How To Manage Projects


You have the whole world at your fingertips, and if you want, you can get people to help you get work done, build systems and grow your business. The challenge is to be clear and manage projects with the desired outcomes articulated and identified.

It can sound obvious, but there are plenty of stories of unmet expectations and missed delivery. It’s why you can’t just hand off. You have to lead the whole way when you want a project meeting expectations.

Here are strategies to help you get projects done without the heartache:

  1. Define the requirements. Too many times, projects get started without true clarity. Spend the most energy being clear with the outcomes. Outline clearly what your software is supposed to do, how your machine is supposed to perform or your people are supposed to collaborate.
  2. Get the How. For those that are to deliver what you want, ask what their approach and strategy will be. Break down the work into a checklist of tasks that help you see the solution path. Set milestones for when you want updates. This way you have a feel for the progress.
  3. Review often. Daily updates are helpful to ensure you don’t get off track with expectations. You don’t have to micromanage. You just want to understand if there are any obstacles that would miss expectations, deadlines or the anticipated solution.
  4. Test the solution. When you have your project delivered, there are likely some nuances or gaps to how your solution will work in real life. Test quickly, give feedback and iterate.

If you work with employees or freelancers, they are executing based on the clarity and leadership you provide. I always assume that what’s in my head is not what’s in someone else’s head. So, the vigilance to keep communication flowing is critical. It keeps you from creating wasteful work.

The bigger the project, the more clarity has to be created and clarity is not free. It’s part of the hard work of getting things created in the real world.

Shopping the Talent Store


These remarkable times truly do afford anyone with an idea the opportunity to build something quickly and cheaply. The connected economy makes it easy to put together a site, market, drive sales, fulfill promises and ship products and services.

The missing ingredient for success is less about the resources and tools available and much more about courage. If you have the fortitude to start, build and see your idea through, you can get going. It certainly will not be without failures along the way. It will simply be hard. But it will be much easier to start or build something than your parents and grandparents could even conceive.

We have platforms today which allow us to shop  for sellers. And those that have talent from all corners of the globe can simply become a part of your project or idea with simple search on those platforms.

You can put a project such as building a website or programming a new software out on Upwork and you will get immediate engagement from highly talented, low-cost technical resources quickly.

You can put a job on and have resumes in your hands fast.

You can search on LinkedIn or post a job and your elaborately connected world of business professionals will approach you for your offerings.

The talent store is abundant, accessible and convenient. Your job is to be:

  • Clear. Know what you want and what results/expectations are required.
  • Cordial. Networking with consideration and professionalism. It’s a small world and you tend to bump into people repeatedly.
  • Compensatory. Pay a competitive, fair price. Overly negotiating can backfire. Do you want someone working for you with a sour taste in their mouth. Make good deals.

Shopping the talent store can move your ideas and projects forward with much leverage. However, though the ease of accessing talent is unprecedented, your leadership and people skills become critical. You have to manage interactions, work and results. Thus, when you bring people into your projects, you have to know what you want, where you are headed and how to measure success along the way. Your skills as a manager become critical to success.

I am a big fan of modularity. I like building teams, finding talent and getting systems, processes and people aligned for different projects. That last part, the people, is always tricky because you can mess up relationships and projects if you are not careful.

When you shop, be wise, insightful and deliberate. I always say, go fast with systems; go slow with people.

Today, more than ever, the approach applies. Build amazing businesses and ventures with the abundant talent out there. Just be sure your approach has some kind of method that sets you up for success and mitigates the risk.

Building the Boring Business


I enjoy drama, action and suspense when I watch a movie to relax and let my mind and emotions wander. However, I don’t find heroics and craziness entertaining or useful in business. In fact, my goal with entrepreneurs and business owners is to build a boring business based on systems, processes and execution that produces consistent cash flow.

That sounds reasonable, but often it goes against the programming and nature of the owner operators that believe charisma and heroics has won the day. I get it. We like superheroes and long to be one.

Emergencies pop up and uncertainty continually deals a hand here and there. When I see volatility or repeatable drama, then my conclusion is that something foundational is not working.

If you ever have gone on factory tours of large manufacturers of cars, electronics or packaged goods, you don’t see chaos and frenetic energy. You see systems that drive output. The systems are there to drive towards a singular result. It’s a boring business and it works to get goods into the hands of customers. The goal is making the customer happy and drive revenue.

But well-run businesses do not simply appear overnight. There’s thought around how materials, information and talent flow. Systems work well with focused results by removing the crises, variables and gotcha’s that snare lesser performing operations.

