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Project Management Best Practices for Program Managers: Communicate

Posted by Kabir Mehta on Sep 5, 2017 4:38:54 PM

A Systematic Process for Fast, Enjoyable, & Results-Driven Meetings

The First of Four Best Project Management Practices

Meetings can literally be the bane of your project.

Without meetings, your project will suffer a dire lack of communication. As a program manager you will never know which tasks are languishing because your teammates are stuck (both the teammates in your company and at your Government customer).

With meetings, you can waste a lot of time, kill momentum, and discourage your teammates who will wish they could be getting something "real" done.

You need a systematic way to transform your meetings into fast, enjoyable, and results-driven processes.

project-manager-best-practices-communicate.jpg We guarantee your team will be as happy about meetings as these guys.

In case you haven't read it yet, this article introduces the four processes we've developed to delight our Government customers, with proven results: becoming the incumbent contractor, being given high CPARS scores, and growing our reach within each Agency. We're distilling our experience into this blog, as processes, to help you get the same results in your Government contracting.

So how do you put this best practice, Communicate, into action?

Enter Scrum. Want to make getting your Scrum summaries from your team easy?

Download the Free Scrum Summary (Email Template) Here:

How to run a Scrum: Fast, Enjoyable, Results-driven Meetings

Gather your team together at the same time and same place each morning. Here's the simple agenda. Start by answering these three questions aloud for the team:

  • What am I working on?
  • What did I accomplish yesterday?
  • What is getting in my way or impeding project progress?

When finished, call on the next person, and they will answer these same questions. When finished they will call on the next person, and so forth until every person has shared.

There is a certain cadence and discipline this will create in the meeting. It's not as repetitive as it may seem, and the answers should only provide basic details about the task or problem. The goal with Scrum is for the project leader/program manager to identify:

  • Status Check - learn if is everyone on task or working on the appropriate task
  • Blocks - discover problems preventing task completion
  • Dependencies - see which tasks are being held up due to other tasks being incomplete

When the Scrum is finished, you will be able to:

  • Know what each teammember is working on
  • Know what problems each member faces, and what you need to fix
  • Reassign new tasks to teammembers as needed (especially if their current task is blocked)

A Story of How We Used Scrum Ourselves

Synergetics recently introduced a daily Scrum process to a project that we are leading for a Federal customer. Leading a system consolidation effort and leveraging existing customer infrastructure and staff can be tricky. In this case, we were assigned Federal associates that were not yet adequately trained in the modern technologies and methodologies that we were building. In order to meet an aggressive deadline and keep the project on track, we needed to increase the frequency of meetings. It was important to be respectful of staff time by setting and sticking to short duration meetings. It was also important to maintain a standardized format for each meeting by asking team members to simply answer three questions:

  • What have you accomplished since the previous meeting (Scrum)?
  • What are you working on?
  • What is blocking you from making progress?

Answering these questions on a daily basis built project-level awareness across the team. It improved our collaboration, creativity, and our program manager’s ability to triage problems and delegate resources to fix them.

The project's risks and issues were ongoing and dynamically changing. During our daily Scrum, the program manager was able to capture all of these issues and record them, putting them in a Weekly Status Report. By logging the risks and issues, the program manager was able to:

  • Keep the project moving forward by ensuring every task was being completed
  • Keep our Federal customer informed about the project status along the way

In fact, read about the Weekly Status Report here: it's a key part of the second of The Four Best Practices to delight your customer that we're sharing here. Another reason to check it out is because we've provided a Status Report Template for you to be able to easily put this practice into action. In this Template is a slide dedicated to Risks and Issues for you to record.

How To Extract Even More Results Using SCRUM in Your Program

Over time, if you are consistently running Scrums each day, you will start gathering valuable data that will enable you to continually improve task completion, quality, and project timelines. Here's what you will learn if you keep a record of your Scrums and regularly analyze that record:

  • How effective is each teammember at completing tasks: How fast do they complete tasks? How often have blocks that they could have solved themselves? etc.
  • Quantitative information to report employee performance back to your customer, especially when managing members of their staff
  • Compare estimated time needed for project tasks/milestones to actual time, and determine trends or conditions that might have contributed to the discrepancy
  • Knowing the actual time it is taking to complete tasks, you will be able to accurately forecast timelines in the future

The ability to accurately forecast project timelines is extremely valuable. Imagine being able to answer your customer with simple exactitude why the current milestone in the project has taken longer than forecast, with an understanding of the trends or conditions that have led to the timeline and how you will address those issues.

Moreover, imagine if you could forecast accurate timelines for your project milestones. If you can accurately forecast your project's timelines, you can far more better forecast your project's costs. The value of being able to forecast a project's costs can hardly be overstated - if you can accurately forcasts costs, it will enable you to:

  1. Deliver your current program within budget
  2. Create more opportunities for profitability / reduce causes of loss in your program
  3. Accurately and competitively bid (& win) new programs

As you put together new bids, your understanding of your own costs will become more accurate - which in-turn enables you to offer more competitive pricing. The better you understand operations on the day-to-day scale, the less risk you take when creating and pricing a proposal on the large scale, and at this point it becomes one big step easier to win bids.

Finally, here are some high level questions to answer as project manager (and these are the exact questions you can use to fill out your Weekly Status Report):

  • Are we on-track overall?
  • If not, can we start to mitigate some of the lag or reduce the overall time it takes?
  • How does the next project milestone fit into the bigger picture, and what would need to happen for us to be on-track and on-time based on our initial estimates?

To summarize, this best practice for program managers--Communicate--is simply using a form of Scrum to enable your team to effectively and systematically communicate with one another and with your customer, keeping projects on time and moving forward.

This is a practice well worth doing, and to make it easy for you, we're offering a free Scrum Update Template. Simply ask your team to send you their weekly status in an email every Friday by noon. You get a summary of their Scrum for the week (written by them), which you can then combine. With all of your team's notes put together, 75% of your weekly deliverable is accurate and done. You will have a great record to analyze and to also create your Weekly Status Report.

Download the free Weekly Scrum Update Template here:

Topics: project management best practices

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