Project Planning, Scheduling & Control–Chapter 17: Managing Multiple Projects


In this chapter, Dr. James Lewis talks about how to deal with the increased level of complexity that is involved in trying to manage multiple projects at once.

His informal surveys of project managers reveal that the typical project manager is trying to deal with four to six projects simultaneously.

1.  Problems in Managing Multiple Projects

First of all, what are some of the typical problems project managers face when trying to manage multiple projects?

a.  Meetings

A typical project will require at least two hours of meeting time every week.   If you tried to manage 20 projects, therefore, your entire 40-hour work week would be taken up with meetings!     Cutting out meetings, however, is counterproductive, because it will cause you to spend more time dealing with the problems that occur because of the lack of coordination caused by the skipped meetings.

b.  Being a Working Project Manager

Many corporations have the project manager doing some of the project work, as well as managing the project.   This is, according to Dr. Lewis, a big mistake.   Why?   Because if there is a conflict between managing and doing the work, the work always takes priority, which means that managing will suffer.

c.  Multitasking

The prevalent myth in the work world today is that multitasking is the best way to get productive work out of people.  In reality, multitasking reduces productivity because it causes a high level of “setup time”, that is, the amount of time it takes to get up to speed after switching tasks.

d.  Priority

If a project manager’s supervisor doesn’t assign priorities between the multiple projects that project manager is assigned to manage, then they will be worked on haphazardly.   The projects need to be assigned priority, and the tasks within each project need to be assigned priority.   If a project manager’s supervisor hasn’t done his or her homework by assigning priorities, the project manager should be proactive and come up with his or her own list of priorities.   These should be then send it the supervisor for approval.   Even if the supervisor disapproves of the ranking given by the project manager, at least the issue will be addressed and the project manager will finally know what the priority is as conceived by the supervisor.  

Remember, a person can be an efficient time manager and yet not be effective.   Efficient means doing things right (preferably the first time), but it is even more important to be effective, which means doing the right thing.

e.  Planning

If you are managing multiple projects, each projects must have its own plan.    That will allow you, once you decide which priorities your projects have, which projects will get the resources first, and which projects may have to have certain tasks delayed because they are not as high in priority.

2.  Factors Effecting The Maximum Number of Effective Projects

a.   Complexity

The more complex the project, the fewer that can be done by a single project manager.

b.  Number of project team members

The more team members on a project, the fewer such projects can be done by a single project manager.

c.  Working project management vs. dedicated project management

The more projects a project manager is doing project work for in addition to his or her project management duties, the fewer such projects that can be done by a single project manager.    Of course, Dr. Lewis recommends against a project manager doing project work in addition to managing that same project.  

d.  PMO

When there are shared resources, there needs to be an agreement about priorities between projects, otherwise there will be conflicts between project managers, or in a matrix environment, between functional managers and project managers. The existence of a PMO may help coordinate these resource issues for projects.

e.   Geographical scope of project

A global project will require a lot more communicating with team members than local projects.

f.  Authority level of project manager

A project manager that is given little authority and who has a weak role will have to spend a lot of time getting the decisions backed up by management.    If management takes the time to set up the project manager with sufficient authority to handle most decisions on his or her own (up to a pre-determined authority level), then the project manager will be able to handle more projects without having to get “second opinions” on decisions effecting the project.

g.  Mental flexibility

What is your personal level of flexibility?   Those with higher flexibility will be able to cope more easily with switching from task to task.

NOTE:  On a personal level, I have noticed that the online app called Lumosity does help increase your brain performance index in several areas, including flexibility.    If you are a project manager, I recommend getting this app and using it on a daily basis to increase your flexibility, as well as problem-solving ability, etc.

h.  Administrative assistance

Does the project manager have a project coordinator, project expediter, or dedicated scheduler to handle the administrative aspects of project management?   Dr. James Lewis recommends this, because the project manager should place greater emphasis on the people skills needed to manage the project rather than trying to micromanage the details.   Having these two roles of leadership vs. administration separated into different people will make it possible for the project manager to handle more projects effectively.

i.  Organizational structure

In a matrix environment, where that person has authority over a project but not only individual project members, is going to take longer to deal with issues that a person who DOES have that authority, such as a functional manager.    The reason is because the project manager will have to use influence rather than direct authority to get many things done, and will have to negotiate for resources with the functional managers.    Those in a matrix organization will not be able to handle as many projects as those in a projectized organization.

One last piece of advice from Dr. Lewis is that, if you are managing multiple projects, you need to capture how much time you are spending on each project.   This will allow you see how much of your “time budget” is being spent by each project.

