Have you ever ran into project management issues? I bet you did. Me, too.
In this post, I decided to answer questions about project management problems, and sharpen up my writing skills by concisely answering them. You ask a question and I briefly answer it based on my experience. A win-win for you and for me.
Would you like to tag along and ask a question? My goal is to have 100 questions answered. So far, I have 20 and counting.
#1 – Rodrigo, how to I delegate tasks more effectively?
The short answer is: do your homework before delegating. People think delegating is just sitting down with someone and assigning a task. This may be true for simple tasks, such as can you grab me some files when you go to the first floor? However, whenever there is some more work involved, you need to know what specifically you want to delegate and to whom you want to delegate that. You will be more successful when you take a minute to identify what needs to be done and assign the work to the best qualified employee. Also, making people accountable for their deliverables is a good way to avoid having procrastinators in your team.
Here is some more advice how to delegate effectively…
#2 – Rodrigo, how do I get my emails answered?
There is an ingenious trick I use to get my emails answered. And interestingly enough, I usually I get most of them answered. The trick is simple: Ask just one question per email.
This means only sending one email per topic and breaking down complex requests into a simpler requests. Also, when several people are involved in the discussion, make sure you call out the person you need an answer from. “Hi All”, “ Hello Everybody” and “Joe, Mary, Abby and Lucas” type of emails never work.
Finally, when the subject is time sensitive, I always tell them by when I’m expecting the answer. Something like “Could you please respond by Friday 8AM?” goes a long way.
Here is a little more information getting your emails answered…
#3 – Rodrigo, how do I deal with office politics?
Oh, this is a something difficult. One way or another, you will experience office politics in any type company you work for. My advice is clear on this: Don’t take part on it.
Playing politics is like playing a game that no one can’t win. So, don’t play it.
The most effective way to deal with it is being objective and knowing what you want to take out of your interactions with people. So, they will value you for the work you do and the results you bring. Discussing irrelevant stuff will not aggregate anything to your career. So, step out of the gossip treadmill and focus on getting your work done in the most professional way.
Learn more about how to deal with office politics…
#4 – Rodrigo, how do I deal with underperformers?
Well, this is where you can shine or die in management. Underperformers is an entire topic by itself, but if I were to say one thing about it is that you should treat everyone with respect and understand what each person brings to the table.
Sometimes, underperformance can be a question of someone not believing that that person has the skills do the work. Sometimes, it’s a question of not knowing what that person’s skills are in the first place. Other times, it’s just that the person is not in the right place at the right time.
Regardless, when dealing with an underperformer, you need to trust that person’s competence. Else, better just let them go. There is nothing worst than dealing with a professional you don’t think will be able to professionally recover. So, you will need to make some tough calls along the way. If you are a true leader, you’ll be able to go beyond that point in time and help the person develop themselves completely. And that is what will make your shine or die in management.
Here is an important lesson I learned when I was dealing with underperformers…
#5 – Rodrigo, how many slides should I have in my PowerPoint presentation?
OK, my answer won’t make you happy. You should have minimum number of slides as possible, to get your point across. That means your focus should not be on presenting the information, not using PowerPoint as a clutch.
So, instead of having 25 slides in a 60 minute presentation, try having only five slides.
You can keep the other 20 slides at the end of the presentation and an appendix. In case someone asks a very specific question, you can always pull a more detailed explanation. Else, keep it minimum and focus on interacting with your audience.
People will thank you for that. Trust me!
#6 – Rodrigo, what should I do if the s***t hits the fan? Excuse my French.
Seriously, this will happen sooner or later in your career. As you gain experience, you are assigned to more complex projects. The more complex the projects, the higher the risks. The higher the risks, the greater the responsibilities. At some point, you will be faced with a crisis or an extreme episode. This could be that your new system went into production and nothing else works anymore, or your project ran out of budget, or a major issue happened. In essence, you are faced with a BIG problem.
In these moments, you need to know that this is the time when you’ll see people’s real faces. Take this as a unique opportunity to be that person who has the cool temperament and is keeping things in check. You can be suddenly surrounded by people running around like headless chickens, but if you keep your cool, you will be the only one who can see things objectively. Also, remember that the sun will always come up in the horizon the next day and everything passes with time, with better days to come. Take that into consideration.
