Month: March 2016

The Right Way to Fail

Being successful as a Project Manager takes the ability to communicate, make decisions, and multitask among other attributes in varying degrees, but another critical element is the ability to face failure.  The stress of failure can be crippling, resulting in dreaded work days and even worse weeks. These uncomfortable experiences are low points in our careers, but they are a necessary evil, providing the opportunity for personal growth. The first mistake I made as an engineer right out of college I will never forget.  I dwelled over the issue for days, convinced each day was going to be my last at that company. Lucky enough for me, it turned out to be an easy fix. We forked over a bit in back charges, but in the context of the full project, we still made out ahead. While the issue was remedial, the experience has stuck with me and I can remember that crippling state vividly.  Today I believe I stand better for having gone through that. I will never make that same mistake again and as I work with my teammates, I can coach them on how to avoid similar pitfalls.

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Continue reading “The Right Way to Fail”

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In source or Outsource

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If you’re anything like me and the team in my office, when a client asks to do a project you have never done before, you jump on it – ready for a challenge.  Often times the best course of action may be to restrain these feeling and turn down the work for more traditional and stable jobs, but sometimes I believe it is worth the plunge.   Jumping into a project that is completely new in is a great opportunity to sharpen your critical thinking skills and put your team to the test.  This process offers promise of development for everyone, contributing to their skill set and experience along the way.  The advantage doesn’t end there either; each time we take on new work in unchartered territory its opens the door to future opportunities not yet explored.  This sounds all well and good, but as I am sure you are all thinking right now, there are a few big obstacles that cannot be ignored.  Do we have time to figure this out?  Are we sacrificing time with our current clients? Do we have the tools and skills needed to do this?

Projects that don’t have a clear action plan or a team that doesn’t has time to dedicate to it are perfect opportunities to think about outsourcing.  Outsourcing tasks and projects is an extremely valuable tool that Project Manager’s should utilize regularly.  One of the biggest concerns many companies have is simply knowing when to outsource.  All too often groups believe they can handle the extra workload or figure out the newest solution, but realistically, that might not be the best use of everyone time.  Here are a few indicators that can help you determine when you should outsource your project:

  • Project timeline is tight
  • Need an expert on a specific topic
  • PM’s and other team members don’t have time to dedicate to the new endeavor
  • Menial or repetitive work – not the best use of time for an engineer to be doing data entry in an excel spreadsheet for example.
  • Project is short term – not a long lasting strategic business move

These are just a few of the indicators that your project may benefit from outsourcing.  To some, using outside consultants can seem like a jab at their ego.  The mentality of “I can do it, I don’t need help” can be noble, but not effective.  Project Managers should be ready to outsource their projects or even specific tasks when the opportunity arises.  A general contractor working with subcontractors is common practice – the same should be true in an engineering office.  Outsourcing is a great tool when used properly, but here are some indicators that you should NOT outsource your project:

  • Pressed on budget – consultants are not cheap
  • If you are not willing to forfeit control of the project
  • Project requires confidentiality
  • High quality outcome expected

Again, these are just a few of the things to watch out for, but they illustrate important points to keep in mind.  To be completely effective with outsourcing, you need to be able to fully hand off a project and allow the team you hire to run their course.  Being involved in every detail and minutia doesn’t benefit you or your project.  Here are a few tips that help when you are thinking about outsourcing a project:

  • Have a budget – don’t allow for unnecessary additions that are not disclosed upfront.
  • Ensure the team you hire has accountability. Usually my recommendation is they are a multi-personnel office, not a single freelance agent.
  • When outlining the project be as clear and concise as possible. Layout exactly what the issue is, what needs to be done, and when you expect it done by – ambiguity leads to additional costs.
  • Outline progress checks and goals – ensure they are meeting target dates and adjust as needed. A consultant who fails to meet goals should quickly be removed – do not fall into the trap of escalation of commitment.
  • If the task that is outsourced required and expert to perform the work, add in a section for them to train someone on your team quickly how to do the work in the future. (Train the Trainer)
  • Make communication a priority. Call in meeting, or an open forum for discussion ensures problems are confronted quickly. Recall by blog about communication from earlier this year.