 

Project Planning, Scheduling & Control–Chapter 16: Closing Out the Project


Dr. James Lewis does not consider a project complete until a final lessons-learned review has been conducted and documented.  There are two kinds of organizations–those that are getting better and those that are dying.  Or as Woody Allen once said in Annie Hall, “A relationship, I think, is like a shark.  It has to constantly move forward or it dies.  I think what we’ve got on our hands is … a dead shark.”

Chapter 13 covered the subject of various types of project reviews, including lessons learned reviews at the end of the project.   The purpose of this chapter is to reiterate the importance of this type of project review, and to go over the other formalities of project closure that are very important for the continued growth of an organization.

1.  Administrative Closure

Here’s a summary of the various types of administrative closure that need to be done at the end of a project.

  • Collection and archiving of all project documents (final costs, schedule data, risk register, issue log, etc.).
  • Update records and product specifications to reflect what was actually achieved, so that this can be compared to the specifications in the original plan.
  • Revising employee records to reflect the skills they developed or enhanced during the project–this will help the organization anticipate future training needs.
  • Preparation of a final project report that summarizes the history of the project and describes the final product of the project.
  • Final lessons-learned review conducted with all stakeholders (not just with members of the project team)

2.  Lessons-Learned Review

As described in Chapter 13, the lessons-learned review needs to be completed with all team members present, but it should not be limited in its scope to all team members:   shareholders need to be interviewed as well.

Knowing what has not worked is obviously important because the organization won’t repeat mistakes in the future that were made during the project.    But it is equally important to know what has worked, so that these “best practices” can be replicated in the future as well.

3.  Personnel issues

Since projects are temporary endeavors, there may be apprehension on the part of some team members as to what their future with the organization will be, if any.   Project managers should do whatever they can to protect the jobs of team members and let them know that their jobs are secure.   In a matrix organization, where the hiring and firing of employees is under the control of the functional manager, and not the project manager, there is only so much the project manager can do.

There may be strong feelings associated with disbanding project teams, as strong as the feelings generated by the sense of camaraderie that has developed during the project itself.    The project manager should try to manage not just the paperwork, but the emotions involved with the end of a project.    True project closure involves emotional closure as well.

Integral Life Practice–Chapter 2: What is Integral Life Practice?


This is the second in a series of 10 posts, each covering a chapter of the book Integral Life Practice, which is authored by Ken Wilber, Terry Pattern, Adam Leonard, and Marco Morelli.    After having completed a course on Integral Theory in the latter part of 2013, I wanted to start 2014 with attention to taking that theory and putting into practice in my daily life.

To that end, I am going through the book Integral Life Practice so I can introduce others to the concept of creating your own Integral Life Practice matrix, which will contain practices in the core modules of

  • Body
  • Mind
  • Spirit, and
  • Shadow (the psyche)

Besides the core modules, there are other optional modules that are available, such as

  • Integral Ethics
  • Integral  Yoga
  • Integral Work
  • Integral Parenting
  • Integral Relationships
  • Integral Communication

Before discussing the contents of the core modules, I want to get to two questions that the first two chapters ask:   Why and What?

In chapter 1, I summarized the chapter that discusses the reasons why you might want to do Integral Life Practice.   In this chapter, chapter 2, I summarize the chapter that discusses what exactly Integral Life Practice entails by listing some adjectives that describe it.

1.   Radically inclusive

The “Integral” part of Integral Life Practice means that it is radically inclusive:   it includes the various insights that come from ancient spiritual traditions, modern science, developmental psychology, philosophy and other traditions.    Sometimes this conceptual map is described by AQAL, which is short for integral theory, which covers “all quadrants, all lines”.    The details of this will be covered in chapter 5 on the Mind Module.   Simply put, it means that it incorporates all perspectives, and includes all lines of development.

2.  Intuitive

Integral theory is a map of consciousness, and integral life practice helps you map the terrain of your own awareness.

3.  Modular

Integral life practice has different modules which relate to specific parts of your being:   your body, your mind, your spirit, or your psyche (also known as the shadow module).

4.  Scalable

Integral life practice allows you to adopt practices that fit into your schedule, so that you can do it whether you have an hour or as little as 10 minutes on any given day to complete your practice.

5.  Customizable

Integral life practice isn’t a rigid, “one size fits all” structure, but rather it allows you create a flexible space in which you can choose those practices which have the most significance for you.

6.  Distilled

Many practices are called Gold Star Practices, because they give you what is most essential in any given module without taking a lot of time.   These are “distilled” or “condensed” practices, which is why they are given the name Gold Star Practices.

7.  Synergistic

By doing practices in various modules, you will find that the gains in one module actually accelerate gains in the others.    Don’t ask yourself if you have enough time to do practices in all four core modules; you don’t have time NOT to do practices all four!

