How To Manage Projects

collaborating.jpg

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.

Managing Projects with Speed and Clarity

speedclarity.jpg

It is truly dizzying to work in the connected economy. Information is swirling and so easy to create, distribute and push around.

Most people did not go to classes on how to do project work or collaborate like a master. No, the world simply moves and we self-select in our roles, standards and work.

If we like a certain environment we can quickly move there. If we don’t like certain people, we can simply stop working with them. If an opportunity comes along, we can act or miss it based on our responsiveness.

Speed and clarity make you attractive. We are all in the service business and you have a personal brand whether it’s with customers, partners or bosses. Your ability to manage projects and provide world-class service makes you someone to either work with or avoid depending on how you provide service.

Most people are in chaos. They haven’t given thought to their approach to knowledge work, or they may not simply care.

Assuming you do care about personal growth, productivity and being valuable to others, here are a few strategies to manage projects in your world with speed and clarity:

  • Keep lists. Lists are simple, tried and true. They are holding places to organize thoughts into specific categories and actions. They get you ready for taking action. I like using Gmail Tasks.
  • Delete. The best way to complete a project is to simply delete it. At the beginning of each day, take a look at your lists. Your priorities are continually changing. What may have been important may not be that vital anymore. Simple delete it and move on. It’s a quick way to refocus priorities and get you ready towards executing on what matters now.
  • Delegate. We live in a division of labor economy. This amazing leverage allows you to let people who are more efficient than you help you to manage your load and get results. While there are myriad projects you can engage, if you are trying to get results, it’s better to partner with experts. The goal is not to see how many skills you can gain. It is to get the largest results with minimum effort and cost.
  • Focus. Many times you have to block out time for the critical project work that requires deep thinking and engagement. Put those in your calendar. Use early mornings to get the big important work done. When you are low in energy, knock out the lesser tasks. They still have to get done as well. It’s important to know your context, energy and rhythms to get things done consistently.
  • Push. I like to open loops on projects I want to get movement on. This can be starting a discussion, setting a far off meeting date, starting a reading file, or sending a quick email. If a project is worthwhile it will gain momentum and stick. Opening loops with people helps to develop an idea or initiative.

Most projects simply don’t matter. They don’t have the power to dramatically move the needle towards your goals. When you are inundated with information and requests that never stop, you can lose clarity quickly. Having a simple, focused methodology you can use in the trenches goes a long way towards getting results. And, ultimately, that is why you engage in projects in the first place.

Sure, you can play it loose. But, if you don’t prioritize speed and clarity, you miss so many opportunities, many of which you may not even be aware of.

Shopping the Talent Store

talent.jpg

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 indeed.com 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

easybusiness.jpg

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

One Problem Two Solutions

twosolutions.jpg

If you are a business owner or manager, you have the ongoing challenge of solving daily problems with your team. Inevitably, people will bring problems to you. And how you handle those requests becomes a signal to the people on your team of what to expect. What you communicate will be one of two items:

  1. I will solve your problems
  2. You can solve your own problems

The former is a hero mentality. You become the choke point to the endless issues surrounding your business.

The latter is empowerment and coaching. You are communicating to your team members that they are fully capable of solving their own problems. This second option scales nicely. But it does take consistency in how you communicate your expectations. So, consider this strategy when people bring problems:

  1. Listen to the person carefully with full attention.
  2. Ask them for 2 solutions that they can think of.
  3. Empower them to go and execute their solutions.
  4. Repeat.

Over time, people will realize that they have to do more thinking before they approach you instead of leaving you to own the problem and burden of doing the thinking for them. You are, in effect, creating a smarter team that does their due diligence and only the hardest problems will be surfaced.

One problem, two solutions. Put it on your office door or in your email signature.

Make a deal with your team members. Tell them up front how you handle problems by requesting that any issues brought in front of you will have the same request repeatedly.