The team you have may be extremely competent and never need the help of an outside professional, but you still have projects that might benefit from outsourcing.  Collectively, we need to stop thinking of outsourcing as only a tool for when we can’t figure out a problem, but rather one of efficiency.  A successful business should not be afraid of outsourcing and a great Project Manager knows when it’s needed.  If your company outsources frequently or if they never have before, let me know how it’s going in the comments, I’d be happy to share my experiences as well!

You Are a Premium Product

 

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I wanted to take a step back from the involved processes that go into being a project manager and focus on the big picture really quick and ask the question of “What are we doing?”  It’s a very broad question, but to me it’s about what you are doing for yourself and your company. Ultimately, the question always comes back to money, but there is so much more to what we do than that. As we work our way through projects the outcomes are tangible.  Whether you are a PM in the software industry, in construction or engineering, all of the results are visible and quantifiable.  For a contractor, that result may be a well-executed development, an engineer might build a plan set that leads to a low impact development on the environment for less cost than expected. .  Those results mean something, they add value to our companies and ourselves.

When it comes to bringing in revenue remember that your title may say Project Manager, but you are in sales. If you ever believe you are not a sales person, you don’t understand your products. In my blog post Let’s Start Talking, I discuss the reality of each of us being in the business of selling.  Constantly we are selling our time, thoughts, abilities, and resources to anyone we engage. Not everyone however, is comfortable with process of selling a product or service for financial gains.  To me, being a Project Manager and sales goes hand in hand.  As the world becomes more connected than ever before, the days of the slick talking salesman are coming to an end, today what we deliver has the loudest voice of all. Bringing in more work for your company is not just about saying the right things and wearing the right suit, it’s about believing in your product and being damn confident in your ability to deliver.  Finally, remember that as you sell, your talent makes you more than a base line product, demand a premium price. Continue reading “You Are a Premium Product”

Forget the Silos

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When I started working my current position I wasn’t even really sure what a project managers was, or even more, how the heck I was supposed to do it…  We were a small group for 4 engineers that didn’t have a lot of direction from the company, just the goal of getting our name out there and making a little money on the way.  We know it would not be an overnight sensation, but we strived for continuous growth every year. It was an exciting and challenging time for me, but I embraced it head on.  The first few months were a kick in the teeth.  Every day I would come to work and not know how to do my job because there was so many tasks associated with running a project and I needed to learn them all (and what order they go in!).  You would like to think that a small group like that would be able to help each other and operate efficiently, but that’s not exactly true.  See, since we were so small and trying to get our name out there, each of the engineers operated as a project manager for their own projects.  There was not a lot of cross over between projects and each person had to do every task associated with a project themselves, so we didn’t have much spare time.  The learning curve for a PM was steep and I screwed up, A LOT.  I can’t tell you how many times I was yelled at by a contractor or told I was wrong by an engineer, but didn’t know the difference.  There were days I would come home thinking I shouldn’t be an engineer because I don’t understand any of this.  Looking back now though, I know that experience was priceless because it made me a damn good project manager.

Continue reading “Forget the Silos”

Can’t Find The Solution? Better Sleep On It.

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How many times have you felt that if you just put a few more hours in, you will get it done.  Of those times, do you remember how many actually worked out that way?  I often find myself getting back in the next morning exhausted with still more to do and even having to fix mistakes from night before.  Those long nights continuously led to more problems than good.  So why do we do it?   Continue reading “Can’t Find The Solution? Better Sleep On It.”

Project Managers, Assemble!

In the Civil Engineering and the Construction Management industries, Project Managers are tasked with complex operations that require a multifaceted coordination effort by multiple people and excellent organization in order to succeed.  In my experience, it seems that we don’t always have a choice as to who we get to have on these teams.  Often, the who group is pre-determined and it is our job to just make magic happen.  On occasion however, we are able to choose our own groups.  Construction Superintendents know the Foreman they like to work with and in the engineering offices, we know the people who  are trustworthy and dependable to come through when we need them most.  When we have this option to choose, what makes a person a great choice for your team? Continue reading “Project Managers, Assemble!”

Meeting Madness

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There is no right or wrong way to be an effective Project Manager, everyone had a strategy that works for them.  Meetings however, are not the at all the same.  Meetings are a business tradition that has been passed on through generations of “best practice” but typically, they are not the best at anything.  In fact, I would argue that the majority of meetings that I attend and completely unnecessary, and I know I am not alone.  An article by Research Digest estimated that America loses $37 Billion in revenue annually due to unorganized and unproductive meetings.  Continue reading “Meeting Madness”