can study for hours on end without getting frustrated, and sooner than later you won’t really retain much anyway. Plus, you have people in your life that deserve a bit of your time even while you’re prepping for PMP Exams, and so you should schedule some time for socializing and fun.

However, it is important to keep this minimal and not to get carried away and party all night. Your mind just needs a short break, and after you’ve freshened up you can get back to work. The important thing is not to lose perspective, and to keep in mind what the goal is and how important your PMP Certification can be for your bright future.

How To Lead a Successful Conference Call

In the course of managing a Project, you are sure to be called upon to conduct a meeting through conference call at some point. These meetings can be tricky as you are mostly not face-to-face with some or most of the participants, which makes it harder to stay organized and focused. These few tips will help you stay on track and successfully achieve the purpose of the conference call.

Prepare an Agenda in Advance

It is important to prepare an agenda for a conference call beforehand so the meeting has a pre-set structure all participants can follow. Doing this in advance will give your team and other remote participants time to prepare comments, questions and any necessary presentations so the meeting runs more smoothly. You can then tick items off this agenda as you go so that the meeting goes on in an orderly fashion and no important point is missed out on.

Organize your team

Be sure to see to it that your team is familiar with the proper etiquettes of a conference call. Since it is carried out over the phone, interruptions and environmental noises such as typing, clicking, heavy respiration close to the microphone, playing with your pen, etc can be much more disturbing than in a normal meeting. Be sure everyone leaves their cell phones put, arrives on time so there are no interruptions, and is prepared for the meeting with a copy of the agenda and any other additional materials. Make sure all team members introduce themselves when they join in and before speaking up as not all participants can see you during a conference call. Also have them keep comments brief, as without visual cues it is easy for remote participants to tune out of a drawn out monologue.

Introductions are important

In a conference call, it is important for the project leader to start off with introductions of their team, and having the other party or remote participants do the same. This helps keep the meeting professional and structured, and there is lesser chance of confusion. It is also important to keep taking names, start questions with the name of the person they are addressed to, and encourage your team members to introduce themselves again before they speak as it is quite impossible to recognize so many voices over the phone.

Maintaining control and momentum

As a project leader, it will fall upon you to take the lead and guide the discussion in a meaningful direction. Try to stick to the agenda, and keep the conversation flowing by asking questions and announcing the next topic under discussion. Also, if someone is quiet, don’t assume this means approval, and keep asking for feedback and confirmation. Moreover, it is easy for the remote participants to feel isolated or for your team to forget they are there, so be sure to keep them involved in the discussion and keep them from getting distracted by addressing them as you speak.

Take notes

It is easy to lose track of who said what in a conference call especially since you can’t tell most voices apart, so be sure to keep taking notes or minutes of meetings. This will also help you remember what was discussed and what decisions were taken, and who was assigned which job till the next meeting. Without this, your precious and carefully planned conference call can go to waste, as it is impossible to retain so much information in your busy head without notes. Also, these notes can serve as a basis for the next meeting’s agenda.

These few considerations can help any project manager lead better conference calls where all team members can take something of importance away from the meetings, and important urgent decisions are made instead of just wasting valuable time.

Employee Fatigue During High Intensity Periods on Projects

A workplace hazard, you can define fatigue as ‘the inability or decrease in ability to respond to a situation, due to previous over-activity, mental, emotional or physical’.

It is frequently cited as the single most important cause of dwindling employee productivity and efficiency.  It can, and often does, result in reduced vigilance during work, poor judgment and decision-making ability, along with loss of awareness and distraction during critical and complex tasks.