Learn more about handling crisis…
#7 – Rodrigo, how do I become a better manager?
The best advice I can give you is to never give up. Sorry to break the news, but you’ll never be able to become a perfect manager. There is no such a thing. Think of your management career as a road, not a destination. You should strive to improve your skills and do a better job, in whatever area you are in. In essence, the most amazing managers I worked with had in common two qualities: they were down to earth and they are lifelong learners. This had nothing to do with perfection, you see…
Every new project, every new challenge, every new interaction with your team is a way to improve the work you do. Be a constant learner and you will really succeed as a manager.
Here are some advanced management concepts for you.
#8 – Rodrigo, I can’t take this anymore. Should I just quit this unbearable job and start a [name your hobby] business?
Take a deep breath…
Let’s have a walk outside the office.
Nowadays there is a lot of talk about abandoning everything and starting a creative career, creating a hobby business, leaving cubicle land and travelling around the world…
This is nice and I’ve met people who were able to successfully transition from a career into this adventurous lifestyle. Yes, it is possible. However, I’ve also seen many many people thinking they can have a virtual business and travel the world having to come back to their original careers, swallowing their egos and getting back to their original careers.
Don’t mix your frustration with your boss and the company work for, with impossible career dreams. This is a very dangerous mix. You can still pursue whatever you want in the world, we live in a free society. However, be careful when doing it.
To be successful in any transition, you will need some extraneous planning and also a viable opportunity. Else, that creative life that you thought would aspire making a living will be transformed in a salt mining experience.
So, to be clear, I’m not saying you should stay in a bad job. Contrary to the “transforming your passion into career” marketing, understand that transitioning a career takes a huge effort, and you should not underestimate the effort to be successful.
Here are some tips on how to avoid burnout…
#9 – Rodrigo, how can I successfully implement a [name a new technology] in a [traditional] environment?
Based on experience, there are two factors that will make or break implementing a new technology in any environment. The first one is how queen is your senior management in regards to supporting this new technology. If you senior manager, director, CIO, doesn’t support the move… Forget about it. Things will go down the drain very quickly and no one will be willing to spend time investing in revamping your technology.
The second one is to which extend you will be solving the problem you are facing. Let’s say, your new system will cut everyone’s effort to get things done by half, you’ll see a huge uptake on your implementation progress. The other side is also true, in the sense that if you are making people’s life more miserable and adding bureaucracy to an already bureaucratic environment, chances are you’ll be struggling getting buy in from your users.
There is also the situation where you are implementing something completely new in the organization that involves a break in paradox. For example, your team will start using SCRUM or some other flavor of agile methodology in a company that is totally integrated using a cascade type development technology. If this change is done internally in your team only, expect to have some friction when you interact with teams outside your department. In this scenario, expect a lot of convincing work until your new technology (and processes) are adopted in the traditional environment.
One way or the other, focus on having buy in from senior management and in getting results by making people’s life easier. This will get you a long way bringing innovation to your environment, regardless how traditional it is.
Learn more about innovation here.
#10 – Rodrigo, should I run mini projects or stick to multi-year projects?
Well, that’s an interesting question.
Let me ask you: Should you buy small pieces of loaf or family size packages?
It all depends on how many people you are having for breakfast… or, how many trips you want to do to the bakery during the week, right?
The logic is simple. If you are dealing with smaller deliverables, stick to simple mini projects. Dealing with strategic initiatives that are complex, highly relevant and will take a long time to be executed? Go for a multi-year project.
Now comes the advanced part… Your main consideration should not be the side of the projects or how long they should run. It should be focused on the complexity of what you are delivering.
Consider how things fit together from a strategic perspective. Mini projects are like upgrading your servers, revamping your website, creating a new feature in your software. Versus, multi-year projects are integrating your software to connect to all banks in the US, totally upgrading your mainframe applications to run on modern technologies, traveling to Mars and back.
Would you bring small pieces of loaf or family size packages to your trip to mars?
It’s not about the size of the loaf. It’s about what needs to be done. You get the idea…
Click here for more on strategic project management tips.
#11 – Rodrigo, things happen over and over again. How can I deal with recurring issues in my projects?
If you see a pattern of repeating issues happening in your project, you will probably want to take action on it. However, in reality, you are most likely to experience these issues when your customers start to complain or something goes wrong in your production servers.