In this way, you get the best ideas and encourage the hard work of creativity and thinking in others rather than simply build around your own charisma.

What do you think of using this strategy in your management practice?

Salesforce Customer Portals

With Salesforce.com, your team is managing information about your customers securely.  You collaborate on the information internally to facilitate sales, marketing and service to your customer base.  The information has great value, yet it relies heavily on you and your team to capture and input details about customer interactions.

Salesforce.com can be extended to be interactive with your customers via a secure customer portal.  This allows for your customers to manage information about themselves via a login and view of shared Salesforce.com information.

Managing Cases

The standard customer portal allows for Case record management via a self-service portal.  When this is set up within your Professional or Salesforce.com Enterprise Edition, users can login to a portal site hosted on your site.  They can create new Case records or manage existing records to see progress and resolution on their issues.  This is valuable for keeping a place that your customer can see historical and current issues with your company.  It provides great value to the business relationship.

Custom Portals

If you want to create more self-service for your customers, then a custom built portal would be required.  Other data objects and fields, either standard or custom, can be shared out.

Depending on your business processes, you may want to share out invoice and accounting information with a customer.  Or you may have project information that is being managed in Salesforce.com that you want to status a customer on and allow for self-service.  They can view current status or input comments to the current project information.

There are many possibilities.  The value-add depends on what is important in your business relationship with your customers and how it might also help increase productivity for your team.

There are likely opportunities which make sense for creating a portal for your customer with the rich information resident in your Salesforce.com system.  Look for the return-on-productivity or return-on-investment to design a customer portal.  Feel free to me on Salesforce Consulting if you would like help.

How would a customer portal be valuable for your business?

Communicate When You Can’t Deliver

We live in an imperfect world where problems are always abundant.  Things just don’t work out the way we envision.  There are always obstacles.  Software breaks.  People disappoint.  Systems fail.

I can accept the mishaps common in project work.  There are a lot of things that cannot be controlled, especially working with people and systems.  The art of getting things done and delivering takes leadership from everyone involved.  Ultimately, I am hired for my leadership to clarify the goal and how to get there.  Getting there in reality means overcoming continual obstacles.

When I am the customer, whether internally with my team, or with vendors, I have a major expectation that I believe is quite reasonable.  I expect communication.  If the schedule slips or there are problems, I need communication to help me make plans and adjust if I need to.

This is a problem today.  A lot of people check out.  Whether it is from a lack of character or courage, I truly don’t care.  It’s a lack of professionalism and courtesy to not communicate.  Communication is about respect.  You are thinking about the other person, not yourself.  You are thinking about their needs and helping them not only emotionally, but also make plans as well.

When you can’t deliver, you can always communicate.  This is as much of a service delivery product as any other part of the experience.  Here are some tips on how to communicate effectively when you can’t deliver:

  • Name The Problem.  The problems we face may be simple or highly technical.  Do the hard work of translating the issue into something meaningful and helping the customer understand what the problem is.  It shows you are deep into the issue and you understand it thoroughly.  It helps your customer take comfort that you know the issue and are pushing.
  • Say What You Have Done.  We relate to stories.  This is the middle part of a story.  You have a problem.  What have you done so far?  This frames context and allows your customer to appreciate the work put forth and that you care.
  • Present The Options.  Articulate what the choices for success are.  Should you continue?  Research?  Quit?  Help them understand the pros and cons of the options.  Do the homework.  Lead.
  • Set Direction.  Put some emotional skin  in the game and say, “If it were me, I would…”  Take a risk and put your stamp on it.  Or say that you are going to deliver by a certain date and communicate.  Set the next steps.
  • Apologize Sincerely.  If there was fault, admit it.  Speak plainly and say sorry.  Sincerity means you will make it right.  This can be a variety of ways.  Pay back in a way that makes sense.

I have used this approach multiple times because I take a lot of risk.  Take little risk and this is irrelevant.  Life is more controllable, but also small.