Fatigue can be due to over-stimulation, in cases of high intensity periods of project work, where employees may be frazzled, stressed, jittery, overloaded and experiencing possible burnout. The question is, how do you overcome this fatigue and still guarantee optimal performance from employees while safeguarding their health? Here are a few tips:

  1. Anticipate. A project manager should always anticipate that, however talented and brilliant his team might be, midway through a project, interests tend to wane and fatigue sets in. Long and endless work hours, lingering business questions, and hindrances with constant deadline pestering from the client, are bound to take their toll. A smart move would be to anticipate this and create a response before the situation begins to adversely affect the project team as a whole.
  2. Evaluate. Take into consideration and assess employee performance to identify and pinpoint problems. Attendance, punctuality, attitude, work input and output, engagements and deadlines, all should be reflected on to gauge efficiency and efficacy of the project team. An honest, transparent and understanding relationship with the employees will go a long way in benefiting the entire project where the employees are comfortable in approaching and asking you for assistance well before they reach their limit.
  3. Accept. Acknowledge the point where fatigue becomes evident in employee performance. A demand-heavy, high intensity work period’s importance and impact should not be dismissed and diminished. Accept the employees complaints and give due recognition for the extra efforts put in followed by appropriate rewards.
  4. Tackle. Anticipating, evaluating and acknowledging a potential problem are all critical aspects to begin with. These should be followed by implementation of practices that combat the fatigue before it causes any lasting harm.
  • Always maintain a positive outlook, and evaluate and include the employee’s health and emotional and physical wellbeing into regular reports of project status.
  • Adopt and maintain a scale of workload that meets the requirements of the project yet does not go overboard.
  • Incorporate positive reinforcement, express gratitude and appreciation to your employees that helps uplift their morale.
  • Don’t dismiss rewards and time to rejuvenate. Communicate them clearly to the team and then follow through.
  • Encourage sharing roles and responsibilities within the work force to build team harmony, adjust work timelines and allow appropriate times off when need be.
  • Allow recreational activities to break stress, sustain and uphold an aura of lightheartedness, while still ensuring optimal employee performance. Even a weekly lunch in a good restaurant can go a long way in gaining back the team’s motivation and fight some of the fatigue.

Work stress and eventual setting in of fatigue is inevitable in demanding jobs, but by investing time and effort in properly planning an effective combat approach, one can not only preserve coherence and harmony in the work environment but will also garner benefits for you and your team both.

Do Not Let Team Mood Ruin Your Project!

Project management is not just about creating Gantt charts, making budgets, defining scope and tracking costs. It’s also about collaborating, teamwork, influencing and building a team that generates optimal results, all in a very complex environment. Mounting pressure, deadlines and budget constraints can take a serious toll on anyone and result in increasingly frustrated, irritable employees. Negative feelings and negative moods penetrate the entire work environment that can easily ruin your project with drastic consequences.

Moods are the frame of mind that can either be positive or negative. Most humans are often influenced by emotions that have a strong bearing on our moods. Positive emotions lead to good mood while negative emotions results in bad mood. When we are in good mood, it leads to improvement of our performance.

According to project management technology research company Software Advice, in a recent online survey carried out by Dr. Noel Radley, around 75% of employees are negatively influenced by bad moods in the workplace. One third (34%) of respondents have witnessed or regularly witness negative emotions from co-workers, a solid majority (73%) have even noticed their manager show negative emotions in varying degrees of frequency, and almost a third (27%) have recognized that bad mood has an impact on their productivity. For more information and charts summarizing the online survey please click here.

Negative moods can impact the outcome of projectsin various ways:

  • Results in Diminished Productivity. There is a strong correlation between moods and productivity. Bad moods and negative sentiments of the individual employees greatly reduce productivity of the team. Teamwork and collaboration is essential in completion of any project.Bad moods prevent employees from collaborating with each other,negatively impacting the productivity of the project teammembers.
  • Decreases Employee Morale and Motivation. Emotions play an important part in influencing human thoughts and actions. If the employees feel good, it works wonders in improving their morale and motivation. Negative moods on the other hand decrease employee morale which affects their ability to make correct decisions regarding the project.
  • Drive up Project Costs. Negative mood is contagiousand affects every group member. If the source of the problem is not resolved, it may cause a number of problems, chief among them being an increase in cost of the project. Bad moods among the team members results in project delays and other complications that drives up cost of the project which can easily ruintheproject.
  • Impacts Success of the Project. Another negative impact of bad moods is that it prevents successful completion of the project. It has the potential to stop the project completely unless immediate steps are taken to resolve the source of the negative sentiments among the employees.

