Month: January 2017

One week – seven Mondays: project planning

In the project management world, the Lakein’s Law: “Failing to plan is planning to fail” is well known.

Time is the currency of our lives and the way we spend it on planning things and projects speaks volumes. It has implications for as long as a project lasts.

How often a project planned in a hustle chased you into the turmoil of sleepless nights? And made days stuck into a feeling of an endless Monday.

“Projects fail at the beginning, not the end”, to quote Joseph Phillips. One of sacred rules of project management is “Plan well” (capital letter – on purpose). Planning well requires time and effort.

Time and effort smartly invested in planning pays off with less demand for corrective actions and a greater adherence to schedule.

There should be project planners, I think sometimes. Wedding planners are in high demand. So why not, project planners? Or act yourself as a good project planner. Planning skills are a must, but not everyone is a keen planner. Some project managers are keen implementers instead.

If you or another team member is a good planner, then you know what to do to avoid endless Mondays, i.e. ground zero or back to prep zone:

1. Prepare your plan for planning,

2. Know whom and what (data) you need to make the plan. Data is key for the baseline. So are gate-keepers.

3. Pen&pencil or pixel your first rough plan,

4. Discuss it with someone knowledgeble. Talk to experts. Peer review it. Get critical. Ask questions.

5. Re-estimate, re-assess timelines, resources and dependencies. Sleep over.

6. Submit it for internal approval, if applicable.

7. Discuss it at length with the project partner/client.

8. Formalise it, i.e. Get the Board/ Sponsor’s stamp, if needed.


– leave details to chance,

– forget your assumptions,

– assume planning is a one off exercise,

– copy-paste from another plan. Unless you want to put to work your recovering troubled projects skills.

Self Evaluation

It is that time of the year again. Sort of Christmas. Only better.

The time of feedback, evaluation, reflection and learning.

I aspire to stay devoted to the self assessment and 360degree evaluation. They are valuable sources of learning for growth.

“The unexamined life isn’t worth living” said Socrates.  To paraphrase it, unexamined projects remain “just projects”. Examined projects become flagship or landmark projects.

In projects, the dynamics are absorbing and the time for reflexion is traded for the rush to deliver. Still, do not wait for that annual performance evaluation. Make learning and reflection a habit. I am booking reflection time  in my agenda. On Friday afternoons usually. Reflection can be fuelled by self-assessment and feedback inquiries.

Below is a link to a self-evaluation guide. Asking colleagues, team members and clients on how they see my performance and then comparing it to self-assessment can provide valuable insights.


The Project Manager Self Evaluation A Project Management Article by Tom Bishop

If you are interested to read other sources for inspiration, please see “KPIs for Success – An Overview of Project Manager Performance Metrics” 

“How to be 1% Better Every Day” re-post

How to be 1% Better Every Day (The Kaizen Approach to Self-improvement)

“Compounding is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.” — Albert Einstein

The quest to become a better version of yourself often feels like a roller coaster ride. It’s hard. And it’s usually so uneven. You can end in failure. But life is a journey, not a marathon, so you always have another opportunity to restart and improve.

Many people practically look out for secrets, tricks, and hacks that will make EVERYTHING better right now. But unfortunately life doesn’t work that way. There are no “overnight successes”. Think of all the incredible people you truly admire. They didn’t succeed becasue of one giant move, but rather a series of small and consistent actions over time.

Stop aiming for radical personal change!

“Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” — Stephen Covey

A magic bullet cannot save you! You’ve got to embrace the process and enjoy it. You can’t escape the hard work it takes to get better. Every incredibly successful person you know today has been through the boring, mundane, time-tested process that eventually brings success. So, stop looking for “quick hacks” that bring faster results.

Instead of reading every self-improvement post for the one golden tip that will make you superhumanly efficient, focus on doing the actual work that needs to be done. You can inspire yourself to take action. The hard, long process is the only way though. You can’t achieve tremendous life success with a quick fix. Nobody gets it that easy.

Your big, audacious goals are not inspiring you!

“Whoever wants to reach a distant goal must take small steps.” — Helmut Schmidt

Your attempt to be better usually ends in failure because you life-changing goals overwhelm you into inaction instead of inspiring you into action. Unrealistic goals make it insanely difficult to make any progress. You will get “stressed” over what is supposed to help you take action.

Your performance and ability to get things done is inextricably bound to brain performance. A big, audacious goal looks scary to your brain. And when your brain encounters scary, it goes into “freeze” mode. You don’t want that. If you constantly overstretch yourself, you will lose the required energy you need to take the necessary action to get better.

Setting a goal, no mater how simple is always the easy part. Everyone has goals. The real challenge is not determining if you want the result, but if you are willing to accept the sacrifices required to achieve your goals.

