Questions & Answers on Project Management

A set of questions I was recently asked that I thought might shed some light on how I think and what I do: 

What is your experience in project management, especially for startups?  In some respect, everything is a project. In startups that I have worked we have spent most of our time on finding product/market fit and using the basic principles that Ash Maurya outlines in his book, Running Lean. This is based on Lean Startup and Alex Osterwalder’s  Business Model Generation. These are good outlines to follow, but they are not project management tools. Projects have a beginning and an ending point. They must be defined in scope. These tools provide strategic vision and direction. I encourage project members to have a basic understanding, such as the Business Model Canvas, of the overall business. This clarity along with a clear project scope allows for good decision making throughout the organization.  Lack of clarity breeds ambiguity and prevents tasks from being performed.

What software or methodology have you used to manage projects in the past? I may show my age a little here, but I started with Microsoft Project when it came on (2) 5¼ inch floppy disk. I have used more software packages than most are familiar with. My favorite is Trello which is a Kanban (Agile) style of software. Kanban is a sophisticated online card board. It has become very popular in the software development industry. I also have used Smartsheet for people that want to use a Gantt Chart type. Both of these are in the cloud and allow for online collaboration. However, all software has shortcomings; one size does not fit all.  Actually, in the truest sense there no such thing as project management software, they are all project scheduling software. Project Management in its truest form is winning the competition for someone’s time –there is only 1440 minutes in a day.

Are you passionate about entrepreneurship and can you help define a strategic vision?  I realize the importance of having a strategy. The old saying of strategy before tactics has never been truer. As the pace of change has accelerated the more important it is to communicate and define the strategic vision. This is why I promote understanding the business throughout the organization using the Business Model Canvas. People sometimes have mistaken that as being rigid and inflexible. It is not. Transferring vision to strategies to actions is one ingredient that will separate me from others.

What was your actual role in the last project you participated in? My latest work has centered on working as a marketing consultant. I have led from the middle   and been assigned additional duties as the project has developed. I am working on bringing a product to market and managing the marketing platform for a client at this time. This job is winding down after launch, and I will stay on in an advisory capacity, I assume. In most instances, I have been the outside consultant managing outside vendors and reporting to an owner of the company.

 Would you consider yourself analytical? Give an example of how you have used this skill in your career. I am a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, not sure how more analytical you can get! I spend a lot of time with clients developing metrics that matter. In fact, I have taken over several Hubspot accounts and demonstrated how to transfer the data into useable form.  It is not about the amount of data, but the ability to use what you can gather effectively and without the extra burden on the workflow. For example, yesterday we have a platform that the callers used to populate a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for their initial calls. When they are successful they enter the client into the Hubspot workflow. We developed and auto-populated sheet to identify the results of the process. This seems pretty basic, but I could discuss surveys, the use of Mini-Tab, Multi-Vari Studies, Regression Models….I am a Six Sigma Black Belt.

How do you handle unproductive team members?
Empathy first and reflection second: I have found that many times it is a lack of clarity and having CLEAR Communication. If you wish to compete on clarity, and speed up implementation, you must provide this information, or create ways for people to figure it out themselves.

  1. Connection to their workload
  2. List action steps
  3. Expectations for success
  4. Ability to achieve success
  5. Return to that person

If you have done all that and performance is still not being achieved, I reduce workload and take away critical tasks and work with the person individually even to the point of screen sharing to see if the person is just over their head. Once I understand, I try to form a mutual understanding of what the next steps are needed without affecting project performance. If the person is indeed overhead, seldom have they not readily admitted it during this process.

How do you motivate burnt out or bored team members? When people choose between being compliant, acting with full commitment or doing nothing at all, these are the five questions they think about, and need answered:

  1. How is this relevant to what they do?
  2. What, specifically, should they be doing?
  3. What do success and failure look like?
  4. What tools and support are needed?
  5. WIIFM – What’s in it for me? Or, what’s in it for them?

Motivation is often times a matter of engagement. Having these people engaged in team meetings is imperative. Being recognized and being accountable to members of the team versus the “Project Manager” is imperative.

What is the most important skill a project manager should have? Empathy is the fundamental principle of understanding. I will not tell you that I was born with this, but it is a skill that I have had to work on and aware of it in my daily practice.

Any questions you would add and answer?

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