Having realized the consequence of negative moods on project management, it is important that the mood of the team remains positive otherwise it will badly influence performance. While most believe in personal accountability and responsibility in dealing with bad moods,most of the project management gurusalso believe that project managers have a large part to play in managing group emotions. Here are 4effective tips that can help project managersinensuring that the mood of the team remains positivewhich results in a positive outcome of the project.

1- Be Attentive to Angry Sentiments among the Team. Project managers should be attentive to angry sentiments among the team members.Angry behavior of the employees indicates a problem in the workplace. Although some employees are predisposed to negative emotions, if angry behavior is shown by employees who are normally in a good mood, it may indicate a serious problem within the work environment. It is essential that mangers remain cognizant of the situational context of the angry outbursts and take steps to stem the source of negative emotions within the workplace environment.

2- Track Emotions of the Employees. Another way to prevent mood of employees from ruining projects is to regularly track their emotions. A number of software are available that allows you to track average emotions of the employees. For instance, there are project management tools that allow team members to input their real time mood while working on a project. The software then calculates average mood of the employees who are working on a particular project. Project managers can also track the moods of the employees manually. The tool allows management to measure the group’s mood by taking an average of member’s positive and negative moods. However, a negative aspect of this tool is that it is fairly complex way to track the team moods that consumes a lot of time.

3- Improve EQ Emotional Intelligence of the Employees. Another effective way to maintain positive moods within the team is to devise programs to develop their EQ or Emotional Intelligence. The term was first coined by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. The author claims that people who are high in EQ are better able to handle their emotions and avoid pessimism. Project managers can create seminars and workshops to train employees in improving their emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence Consortium website has a number of resources to help mangers devise an effective training program to develop emotional skills of employees.

4- Conduct Regular Meetings with Employees. Regular one-to-one conversations with employees will help in determining issues that affect the morale of the employees. Having emphatic and sensitive conversations with the employees individually will enable the management to know about the problems that are creating negative sentiments among the team members. It will also assist the management in coming up with affective solutions to resolve the problem.

Do you agree that the above factors can help project managers in ensuring that the mood of the team remains positive? Do you know about other factors that can lead to improved moods of the employees in a workplace environment? You are welcome to leave your comments below regarding the impacts of negative emotions within the workplace and how to effectively deal with the problem.

Impact of Physical Exercise on Daily Project Management Activities

It doesn’t take rocket science to know that incorporating physical exercise into your daily routine has immense benefits that pervade every aspect of life. A Job like Project Management, however, with the daily expectations, risks and responsibilities culminating into an overload of stress, can reduce the best of us to a pile of hyperventilating nerves. For such demanding jobs it is especially a great idea to take out time for a workout before you breakdown and compromise the entire project and possibly your career.

Daily physical activity can discretely help you carry out your daily project management duties with more ease and stay on top of things, and here’s how:

·        Reduces Stress

Probably the worst thing about the job is the immense amount of ongoing mental pressure that comes with it. Meeting deadlines, dealing with crisis, quality, budget, and safety regulations and expectations, and communicating with sponsors and suppliers are just a few of the things you’re probably worrying about as you’re reading this. The thought of being accountable and responsible for it all can make anyone go into a fetal position in the corner of their office.

Daily physical exercise will give you a chance to blow off some steam in a healthy way, clear your mind and re-align your focus so you can keep giving a 110% to your projects. It can help lift your mood, and improve your confidence so you can face daily challenges head on.

·        Improves Strength and Endurance

Most projects require a lot of physical running around on the manager’s part, so that inspections can be made and on-site analysis can be carried out. Physical exercise helps you stay in shape and improves your muscle strength and endurance, which means you do not get tired easily and can fit in a lot of tasks into your daily routine. You can also count on fewer sick days, so you can keep performing at your best to meet deadlines.