8.  Post-Metaphysical

Rather than just trying to develop your consciousness and gain perspective through the study of theory, Integral Life Practice helps you develop your consciousness by enacting different perspectives.

In sum, Integral Life Practice will allow your to bring a sense of awareness, care, and presence to every moment of your life.

The Consumer Goods Industry in 2014–an EIU webinar


On Wednesday, January 15, 2014, the Economist Intelligence Unit hosted the first in a series of six webinars on Industries in 2014.  This first webinar is on the consumer goods industry, and was presented from London by John Copestake, the Retail & Consumer Goods Editor at EIU.

1.  INDUSTRY SURVEY

The EIU looked ahead at various industries in 2014 using a combination of forecast data, a survey of industry professionals, and insights from industry analysts.  Global aggregates allowed EIU to forecast sales growth in 2014.  The survey was done by asking 647 industry executives about various issues in the industry.

Respondents to EIU’s global survey were largely optimistic for the year ahead, although optimism was largely reserved for the specific company they represented.  Expectations for the retail and consumer goods industry and the global economy as a whole were both more muted.  This is cautious optimism rather than a “ringing endorsement.”  Note that as many as quarter of the respondents thought that, rather than improving, that conditions were worsening for the consumer goods sector, which is line with the sentiment the respondents expressed regarding the global economy.

Expectations for 2014 Better Same Worse
For your company 50.0% 35.3% 14.7%
For the retail and consumer goods industry 32.4% 44.1% 23.5%
For the global economy 42.4% 36.4% 21.2%

2.  GROWTH RETURNS TO EUROPE

Europe in particular will swing from declining volume in 2013 (-1.0%) to modest growth in 2014 (about +0.2%).  Out of all the regions in the world (North America, Western Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, MENA, and transition economies), Latin America will record the strongest increase in growth from 2014, from 1.5% in 2013 to 4.0% in 2014.  There were two reasons for this:  in Latin America, there is a return to earlier trends for the entire region.  In addition, the fact that Brazil is hosting the World Cup will bring some one-off gains to that economy.  Asia will experience the highest growth but not a big increase from 2013, up to 4.5% from 4.2%.

In Europe, particular markets such as Greece will continue to see declines, but at least the declines will be of lesser magnitude than in 2013.

3.  CHINA & INDIA ADD UNCERTAINTY

In China fears of a slow down in demand have been compounded by campaigns against corruption, against conspicuous displays of wealth and by increased regulatory scrutiny.  China has been the subject of the rumor of slower growth for about a decade, but it looks like it is finally starting to happen.  There have been high-profile examples of Western firms facing regulatory pressures regarding issues of price fixing and food safety.  Foreign firms seem to be singled out, and so this has an effect on foreign investment.

When asked whether they think that slower growth and greater scrutiny on foreign firms will detract from China’s appeal in 2014, half of the respondents agreed with this statement (as opposed to 20.6% who disagreed, and 29.4% who neither agreed nor disagreed).  In the luxury goods market, those firms selling luxury goods are being streamlined; for example, Revlon will quit the market.

In India,  weaker consumer spending and ongoing uncertainty over multibrand foreign direct investment in retail have undermined opportunities.  Only TESCO has formally expressed interest in investing in India.  Many are waiting for the results of the election in May.

This has forced firms to revisit strategies.  Many firms are both slowing down investment in China and halting plans for India until the issue of foreign direct investment is FDI is resolved.  When asked whether elections and the resolution of concerns around FDI legislation would prompt significant inbound retail investment in 2014, 23.5% of the respondents agreed, 17.7% disagreed, and 58.8% neither agreed nor disagreed .

4.  BEST IN SHOW

The five individual countries showing the fastest growing retail markets in 2014 will be

  • Algeria (13.8%)
  • Azerbaijan (9.6%)
  • China (9.5%)
  • Vietnam (8.0%)
  • Thailand (7.6%)

Algeria and Azerbaijan are showing the fastest growing retail markets, but from a relatively small base.  We still expect China to be among the fastest growing retail markets in 2014.

Others set to experience fast growth will be smaller markets and in some cases, such as Algeria, will also have risk attached to opportunity based on political instability.

The presence of Vietnam and Thailand highlights the emergence of new Asian retail markets.  Asian countries are beginning to step out of the shadows of China and India.

5.  MIXED MARKET OPPORTUNITIES

Since much of the focus is on the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China), the EIU did a survey of 10 markets beyond the BRIC economies that had a mixture of developed and emerging markets.

The question was asked “Beyond China, Russia, India and China, in which three countries do you see the greatest opportunities for growth in 2014?”  The countries are listed in order of which received the total “votes” for either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choice for having the greatest growth opportunities in 2014.

