Archive for May 4th, 2005

7 Project Danger Signals

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

We’ve all been on projects that we knew were in trouble – you may even be on one now. Many times, the words and actions of the team members telegraph the troubles. Be on the lookout for these seven danger signals.“It’s not in the spec.” How many times have you heard that? While there can’t be a “spec-of-the-day”, success depends on flexibility. Remember, you are developing the project to fulfill a business need. If the needs change or evolve, the project must change with it.

“You want what? A demo?” If your team looks at you in disbelief when you ask for a demo, be worried. If they point to reams of documentation instead, be especially worried. Remember, projects exist to solve business needs and the need probably isn’t documentation. In all likelihood, the goal is a “working” system and what better way to judge that than a demo.

“Oops, I forgot that.” If a task is repetitive, most people will try to optimize it. If the project plan calls for the “big-bang” final integration, that’s what you can expect – a “big-bang”. On the other hand, if you build, integrate and test from day one, delivery can be as smooth as silk. The surest way to streamline a process is to put the optimizing power in the team’s hands.

“Fill out a form.” Don’t even get me started on this one. If you hear this around your team, you probably don’t have a team.

team n. A group organized to work together

Ask yourself, “Do these forms facilitate teamwork or impede it?”“I don’t have time; I’m always in a meeting.” Groan. Even if this isn’t true, I would wager it’s the perception in 90% of organizations. In many meetings, information flows one-way: top-down. Question whether attendees are actually communicating; explore alternative channels for passive information. Guard against “meeting paralysis.”

“I’m waiting on so-and-so to finish.” Dependencies are a fact of life in complex projects. That’s why a team is involved. But if your team grinds to a halt waiting on someone – beware. Be on the lookout for choke points; encourage teamwork to resolve roadblocks.

“Everything’s fine. No problem.” Two words come to mind: Titanic and iceberg. While a positive attitude goes a long way, realistic communications must be the rule. Tough questions require honest answers; don’t be blindsided by false optimism or misplaced ego.

Are you hearing any of these on your projects? Do you have your own set of signals you listen for? Share them with us at

The project manager is your friend

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

If you’re the developer, you are doubting my words. Most developers think the project manager is the enemy. If you’re a project stakeholder, you are doubting my words. Most stakeholders think the project manager is ineffective and can’t bring the project in on time. If you’re the project manager, you are definitely doubting my words. Everyone runs and hides when you come to see them, right?Maybe I should change the title. Maybe the title should be – “The project manager should be your friend”. Why is this such a difficult position? Why do project managers seem so ineffective? Let’s look at a few ways to make this position less disliked and more effective in your organization.

Don’t put your weakest person in the job. The project manager needs to be strong. He needs to be competent and he needs to understand what the developer is saying. Translating between development and business stakeholders is not a task for the weak or technically challenged.

Don’t put your most abrasive person in the job. This job requires tact. It requires facilitation, mediation and patience. A PM must work with people of varying backgrounds and personalities. To be effective, he needs to get along.

Make your project manager more than a schedule tracker. The project manager needs to have decision making authority. He needs to be able to adjust functionality requirements if warranted. The stakeholder must allow him some autonomy in this regard. If checking on schedule slippages and task completion percentages without regard for the task at hand is your PM’s sole function, he’ll be disliked and ineffective.

Don’t give the PM an impossible task. Successful projects are hard. Completing them on time and on budget is even harder. Setting unrealistic goals gets the team off on the wrong foot and makes the PM a target from the start.

Listen to your PM. That’s why you hired him. That’s why you put him in this position. He’s in the trenches every day. He’s in tune with his project, so listen to him.

Choosing the right person to be your PM can be one of the toughest jobs you’ll ever have. The right balance of technical ability, communication skills and business acumen is a tough combination. Finding the right person with just the right skills can make all the difference in your project’s success and will provide a significant ROI for this and future projects. So – use our hints and your best judgment and take the time to find the right candidate.

Who says the customer is always right?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Customer service. The bane of every industry, right? The customer is always complaining or wanting more for less money. They don’t know anything, so you put your least qualified people on as your customer service/technical support people, right?What if we took another approach? Could customer service turn into a way to generate new business prospects? Will the customer referral generated from one top notch service rep cinch the biggest deal in company history? Taking a positive attitude towards the customer and servicing their needs starts with a few basic principles.

Keep an open mind. Maybe Al Whiner is usually prone to calling when it’s a user error, but there is always the possibility that he has a genuine problem. The customer service representative must be open to that possibility.

Really Listen. Customer service representatives often deal with a few recurring problems. Sometimes, when a customer calls up and starts describing the issue, the representative tunes out; having already decided what the issue is and what the resolution should be. Key points may be missed.

Don’t assume. The old adage about assumptions continues to ring true. If the representative has followed through with an open mind and good listening ears, this one should come easy. Reiterate, in your own words, what the customer has stated the problem to be. Have the customer fill in any gaps in your understanding. Don’t fill them in based on assumptions.

Be empathetic. If customers didn’t call in with problems, you might not have a job. Picture yourself in their place. They paid for a working product/service and something isn’t working. Remember how you felt the last time you had a product fail you? What were your expectations from technical support when you called for help? You represent your company; apologize for the inconvenience and be helpful. It’s your job.

Follow up. Make sure the issue is resolved. If further action is needed, ensure it happens. Call the customer back to make sure they are satisfied. If they weren’t before, this follow up will certainly work in your favor.

There are many other obvious tips that could be mentioned; most of them involving common sense. Above all, remember to be courteous and professional. Be apologetic and don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Let the customer know you value their business and they’ll come back for more. Finally, survey your customers to see just how well you’re doing.