·        Boosts Energy

Physical activities, while burning calories, can provide you with high levels of energy by delivering oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and improving the efficiency of your cardiovascular system. This translates into a healthier heart and lungs, so you can handle daily tasks with more agility, not get over-worked or over-whelmed easily, and end your day feeling great about yourself.

·        Improves Quality of Sleep and Mental Function

Daily sport relaxes you, and so your everyday stresses don’t keep you awake all night. You can fall asleep easier, and deepen your sleep to wake up fresh next morning. Exercise and better sleep also improve your mental function and health, which in turn helps you solve daily problems and deal with issues through creative thinking and innovative ideas and methods. You can think more clearly and with focus, and come up with new ways of doing things to improve work flow and quality.

Daily physical exercise can improve your physical and mental strength to new levels, which can help you deal with your daily demanding project management tasks with more efficiency, garnering high quality results without turning your brain into mush. With a happier healthier you, a stress-free work environment can be built and your team members can stay motivated. So have a run and release all your tension to improve your Project Management skills even further.

 

PMP Exam Prep Tips for Frequent Travelers

Do you have a spouse with a nomadic occupation? Or is it your own job that consists of frequent transfers, postings or international conferences? Such circumstances make life very uncertain and it becomes impossible to improve your resume with additional credentials and certifications. Rest assured, that even with such an erratic schedule, you can successfully study for your PMP Exam and pass with flying colors. There are a few things that you will need to do first:

Devise a Study Plan

The most important thing to do, after you make your decision and decide on an approximate exam date is to devise a strategy. Here you need to prove exactly why you should be PMP certified in the first place by thinking of your exam as your first and most important project. Here’s what you can do:

  • Draw out a schedule based on the length of your program, and on your routine. Leave a margin for the changes that frequently take place in your life and the time consumed in transit or in moving in and out of houses. You can either specify a certain number of hours spent studying, or study goals to reach in one day, for example, complete one chapter, or learn and understand 5 new concepts. Also, give yourself test days in between, adjusting the plan according to the results, and a day off at least once a week to do something fun.
  • Stick to the plan, as the plan itself will fall apart if you don’t follow it to the letter. Complete the daily task on the time that you have put aside for studying, and don’t get distracted by your Facebook friends or the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
  • Find a studying spot that is quiet and peaceful, with zero distractions. If you’re on a business trip and staying in a hotel, find a quiet hall or a café. If you’ve moved to a new town visit the local library, if you’re in transit, find a quiet lounge.

Join an Online Course

Online PMP courses provide you with not only a well organized strategy, but also with extra materials and mock exam simulations to help you prepare even better. Since you will not have the benefits a physical institute and instructors can offer, these courses will prove extremely beneficial to not only learning, but also understanding the material. PM Champion provides the Gold and Platinum package, complete with video tutorials, formula guide, exam simulator, Q/A support and email courses, and all for competitive prices. All this can be downloaded onto your laptop and can be taken wherever you go and whether you’re on a plane or a bus or a hotel room, you can easily study for your PMP Exam.

Mobile Apps

There are certain mobile apps available as well that offer exam simulations, on the go flashcards and various videos and study guides that can help you study while you’re in transit, in waiting rooms, in the car or on a plane. PM Champion offers a number of iPhone and iPad apps which give exam tips, guidance, exam simulations and many other features.

 

No matter where you are and what you’re doing, having a well-thought-out study plan, hard work and dedication, and some good on the go study material and guidance from online programs like PM Champion’s can help you realize your dream of getting that valuable PMP certification.