I strongly recommend seeking for improvement before things completely blow up, meaning that you should be more focus on anticipating issues, rather than putting out fires.
How do you do that? You keep your eyes wide open.
That miscommunication that happens between your team and the quality assurance team every Friday… you should dig into it and find out more about it.
Those three relevant bugs that never got fixed and went to production… you need to know why that happen and how the ball was dropped.
That internal customer that complains, and complains, and complains about not getting things on time… maybe it is time to sit down and review your internal processes.
You get the idea.
To solve these issues, there is no magic bullet. However, if you can spot them earlier, you can save yourself tons of effort and tons of explaining to upper management. Use a mix of batching similar issues together and setting the right expectations to solve this. You can fix a fair amount of things just by quitting the firefighting mode and planning ahead appropriately.
Keep your eyes open, always…
#12 – Rodrigo, how to I get things right when I’m under huge pressure to “get things done”?
There is one thing for sure you will experience as you grown in your management career: pressure.
Well, that’s why they pay you the big bucks. You need to get things done. Also, you need to keep your team focused and motivated, else things will start to fall apart.
The most learning moments of my career were exactly when we were under huge pressure to deliver results. I was lucky to work with some amazing leaders who thought me the way out the situation.
When you are under huge pressure, you need to keep your objectivity. This means stopping asking yourself why you are doing this or that and make it clear what you want to take out of the situation.
Essentially, your goal should be finding out what would be the most effective way to get what needs to be done. Forget about the office drama, find your destination and go for it.
I know this is difficult, but keeping your cool is a key component of keeping your team’s morale in check and maintaining everybody’s sanity. Most importantly, remember that, when everything is over and done, you’ll remembered by your actions.
Keep your cool, stop talking to yourself and get the job done.
Click here to hear more about how to manage a crisis at work.
#13 – Rodrigo, why I end up doing all the work, while my team is surfing YouTube?
Hey, do you really trust your team’s competence to do their work? Seriously, I think you should consider changing your attitude as a manager.
Learn to delegate, let them do the work and make them accountable…
… else, look for another job outside management.
Read more about how to delegate here.
#14 – Rodrigo, I’ve just been promoted to management and have no idea where to start. What should I do? Help!!!
There are two very important things you should do.
First, go and schedule a meeting with your boss. Learn what are his objectives. Learn what’s most important to get accomplished this year and what are the most important considerations you should have when dealing with his projects.
Second, schedule one on ones with each and every person in the team. Ask about their work, be genuinely interested in their work. Ask about their aspirations and what they want to accomplish in life.
Then, you can start your work as a manager.
Learn more about getting promoted here.
#15 – Rodrigo, my director, who happens to sponsor all my projects, has been fired. What should I do now?
Well… how can I nicely say… brace for impact!
There will be changes ahead, for sure. Your goal should be keep your team working cohesively and be very objective on everything you do.
Understand your value by knowing that you know a lot about the projects you are involved and you and your team can be instrumental to any new executive who replaces your former boss.
Don’t let the office politics take over your conversations. Just don’t play the game and stay out of any discussions, especially if someone starts blaming your previous boss.
The world changes, and your flexibility will prove you are mature enough to own your management badge.
Keep your cool and look at things strategically.
Watch that film about captain Sully landing on the Hudson river and note his attitude throughout the entire experience.
… and brace for impact.
Learn more about how to see things the way they are here.
#16 – Rodrigo, what’s the best way to keep track of my project?
No easy answer here, bud. Regardless of what tool you use to track your projects, don’t rely on emails and charts. Talk directly to your team. That’s all I can tell you.
May be learning how to get out of Excel, may be able to help you.
#17 – Rodrigo, I’ve seen someone in my team being very hostile and unprofessional to another employee in a meeting today. What should I do?
I’ll answer it soon. Keep you posted.
#18 – Rodrigo, I’ve been assigned to a huge new project. What should I do first?
I’ll answer it soon. Keep you posted.
#19 – Rodrigo, as a manager, is there anything I should never, ever, delegate ?
I’ll answer it soon. Keep you posted.
#20 – Rodrigo, should I pursue a [put your three letter acronym here]? How about certifications? Should I go back to school?
I’ll answer it soon. Keep you posted.