  1st 2nd 3rd TOTAL
USA 9.1% 12.5% 8.0% 29.6%
Mexico 12.1% 6.3% 4.0% 22.4%
South Africa 6.1% 3.1% 0.0% 18.3%
Turkey 15.2% 3.1% 0.0% 18.3%
Germany 3.0% 6.3% 8.0% 17.3%
Indonesia 3.0% 3.1% 8.0% 14.2%
Vietnam 3.0% 6.3% 4.0% 13.3%
UAE 6.1% 3.1% 4.0% 13.2%
France 6.1% 0.0% 4.0% 10.1%

Uncertainty in China and India has allowed a number of smaller markets such as Indonesia and Vietnam to step out of the shadows.  Recovering confidence in Europe has also led to a renewal of interest in markets in countries such as Germany and France.  But there are some surprises, such as South Africa Turkey and the UAE, which will also experience high growth in the retail and consumer goods industry in the coming year.

6.  E-COMMERCE

What is driving this moderate growth in 2014?  For one, e-commerce will continue to be a game changer.  The movement of e-commerce into the mainstream will be matched in 2014 by the accelerated role of mobile devices. This is expected to come at the expense of brick and mortar stores, and closures of these will be inevitable.  However, traditional retailers remain valuable and will continue to evolve through technology and service-led innovations.

About three-quarters of the respondents felt that

  • Store closures in mature markets will continue in 2014 as E-commerce sales grow
  • M-commerce (purchasing via mobile phones) will be a strategic priority in 2014 as showrooming and smartphone penetration rises.

The only areas that will continue to thrive in terms of brick-and-mortar stores will be highly populated business centers in large urban areas.

However, when it came to the following statements, only about half of the respondents agreed.

  • Pure-play (online-only) retailers will make inroads into developing physical stores and showrooms in 2014
  • Consumer behavior will be more influenced by ethical and sustainability concerns in 2014

Regarding this last issue, although only about a half of respondents felt that consumer behavior would be influenced by ethical and sustainability concerns in 2014, this figure is up from previous years.  This is because as the global economy recovers, those issues regarding ethical and sustainability concerns that had taken a back seat to other issues of pricing that had higher priority will now start to become more prominent once again.

7.  FIVE TRENDS IN RETAIL AND CONSUMER GOODS INDUSTRY IN 2014

a.  Data data data!

The use of data will become a crucial factor influencing retail strategy and purchase decisions.  PayPal and Ebay are currently at the forefront of mobile data. This however could turn out to be a double-edged sword, as issues related to government spying  and cyberattacks (Target) became prominent in people’s attention.

b.  Shopping Experiences

Shopping experiences Bricks & Mortar will create retail experiences to drive footfall and maintain loyalty.  Mobile phones will be a big part of this, as those going to consumer electronics shows, for example, use app-based QR coding to get more information on products, and then use social  media to broadcast their experiences at those venues.   Showrooming is increasing, as stores like TESCO for example buy up cafes in order to allow people to experience leisure while they are shopping.   Luxury firms in particular are working to create a space conducive to increased sales.

c.  Personal services

Online sellers are ramping up services to compete with traditional retailers.  For brick-and-mortar stores this is crucial because it is one of the few things that they can use to distinguish themselves from online stores.

d.  Race to the doorstop

The race to the doorstep using anything, from drones to courier company acquisitions, continues apace as the reduction of delivery times are a crucial new battleground.  Obviously here brick-and-mortar stores have an advantage.  Amazon is buying smaller warehouse spaces closer to population centers in contrast to its earlier strategy of relying on out-of-town megasheds.   Ebay has bought up shuttles to outsource delivery to courier companies in order to reduce delivery to as little as 1 hour in some select areas.  Drones won’t appear in 2014, but will be in place by 2020.

e.  Social branding

The events in Bangladesh in 2013 have pushed such ethics back up the consumer agenda.  Last year, there were plenty of stories about the growing dangers of climate change, and there was a big focus on the factory collapse in Bangladesh.  This has always been an underlying trend.  In 2007, the credit crisis hit, and cost consciousness became key for the next few years.  Consumers have been slowly recovering income, however, and in 2014 they are looking again ethics so that they don’t compromise value for money.  The problem is that firms will have to meet these consumer demands without adding a price premium to their goods.  Before 2007, people were actually willing to pay more for ethically-branded goods, but now they are not willing to pay as much.  Companies will be focusing more on accentuating ethical claims in their media.

8.  QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

a.  Does the growth in Asian markets mean that it will remain the focus of FDI?

Yes.  India in contrast has a challenge in proposed FDI laws at the moment, so investment there will be put on hold until the outcome of the elections in May becomes clear.  There is still an appetite for investment in China, despite talk of slowdown.  The retrenchment in FDI is not a result of the rejection of BRIC countries as much as it is the result of investment coming back to home markets where there are finally signs of growth starting to occur.  In addition, there will be a lot more domestic demand from China and India.

b.  What insights could you give on the US retail and consumer goods market?