Taking Minutes Of Meetings Can Save Your Project

For a Project Management Professional, any day usually starts and ends with tireless meetings, especially for those who work on more than one project at a time. This can get all jumbled up into mush, and information can always slip into oblivion; people could die. Ok, maybe not, but the consequences are still dire. If important jobs are not followed through, it could cost you your project. Here’s how minutes of meetings can save it:

Makes it official

Taking down the minutes makes decisions taken official. It is in writing, and can actually be used as a legal document in any number of scenarios. Since it contains all the decisions made and actions taken, any action that is not mentioned is thought to have never taken place, and can help get rid of law suits and internal disputes.

Gives structure

Meetings are way more important than they are given credit for. Certain details such as time, place, company name, board member, managers and employees who were present and all matters discussed, decisions taken, problems solved and motions passed will all be on record.

Establishes accountability

In case you have a team member with the habit of forgetting to do things and then deciding he was never told to, taking minutes can really help you out. When employees know all decisions and tasks to be done are being recorded, they will feel more accountable. Plus, all parties involved will know exactly who gave the orders, and to whom and why, so that the employees know who they should answer to and you as a project manager can keep track of who is responsible.

Drives action

This kind of accountability drives your team members to action. Randomly telling your people to complete a job is not enough. When they know it is being recorded on an official legal document they are more likely to grasp the seriousness of a task. This will ensure your project runs smoothly, your employees remain productive and efficient, and meetings remain on track.

Evaluation tool

When certain actions to be carried out are set out in the minutes, a project manager can always go back and refer to this list at the end of the day to check off all the items and see which ones have not been done. This will help you in keeping the project organized, set future goals, and do any necessary damage control.

A record for absentees

Sometimes team members or managers might not be able to attend a meeting. The minutes help keep a record of each meeting, so this can be referred to later if need be, by those who were not there. Even the ones that are there tend to zone out or flat out fall asleep at times, and while this isn’t the best attitude these people should still get to know what went on, for the sake of the project, if nothing else.

At most times it might seem easier to talk through a meeting and concentrate on reaching important decisions instead of recording them. However, the minutes of a meeting will certainly prove their worth a ways down the road when they remind you of an important task, or save your neck when you haven’t done a job you were never told to do in the first place.

Minimizing the Impact of Vacations on Your Projects

As appealing as it sounds, here is a perfect-world scenario for business owners and project managers: employees never getting sick, or taking personal days off or even vacations; not a very realistic thought. Most project managers fail to consider and take into account the possibility of employee vacations or think about their own time off and the subsequent impact it can have on your project.

The truth is that there will be times when employees will need to take an unplanned day off, a religious based absence, dealing with family emergencies or even want to go for a planned vacation. Not only employees though, being a project manager in no way means that you aren’t entitled to plan some time off.  There will however, be leave and vacation scheduling conflicts, two or more employees asking for the same time off, and client and project deadlines to be met and dealt with. So how does one in the midst of all this chaos successfully manage time off, arrange and cover for employee absences, and at the same time minimize the impact of any of this on the project itself?

The answer, as always, is preparation.

  • Employee Vacation Policy – clearly outline a written vacation policy for any and all employees during hiring and orientation processes. If all employees adhere to pre-set terms and conditions, this minimizes chances of conflict. Highlight peak working time-periods during which vacation requests may not be entertained, mention deadlines for vacation requests. Allow workers in identical positions to trade off on vacation time and dates amongst themselves as long as it does not jeopardize quality of work.
  • Absenteeism Monitoring – Too many employee absences can prove to be bad for business. To avoid them, implement strict absence policies throughout the organization that effectively record time and attendance. Enforce probabilities of consequences of disciplinary action to ensure compliance. Offer incentives and bonuses for employees to minimize unwarranted absences.
  • Risk Management and Back-up Plans – Devise and design a system of distributing work and assigned tasks amongst other members of the team to compensate for any contingencies. Actively create back-ups by identifying and developing leaders within the team that enables them to stand-in and take over to efficiently manage the team in the off-chance of your absence, the project manager.
  • Accurate Time Estimation and Appropriate Leeway – There are a number of project managers out there that fail to accurately estimate the time needed and required to finish a project without taking into consideration and giving appropriate leeway for the unforeseen. Choosing to micro-manage and disregarding the need for flexibility and latitude in a working environment only ends up generating unnecessary stresses for themselves and their team. Provide a certain breathing space to make up for any muck-ups, glitches and delays in the working process.

