Project Management Tips To Live By

Are you a project manager? Maybe project management (PM) is disguised in your job description, if it’s not in the actual title. As a leader in government, you likely encounter project management tasks every day. And knowing how to handle those tasks in a timely manner, with a clear scope and with all team members on board is not easy.

Management author LR Sayles described PMs as “functioning as bandleaders who pull together their players each a specialist with individual score and internal rhythm. Under the leader’s direction, they all respond to the same beat.”

On Tuesday’s NextGen online training “20 Project Management Tips To Live By” we heard from Chaeny Emanavin, the ConsumerFinance.gov website program manager at the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB), and Catherine Andrews, Director of Content at GovLoop. Emanavin and Andrews discussed ways you can get your band marching in the same direction, in tune and dancing to the same song.

Agile Project Management
Emanavin shared an overview of what, why and how agile project management is taking shape in government. Agile PM is a “framework for people to communicate and work together towards a common goal.”

When thinking about project management, think about what makes the project successful — the people. When people are in sync and working toward a common goal, a project will flourish.

So, how do you best get people in sync when something about the project has changed?

  • Goals/Vision of the product owner and requirements expressed to the development team are not in sync
  • Goals/law/business opportunity changes
  • Development team makes design/technical decisions that unwittingly move the product away from intended vision

Being an agile PM allows you to closely monitor the progress of the project, discover any changes or impactful turns and quickly assess how it affects the project as a whole. As the PM you’re be in charge of getting the entire team in sync and pulling in the proper stakeholders and team members to re-align the project to hit the targeted timeline or reassess for better results.

So HOW do you do this? Emanavin shared these quick suggestions:

Have team scrums. Scrums are quick daily “meetings” or some sort of touch-point between the developers, product owners and experts. They can be 5 to 15 minutes and should be held every day with all the team members present.

Split the project into sprints. By splitting the project into sprints you can set smaller ‘wins’ along the timeline that provide a driving point throughout the longevity of the project. These allow PMs to simplify problem solving and keep wrong turns to a minimum. Sprints can be up to three weeks long and are dedicated to getting a set amount of work done in that time. As a team gets more comfortable you can get more done within a sprint timeline. Continue to sprint to get stuff done. Once enough is created, you can go live.

Review and plan at the end of each sprint to improve velocity and pick the next sprints features and goals. You can analyze any previous sprint hiccups and adjust accordingly for the next sprint or even increase the workload.

As the PM, you must change within the agile environment. Andrews said, “You have to become the ‘communication chameleon.'” Be sure you’re involved in all meetings and communication channels; if your team prefers a certain method, conform to it and communicate with them, how they like to be communicated with. As an agile PM you don’t focus as much on documentation as you do status updates and how the project is progressing with the stated plan and timeline. Tackling issues as they arise within each sprint is much easier than tackling issues at the end of the project, more cost efficient too.

Here are tips to help you be a better project manager:

1. Up front, make clear the consequences of missed timelines – and how they affect other team members’ duties
2. Host 5-15-minute daily standups
3. Keep them focused – represent the team at non-scrum meetings!
4. Attend scrums – know what the team is doing

5. Employ the ‘parking lot’ method for scope creep/superfluous ideas (parking lots are documents that contain ideas and information. Allows for others to park their ideas until you’re able to address them)
6. Somebody else has to endorse your idea before you can take it to the team lead
7. Employ the MVP – Minimally Viable Product strategy. (This includes documenting small quick wins for the team. Show little wins to gain buy-in and continue to build on them as the project and sprints continue)
8. Work with stakeholders to refine (avoid) scope changes before the team is aware of it

9. Brainstorm ideas up front – but also brainstorm risks ahead of a project
10. Learn to be honest and offer up alternatives
11. Use the sprints to break risk into smaller, manageable chunks
12. Avoid, Transfer, Mitigate and Accept. Use scrums to get an idea of the groups’ risk appetite and tolerance. This will also be a key technique to choosing the best response

13. Don’t be afraid to employ multiple types of communication and meetings
14. Don’t equate being clear and setting goals and making concrete asks with being “bossy”
15. Be the hallway convo master
16. Change how you use documentation. The reduced documentation of agile PM doesn’t mean no documentation. Use developer notes and the backlog to keep the PMO and stakeholders up to date.

17. Be nice. Be genuine. Follow the golden rule.
18. Operate around your team members’ preferred modes of communication
19. Understand personalities to be the tie breaker
20. Be an honest broker of the team’s capacity

This free training is part of the NextGen online training series. Read more about archived trainings, upcoming free opportunities and the annual Next Generation of Government Training Summit.

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