If you want to achieve your goals at all times, create a system that works. Instead of a goal, design a great system or process. That way, you will always win. Even when your short-term goals are achieved, your next goal won’t be a struggle. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process makes a huge difference.

James Clear explains:

We place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight or to succeed in business or to write a best-selling novel. Instead, you can keep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process and sticking to your schedule, rather than worrying about the big, life-changing goals. When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.

Self-improvement is not a destination!

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily”— Mike Murdock

Learning should not end after formal education. Lifelong learning, the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge can enrich your life and make you a better person every day.

Self-improvement isn’t a destination. You’re never done. Even if you have some success, and you want to maintain it, you have to keep doing the things you were doing that got you that success in the first place.

Your first step to improving your life and becoming the best version of your self won’t be easy. Nobody can promise you that things will be easy but they will get better. It pays to take a small action–any action–and grow from there. Remember, you are better off trying and crawling than anyone else who isn’t trying.

The Kaizen Approach and how it works

“Little strokes fell great oaks.” –Benjamin Franklin

Kaizen — Japanese for continuous improvement

It was developed by Depression-era American business management theorists in order to build the arsenal of democracy that helped the U.S. win World War II. The Japanese took to the idea of small, continual improvement right away and gave it a name: Kaizen — Japanese for continuous improvement.

While Kaizen was originally developed to help businesses improve and thrive, it’s just as applicable to our personal lives.

The idea here is to focus on consistent improvements in your life, every day, not matter how small the step you take to be a better you than you were yesterday.

According to Brett and Kate McKay of The Art of Manliness:

“Instead of trying to make radical changes in a short amount of time, just make small improvements every day that will gradually lead to the change you want. Each day, just focus on getting 1% better in whatever it is you’re trying to improve. That’s it. Just 1%.

It might not seem like much, but those 1% improvements start compounding on each other. In the beginning, your improvements will be so small as to seem practically nonexistent. But gradually and ever so slowly, you’ll start to notice the improvements in your life. It may take months or even years, but the improvements will come if you just focus on consistently upping your game by 1%.”

Here is why Kaizen works

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.” — John Wooden

The Kaizen approach is a reminder that all improvements must be maintained if we wish to secure consistent gains. Think of the smallest step you can take every day that would move you incrementally towards your goal.

Becoming 1% better every day is a simple, practical way to achieve big goals. 1% seems like a small amount. Yes, it is. It’s tiny. It’s easy. It’s doable. And it’s applicable in most things you want to do or accomplish.

It feels less intimidating and is more manageable. It might feel less exciting than chasing a huge win, but its results will be stronger and more sustainable.

If you enjoyed this post, you will love Postanly Weekly. It’s my FREE weekly digest of the best productivity, career and self improvement posts from around the web. It challenges you to become the best version of yourself.

To multitask or not to multitask?

It is not uncommon to find the ability to multitask in the project managers’ jobs requirements. What is actually “multitasking” and are project managers really doing different things at the same time? Say, for example, as these two performers unicycle and juggle at Exeter Bike Week Event 2006?unicycling_juggling_duo

I looked at the research on the topic. It shows that we overrate our ability to multitask. See, for example, what neuroscientist Earl Miller at MIT says: “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves. The brain is very good at deluding itself. What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.”

With the technology in hand, we tend to delude ourselves even more. Especially, if you find yourself, as I sometimes do, among high-tech jugglers. Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. For multitask believers, researches have (sort of) good news: multitasking is possible, but it comes with a cost to efficiency and productivity, while also raising risks. See the research done by the American Psychological Association

I can do some salsa moves, flip crepes with my right hand and wipe clean the excess of butter on the pan with my left hand, all at the same time. But I cannot type a final project report with my right hand and write down the plan for a new project, while getting updates on a running project over the phone. What I can is to master the tasks. And say good buy to the illusion of multitasking.

To master the tasks, I apply the ‘urgency vs importance’ test. From the list above, the plan for a new project will get priority as the launch of activities depends on its approval. I’ll focus then my attention to the running project’s updates and the final report will be my priority nr.3. I’ll commit to the order of priorities and make sure the team members share the same understanding. Depending on circumstances, tests of ‘task’s value for the job’ and/or ‘estimated effort per task’ can apply. I also find single-tasking is a ultimate form of relaxation. It allows for a mental flow leading to focus and satisfaction with the job well-done.

Next time, at a job interview for a project manager or project assistant position, when you are asked about how good you are at multitasking, you may want to clarify with the interviewer what they understand by multitasking. If they believe in the myth of multitasking, let them. Just make sure you show how you can manage tasks. It can be examples from your experience. Or the interviewer can offer you an in-tray test. And make sure you do not multi-task at the interview, if possible :).

If you want to read more, “How to stay focused if you are assigned to multiple projects at once” by Heidi K. Gardner and Mark Mortensen