Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Me: “Anil and Saurav, let’s discuss how we handled the call today. Could we do it immediately?”

Anil (Experience Team lead): “Sure, Mandar. Let’s do it now”.

Me: “Saurav, what do you think about the call today? Did it go well? What do you think?”

Saurav (Recently started leading the team): “I think it went okay. We covered the points, we wanted to. I stumbled at few places.”

Anil: “Not really. We had carved out the structure of the call in our meeting prior to the call. However, you were appearing not-so-confident while you were talking to the customer. For every sentence, you were looking at me for confirmation or you were asking “correct?”"

Me: “Yes, Anil is right. Even if you were making a statement, it was being posed as a question, leaving the person on the other end clueless”

Dialogs like this are not rare while handling a team, however, at the same time, I must say they are not so common as well. Many project managers make it a point to provide the feedback to the team members, and many keep on procrastinating. This post is to bring about some important aspects of sharing the feedback.

1. Chose correct time

It is important to provide the feedback at the right time and the right time is always “as soon as possible.” In the example above, I chose to discuss the feedback immediately after the call, because I wanted Saurav to start pondering about this immediately. If he does so, I can hope to see the change in next 3-4 calls, but if I don’t, then there’s no way Saurav would know about this as a problem and would continue to communicate in the same fashion.

2. Receptive minds

To have a positive impact of the feedback, the recipient needs to be in a state to receive the feedback. Not every individual is open to receive the feedback. The manager needs to take extra effort to bring that individual to a state of mind where he/she can understand the feedback. If this is done, only then you can expect some corrective action to happen. If the individual is not in receptive state, he/she may start arguing, defending or just close himself/herself and whatever is being told, would go down the drain.

3. Frequency

The frequency for the feedback needs to be adjusted per individual. Some of them like to hear often than rest. While it is okay to fine tune the frequency per individual, it shouldn’t go below certain threshold.

4. Prepare

It is equally important that you prepare yourself for providing the feedback. You need to have all the observations noted down for handy reference, or have all the examples handy with you. One needs to interwoven these examples in order to make the recipient understand the real essence of the feedback. The examples, in itself, can be debated individually, but when more than one such examples are considered, they show a pattern and which is very important to provide feedback on.

5. Strengths/Areas of improvements

Lot of management trainings emphasize on starting with positive points and to gel it with areas of improvement to achieve better results. However, in my personal experience, what matters is the rapport with the recipient. If your team knows that you praise them for all the good things done from time to time, I haven’t seen people complaining when only areas of improvements are conveyed to them. If you are working with a new person, new team, then probably mixing the positive points and improvements together will have more impact, but apart from that, it doesn’t really make much difference.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Take care of your team

Needless to say, that’s the most important thing any project manager needs to do. Your team is your asset. Each one of you brings in different set of qualities, experience, expertise. Each project manager needs to know about that.

Here are few things a project manager could/should do for his/her team:

  1. Identify your key members
    • You need to know each of your key members to the maximum extent.
    • Do the SWOT analysis for them and use it during your conversations with them.

  2. Regular meetings with your key members
    • Make sure you talk to those individuals on a regular basis in a structured meeting where you discuss the strengths, weaknesses, achievements, goals, alignment with project goals etc.
    • Also talk to them about their key members. This will give you a deeper view into their teams.
    • Seek feedback for yourself and for projects. Make sure you take appropriate action on that feedback and it gets communicated to those individuals.

  3. Informal meetings with a diverse group within your team
    • These meetings have good potential to bring out if something is going wrong within the team.
    • Arrange some team events where people open up, talk about their personal likes/dislikes. Grab an opportunity to know them more.

  4. Do little things that make your team happy
    • You announced a very good release – get some goodies for the team. Have a quick meeting, praise them openly and let everyone know that you appreciate their effort.
    • Remember important days in their lives – birthdays, anniversaries, kid’s birthdays etc.

Bottom line – it is a recurring investment, more you pay [attention], more you reap the benefits.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Communication Tips

Every communication needs to address some basic points. The communication may be with your team, your manager, your customer or your peers. If you keep this in mind, you’d avoid long mail threads resulting into lot of time savings.