The boring business happens because of strong leadership and a commitment to not repeat insanity from continual failure. This not only includes project management or operations but in how the business cares about and manages client relationships, grows revenue via a continuous pipeline and continually innovates. These are all parts of a business that can be creatively systematized. The energy and creativity for a boring business can be put in the design and execution of processes that stay ahead of chaos.

Sure, you can spend time getting lost in details and putting out daily fires. But when you step back and take a look at anything that repeatedly pops up and slows down the main event – making your customer happy – have you really solved the root problem of poor systems? Is a lack of commitment to process simply leaving the door open for problems later?

Perhaps team members need regular training and testing of their knowledge and skills. Or you may need a knowledge base and repository to keep information so you don’t have to keep reminding people how business should be done.

In many cases, you might simply need to notice the repeatability and frequency of problems. Do you like heroics simply because it appeals to the ego or makes you feel like you are working on something?

I like drama to stay at the box office or in my recreational fun going up or down mountains. When it’s completely possible to keep a business focused on delivering value and driving revenue, no thanks. Give me the boring business instead and leave the adventures for other parts of life where it belongs. #nodrama

Building Mobile Workforce Strategies

mobile workforce speed

Keyboards are faster than thumbs (assuming you can type).

And collaboration is easier with a team, customers and vendors if you can push out information with a keyboard.

But business is human, at least for now. We are still out there selling to new prospects and servicing existing accounts. And that computer in our pocket works on the speed of thumbs. Mobile workers need to be tied into the flow of team resources while making decisions, and actions happen out in the field.

Organizations that want to keep the flow of collaboration and results have to think through the workflow of their mobile workforce. And while some team members may be behind a keyboard all day, some are part-timers at a desk. When off to business meetings, presentations and travel, that mobile aspect should be designed so everyone can stay continuous in their execution.

Here are some strategies to consider implementing so your sales and service remain at a high level of collaboration without hiccups:

1. Cover Your Apps.

There are myriad options for CRM, ERP and support desk systems. Be sure to evaluate the iPhone and Android apps for a platform and how data records are accessed and used in addition to the web browser experience.

Your cloud computing environment extends beyond the full-blown keyboard experience. Try out the thumb experience and how simple things feel to assign tasks and search for a specific contact record.

2. Work Through Handoff Scenarios

Someone at the office depends on someone in the field. Identify the handoff points and what information has to flow. Work for a day with your mobile team and desk workers side-by-side. Get them on the same page collaborating on data and information.

Design the process, and then move the simulation into the field to see if the the collaboration works just as smoothly.

3. Center Mobile Work on Text and Email

A mobile worker has the inconveniences of moving around and not seeing the entire interface. Make it simple by designing business practices that center their actions on texting and email. If your team can take inputs into a system by text, you can set up automation to input that information into the right places.

Using a system like Google Voice to manage inbound texts and even applying an API program to push information into the right systems can be a simple workflow to make collaboration easy and fluid.

4. Keep Calendars Shared, Synced and Ready

Your mobile devices – iPhones and iPads – need to sync up via the cloud with your team calendaring system. This allows others to see availability and assist in setting up meetings.

Furthermore, home base workers can see where everyone is at. It can be a simple sales or service dispatching system that is real-time so all the moving pieces can be managed about where and when your mobile workforce should be.

5. Remove the Barriers

Ultimately, mobile workflows require a bit of design and intentionality to accommodate the limitations of smaller interfaces and the nature of moving around without the friction from information systems in mobile work life.

If you remove the barriers and make the mobile user’s experience simple for inputs and looking at the information they need while equipping your desk people with easy ways to collaborate, you can remain continuous in your efforts to drive sales and service your customers without a hiccup.

When you or your team are mobile, how are things working?

Chasing Quality

Quality does matter a great deal. But is there an end to how much you should deliver? Chasing quality has a cost in time and money. You are using someone else’s time and you are not able to fulfill other opportunities that would be revenue generating.

I think artists struggle with the boundaries. It’s not necessarily an issue of how much to give but rather when to stop.

The content may be good enough lest you miss a publishing deadline. The artwork could use more refinements but the client has not paid for it.

I guess the best question to be asking when dealing in project work is, “Who’s expectations are you meeting? Yours or the client’s?”

Part of being a great artist is that quality is the focus.

But, as Steve Jobs famously said, “Real artists ship.”

Making Remote Work Work

working remotely
No boundaries, just execution. From plantronicsgermany’s Flickr photostream.

Today, talent is wherever you find it when it comes to knowledge work. Many professionals are working remotely with people around the globe. Whether it’s IBM Global Services with thousands of team members working virtually together or a small business delivering website projects, the work can get done efficiently.

