Apex 3 Blog
A blog to offer ideas, suggestions and techniques to turn around or fix troubled or failed IT projects

Making Time Work for You

by Mark Davison February 15. 2011 10:31

Think of time not as your enemy, but as a important resource.

  • Plan how you spend your time - take time to plan out your time so you can use it wisely, also some tasks are best done at certain times of day
  • Prioritize - move high priority items to the top of the list, then work down to lesser important items
  • Focus - be sensitive to the time it takes to get things done and focus mentally on being productive
  • Saying “no” to interruptions - we are all faced with interruptions and distractions so it's important to stay focused on the task at hand



How to Criticize Others - Without Offending Them

by Mark Davison February 14. 2011 10:57
Your colleagues, sponsors, superiors and others on the project are frustrating you with their time wasting habits, decisions and meetings.  You find that your ability to meet goals and objectives is being compromised.  How do you effectively - but diplomatically - offer criticism and get the changes made that you need to be successful?  Here are some tips.
  1. Do your homework - document the problems, the consequences and impact, and think through possible solutions that create a win/win
  2. Know the political environment - workplace forces, people issues, opinions, chain of command, roles/responsibilities, etc.
  3. Make an appointment - with the appropriate person or people for a private, uninterrupted dialogue
  4. Set the tone - open the discussion in the spirit of feedback, suggestions and process improvement, making it known that success if paramount in your mind
  5. Be specific - use the homework you've already prepared to present the facts not the emotions
  6. Personalize your statements - with “I” not “You”, and don't be overly aggressive or accusing
  7. Offer solutions - the ones you've already thought about, and lead the discussion toward solutions that create a win/win
  8. Conclude - with agreement on next steps to implement improvements and a hearty thank you.

In a project with limited time, resources and budget it's unfair to withhold suggestions for improvement from others, particularly when they impact the ability of individuals or teams in meeting their objectives.  Handled correctly, situations such as this should not result in “shooting the messenger,” but with mutual acknowledgement that improvements are important and agreement to work together for the benefit of the project team.  In the best case, all parties come away with new awareness of how their work impacts others, and closer ties to work together as a unified team


Thoughtful Questions To Ask Your Team About You (The PM)

by Mark Davison February 10. 2011 16:41
1. How clear are my instructions?
2. How open am I to your ideas?
3. How often do I change direction after you've started working?
4. How available am I to support or help you?
5. How do I help you improve your skills and capabilities?
6. Can you trust me?
7. Do you respect me?
8. Do I recognize you for your work?
9. How organized am I, or am I working in crisis mode?
10. How well do I run meetings?


Some Ideas to Improve Morale

by Mark Davison February 10. 2011 16:40
Smile and be cheerful
Greet others in the hall, ask how they are and what's new
Take extra steps to be nice and courteous
Have a team coffee break
Bring in lunch or breakfast
Share cartoons or jokes (in good taste) with others
Have a special day (i.e., Green Bay Packers day, Wear Your Favorite Team Shirt day, etc.)
Have a contest (i.e., cake baking, barbecue cook off, etc.)
Have an offsite meeting
Have an offsite event (go to the movies, go bowling, etc.)
Award performance with gift certificates and cards (most improved, hardest working, etc.)


Make Yourself More Valuable to the Team

by Mark Davison February 10. 2011 16:39
Volunteer for assignments no one else wants
Let it be known you're here for the duration
Sincerely demonstrate your growing skills, knowledge and expertise
Generate ideas to help the team
Be enthusiastic and make a positive contribution
Ask what you can do to earn your stripes everyday


Succeed When You Put Others At Ease

by Mark Davison February 9. 2011 10:33
  • Acknowledge others when they walk into a room
  • Greet them warmly
  • Introduce yourself
  • Make eye contact
  • Introduce others to each other
  • Include others in the conversation
  • Find common ground for discussion (common interests)
  • Express your interest in what's important to others
  • Help others to be themselves
  • Make others feel important


Super Bowl Is A Lesson In Teamwork For PMs

by Mark Davison February 8. 2011 14:53
There's nothing wrong with being a “Monday morning quarterback” to take a few lessons in teamwork from the Super Bowl played Sunday evening in Texas.  Here are some of the lessons PMs might take to heart.

1. On offense the quarterback is in control.  It's his job to call the play, get the ball, then hand off, pass or run the ball to make the play.  For those watching Sunday's game, it was clear that both quarterbacks - Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers were in command of their offenses when they were on the field.  You might think of them as the project managers for each of their teams, each one driving each play (task and activity) toward the goal (milestone).

