meetings

5 Simple Ways to Measure Your Project Management Maturity

5 steps for effective project delivery

It doesn't matter what tools you use to manage your projects. It doesn't matter if you use Agile, follow the PMBOK, or are training for Six Sigma.

What matters in projects is "Who, does What, by When."

Don't feel bad. Most tech companies are counterintuitively terrible at project management. Gartner data suggests that over 80% of technology projects fail to deliver on time and on the budget.  Granted, this includes software projects which are much more subject to scope creep than traditional systems infrastructure. The simple fact is most technology organizations are just getting by with their PM practices. In most cases, people look for a tool to solve all of their communications, accountability, and collaboration needs. Often they are thinking, "If we just had the tool to solve x, we would be okay." In most cases, people need to fall back to basics. 
Who, does what, by when, keep people accountable, and you end up with productivity magic.

Here are simple measures of how well you are managing your projects.

1. Is there a project charter or statement of work (SOW)?

The sales guy has a hot new deal with a client that is rushing to get this server migration finished before they end a support contract.... Is your skin crawling yet? Yes, this is all too common. In our genuine efforts to satisfy the client, we rush the project through without proper scoping. These projects are rarely successful and risk the trust of the client. Don't stand in the way of revenue, but also balance the need for sufficient planning. Have the sales and technical groups establish that a 24-48hr return time on requested SOWs is the standard. If the sales team can trust that deliverable will get back to them within a reasonable time, they will extend more trust to the team. Ensure both parties agree that having a SOW will produce better results for the business and the client. Have a SOW for every project of a reasonable size. 

2. Does the project have a reasonable end date?

Parkinson's Law states that "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." If your project has a statement of work you should know how much effort is involved. Therefore you should be able to schedule that work and determine what is a reasonable end date. For example, you have a project that will take two people at a total of 40 hours. Often people will schedule the work for a week. Which is unlikely to be successful. Instead, schedule the completion for two weeks out. Unless there is an urgency to the work, you're better to set a more reasonable deadline. Keep it tight, by having a deadline, but not so tight that you have no slack for issues. You also want to ensure you have enough time for activities like a kick-off, close, and status meetings. 

3. What is the communication rhythm?

Communication is the most critical tool in keeping projects on target. Unfortunately, communication is also one of the first things to slip when issues crop up. In order to defend against communication degrading your communication rhythm needs to be established and scheduled ahead of time. The type of communication is variable, but as much as possible try to over communicate. If nothing else, keep a high cadence of communication. If the project is active with lots of complexity a daily stand-up might be best. If the project is longer with clear milestones than weekly probably works. A higher cadence of shorter touch points defends the team from sitting in unnecessarily long status meetings without allowing large gaps that could derail the project.

4. What did we achieve last week?

Every status update people need to report on what has been achieved. NOT what hasn't been done. Are deliverables being achieved on the dates set? If not what is required to correct this? This is probably one of the hardest things a project manager has to do in managing the team. People so often want to tell you stories about why something hasn't been done. This fundamentally isn't important, especially in a status meeting. If necessary you can have a breakout meeting to review these types of issues, but it often isn't valuable input, especially for the entire team. If you find your team members rambling on about why something wasn't achieved simply stop them politely and ask them to think about what their plan is to get things back on track. Offer support in working up a plan if need be and that can be the focus of a breakout meeting. This approach will help you keep focused on moving forward rather than litigating the past failures. 

5. Did we have a kick-off and close?

Finally,  did the project start with a kick-off and end with a project close? In an eagerness to get started teams often skip the kick-off which is critically important for a number of reasons. The kick-off is a key component to establishing the parameters of the project including, reviewing the scope, setting the communication rhythm, setting expectations with the client/stakeholder, and reviewing scheduling. The project close also often gets skipped as the team gets busy and wants to move on to other things. A briefing after the project is complete is a valuable way to capture what went well, what did not, and how can we use that information to make future projects better.

Summary

Developing a higher level of maturity in how you deliver your projects is not something that will happen overnight. Projects by their nature are messy and complicated. Working on a single task by yourself in a day is straightforward, it has a low level of complexity. Working with even three people on a deliverable that have 15 steps and involves numerous people and/or systems is an order of magnitude more complex. Complex work requires planning and communication in order to be accomplished.

If you're just getting started focus simply on who, does what, by when. Then layer in the above 5 components and your process will already be more mature than the typical organization. If you'd like some support in getting the basics implemented or if you're ready to move your maturity to the next level be sure to reach out to Evolved for a more detailed review of your processes (or lack thereof). 

The Two Pizza Rule

Why the two pizza team makes your company more productive

Pizza to feed your team

Pizza to feed your team

The two pizza team approach was popularized by Jeff Bezos, but the approach is not new. You’ve probably heard the story about Steve Jobs being ruthless about the number of attendees to a meeting. Drake Baer noted a couple of these stories in his article for BI. Jobs declined to meet with President Obama and other technology moguls because the group was too big. Jobs also routinely dismissed people from meetings if he felt they were not core to the meeting. Keeping meetings and teams to a manageable size can have dramatic impacts on the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your business.