Absences, be they your own or the employees, have profound and measureable negative impacts on the ability of the team to make good on their services in a cost-effective and timely manner. They can create an unnecessary burden on present working employees, decrease morale, and add delays and business risks. Hence worrying about projects suffering in your or employee absence is only natural, but implementation of clear policies and risk management programs, some thorough advance planning and organizing is all it takes to ensure smooth running of the project like a well-oiled machine.

How to Organize Yourself For ‘All Meetings’ Days at Work

A meeting can be of many different kinds, to plan an action, a one-off event, to discuss day-to-day business, deal with a conflict or discuss the start of a new project.

Unfortunately even the best of corporations can have the most ill-planned and disorganized meetings that completely beat the purpose, fail to accomplish any of the set-out tasks and end up wasting valuable time.

All these practices have, rightly so, given meetings in general a bad reputation and name. So much so that managers, employees, CEO’s all dread the meeting before it’s even begun and tend to walk-in with a negative mind-set.

One single meeting can be stressful and throw you off-course, but a full day of meetings can be downright traumatizing. To make any meeting a success, excessive management needs to be done, before, during and after said meeting.

Here are a few tips to effectively organize yourself and successfully manage your meetings to make the most out of them.

  1. Lay the Groundwork – The most essential thing in ensuring you have a productive day of meetings is to be prepared. Without an effective day plan, your results will disappoint you. Write it down and list it out. You should always start with a clear and thoroughly prepared agenda of what you are looking to accomplish from your day.
  2.  Prioritize and Complete Tasks – From your list of tasks for the day, prioritize the most important and begin with that. If the meetings are pre-planned then strive to stay ahead of schedule on your regular work so as to not lag behind and lose precious time because you’re caught up in a conference room all day long.
  3. Plan, Objectify and Document – Before going into a meeting, have an outline of all the things you need to address, all the points you need to make and the issues you need to raise clearly documented. Files, folders, papers, notes all should be neatly organized to and visibly labeled to facilitate you in the meeting itself.
  4. Stay On time and On Task – Avoid procrastination during the meeting and give time its due respect. Be punctual, and demand punctuality from the attendees. Begin with a carefully devised agenda and do not deviate. State the desired outcome and purpose of the meeting, and designate someone to have summarized meeting objectives that need to be addressed and resolved. Tackle the most pressing matter at the beginning and table inconclusive arguments for further review.  Document the meeting with action items, accomplishments and written minutes to ensure maximum productivity.
  5. Focus and Re-fuel – In any all meeting day, any sane individual is bound to lose focus, and become saturated. A good organizational skill to ensure productivity is to make allowances for sustenance, re-fueling and re-grouping. A break between meetings is needed for all the attendees to freshen their minds to avoid them becoming dull and unproductive.

The meeting leader or the facilitator is often the person responsible for setting the tone of the meeting, making sure everyone is heard, all issues and problems are dealt with and also keeping the discussion on track and preventing it from going astray.  Transform the traditional business meeting by precise organization, keeping timely and concise.

What are some of your key organizational tips and tricks that allow you to stay on top of your game? Share with us in the comments below!

Transition of Information When a Project Member Leaves

Seamlessly managing a project is a difficult task under the best of circumstances. It wouldn’t be completely wrong to call it a juggling act of balancing business, technology, risk, people and expectation management. Add in the possible departure of a key project team member, and it threatens the stability of your footing, which in turn increases the probability of it all crashing and tumbling down like a set of dominoes.

Most managers are caught off guard by employee resignations, especially if they come at crucial points of an on-going project. The hard part is dealing with the transition of information, all the while maintaining the flow of the project.