2. The quarterback needs to be a good communicator.  The other players need to hear his plays and be ready to block, run or receive a pass.  Similarly, the PM needs to be a good communicator.  He needs to be clear about expectations and needs, what the plan is, how to execute it, and assure it gets well executed by selecting the right personnel to perform certain tasks.  Plays are designed to take advantage of player strengths.  Coaches work hard to design plays to put the right player in the right place at the right time to make the play successful.  In Sunday's game we saw this as Aaron Rodgers tossed a 29-yard pass to Jordy Nelson in the first quarter.  Nelson was able to leverage his skills in running and catching by pulling slightly ahead of Pittsburgh's cornerback to make a leaping catch for a touchdown.   This is a good example of knowing player strengths/weaknesses (on both offense and defense), and how to leverage them into the play. So it is with PMs.  As a PM you need to know how to take advantage of the skills, experience and expertise of each “player” on the project team.  Your workplan should place each team member in the right role to be successful, and to enable the team to reach its goals.

3. The idea is to score points.  Points on the scoreboard measure the success of the football team in the game.  For a project, a PM needs to identify the success criteria to measure, then measure them diligently throughout the project.  With the right measurements to guide behavior, the project will reach its successful outcome when the measurements are fulfilled.

4. The team “clicks.”  When things are going well on the field, the fans can see their football team is “clicking” - that is, passes are completed, runs gain yardage, field goals are made, touchdowns result, etc.  Green Bay got “clicking” early, leaping out front for an early lead.  The Green Bay fans were thrilled.  But in the second quarter, things began to click for Pittsburgh when Ben Roethlisberger combined with receiver Hines Ward on three passes that led to a touchdown, making the score 21-10 at halftime.  It's the same with a project team.  When the team is really working on all cylinders, team members get along, issue are minimized, milestones are reached on time, deliverables meet expectations for completion, budget goals are achieved, etc.

5. Coaches get feedback during the game.  Whether the team is doing well, or not, coaches get tons of feedback.  Fans cheer or boo.   Observations from the coaching box are fed into game plans.  Decisions are made to change players or plays.  Defenses are modified.  Plans are adjusted to achieve success.  As a PM feedback also comes in from lots of sources all the time.  Status meetings are conducted.  Deliverables are scrutinized.  Management provides oversight.  Project team members respond to issues and problems.  Governance committees provide reviews.  Colleagues and mentors offer advice.  The PM has plenty of opportunities to revise the project strategy, scope, plan, etc., to address changes in midstream.


General Guidelines for a Stage Gate Review

by Mark Davison February 8. 2011 11:12
1. Define the scope of the review (i.e., based on the phase under review)
2. Determine preparations so that documents and other deliverables are ready for the review session
3. Publish the agenda in advance
4. Agenda contents include:
a. Brief Background, overview and/or current status
b. Brief summary of any outstanding issues
c. Describe the project team that worked on the phase and work completed
d. Present/discuss any documents/deliverables for review
e. Explain any changes to the original scope or design since the previous phase, and the impact
f. Discuss the current performance of key elements in the project such as participation of stakeholders (or not), work processes (working/not working), technology (working/not working)
g. Review the current project plan, current and future performance, next steps
h. Discuss contingency plans
i. Q&A, provide feedback
j. Stage Gate approval (or not!)
k. Review and agree upon next steps, assignments, due dates


Similarity Between Football and Systems ...

by Mark Davison February 8. 2011 11:00
For Football Fans:

Head Coach
Game Plan
Kick Off
Project Start
Complete Phase
1st Down
Complete Activity/Task
Successfully Complete Project
Fiscal/Budget Year
Super Bowl
All Projects On Time, Under Budget


A List of Nontechnical Skills for Technical Personnel

by Mark Davison February 7. 2011 13:09
  • Communications Skills - ability to talk and write clearly and concisely
  • Teamwork - can work well as part of a team
  • Takes Initiative - takes the lead to work productively and generate results
  • Business Processes - understands them, can document them and improve them
  • Financials - understands basics of accounting and financial statements
  • Thoughtful - considers issues and asks questions to obtain more information
  • Risk Taking - knows when to take additional risks to be successful



About Mark Davison

Mark Davison

After 25+ years of working on and leading projects primarily in IT, I'm establishing this blog to share knowledge, ideas, tips and techniques regarding how to turnaround and fix troubled and failed projects

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