Hello and Welcome

I'm an ex-Project Manager who currently moved on to Agile Consulting and this blog is my sounding board. This blog was started in 2008 journal-ling through my project management journey, today it combines both- my passion for all things project management as well as looking into the agile way of transformation and undergoing changes.

Here I write about my experiences, struggles, failures and joys. I also interview, do book reviews and keep you updated.

I usually post twice a week: Monday and Thursday unless I am too caught up which is often these days

If I'm not working; I can be found reading up on project management, agile, coaching or business books with a cup of green tea. I love to read, push the envelope one step further, work on new ideas, experiment, travel and explore life.

You can reach me at steppingintopm@gmail.com

The Challenges of International Projects

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Harrin.

The world of business is continually shrinking: we work in an environment with real-time audio visual communication with colleagues on the other side of the world and online translation tools. Even small companies can operate internationally with outsourcing agreements and partners overseas, which means that project managers in organisations of any size face the challenges of managing international projects.
And that means far more than just calculating that when it’s 9am in ‘my’ London it’s 4am in London, Ohio. International projects come with two main challenges: the people you are working with won’t necessarily work in the same way as you, and the people you are working for won’t necessarily want the same things.
Having an open mind about these challenges is the first step in being able to address them on an international project team. You need a pragmatic approach, especially as national culture plays a big part in how we act, and we can’t change who we are – we can just learn how to make those differences work for everyone concerned.
This can be difficult for project managers to get their heads around. Once you are in the position of managing an international project, you may well be one of the more senior project managers in your team. You have gained that position through hard work and successful project delivery. You expect your project team members to behave in certain ways and people from different cultures won’t always behave the way you expect. As you can imagine, that causes problems and conflict on projects.

Making international working easier

Project managers taking on international projects face a variety of practical challenges. For example, time zones are important. How will you conduct real-time team meetings? Who is going to be the person who gets up in the middle of the night for a call with the Brazilian development team to go through the testing results? In the absence of incentives for the project team, the project manager will find it difficult to recruit volunteers.
Protecting the interests of the UK-based team also falls to the project manager. A project sponsor who doesn’t appreciate that you have just spent half the night on a web conference with the manufacturing supplier in New Zealand won’t look favourably on your request to send everyone home at 3pm. Project managers with international components to their teams not only have to educate team members in how to work well together, but also have to manage upwards and ensure that senior stakeholders understand the constraints of this type of project. In reality, international projects take longer and involve higher travel costs than projects where the entire team is co-located – and that isn’t always a welcome message to the executives.
Practical suggestions aside, the easiest way I have found to work with international teams is to build cultural understanding. As I found when living and working in France, you can be linguistically literate without being culturally literate. At a pub quiz I couldn’t answer the questions about children’s TV programmes or what was found under the streets of Paris (I think, if I remember rightly, that it was the river). But the pub quiz was in an Irish bar, and there weren’t many of them around so that was a change of environment for many of my Parisian colleagues.
Cultural understanding relies on the emotional intelligence of the project manager, his or her leadership skills, adaptability and ability to inform and train the teams.

Using software to help international communication

Aside from cultural understanding, your next challenge is communication. Successful communication relies on the soft skills that a project manager brings to the table. These are the ability to listen, hear the unspoken concerns and messages, and respond clearly in a way that the other person can understand.
Being able to put those soft communication skills into practice is something that can be helped by technology. People need to be able to hear and speak to each other in some format before the project manger’s emotional intelligence can be put to good use. Technology can help with the challenges of international projects, even if we have to accept its limitations with regards to the interpretation of messages communicated using it.
There are lots of technologies available to project managers with virtual teams, whether they are based all over the world or in multiple offices in the same time zone. Instant messaging gives project teams the ability to connect informally when their status is shown as online. This can promote collaborative working as team members can quickly and easily ask questions of their colleagues instead of waiting for a scheduled formal meeting. In general, the more communication the greater the bonds and understanding between team members, so provided this facility is not abused, it can help improve working relationships. In practice, it works best when all users are in similar time zones where the difference is only a few hours.
The next step up from one-to-one messaging is web conferencing, where multiple users join the same online conference. Applications such as WebEx allow you to hold a virtual meeting with the team. Web conferencing means you can make changes to documents in real time or show product demonstrations to the rest of the team without having everyone in the same room – lower travel costs and a reduction in time spent out of the office even if you don’t have the international element to contend with.
Instant messaging and web conferencing allow synchronous communication, but asynchronous communication is also useful for project managers with international teams. You could opt for something as simple as a shared calendar, where team meetings and project milestones are recorded for everyone to see. When you connect from a PC configured to a different time zone, Outlook will automatically show the meeting at the correct time where you are. However, I have been caught out by the same feature in Google’s calendar, which didn’t seem to adjust for daylight savings time for some reason – and I missed my conference call.
Whatever software you choose to use to manage your project, you will quickly realise its limitations. A good project manager knows when to use the tools, and when to set the tools aside and lead with understanding and instinct.
Spending some time with your team members overseas is the best way to understand how they work, but desk research before you go (or if budget constraints mean you can’t go) will be beneficial. You will find out a great deal about how team members will most likely react in the project environment if you see them react, but that of course relies on you having the time to do that period of ‘getting to know you’.
Even if you don’t have lots of time, be curious in the time you do have. Many people love talking about how their countries work and a short discussion early on in your project can make a big difference. This knowledge provides you with a framework to manage the differences that will occur and also the confidence that you can develop an appropriate way of working together. In a shrinking world, projects are expanding, and the keys to success in international projects are shrewd use of the available technologies and excellent cultural awareness.
 This article has been adapted from material published on A Girl’s Guide To Project Management and is reprinted with permission.
(Pic Courtesy: Google images)

Introducing Project Rio

Introducing Rio, my latest project and clearly the reason I have been offline or a while now.