There are a lot of advantages of building remote work processes:

  • There is less frivolity and office politics
  • You can invest in the work more than the overhead
  • The focus is on data and results
  • You can change things up with much more ease

But building the right team, systems and processes have to still be part of the design. Yes, your team can simply use their iPhones and laptops to move goals. But there are still indispensable aspects that have to be injected:

Strong leadership. Someone has to own the success and failure of projects. The team can be highly collaborative and much flatter in nature and hierarchy, but you still need an owner to care for the loose ends and the big picture.

Frictionless systems. Your technology and workflow need to have few points of resistance. Team members should be able to get in and out of tools to access data, input information and see progress.

Clear goals. It can get ambiguous quickly when working in the trenches. There has to be a clear definition around success and a daily reporting on progress towards that goal. This keeps everyone’s mind around the context of their work towards the consolidated goal.

Collaboration. When you see team members cross-communicating, the problems are getting solved. The ball is moving. If there are silos, then your leadership has to drive collaboration. Opening people up helps keep a pulse on what is happening.

Getting work done can become extremely fun, focused and empowering if you can rely more on systems than heroics.

If you take a look at how you get results and deliver, consider where you can gain efficiency by creating remote work and building around talent rather than emphasizing perfect attendance in a physical locale. It may feel bold, but simply look around. Plenty of organizations have already proven the model.

What processes could you make more efficient with remote setups?

When Things Are Unclear

If I had to summarize my highest value to others, it’s the ability to create clarity out of an otherwise unclear situation. Just listening or mindmapping the parameters of a situation helps start the problem solving process. It brings issues to the table and organizes them for everyone to see.

I am not sure when it started, but having had years of working with people on their strengths, I realize that a lot of people’s abilities are innate. We each have intuitions that have been there for a long time. For some reason, I can navigate the weeds of ambiguity to get to answers. Many times, the answers have been a desperate search for a while. But having an outside perspective with clarity helps a great deal.

If I had to think about how that process works, I would say it starts with listening, observing and intaking. It’s such an important step which take s a lot of focus. I have to hear the details, the facts and the emotions. They all constitute the underlying issues. I look for the clues.

Then I think about the constraints. This takes a lot of probing. I believe anything is possible. But there are always limitations.

What are you willing to spend?

Are you willing to hire?

Are you willing to learn new ways of doing things?

Have you managed before?

These are all boundary conditions that define why certain things have not been done before. Usually, they are extremely important to what is feasible.

Once I have the problems I hear and the constraints, I move to solutions. Sometimes I move slowly depending on the complexity and politics of a situation. But usually, I’m there pretty quickly in my mind. It’s almost a quick zeroing in.

A lot of this is from collective knowledge over the years, the thousands of hours solving problems in the marketplace, trying out solutions and putting things in play in my own business.

Where there’s a lack of clarity, it’s a great opportunity to change the world for someone. We’re both hoping for relief and answers. It’s fun for me.

So where are things unclear these days for you?

If You Find Yourself in a Hole

Think before digging deeper. From a&nota's Flickr photostream.
Think before digging deeper. From a&nota’s Flickr photostream.

“The most important thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.” ~ Warren Buffett

Sometimes it’s really tough to stop doing what we are familiar with. I remember being in corporate life and the endless meetings that were scheduled throughout a week. Each meeting would play out like a bad script. The project manager had an assistant with all the details and a power trip. The team would be checked out and hoped the time would pass quickly.

We updated statuses and I can remember the predictability of people’s responses. It felt like a relentless cycle that was more about the comfort of activity than it was about getting results.

That was a culture of death by meetings. I am sure many of you can relate. The problem was less about the fact that the meetings were not working well and much more about Buffett’s quote. We kept digging a hole with our time and productivity and just kept on digging.

Ultimately, it takes some leadership to stop digging. It means that there has to be a blaring challenge to what is not working. It may mean a shift in culture, challenging someone’s ego or getting candid about reality.

There’s plenty of holes to be found. If the way you sell is not working, then stop selling that way and analyze why it is not working.

If you keep having people come and go in your company then stop hiring the same way. Try a different way of recruiting, training and incentivizing.

If your business is in a constant state of urgency, heroics and emergencies, then step back and demand a more serene reality. Stop reacting and start planning towards more sanity.

If you continue to go through the motions, then is it reasonable to expect a different outcome? No, you have to stop digging, look around and envision something completely different.

So, what’s not working? And why are you still digging?

Why Software Does Not Equal Success

software success from leadership and collaboration

We forget the way things were. It used to be painful to get software developed to run part of or all of our business operations. The cycles were long and the tools for developers were not as convenient.