The US market is difficult to call.  There are a lot of mixed messages; it is relatively positive in terms of positive growth in the aggregate, but individual stores face a difficult operating environment.  There are huge losses:   Best Buy, Target, and WalMart are all facing difficulties.   There is a msmatch between profitability of retails companies and the state of the overall economy.  It is a tough operating environment although it is relatively stable.

c.  What can you say about the Japanese retail market?

Fiscal stimulus dubbed “Abeconomics”continued. Traditionally Japan has been a stagnant market with negative inflation.  Because of the sales tax increases that will take place in 2015 and 2016, the sales increase in 2014 that will occur in order to beat the looming sales tax increass may create a short-term inflationary spike.  It’s still highly profitable market, although growth is slow.  It makes a lot of money for those companies that have invested in Japan.

d.  What are the particular challenges in the Chinese retail market?

In China the problem is exposure to investment.  China is going to be the 3rd highest economy in 2014; it will overtake the US in 3 or 4 years to become the world’s largest.  Relative to its historical performance with double-digit growth, the current growth rate is perceived as slow performance.  Many investments are operating on slim margins, because they have previously been expecting double-digit growth.  It is a difficult operating environment:   increased regulatory scrutiny, changes in government policy, and more frequent media campaigns are all taking their toll on foreign companies.  Starbucks had recent problems, for example, because of their pricing policy.

e.  What are your thoughts about E-commerce regulations in India?

India FDI commerce regulations are still up in the air.  There is a greater appetite for e-commerce in India, but the outcome of the May elections will be crucial to this.

f.  What about M-commerce and S-commerce (social-media commerce)? 

Social media commerce (e.g. Facebook) is waiting to explode.  It has been predicted as a trend since 2011, but it still hasn’t materialized.  The highest growth rates in the Facebook user market are coming from Brazil and Latin America.  Pinterest in particular was a great traffic driver in 2013.  We haven’t seen, however, viable S-commerce growth.  It is used as a tool for consumer engagement and brand promotion, however.  The real strength of S-commerce has in terms of peer reviewing and direct sales.

The problem is about data—consumer goods firms may be reluctant to use Facebook, because proprietary data is owned by Facebook, not by the retail firm.

g.  What about the retail market in Russia?

Russia’s retail market is growing along with the economy at about 4.5%, but other elements are undermining that potential growth.  Just remember that Russian growth levels were in double-digit territory before the 2008 global slump.  There has been increased taxation of beer, vodka and tobacco.  Inflation undermines real growth.  A lot of Russia’s trading partners are in Western Europe which had been some of the hardest hit by the global slump after 2008.  However, as their economies start to grow, albeit slowly, Russia will experience some increase as a spillover effect.   trading partners are in W Europe which have been hard hit.  There is increased spending on malls in Russia.  The luxury goods market is being driven, as you would expect, by the oligarchs; it is the key market for luxury goods in the world outside China and Dubai.

h.  What about the retail market in Latin America?

There has been much emphasis on Brazil in recent years.  The real surprise has been Mexico; Mexico could well be the new Brazil in the region, due to its ties with the US through NAFTA.   Columbia and other Latin American markets are smaller than Mexico and Brazil, although there is significant growth in both Argentina and Venezuela.

i.  Are the megasheds in danger of disappearing?

Megasheds are here to stay; they are prevalent because they are in places where real estate prices are very cheap.  They are still within commuting distance from towns and centers, in a sort of wheel-and-spoke arrangements.    Level of demand is already there; Amazon sales were $50B last year.

The real development isn’t in megasheds; although they are developing in East Europe, they already exist elsewhere.  The megasheds however are being supplemented by smaller sheds that are closer.  Only in key markets around key cities will same-day delivery be a viable option in 2014.

j.  What about retail tourism in 2014?

Other than the obvious case of Brazil because of the World Cup, thebig growth driver is China, which overtook the US as the biggest destination of retail tourism spending.  The other world leaders in retail tourism are London, Paris, NY, and dedicated retail hubs like Dubai, Abu Dhabi.

Brazil is tangential.  It will experience a spike in sales, but those who are going to Brazil are visiting for the World Cup, not for shopping.  The trend to watch will be how London, Paris, NY, etc. address the Chinese propensity to spend abroad.  The demand for Mandarin speakers in tourist destinations is on the increase.  UK has a convoluted system to allow Chinese visitors, and so is in a disadvantage vis-à-vis Europe, where the visa system is simpler and they can go to several countries based on a single visa.   The UK will have to address this issue to remain competitive.

