Who is judging your project?

This month the theme here on this blog is how projects are judged – a theme very close to my heart since I wrote a book on the topic in 2012. I could go on and on about how to set up schemes to assess project success and manage stakeholder expectations, but I won’t. At least, not today. Let’s talk about something else, something that is aligned to that but that you really need to get straight before you even think about working out success criteria.
Who is judging your project?
Projects don’t exist in a vacuum. It isn’t just you and your project team. Someone set your project up because it needed to be done. Perhaps it meets a tactical requirement such as sorting out an operational problem. Perhaps it’s part of a longer term strategy to drive revenue. Projects happen because someone decided that they should. And they also get to decide if your project has been a success.
Normally this person acts in the role of project sponsor. If it’s a committee that proposed the project, they will choose someone from amongst the ranks to be your project sponsor and represent their interests. They are typically the person who has the most to gain from whatever it is that your project is going to deliver. An IT Director would sponsor a project to upgrade the data center to the latest hardware, but not a project to improve the customer complaints process.

Beyond the project sponsor
Of course, the project sponsor has a large part to play when it comes to judging whether the project has been successful or not. They will help you identify and define success criteria and you’ll take your steer from them with regards to the direction you should go in to be successful. Their opinion matters. But they aren’t the only one who counts.
Your project team will be made up of a wide group of professionals, all with diverse interests and expectations (at least, it should be. If you have a team where everyone has the same outlook you are less likely to achieve success, according to McKinsey and there has been other research into this too). Everyone on the team will have an opinion about whether your project is currently successful and is going to continue to be successful up until the point that it finishes (and for a long time afterwards).
Building close working relationships with everyone on the team will help you identify what a successful project looks like to them. The motivation for everyone is going to be different. A junior project manager working alongside you might feel that the project has been successful if she manages to get sole responsibility for the next project that comes along as part of her career progression. A network engineer would consider the project to be successful when all the data center hardware is upgraded. A business manager would judge success as there being no downtime and no interruption to service. Everyone will look at it slightly differently.

Balancing the demands of your customers
When I talk about customers, I mean the people who receive the services and benefits of project management. As project managers, we provide a service to internal (or external) clients, and they are our customers. We exist to serve them and to deliver a service to them – the service of project management. They get to decide if we’ve done a good job.
If you start thinking about your project stakeholders as customers of the project management process it becomes easier – I think – to manage their expectations and requirements. You’ll be able to see how you’ll be judged by them and how they will judge your project because suddenly it’s all a lot clearer. When you put the project manager in the position of delivering a service, it changes your mindset.
This attitudinal change makes project managers more aware of how what they do delivers value (or otherwise). You judge people who deliver services all the time: a waiter, a ticket agent, a salesperson in a shop. Think of yourself like that and you’ll be able to see what they value and why. And of course, talking to them helps. Ask them what is important to them and then make sure you deliver that. If you can’t, tell them why not. In my experience most people are reasonable when they have to confront the fact that their expectations are unrealistic.
This is just a short introduction to the idea of customer-centricity on projects and how that relates to success criteria, and if you want to find out more you can find a talk on the subject here. How do you stakeholders look when you think of them as customers? Let us know your thoughts on this topic in the comments.

Why You Need Project Sponsors

Every project manager has their own higher ups they have to answer to – those can be executives, other managers and stakeholders throughout the project. However, one of the most important people to have above you (or laterally to your side) is a project sponsor or two. As a project manager, you shouldn’t be a stranger to the concept of project sponsors, but a quick refresher on why they’re necessary to your project and how to build sponsorship might be needed.
What Is a Sponsor?
Sponsors have many different roles depending on the organization and the project in question. However, their primary role is one of support and promotion – they often act as go-betweens that work between you and your team, and upper management, as well as stakeholders. Their job is something akin to a cheerleader, but it goes much deeper than that.
Where cheerleaders might incite pride and support, a sponsor’s role goes deeper, and can help you foster better communication, understanding and more. They also keep a project aligned to the organization’s overall plan.
What Can Your Sponsor Do?
While the exact role and responsibilities of each sponsor will vary from one situation to another, there are some common things that these important individuals can do for your project and for future projects, including:

Determine the right type of project
Determine the need for a project
Select the project manager (that’s you)
Set the project’s budget and increase or decrease as necessary
Help build the project’s team
Communicate project progress to executives and higher ups
Make decisions that affect the project based on information supplied by the project manager (you, again)
Work with the project manager to ensure that planning is ongoing and accurate
What Can You Do to Ensure Better Sponsorship?
Encouraging appropriate sponsorship isn’t really your responsibility as a project manager (the responsibility usually runs the opposite direction), but there are some things that you can do to help ensure that you benefit from good sponsors.
You’ll need to interact with upper management and other high-level decision makers about the need for project sponsors. It’s their job to select a sponsor, as well as to provide training and education to each sponsor on their role during the project and how that role will fit with their other responsibilities in the organization.
In addition to communicating with upper management, there are some things you can do to help ensure that your sponsors are able to support you as best as possible. One of those is to make sure that you have open communication and that you and your sponsor are speaking the same language. Don’t expect your sponsor to be fluent in project management speak – you need to provide accurate, timely communications in a manner your sponsors understand inherently to avoid costly misunderstandings.
Work with your sponsors, educate them on what they should know, and translate technical jargon into business terms they can understand. You’ll see significantly greater success with your project with their support.

The Right Ways to Work Remotely

Forests full of trees have been felled printing articles about the pros and cons of working remotely. Maybe that should be scores of gigabytes have been consumed on the issue. Regardless, it may be time to move beyond the pro vs. con debate, accept that it’s here, and figure out the best way to do it.

Web developer Alex Ivanovs has some good advice at The Huffington Post. He says it’s important, above all else, to be flexible. As he puts it, have an open mind about everything. Do you sweat the small stuff? (I’m not talking project details – more like minor irritants.) You may find it difficult to work remotely without constant support around you.

He also talks about keeping your sanity. That also dovetails with openness. As he says, you need “the ability to stay sane when situations start becoming stories to tell.” A little mediation may not be a bad idea once in a while too.

PMStudent.com tackles the issue in a post called, Working Remotely? Three Tips to Maintain a High Profile. It lists these tips:

Over communicate
Be Seen
Change Your Method, Not Your Tone
Do we necessarily agree with all the tips? In theory but not necessarily in practice. However, just because my approach might be different doesn’t mean what PMStudent has to say is wrong.

In terms of over communicating, the site suggests daily communications. This might be important at the beginning, but on a sustained basis? Sending emails just to send emails can eventually be seen as a sign of insecurity. Of course, you might have a supervisor who expects it.

There’s no disagreeing with this advice, though: “Set an auto responder on your email when you are out of the office, make sure your voicemail states your normal hours and when you deviate from those hours make sure everyone knows.” I would add to that: don’t forget to adjust your auto responder and change your voicemail daily. Nothing worse than a voicemail stating you will be returning to the office by a certain date – and that day was three weeks ago.

Be seen also makes sense because it dovetails well with over communicating. PMStudent says to consider including your photo with communications. Or maybe set up a intraweb site where you can post pictures showing you and your project.

It should go without saying that the photos should show you are your most professional. People connect more quickly and easily with faces, as PMStudent observes, but you don’t want to be recognized for the wrong reasons.

The site’s third point deals with changing your method and not your tone. This is probably the strongest piece of advice of the three. It recognizes one of the huge difficulties of working remotely: access. People just aren’t going to be available when you need them. Sure, the same thing happens when you are in an office but it’s too easy to go off on someone you don’t deal with on a daily basis.

It’s kind of like road rage. People feel stronger in the relative anonymity of their vehicles. You might feel emboldened when you leave phone messages. As PMStudent points out, “Do not let others sense your frustration. Do not change your message so that it becomes threatening or hysterical. Remain calm polite and professional.”

PMStudent has a good video you might want to watch to reinforce the message:

Ryan Wilcox, a software developer, has some real practical advice at Toptal. Get a good, wired headset that runs off your computer’s USB ports. It will make you sound better on conference calls. He also recommends AwayFind, which sends urgent emails to you as texts. Sounds simple but often you can get texts when your cellphone signal may not be strong enough for web access. It can be as little as $5 a month not to miss important emails.

His advice echoes what the others said. Wilcox also reinforces how important communication is, especially daily check-ins. He suggests it could be particularly effective in the morning and does not always have to be work related.