Why?

There are numerous reasons why limiting a team size is important, here are a few.

  • Cost effective meetings
  • Manageable teams
  • Accountability
  • Communication

Cost Effective Meetings

Meetings are universally derided in modern business. There are books, comics, and YouTube videos pointing out the amount of time wasted in meetings. Many meetings could simply be replaced with a weekly email, or even better, with a collaboration tool like Asana or Slack. Next time you are sitting in a meeting think about the cost of that meeting based on how many people are in the room. 12 people, making an average of $70,000/yr, meeting for 1hr once a week? That costs the company $23,764 per year. Let’s scale that back to 4 people. Now that meeting costs $7,904 per year and we saved $15,000 a year. It’s not just the cost of the pizzas that matter. It’s a measure of how many people are required to commit to a certain project or initiative.

Manageable teams

A manager should never have more than 10–12 direct reports. Ideally, teams should be 6–8 people. How many pizzas would you order for 6–8 people? Correct, two pizzas. Well managed teams have something universal in common. A strong relationship between the manager and the peers. Historically management relied on role power to direct teams. This approach typically manifests in directing the team through fear. Fear of being fired, fear of being reprimanded, or fear of humiliation. Sure you can produce short-term results, but anyone who has ever worked for a “mean boss” can tell you, the returns are diminishing. A manager that has a relationship with their direct reports will be able to produce greater results for the long term by appealing to a sense of loyalty and self-worth. This relationship-based approach to management is built on developing a connection with the staff in the first place. If a manager has 10–20 reports, people will be left out. It’s simply not possible for a person to nurture a working relationship with so many people. In addition, the team will naturally form sub-groups within the team and thus damage the potential relationships of the peers in the team. Having smaller more focused teams will limit meeting size and ensure productive relationships within that team.

Accountability

There is a psychological phenomenon called diffusion of responsibility. A great example of this when a group witnesses an emergency the more people that witness it, the less likely that anyone is to take action. Groups of people will assume that someone else will take responsibility. This is true in business as well. When someone sends a generic email to a group of people asking them to do a task, very few will act on it. Also, if a team observes a problem at work, the larger that group, the less likely they are to raise that issue with peers or management. People tend to assume that everyone is aware and therefore someone else will take action. Inaction is often assumed to be an indication that no one cares about the issue. A small two pizza team will have a higher degree of accountability. Peers will be more likely to keep each other in check and the level of personal accountability to the team and its deliverables will be higher as well. Contrary to popular opinion people are not lazy and want to achieve great results. They just often lack the conditions to facilitate it. A smaller team will allow a pride of ownership that is more likely to breed better results. A smaller team also simplifies responsibility and delegation of duties to individuals instead of groups of individuals.

Communication

Did you get the memo?

Communication is a pillar of any successful business or group. Even small businesses tend to struggle with effectively and efficiently communicating with staff. Modern businesses will use technology to try to communicate to everyone, but as with many issues in business, technology does not solve human issues. “Did you get the memo?” This is an outdated phrase from years past, but it’s no different than the more modern form of “Did you read the email?” or “Did you see the bulletin?” In most cases, a more human touch is required when communicating to teams. A typical method in organizations is the waterfall approach. Executives communicate to leadership and leadership carries that communication to staff. A great manager will not simply repeat the messaging verbatim but will re-interpret the message for their team specifically. How does this event or direction impact our work? How does this initiative change our priorities? Helping teams to digest corporate communication is much simpler when there is a tighter focus and a smaller team. Another benefit to smaller two pizza teams is it helps to contain information. Everyone has been on one of those email chains with 20 CCs that just never ends. Using collaboration tools like Slack can contain the team communication to the relevant parties, while still allowing that information to be shared with others if required.

How?

Small companies that are growing past 10 people are the first to struggle with the issues that result from a growing team. Companies that are scaling past 30 or 50 people suffer again from these growing pains. Scaling a team is difficult and requires a focused effort on training leadership and management skills into your promising staff. Anyone that manages a team should identify their right-hand in that team. Whether you are a small business owner with 10 staff or a front-line manager with 4–6 staff, find the person on your team that you would leave in charge if you’re on vacation. Work with intention to develop that persons leadership skills. If appropriate designate them as the team leader. A team lead is different from a manager, they are a part of the team and are less likely to be treated as management. They can help facilitate communication and problem escalation for you. When the team grows you have a built in leader that you’ve been coaching. If they are interested in taking on more leadership responsibilities they can take on a team of their own. Don’t let your teams grow beyond management. Keep them to a two pizza limit and everyone will benefit.