Good meeting “rules” seed list and its use in practice

I like this meeting rules/tips list from Harry Hall (@harrythall). They’re all good, though I’d add “no open devices (e.g., PCs or tablets)” and “schedule the meeting’s end-time to allow people to get to their next meeting (e.g., end agenda at 9:50 AM vs. 10:00 AM)”.

One process tip: if this meeting will be an ongoing event or part of a project, have the participants make up the ground rules. In other words, don’t set a list like this — no matter how good — in front of the group. It says “here’s how we do business in my meetings”, which implies it isn’t their meeting. For one thing, some of these are meant only for the leader. For another, one loses an easy way to start one’s group norming, storming, etc.

My experience is that such lists are good aide memoires to that you can use to augment your team’s ideas…via a suggestion at the end.

More on why projects fail

This post on top reasons for IT project failure by Ron Sheldrick has up on LinkedIn for a while. Here were my two cents, nothing new if you’ve followed for a while:

@James Pastor [a fellow commenter] hit on the scope issue early on in this thread. Back in my SAP days we found that poor knowledge of the contract and SOW — especially among the project team and contractors — was a common thread among troubled projects. The strategic assumptions that underpinned the initiative were lost as the project devolved into satifying immediate, tactical needs…which deviated from the original plan.

We also found that stakeholder and communications went begging. While these stakeholder and communications management techniques are simple in form, we found that many project managers can’t muster the motivation or confidence to execute against them consistently. These “symptoms” are great non-obvious indicators for project health:

  • Projects that consistently linked stakeholder analysis, communications planning, and plan execution stayed out of trouble.
  • Project managers who did not fit into, or could not adapt to, customer cultures, mission-critical projects, etc. were reluctant to escalate projects quickly enough.
  • The most frequent communications mistake was failure to execute planned executive-level messaging, which eroded the project manager’s position in the eyes of sponsors and other leaders.

These stakeholder management findings correspond with recent external studies noting that communication breakdowns – especially “keeping quiet” about known risks or issues – are a primary driver of project failures.

Guidance for building a credible plan

Glen Alleman suggests that you download this and put it to work on projects.  However, for some the defense focus and jargon are daunting or off putting.  My suggestion for putting this guidance to work: first transform the tables into a checklist or two. 

  1. The “validity” topic focuses you on whether a plan is ready for “prime time”.  Use this when evaluating early stage gates. 
  2. The “effective”  items are obviously relevant as one evaluates the quality of your projects’ execution.  These items should be a part of regular status reporting.

Then learn what “level of effort” means!

Top 10 (Bad) Incentive Assumptions

This post from @IncentIntel is timely as we head into silly season: performance and rewards time. I especially liked the two below; communications about incentives are too often treated as a “once and done” event:

3. If the award is valuable enough you don’t need to communicate and remind them of the award opportunity.

5. Top performers don’t need to be reminded of where they stand in the program.

Own your project’s story (HT @MelanieDuzyj and @mkrigsman)

We all should know how critical project communication is to project success.   A compelling story can build strong sponsorship and sustain stakeholder commitment, even in the most challenging of circumstances (also see Michael Krigsman’s project success checklist) .  However, many project managers assume that their audiences — or even worse, key influencers and “re-communicators” — understand the story as well as they do.

The group blog at BlissPR has a useful post by Julie Johnson on “Getting the Details Right“.  I’ve often suggested that project managers leverage what their PR professionals more.  IMO, the ability to influence is an essential behavior for an initiative leader.  Why not listen and learn from people who know?

In this case, the lessons for driving accurate press coverage apply well to any project that needs to own and drive its story.  Simply substitute “project” for “company” or “industry”, and “stakeholders” for “media”. 

  • It’s more important than ever for a company to take control of its reputation – after all, you either control your reputation or someone else will
  • Educating media about a company or an industry can be even more important than garnering coverage
  • The story you tell must be simple – especially when the truth is complicated

Tout your winners

Look at me, look at me, look at me now!

PMOs too often get painted as the dour “project police”.  Our willingness to deliver results without demanding attention and praise is one of the more attractive character traits of project management culture.  But as noted in Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin’s post on The Million-Dollar Question: What’s the Value of a PMO?, delivering results quietly can be a trap:

[O]nce the systems for executing strategy through well-run projects are in place, it’s tempting to think you can rest on your laurels. But, no such luck. When project and program management is working well, it’s invisible: nothing bad happens. And the PMO becomes, apparently, a line item of overhead.

Jeannette notes that many PMO leaders shy away from marketing their PMO after it has been established.  During the PMO project itself, we all seem to understand the importance of stakeholder management and communications.  But when we become a function, we forget that lesson or think it unseemly, inappropriate, etc.

I’m not suggesting we crassly broadcast our successes.  Perhaps “narrowcasting” is the better idea — a discreet word with the CIO about identifying a poorly-priced deal ripe for re-negotiation, a walkthrough of high and low profit projects with a sales manager, etc.

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