He has happily taken over in the last 20 days my entire calendar and finding time for myself has been nothing but luxury.

Thank you for being so patient with me for a while now.

Will Power and free resources for wannabe Project Managers

You never know where inspiration comes from
I have been doing random stuff to keep myself going and one of it has been watching youtube videos. I recently watched a TED talk by Kelly Mcgonigal and that led to watching more talks by her. This one is my favorite.
It talk about Will power and what we can do to attain it and how smaller interventions actually change the way we think.

I also read up her “how I work” series in LIfehacker  as it seems very natural to see how she does it in real life. I hope this video gives you the will power you need to pick up or face a storm in your own work space or life .

 By the way if you haven’t noticed, there’s a new e-book in town by Geoff Crane where he has gotten 52 project managers from all over the world talk about their initial experience into the work life and profession. Its insightful and a must read for all including seasoned players- there’s something in it for everybody. And am more than honored to be part of his project. 

Guilty as charged

I multitask and can do it well. Really well.

I put hours at work, I blog, I write, meet lovely friends, keep in touch with everybody and barely give anyone the chance to complaint.

The last few months, I have stopped multitasking. Not really deliberately, it just happened. Work was crazy and by the time I was home I didn't feel like doing hundred more things. I wanted time for myself, sometimes doing nothing.

And I felt guilty, especially about not being able to meet friends or writing my blog like I used to do. I wanted to be away from my laptop. I even stopped browsing. I stepped away.

I probably haven been writing but every day I am full of guilt that I haven’t been doing what I should have. I see other bloggers or professionals who are doing well, so inspired, so full of energy and I still don’t feel like writing.

It could be writers block, it could be doing the same thing for so many years now or it can be just wanting some time for myself.

Today, I browsed through some articles and wanted to know if there are more people like me who feel the same. Or am I just losing my fire?  

I read about mothers feeling guilt , about difference in the way men and women approach work  and multitude of other stuff.

Bottom-line, yes we should be responsible in what we do but I just feel sometimes it’s okay to do random stuff out of the daily routine. It’s okay to want some time for yourself to get recharged and then be back or choose not to be. Enough of guilt!

So yes I have been spending some time doing nothing except regular work. And to my all my readers if you have expected articles and seen the same one and no new updates over and over again- I was busy in my balcony looking at the mango tree and sky and birds. I was spending more time with myself than with anything else, definitely not my laptop.  

Have you been through same situations may be in different context?

I am hoping I will be writing very soon, but bear with me if it takes time- blogging is tough.  Meanwhile enjoy your schedule and what you are happy doing and if you are not- take a break minus the guilt.  It will certainly help!

(Pic Courtesy: Soma)

Scrum Team has stabilized- what next?

Most transformations start with the basic idea of either getting teams to start working in Agile or streamlining their existence process.

At a certain point, teams stabilize, velocity improves, quality soars and things look up.

Is the goal to repeat the same cycle day after day or is there more to work through once the team stabilizes? I have always though that the trying to get teams working in Agile is more like a bicycle- if you stop pedaling, it stops.

Here are 5 things to consider as next steps to keep the team going:
  • Baseline velocity- Always know your baseline velocity, when you started and ways you can work on it.
  • Focus factor- when the team stabilizes, it’s a good idea to know if the team has the right focus. Its velocity/work capacity. For more info read Jeff Sutherlands article here .  
  • Failure trends and patterns- The commitment made by the team always doesn't match the outcome. Looking into why stories fail and trying to identify a pattern might lead the team to understand the underlying problem. It could be user stories that require infrastructure, it can be kind of stories that haven’t been worked on, it can be a story requiring a new technology.  Once you have identified the pattern, it becomes quite easy to find a resolution.
  • Estimations- If in every sprint more than 20 percent of stories remain not done, along with other factors you might want to have a look at the way estimation is being done by the team. Some teams commit more by underestimating stories in trying to please the management and keeping to the team’s velocity. Of course by the end of the sprint teams fail to deliver. There are more managers and Product Owners who always push the team to commit more, so they have enough work on hand ever sprint fearing lesser work meaning team members might be free most of the time. Bottom-line, under estimating doesn’t help as much as over estimating doesn't.
  • Linking and tracking the layers- Stop looking only at team levels and start looking at the bigger picture, look into the your program and portfolio management and how it  is coming down to the team. Look into the quality of the user stories and how everything is affecting the team.
(Pic Courtesy: Google Images)

To learn about how to get into project management read my book Stepping into Project Management (Welcome to the #PMOT World). To connect with experienced Project Manager's from all over the world, get mentored or shadow for a day see the SIPM Community.