The other development related to the rise in Chinese retail tourism is the fact that many Chinese consumers are being served in countries in South East Asia like Vietnam and Thailand.

 

Project Planning, Scheduling and Control–Chapter 15: Managing and Facilitating Meetings


This blog post is part of a series that summarizes the 5th edition of the classic project manager’s handbook Project Planning, Scheduling & Control by James L. Lewis, Ph.D., the founder of the Lewis Institute, Inc.    I wanted to go through the book and take notes for my own use, but also in the hope that my summary would be of interest to both those already in the project management field or those who want to enter that field.

Section One of the book covers Introduction to Project Management, and contains Chapters 1 through 5.

Section Two of the book covers Project Definition, and contains Chapter 6.

Section Three of the book covers Project Planning, and contains Chapters 7 through 11.

Section Four of the book covers Execution and Control, and contains Chapters 12 and 13.

Section Five of this book covers Other Issues in Project Management, and contains Chapters 14 through 21.  This post covers chapter 15.

The essence of management is in how we run meetings–John Cleese

1.   MEETING OUTCOME OR PURPOSE

One of the best ways to improve the bottom-line performance of projects is to work on your meeting management.  The greatest sin of meeting management is to have a meeting when it is unnecessary.   Ask yourself:   can your purpose be achieved by

  • a casual stand-up meeting in some convenient location
  • a conference call
  • a net-meeting (basically a conference call plus an ability to share documents)

The second greatest sin of meeting management is to have a meeting without stating the desired outcome.   What is the purpose of the meeting?   It should be one of the following.

  • to give information
  • to get information
  • to solve a problem (including planning meetings)
  • to make a decision

Start the meeting by stating the purpose.   If someone introduces a topic that is not related to the purpose of the meeting, ask him or her to add that tangential topic to a list of topics that should be covered at a subsequent meeting.

2.   MEETING AGENDA

Here are some rules for a meeting agenda.

  • You should have an agenda for the meeting–it should be published beforehand, so that people that come to the meeting can be prepared to deal with those topics that concern them.  Do you best to keep the meetings short, effective (i.e., related to the purpose of the meeting), and effective.
  • Meetings devoted to problem-solving should have people getting up and moving around during the meeting, because this helps mental functioning and gaining new perspectives.
  • Don’t have the meeting run overtime.  
  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish–a one-hour meeting can cover only three of four agenda items (15 to 20 minutes for each one)
  • Meetings that last longer than an hour should have a 5- to 10-minute break about every 50 minutes.   This not only gives people the chance for a “bio-break”, but the chance for a physical and mental break will make them more productive when the meeting starts up again.
  • The meeting should be limited to one or at most two hours.    Any meeting that requires more time than this should be broken up into smaller, separate meetings.
  • Don’t try to combine purposes of a meeting–a meeting giving status updates should not try to solve any problems that are reported in those updates.   The problem should be solved in a separate, special meeting.
  • Set aside five minutes to review your meetings before you officially end them.  Conduct a simple lessons-learned review, where you ask two questions:  1) what did we do well in this meeting? 2) what do we want to do better at the next meeting?

3.  IMPORTANT ROLES IN MEETINGS

a.  Leader-Facilitator

Usually the person who calls a meeting serves as the leader-facilitator, but some groups rotate this role so that all project team members learn how to do it.   Every participant should act a “secondary facilitator” in the sense that every member takes partial responsibility for making the meeting a success.

The specific responsibilities are as follows:

i.  Set the agenda and time limit

See the points listed under MEETING AGENDA

ii.  Keep the meeting on track

See the points listed under MEETING AGENDA

iii.  Safeguard ideas

The leader should safeguard the ideas of every participant by not rejecting ideas until they have been fully expressed, and then making sure the group builds on them and compares them before choosing the best one.

iv.  Draw out reticent members

Introverts need time to process their thoughts inside themselves before expressing them, and they tend to be distracted by external chatter.   Extroverts have to talk through an idea in order to fully understand it.   If an extrovert is talking, the introvert can’t process the information; conversely, an extrovert needs to talk in order to process the information.   The danger is that by the time an introvert has decided what he or she thinks about an issue, the extrovert has already influenced the group to go in a certain direction.

Facilitators can counteract this tendency by drawing out the introverts or underparticipators first.   Another approach is the round-robin approach, where each individual gets to say what he or she thinks about an issue.

As a side note, in Japan, where the culture places a high value on seniority, it is a common practice to ask the younger members of the team first what they think so that they won’t be inhibited by the opinions of the older members of the group.

v.  Tone down overparticipators

You want to tone down the overly active individuals without dampening their enthusiasm.   You can say “I think I’m pretty clear about your position.  Let’s see what some of our other members have to say.”

