Month: August 2016

Smile! You are SMART

Projects objectives. They are project manager’s best friend and curse. A tough love.

The conventional wisdom wants project objectives to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timebound). You can find many useful references on how to make them SMART in all project management books and methodologies.

We arrive at the project objective through  needs assessments and inclusive consultations, I hope. We write the project objective in the project doc. And we forget about it. Until reporting time knocks at the door or rather sends a reminder these days.

I echoe the need to have SMART objectives. I also like them to smile. If possible. Why? It is perhaps easier to stay loyal to a SMART and SMILE-ing objective.

S – sunny, as in The Carter Family – “Keep On The Sunny Side”, to bring a positive change

M – motivating, as in “One minute Manager”

I – inclusive, as in inclusive development

L -loyal, as in faithful to inclusive development

E – environmentally friendly, as in “do no harm”.


Expectations management

Every morning as a newly wed i used to do something mildly evil. I would wake up before  my husband, keep my eyes shut and pretend to be still asleep. He would be moving around the apartment, waiting for me to wake up. He would eventually succumb to his need to  eat and go make breakfast.  Why did i do that? Both of us grew in an environment where women cook, men eat. I was not going to succumb to this traditional expectation and bring it into our marriage. The result? For more than 15 years the breakfast is a fun and pleasant experience for both of us.

Similarly, in projects, project managers have to deal with expectations. I say ‘have to’ because otherwise projects risk acquiring the “scope creep” disease.

The project scope creep is a rather moody beast. Your client might not care about “your scope”. The beneficiary wants it big, shiny and now. The sponsor’s demands change and go up. Or the sub-contractor suddenly appears at your door with an invoice 3 times bigger than the initial estimations, while trying to sell ‘new features”. All – easy ways to make the initial project parameters become XXL, or gi-enormous, as my daughter calls things, which are unreasonably large for her taste, while the budget will stay on XS.

0*JCX5UCzFSMu8BDEyDocumenting and communicating on project requirements help on the prevention side. Yet, sometimes, people get creative and as fine as a scope guardian as i would like to believe i am, additional demands appear on my radar screen.

In time, i learned that my finest ally in this pressure attempts is the approved Project’s Objective. Is the new demand in line with the Project Objective? For example, a beneficiary wants  training on a particular skill for some members of the  organisation not involved in its management or development and the project’s objective is institutional strengthening.

If the demand passes the “objective test”, i submit it to the “budget test”. Is there enough money? If yes, is the expenditure an eligible cost under the financing rules?

Further on and in case of necessity, if the budget test gets the demand cleared, then the impact and cost-efficiency tests apply. I am a lawyer so maths and econometrics are not my strong point but I would get advice.

Finally, you do not need to be a solo-decision maker in this case and appear as the ‘bad guy’. To kill or manage the scope creep beast, you might need your superiors or the project’s steering committee. A justified No will help them decide.

Then, when you know the answer or the decision is made, invest time in communicating back to those who placed the demand.

I also learned to say No from the beginning, when signs of project creep appear. In a polite and firm way. It is also good for risks management.

If you are looking for some inspiration on why and how to say No, “The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness” by James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher, 2014, can provide some insights into the healthy No.

Are project managers allowed vacations?

I was in the process of finishing a difficult  project proposal when my brain and my body were having an argument. It was rather a monologue. On the brain’s side. It went like this:

– It’s vacation time, buddy, sais my brain to my body. Hello! Is any one home?!

The body, rather unimpressed, walked into the office building.

I shortened my vacation by a week. A wealth of studies tell me why it is not good. Neither for me, my family nor for my organisation.

The good news is I’ll still have a vacation, even if a week later.

So back to the question in the title. A Project manager on vacation? Unheard of! Tight deadlines, impatient clients, strict sponsor, plenty of adrenalin, which keeps you going, and plenty of other imposed or self-imposed excuses. 

The key is in the planning. As in projects. So for a start, let’s do ourselves a favour and be good project managers of our own vacations.  Vacation planning tends to bring happiness as shown by research in the journal “Applied Research in Quality of Life”. People actually derive most of the happiness from their vacations in the planning phase (

img_1751You can easily guess who plans and organises my family’s vacation. I love to search for new destinations, read hotels reviews, make ‘hotel tenders’, book, make a list of things to experience, argue with my family about what not to put in the luggage (gadgets, for once). It is fun and it pleases the annoyed fancy brain, so it can deal with deliverables, milestones and other projects demands.

In parallel, a pre-vacation work planning will bring peace of mind. The key is to assess and prevent any foreseeable issues, to the extent you can. Announce as soon as you know your away days to anyone you work with. Think about replacement.

Will any other project manager replace you while you are away? If yes, leave clear instructions on matters to follow-up and a list of “in case of…” in a hand-over note, which is also communicated to your supervisor. Will there be no stand-by officer? Make sure your out-of-office automatic reply is clear about it and gives directions to people who still need your input/feedback.

Decide if you will you be available by email/phone. A wealth of studies show that it’s best to fully disconnect. Dropping ‘accidentally’ your mobile device in the pool is one option. There are less financially costly ways. Good pre-vacation planning will facilitate the full disconnect. So far, my personal record of ‘no-emails-checked’ is 3 days. If you still need to check your email, make a deal with yourself to check it only at a certain period of the day for a certain amount of time (e.g. 1 hour after kids go to sleep). If you stick to it, reward yourself with a large ice-cream or beer. Or both.