There are a few simple tips to ensure that transition is a smooth one:

  • First and foremost, do not panic. Take the news well, discuss the employee’s dissatisfaction with the job or congratulate him on the new one but avoid getting angry or guilt-tripping the team member into staying. Failing to gauge the employee’s reaction and attitude towards the resignation correctly could be potentially disastrous for rest of the team. It may set the tone of the employee departure; thus, giving a negative response to the news may instigate a less than productive transition. Inform the clients and the rest of the team of the impending departure to make the change a swift one.
  • An employee can resign or leave at any given time, for any number of reasons, personal or professional. A smart project manager is one who is prepared and in control of dealing with the eventuality armed with a detailed risk management plan that can immediately be put into effect. Explanatory deck presentations that clearly outline issues encountered, changes made, milestones achieved, schedules followed along with status reports to convey elements must always be up-to-date by each individual employee.
  • The next step includes coming up with a detailed transition plan with the project member. The employee’s ideas of work that needs to be completed or not may differ from your own, hence to ensure you are on the same page, collaborate and cooperate with him/her in making a list of duties, responsibilities, current projects, and work assignments that require immediate attention before they leave. The plan should include all the loose ends that need to be neatly tied off before the end of their notice period. Frequently check in on the progress of the outlined plan just to be certain that all is being done accordingly and to avoid any unnecessary and unpleasant surprises on that last day.
  • Be sure that you, as project manager, are aware of all the ins and outs of the team member’s work affairs and that the employee does not take any crucial company information with them. There is a good possibility of the team member having critical knowledge and a unique set of skills that you or the rest of the team may not have. If you fail to recognize this and successfully oversee the transition of that knowledge onto someone else, the employee could walk out the door leaving you completely unaware and sometimes, in hot water.
  • A good plan is to start thinking about and evaluating the need for a replacement and then initiating the recruitment process for a new hire. Once you have a clear idea of how much work your team member did, depending on how much will be left when they are gone, determine if and when you require a replacement. Distribute it between remaining project members, or hire a temp; come to a decision that won’t compromise the productivity of the team and final project outcome.

Reading Your Project’s Contract and Technical Specs

A necessary tool for specifying the characteristics of a project, a contract is a written document that defines in great detail what the project is ultimately supposed to be about. A contract may include price, performance, and any other objectives deemed important by the two parties between whom a transaction is taking place.

A technical specification on the other hand, is discussion of a particular point or issue that includes information to guide the team on how something is done and accomplished, a blueprint if you will.

While contracts and technical specifications are important and essential, they are rarely comprehensible. Innocuous at best, and a downright horrifying labyrinth of jargon at worse, contracts and technical specifications are paragraph upon paragraph of legal mumbo jumbo. They can be incomplete, unclear and sometimes even completely contradictory. Well written or not, it is imperative to glean the necessary information that ensures both parties are in clear agreement.

Here are a few tips on how to read and decipher your project contracts and technical specifications so as to not miss any piece of vital information.

1. Agree on the Terms before the Contract is Drawn

Keeping in mind that all individual projects are different, and have different requirements and technicalities involved, it is necessary to determine just how important this particular project is to you. Agree on and clearly outline the terms of the agreement that you are about to commit to. Precisely define what each term indicates and then have the contract drawn up.

2. Read Thoroughly & Take Notes

Once the contract is drawn up, do not be hasty in signing on the dotted line. Remember the contract is legally binding. Request time to review the paperwork without distractions and interruptions. Read the contract cover to cover. After you have read it once, read again and this time underline important points and take notes. Understand the common terms and prepare questions if there are any ambiguities. When you are going over technical specifications, ask yourself what you are expecting to learn from it. Your reading should be analytical at this point in time so that you are able to understand in detail what it is that is required of you.

3. Never Assume Anything

The most difficult part of the any contract or document are assumptions. All contracts can be re-written. Keep that in mind and do not be afraid to ask questions, simplifications, and clarifications. Even if you do have a general understanding of what any particular point could mean, ask just to be clear anyway. It is better to appear a little slow or dumb than to be stuck in a legal contract with ramifications. Be vigilant for any external references or sources.