In any case, you must control participation, especially when it comes to problem-solving sessions.  According to the research done by an industrial psychologist named Norman Maier, when groups consider several options for solving a problem, the first option that gets 15 more “votes” than the others will be adopted by the group about 85% of the time, regardless of its actual merits..   Overly vocal individuals in a group can push for their preferred option until the group caves in and accepts it, even though it may not be the best solution.

A meeting leader may have to insist that vocal members speak their opinion after the others are given a chance to speak, or in the alternate, hold the round-robin technique mentioned above, insuring that at least everybody gets an equal chance to contribute.

vi.  Control side conversations

If people are having a side conversation, ask them to take it outside.   Side conversations are disrespectful of other members, both those who are speaking and those who are trying to pay attention to what is being said.

vii.  Deal with seemingly irrelevant comments

If a person makes an irrelevant comment that is not apparently related to the purpose of the meeting, rather than simply dismissing it, you should say “I’m having trouble seeing how what you’re saying is in line with what we’re trying to achieve at the moment.  Can you help me make that connection?”   That gives the person the chance to restate his or her thought so that you can see the connection.    If the comment is irrelevant, it can added to a list of items that must be discussed in another meeting, sometimes called the Parking Lot.  

When people become upset in meetings, it is useless to try to proceed with an issue until their feelings have been addressed.   Until the underlying concerns which are causing those feelings have been expressed and actually heard by the rest of the group, it is a waste of time to continue.   Here’s how to deal with feelings that get expressed in meetings:

Feeling –> Facts –> Solutions

  • Ask everyone to take time out to think about what the issue means to them.
  • Have each person summarize his feelings.
  • Honor those feelings.
  • Make sure that everyone actively listens to the feelings.   Restate what the speaker said by paraphrasing it.  This covers the substance of the person’s statement but captures his feelings as well.
  • Then you can proceed with the issues of addressing the underlying concerns.

viii.  Be similar to a conductor

As the conductor of an orchestra, you do not have to know how to play each and every instrument.   You do have to be knowledgeable about music theory, so you can express what you want to the group, and so that you will understand what the members of the group are trying to express.

In a similar way, as the leader-facilitator of the meeting, you do not have to be the expert, but you have to know enough to be able to get the experts in the group to work together towards a solution to the problem at hand.

b.  The Scribe

Someone must take notes as the meeting progresses so that the meeting minutes can be developed later on, and so that people can backtrack through the meeting to remember points that were made earlier.   This should be done on a flipchart so that everyone can see the notes.   This role should also be rotated.

c.  The Timekeeper

All agenda times are estimates of how long it will take to process each item.  The timekeeper must let the group know when the assigned time has been exceeded, and the group must decide whether to reschedule the item, push other items off the list and onto the Parking Lot for a future meeting, or extend the meeting.

4.  GUIDELINES FOR PROJECT MEETINGS

TYPE OF MEETING STATUS DESIGN PROCESS

(lessons-learned)

Purpose Review schedule, cost, performance, scope, and stakeholder expectations Technical progress Learn from success and failure to correct future performance
Focus Are we on target?

Are stakeholder expectations being met?

Is technical progress acceptable

Is the product manufacturable?

What have we done well?

What do we want to do better in the future?

Frequency Weekly or small projects; monthly or long-term jobs Major milestones Major milestones or every three months, whichever comes first
Composition Core team members; senior managers as appropriate; functional managers who provide project resources Core team members; marketing representative, design manager, manufacturing representative All team members; key stakeholders

5.  MORE POINTERS FOR STATUS MEETINGS

a.  The purpose of these meetings is to share information with everyone about the status of a project.

b.  Stoplight reporting is a simple way to show status:

  • Green means that everything is fine
  • Yellow means that a problem is developing
  • Red means that the problem is fully developed

c.  Numerical status data is available should it be needed; but focus on using stoplight reporting (see paragraph b above) to make the review as simple as possible.

Project Planning, Process & Control–Chapter 14: Improving Project Processes


This blog post is part of a series that summarizes the 5th edition of the classic project manager’s handbook Project Planning, Scheduling & Control by James L. Lewis, Ph.D., the founder of the Lewis Institute, Inc.    I wanted to go through the book and take notes for my own use, but also in the hope that my summary would be of interest to both those already in the project management field or those who want to enter that field.

Section One of the book covers Introduction to Project Management, and contains Chapters 1 through 5.

Section Two of the book covers Project Definition, and contains Chapter 6.

Section Three of the book covers Project Planning, and contains Chapters 7 through 11.

Section Four of the book covers Execution and Control, and contains Chapters 12 and 13.

Section Five of this book covers Other Issues in Project Management, and contains Chapters 14 through 21.  This post covers chapter 14.

