Posted by: kerrywills | August 18, 2017

Preparing for fire drills

On any given week there can be 1-3 fire drills at work. This includes requests from organizations for information, data, presentations or meetings and generally with a very fast turnaround. Since many of these can not be avoided, my strategy is to make sure that my portfolio is prepared to respond to them. This means having diligence and transparency in our portfolio information. Here are some examples where we have “living” information that can be used when a fire drill arises..

  • Status – Having multiple layers of current status and risks with actions allows me to give a timely snapshot when asked by any stakeholder
  • Financials – Financial reports with proper details on variances allows me to respond to any financial question with real-time information
  • Historical Information – Many of my portfolios are multi-year and I am asked every few weeks for some aggregation of historical information and having a clean folder structure and information allows for this
  • Milestones – Keeping key milestones and critical path information current allows me to answer any schedule questions

So keeping information updated and “clean” is not just good program/portfolio management but it helps when these urgent requests come in so they don’t become large fire drills that distract the team. In fact, by having the information available, many times my program managers are not even aware that a request came in because we already took care of it…which means they can focus on delivering on the commitments.

Posted by: kerrywills | August 11, 2017

Do titles matter?

I work with some people who believe in announcing their organizational titles: they introduce themselves on calls with them and have them displayed on their e-mail signatures. Sometimes they even list out every area of responsibility and start to sound like Daenerys Targaryenfrom from Game of Thrones.

I have mixed feelings about communicating titles. On one hand it allows people to understand who they are talking to, what level in the organization they are and their area of responsibility. In fact, in many interactions with new people, one of the first things that I do is look up their name in the company directory to get a sense of their areas of responsibility.

On the other hand, I do not believe that people should treat me a certain way based on my title but rather my experience, insight and contributions. Because of this I do not state my title or have it in my e-mail signature. Now, if I was the king of dragons that may be worth stating because that is just awesome…


Posted by: kerrywills | August 4, 2017

Understanding or disrupting?

Like many who read these blog postings, I spend most of my days in meetings. Many of these meetings have ten or more people in them and in most meetings there are the same people stopping the presentation or update to ask questions. This always gets me asking myself if they are appropriate to ask and understand information or if they are just being disruptive. Generally, it is the same people who ask the questions so I suspect it is related to personality attributes as well

In thinking about this, I have determined that the answer is “it depends.” There are a few factors…

  • Does the person’s role require this information? It is appropriate for a decision maker to understand the facts and implications in order to make an informed decision so they should be asking clarifying questions
  • Is the person trying to help solve the problems? If additional information is required for people to recommend solutions, identify implications or resolve the problem them asking is also ok.
  • Optics. Sometimes people ask questions to seem interested, try to impress leadership or just poking at people who they think are not prepared. While I do not think this is always appropriate, it definitely happens (I have colleagues who have been told by their managers to ask questions in meetings with senior people so they look engaged).

My approach is often to ask questions in a smaller setting and not to disrupt meetings, especially when there are a lot of people on the call. This may result in me being seen as not trying to understand but I would prefer that over slowing down progress or delaying action. However if there is something flagrantly wrong or missing that would impact an effective action being taken then I will jump in.

What do others think? Feel free to jump in now….

Posted by: kerrywills | July 28, 2017

PM Time and Focus

Project Managers have many things to do and that they are accountable for which means that their time and focus are important. I believe that this changes over the course of the project and have drafted an illustrative model to demonstrate the point.

For simplicity of the model, I identified four major activities…

  1. Relationship Building – I believe this is core to the success of the project and the PM to foster relationships throughout the lifecycle of the project
  2. Planning Current Work – This is the planning, estimating and structuring of the project
  3. Managing Work – The day-to-day management of plans, milestones, finances, risks, issues and resources
  4. Looking Ahead and Evolving – This is planning out future work and considering ways of improving project operations, processes and effectiveness

The Model

  • Early in a project a PM has two primary focus areas. The first is planning the work which should be viewed as an investment in time to ensure that plans are practical and the project is structured properly. It is also important to focus a lot of time on building relationships early because this will foster trust, collaboration and teamwork.
  • As the project progresses into planning and delivery, the focus becomes on managing the project work and less on planning.
  • You will see that I keep relationship building as a critical focus of time for the entire duration of the project because I believe that it is very important to maintain camaraderie and it enables better influencing, negotiating and teamwork.
  • As the project matures the PM should look to spend as much time as possible looking ahead and evolving the project. If the right structure is set up with competent resources and a mature PMO, then the lead PM should be able to spend this time. If the project is in trouble and requires most of the time to be spent on managing these issues, then future planning and improvements in effectiveness get sacrificed.

In my view, this model highlights two important aspects that many PMs do not spend enough time on – relationships and evolving the project. Obviously, these can only be done if they are not spending all of their time “managing” the work so there needs to be a deliberate plan to do this which involves proper planning, structure and the right resources so that the project delivery goes as smooth as possible.



Posted by: kerrywills | July 21, 2017

Extreme Organizing

I recently watched a weekend marathon of “Extreme Hoarding” which is a series that documents people who cannot throw anything away and therefore have collected years worth of items. The entire time I watch in amazement at the piles that have built up and how these people have to climb over mountains of garbage to get anywhere.

These people are polar opposites of Project Managers, who I would categorize as “Extreme Organizers.” Because we are the focal point for all information and plans we have to be very organized. We need to know where the project is at all times and have metrics and lists to give us that transparency.

My worst nightmare

I am definitely an Extreme Organizer with my OneNote file divided into sections and pages sorted by category and date, my plans which are grouped into categories, my action item logs to not forget a single item, and even my clothes sorted by season and color (ROYGBIV…obviously).

I think both categories are obsessive – hoarders obsess over keeping “things” and PMs obsess over organizing and planning. Amazing how the same condition can make some people immobile and some people motivated. Oh well, back to organizing (and the Extreme Hoarding marathon)…..

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