  1. “What”, “When” and “How” form the three tips of the tripod on which you can build a successful stream of communication.
  2. For example if you are addressing your communication to your manager for an issue at hand, it would take following form:
    • Mention what is the issue that you are facing. If this is first communication about the issue, then you need to provide details of the issue as well. Otherwise, you can just refer to any earlier communication and state what the current state is and what you are proposing to tackle the issue.
    • To resolve the issue, you certainly have thought of some timelines/triggers etc. Mention that. If there’s some external dependency needed to be resolved by certain timeline, spell it out.
    • The most important part would be to mention how you are going to handle. This could be a list of points that you’d want to execute.
  3. If you are conveying something to your team this would take a different form, but the basic points that you need to include would still remain the same.
    • Mention what issue you want to get resolved.
    • Mention when you want that issue to be resolved.
    • Mention how you expect that issue to be handled. May be you have thought about certain individuals to take the ownership of the issue or may be you want a group of individuals to collaborate heavily to resolve the issue.
  4. The fourth tip which would add stability to your communication is to understand and/or address “Why” part. Many a times, individuals just don’t get why certain task is required or why certain process is in place. If that is the case, he/she may do a shoddy job or will execute the process in a most crude/ineffective way leading to a failure. This is the reason one should always address “why” aspect as frequently as possible.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Project Management Tool – Spreadsheet

Don’t get surprised, even a simple spreadsheet can become very effective project management tool, due to it’s extensive computational set.

One can easily put up a plan for a 2-3 weeks project in the spreadsheet, if the project is not that complex, if there are not many dependencies and is to be executed with only a couple of resources. Those who are not so familiar with MS Project like tool can use excel to their benefit and achieve the project management goals.

A simple table like this could also be useful:

Task Name Resource Name Estimated effort Start Date End Date Status

End Date column can have a formula to calculate the end date automatically base on the effort column. And if you are really keen on using the spreadsheet only, you can append the above column list with other columns like “actual effort”, “actual start date”, “actual end date” and then put your skill to develop formulae to extract tonnes of information from this table.

I personally never to planning in excel as I find this very primitive. And most of the times I have access to MS Project, which does all the above mentioned things and loads of more like a breeze.

Project Management Tool – MS Project

To be successful in any kind of management, it is absolutely required to use right kind of tools. Right tools add to your productivity, efficiency, and convenience.

MS Project is one such tool which has been designed and developed for managing the projects from planning, scheduling, tracking and replanning perspective. I will be covering some of the aspects of this tool in coming days, however, today’s article only serves as an overview of MS Project.

Any project scheduling/tracking tool operates on three basic parameters – work, duration and resources. This is like a tripod on which entire planning and scheduling is structured. If you change any one of them, it is sure that you’ll need to change at least one other to keep this tripod balanced. E.g. If you change the duration of the task, then either you need to increase the number of resources to meet the new timeline, or you need to ask your resources to work or additional hours everyday to meet the new timelines. If you reduce the work, then either you can reduce the number of resources (or percentage thereof) or you can reduce the duration itself, so that some other task can be accommodated. MS Project also works on these principles.

MS Project allows you to create a blueprint of your project and save it as a “baseline” for all future references. This helps immensely for tracking the project. One can easily see how the project is progressing through the life of that project.

As everyone knows, when working on a project, we divide the project into numerous sub-tasks and many of these are interdependent, either due to the inherent nature of the task or due to requirement of resource with specific skills or simply because there are not sufficient resources to start that task in parallel. In all such cases, you can add the dependencies of various types between the tasks and arrive at a project end date.

Various reports provided by MS Project also come very handy, specifically “WhoDoesWhat”. This particular report tells the reader exactly what is happening on a given date.

Few other things that I would mention is various views which make the job of data entry or data mining pretty easy. Default view is Gantt View. For tracking against baseline, one can use Tracking Gantt, for resources view, there is Resource Sheet and Resource view. For entering actual data day-by-day, one can use Resource Usage view or Task Usage view. In fact, one can create his/her own view to suit the requirements.

I will be covering this tool in-depth as I have used to a large extent (although not extensively) and definitely have some tips and tricks to make your job with MS Project easy. Watch out this space for more.