TO BE CONTINUED

Project Planning, Process & Control–Chapter 13: Conducting Project Reviews


This blog post is part of a series that summarizes the 5th edition of the classic project manager’s handbook Project Planning, Scheduling & Control by James L. Lewis, Ph.D., the founder of the Lewis Institute, Inc.    I wanted to go through the book and take notes for my own use, but also in the hope that my summary would be of interest to both those already in the project management field or those who want to enter that field.

Section One of the book covers Introduction to Project Management, and contains Chapters 1 through 5.

Section Two of the book covers Project Definition, and contains Chapter 6.

Section Three of the book covers Project Planning, and contains Chapters 7 through 11.

Section Four of the book covers Execution and Control, and contains Chapters 12 and 13.    This post covers chapter 13.

TO BE CONTINUED

Project Planning, Scheduling & Control–Chapter 12: Project Control


This blog post is part of a series that summarizes the 5th edition of the classic project manager’s handbook Project Planning, Scheduling & Control by James L. Lewis, Ph.D., the founder of the Lewis Institute, Inc.    I wanted to go through the book and take notes for my own use, but also in the hope that my summary would be of interest to both those already in the project management field or those who want to enter that field.

Section One of the book covers Introduction to Project Management, and contains Chapters 1 through 5.

Section Two of the book covers Project Definition, and contains Chapter 6.

Section Three of the book covers Project Planning, and contains Chapters 7 through 11.

Section Four of the book covers Execution and Control, and contains Chapters 12 and 13.    This post covers chapter 12.

TO BE CONTINUED

Project Planning, Scheduling & Control–Chapter 11: Managing Risks


This blog post is part of a series that summarizes the 5th edition of the classic project manager’s handbook Project Planning, Scheduling & Control by James L. Lewis, Ph.D., the founder of the Lewis Institute, Inc.    I wanted to go through the book and take notes for my own use, but also in the hope that my summary would be of interest to both those already in the project management field or those who want to enter that field.

Section One of the book covers Introduction to Project Management, and contains Chapters 1 through 5.

Section Two of the book covers Project Definition, and contains Chapter 6.

Section Three of the book covers Project Planning, and contains 7 through 11.   This post covers chapter 11, the final chapter of this section.

TO BE CONTINUED

Integral Life Practice–Chapter 1: Why Practice?


In the last weeks of 2013, I posted on Sunday a series of posts on Integral Theory based on the Essential Integral course from the Integral Institute.    This Sunday, I am starting a series of posts on Integral Life Practice.    I hope you will continue on this journey with me by reading this series of posts.

Why do this series of posts?   Because learning about theory is one thing, practicing it is another.   Also, I have been doing Integral Life Practice for the past few years and I know that it has been of tremendous benefit to me.    I want to pass on that benefit to those who may read my blog.

In a single phrase, Integral Life Practice is balanced growth, making sure that you engage in practices that improve all aspects of your being:   your body, your mind, your psyche, and your spirit.    Doing these practices creates a “cross training” that accelerates growth in all of these dimensions.

The practices come from a variety of sources:

  1. Premodern practices–derived from the world’s great wisdom traditions, including meditation practices
  2. Modern practices–derived from scientific studies of human growth and potential
  3. Postmodern practices–derived from a pluralistic and multicultural map of the human condition

The reason for wanting to develop or grow in the first place vary from person to person.   These may include such motivations as:

  • training for physical excellence, or to compete in sports
  • disciplining your mind and emotions for peak performance in business
  • deepening an already existing practice in yoga and/or meditation
  • exploring yourself psychologically, including facing your own shadow or unconscious
  • yearning for greater understanding through study and contemplation
  • devoting yourself to God by being of service to others

All of these are valid reasons, and in fact many of these can co-exist!

But the importance of practice is also to be found in the context of the word “practice”, which implies a repeated occurrence.    You can have a peak experience which gives you a temporary illumination.   Many people go to weekend workshops or retreats in order to gain such a peak experience.   The problem with all such experiences is–they fade.   You go back into the real world, face real problems, and the “peak” promptly dissolves in the rush of everyday experience.    This can sometimes give people a letdown.

What is the solution?   Integral Life Practice!   You see, a permanent growth in your consciousness can only come by repeated practice, not through “one-weekend wonders”.    The idea of entering into an Integral Life Practice isn’t as exciting as the promise of a weekend workshop that will promise to change your life.    However, the permanent gains you will experience are a lot more assured by this method.

I’m not saying don’t go on any such weekend workshops or retreats, because they may give you valuable inspiration and/or insights.    But if you want something that will elevate your everyday experience to match that weekend epiphany, then I recommend Integral Life Practice.

Having answered the question “Why?”, the next post a week from now will answer the question “What is Integral Life Practice?”