4. Do a “Page Turn” with Key Stakeholders

Discuss the contract and the technical specifications provided by the client with key members of the project handling team. It is a precautionary step for them to pick out any point that may have been overlooked in the initial review. If the team members feel that there is lack of sufficient safeguard of interests, additional revisions can be requested by the client. This can be accomplished through several sessions of reading the contract and technical specs by projecting it on a screen (called a “Page Turn”). Participation by all stakeholders should be mandatory during the kickoff period of the contract.

5. Get Second Opinions

No layperson is expected to completely comprehend the complex wordings of a legal contract, thus it is always a sensible decision to get a second or even third opinion. Hire a lawyer to go over the contracts and technicalities with a fine toothcomb until you are in complete accord with what has been stated and only then sign on that paper.

Do you have any tips to share with our readers? Do you have an interesting story to share about a contract you signed? Feel free to leave a comment, we can’t wait to hear from you.

How to Deal with an Aggressive Client for Project Managers

Having regular interactions with the client are a part of the day-to-day business of a Project Manager. Occasionally, a client’s behavior may fall short of what are considered to be standard norms, be downright aggressive, and the person dealing with the client, in this case the manager has to bear the brunt of that less than cordial attitude.  A major part of the challenge that a project manager faces is catering to the very many different kinds of people that he may deal with and yet not being pulled in opposite directions.

It can be increasingly frustrating having to deal with someone who is overbearing, unsure yet opinionated, so set in their ways that they are entirely unwilling to negotiate. To tackle situations as such, the manager needs to take control and do something. One thing you can be absolutely sure of is, is if the client is allowed to steamroll, badger and bully you into something and you don’t do anything to put an end to it, it will continue on endlessly.

Time for a Change!

No matter how difficult, you need to know how to effectively deal with aggressive and assertiveness of the client to prevent the situation from escalating, and getting completely out of hand. Here’s how:

  • Maintain Composure –

The first rule in facing an unreasonable client and dealing with anyone’s hostile behavior is to keep absolutely calm. The better your control on your emotions and the less reactive you are, the better judgment you can use in handling the client. Maintain an open and relaxed posture to appear less confrontational, keep your voice calm and low and empathize.

  • Listen Carefully –

The next step, when you feel that the client may have settled enough to rationally talk, is to listen carefully. Never blame the client outright even if he is responsible for the circumstances. Never dismiss, instead always try to validate the client’s feelings. Do get as much specific information that you possibly can. The client may not be very clear in what the problem is so you have to be careful in understanding what the client means. If you cut of the client in between or point out their wrong-doings, you not only will not be able to get to a rational solution but will also inspire more anger and defensiveness.

  • Diffuse the Situation

To appear sympathetic to the client and quickly diffuse the hostility of the situation and prevent it from escalating to a verbal bloodbath, apologize and agree where you can to acknowledge they’re ideas. It will immediately make the client feel like you are considerate and understand their position. Follow this by reassurance. Be precise and clear in what it is that you can do to help the client.

  • Reason and Resolve

Although there is no real defense against irrationality, negotiate where you can, with persuasive arguments that cement your standing. Respectfully share your position while offering some flexibility. Use phrases that soften your approach such as ‘the way I see it… ’, ‘the company’s position on this is.’ However, avoid agreeing to something that you cannot deliver or if it’s not an obligation contractually. Be specific, direct and confident in your ability to communicate. Offer something for the future. Agree on improvements, to accommodate and reach a compromise.

Often the best way to deal with aggressive clients who want to push you beyond your contractual boundaries is to be assertive. Deal with aggressive and antagonistic people, stand your ground, say what you have to say and don’t avoid conflict. Pretending a problem isn’t there to evade confrontation will only end in a clients walking all over you with unreasonable demands. Don’t let that happen.