If you are going to go after things  and seek to delight customers, then your ability to communicate is just as important as your ability to deliver.  Develop this and watch your relationships and business grow.  The world is looking for what is real and authentic, not perfect.  Show you care and be professional.

How can this help you in your business?

3 Salesforce Project Management And Collaboration Tips

It is not uncommon for organizations to customize Salesforce.com for managing projects with their respective customers.  It seems these days that this is an increasingly frequent use case beyond the traditional requirements of using Salesforce for the sales process.  The ability to mold Salesforce.com to your business processes makes it attractive for enabling how your team gets things done both before and after the sale.

In our Salesforce consulting work, we often build requirements via a roadmap and implement custom project management that works for how a specific client does business.  The process often includes the design of a new custom data object which supports the workflow for a project management process.  Once this is set up, a team can now operate from one real-time system.

Here are 3 tips to help your project management process work inside Salesforce.com:

  1. Establish clear data relationships.  Your project management may be a continuation of an existing Opportunity record or it may be a new data object altogether.  The other relationships such as billable time, job costs and relationships need to be customized and related in a way that makes sense to the flow of how you manage projects.  Ensure it is easy to add new information and access how information is viewed to gain a quick grasp of projects.
  2. Ensure task sequencing.  Salesforce.com is a task-based system.  Each person on your team needs to set new tasks for themselves and others.  Once tasks are completed, they need to be closed as part of the activity history.  This keeps a record for yourselves and your customers on what has been done.  The litmus test is that any person should be able to open a project record and know what has been done and what is remaining.
  3. Use reporting for real-time management.  Your reports and dashboards should be set up to manage across all of your projects.  This will give you greater capacity for more projects as you can prioritize workload and monitor how projects are progressing.  Furthermore, your reports can be used to status customers on how their specific project is doing in weekly meetings that help them understand progress, budget and work quality.

With strong leadership and a well-designed system, your system is able to help your team collaborate effectively with greater productivity.  Everyone should be on the same page and moving in the same direction.

There are many other best practices, but focus on these items to further create effective systems in your business and customer experience.

How are you doing project management and what has been your experience with your systems? Feel free to comment below.

Salesforce Project Management Customization

Customizing Salesforce.com for project management allows you to extend your system to manage how you deliver your service and create a customer experience.  Marketing agencies requiring project management and service-based companies that require activity tracking and accountability can have specific requirements which differ from one company to the next.  Here are some customization approaches we have used in our Salesforce.com consulting which can be a framework for customizing your own system:

  1. Customize Subject field values.  Projects are based on tasks.  Use Salesforce.com tasks and keep these tasks associated with the data object you specify as the project record.  The subject field values should be the common tasks related to your projects for easy selection by users as well as easy reporting for measuring effort and progress.
  2. Create project stages.  Use picklist values which reflect various stages.  If you use the Opportunity record, it can be additional values added to the Stages field.  There should be reporting to capture a macro view of the project stages that your team is working.
  3. Set milestone dates.  Milestones can be handled by a custom date field or several if there are multiple milestones in your process.  You can also use Events as part of future Activities and assign these to users.  The way you set this up depends on your overall process and how people will be held accountable.
  4. Integrate document management.  There are various cloud-based document management solutions we integrate depending on the organization and service delivery process.  Your users should be able to move quickly, find information and upload easily.  Relevant documents need to be consolidated in the project data object.
  5. Relate job cost records.  Job costs which are typically part of a project need to be related and customized with roll-up data to account for budgets in a project.  Ensure the overall profitability of a project can be viewed easily.

Every company is different.  How you deliver your service or product entails steps peculiar to processes developed over time.  Customizing Salesforce.com needs to take into account how your culture works as well as be forward thinking about productivity and collaboration.  If your Salesforce.com customization is cumbersome, you will find a challenge in adoption.  Design your project management process with simplicity and elegance and it will become a strategic asset to your business.

What is your project management process like?