Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Quickest Way to Demotivate a Team

I recently saw a team of people attack a particularly challenging task. They were working on it fine, stumbling a bit, but making great progress. It was the kind of task that took a bit of trial and error.

The project leader was off working on another task, but happened to see this team working together. Unfortunately, what he noticed was that they were stumbling. He didn't notice the engaged attitudes, the teamwork or the progress they were making.

He did know how to do the task better than they did. He injected himself in the task with them, taking the central role. They disengaged. The nature of the task required some of them to stand by in minor support roles and watch. Two of them quietly stopped helping and left. The task finished successfully. Was the leader successful?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Review of Johanna Rothman's Book, "Manage It!"

Even if she were not my friend, I would recommend Johanna Rothman's new Book, Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management. The best way for me to describe Manage It! is as a survey course in project management for experienced project managers.

You could read this book to get a good flavor for what project managers do, but I don't see it as a first course in becoming a project manager. Instead, Johanna is particularly skilled at describing many project management methods. She gives insights into the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Experienced project managers typically have grown up with a particular project management method: Waterfall, phase-gate, spiral, agile, Scrum, XP. While Johanna shows a general preference for agile methods, she gives excellent detail on how to work effectively in each method.

Johanna presents pragmatic tips for many elements of project management including scheduling, estimating, team building, and meeting management. I particularly liked her low-tech advice about building Gantt charts out of sticky notes on a conference room wall.

I think I will come back to this book whenever I feel stymied about how to approach a project management task. Each part gives multiple suggestions about how to be successful in most common project management situations. Don't skip this book because you think you are too experienced for it. Manage It! is packed with great tips for the most seasoned leader.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Writing an Outstanding Meeting Announcement

My wife just sent out a meeting announcement for a community project we are working on over the summer. It was so effective, I thought I'd share some of the lessons learned.

It started out, "Our 5th (of only 7!) meeting will be at ... ." I think this give a great sense of progress to the team, and a good reminder of the short-term nature of the project. Many of our teams could use the reminder that projects should have an end, and the meetings associated with them should also end.

The next line was simply, "We finish in 18 days!" It is very useful to get this reminder of where we are in the project, so we can gauge our pace against our progress. When the leader keeps people informed about key project dates, it lets the team better focus on their own tasks.

At the end, she added two action items for people before the meeting. This made the meeting more valuable for everyone. We are all used to sending out an agenda. Agendas tend to focus on what will happen at the meeting, but preparatory actions engage the team in the meeting's success.

One more thing added to the value of the meeting announcement. The entire message took up only eleven lines, including spaces. It all fit in the preview screen of a mailer. That meant it was short enough that people would actually read it.