When you bought software from a vendor, there would be six month to year long release cycles. You had to wait for that CD to come in the mail and then reluctantly upgrade. Not everyone did it, but if you had enough pain around bugs and lack of functionality then you went through the process.

Software was managed differently then. Fast forward to today and the ease of creating, distributing and maintaining software is a world apart. We use cloud computing where the internet is the computer. It’s easier for vendors to take an idea and make an app from it. You can try it out and they can continue to be upgraded as you put it through its paces.

The hard part is not avoiding the bugs. The difficulty is nailing that sweet spot of ease of use and business impact. Your workflow and your team’s execution come into play.

There’s plenty of software out there for us to access. In many ways, we are spoiled. But this does not necessarily translate into success. That part is very much a human endeavor.

When you decide to introduce a new system, people have to change. If the design and flow of the software is not well thought through, then there will be resistance. This can kill the adoption curve and thwart an otherwise great intention to increase productivity, collaboration or revenue.

Success still comes down to the leadership and strength of vision of a team’s managers. There has to be clarity of what has to happen and how it should happen.

Things don’t just happen on their own. They have to be defined and chiseled away at with determination and persistence. You can look closely at many businesses and see the failings of implementation and execution with very powerful software tools.

Whether it’s a CRM system, ERP tool or customer service tool, the success will lie in the integration of process, technology capability and skillful leadership. Take out that last point, and things can die on the vine quickly.

So, here’s one way to look at things. All the technology exists for you to be successful today. Someone has thought about your problem and has created a tool that can help.

Many of those tools can bend and be shaped for your business. Combine a few tools and your process can work fluidly.

But the success will come from seeing the problem clearly, working with people and leading. Tools don’t work on their own. If you don’t bring it all together well, then success will be elusive. Many times, it could take months to get the system working right. But don’t assume its the software. There’s too much proof of software working right in other businesses.

No, instead assume that the software is just the start. The hard work starts with being a system builder and leader. Nail that and you can interchange many different types of technology without issue, thus proving the point.

How To Build a Culture of Getting Things Done

Business alignment and project managementIt’s much easier to get things done on your own than trying to align a team of people. The reality is that people do not enjoy being micromanaged and most people don’t want to have to follow up.

So what is required when you need everyone on the same page and executing?

I have worked with many organizations and have found that culture is critical. Building the culture of expectations and execution does take time. It relies heavily on the commitment of your leadership and the talent that you have on your team.

But here are some things to focus on and ensure you integrate to build that get it done culture.

Make It About Leadership

One of the mistakes I see is trying to train everyone to collaborate and drive horizontal communications. This can be a beautiful picture in the mind, but in reality, people do better with change by following a strong leader.

Vertical accountability is much more efficient. Have a person that manages the project and drives everyone. Make them the center point of communications. Everyone should feel like they have to update this person. In turn, the project leader needs to have extreme vigilance. They should follow up with every task and ensure every to-do item is captured. They don’t have to be overbearing. They do need to set the tone that they are keeping accountability and expect results.

Over time, the dynamics will shift with the team as behaviors and expectations get rooted.

Keep It Minimal

It’s very easy to make simple things complicated. That’s what most dysfunctional teams and people do. If you are half committed to an idea, then don’t make it a project. If you have lost enthusiasm, then get rid of the project. Holding onto good things at the cost of the best things is a mistake you pay dearly for in lost time and opportunity.

This means seeking to trim the fat continually and ensuring what is live in your project system matters. That question is continually floating with changing realities and priorities.

Drive to Closure

The goal of a task is to get completed. The goal of a project is to close.

The project leader should be driving vigorously towards closing tasks and projects. This may mean communicating with the task owners whether they will deliver or get rid of it altogether.

Always Define the Next Step

“What is the next step?” should be a mantra your project manager is always asking. Then it needs to be captured as a specific task starting with a verb.

Create report on sales pipeline for next three months.

Develop new solution for project management process.

The important thing is to be concrete and eliminate the thinking for executing. You are setting up the task and avoiding any misunderstanding. This is a clean handoff and avoids ambiguity. A great project leader is able to continually translate concepts and ideas into concrete action.

It’s About Leadership

Ultimately, building a culture of getting things done is about leadership. It first starts with a strong, clear leader that helps others lead themselves over time. It beats training and trying to get people to collaborate too early.

Instead, you are inducing behaviors over time and reinforcing positive actions.

This comes from a guy who has managed thousands of projects and has seen what has or has not worked. There are plenty of great tools and systems out there. Ultimately, the people, culture and leadership will be the larger weighting factors to long-term success.