Advice for Junior PMs – #8 – Status meetings are boring

I know this might be a bit of a controversial topic, but your status meetings are boring.  As someone who runs these meetings, I know it.  I can see it in my team’s eyes.  They hate it; they are coming up with responses that could be covered off in an e-mail to answer the same questions that I have each week; and find that it kills their productivity. Read more of this post


Good Frustrations vs. Bad Frustrations

I’ll share with you a #secret; I’ve wanted to quit my job no less than 12 times in the past 6 months.  I’ve wanted to quit almost every job that I have had.  Sometimes, I actually went through with it.  Other times, I let my contract expire.  Once, I was even fired.

Why did I want to quit?  The answers have ranged from salary (rather, a manager that wasn’t willing to negotiate) to a toxic work environment (getting yelled down in a meeting on my second day on the job) to thinking that there is no way that I can succeed in the long term.  At least, those are the reasons that I would tell a hiring manager.

Really, though, I quit (or have wanted to quit) because I was frustrated.   Read more of this post

Personal Productivity

As part of this month’s Ideaca Blogging Challenge, we were asked to discuss personal productivity tools.

As a Project Manager, I’m sure you are often asked to, or just do, take care of planning and managing multiple things – not just official work projects. It could be helping coordinate meals with friends, working on home renovations, ensuring that your family make it to various activities, or developing a training plan to achieve a fitness goal.

While some may be quick to lean on Eisenhower’s priority matrix, you know that you should never drop the ball you’ve been handed – even if something is not urgent or important.

So here’s how I get stuff done – think in lists and be deliberate.

Think in Lists

Reboot, work, recharge, work, walk home, recharge, shutdown, reboot, repeat – Optimus Rhyme

It’s really easy to get overwhelmed with having sticky notes, e-mail reminders, tasks, text messages, and all the other myriad of ways to collect what needs to be done.  As a result, I break things down into lists of things that need to be done.   Specifically, I keep a centralized and rolling list of everything that I need to get done for home and work (yes, I am a High D).

Be Deliberate
One of the best things about the PMBOK is that it reinforces that everything needs to be planned, executed, managed, and controlled. Getting your own stuff done is no different. When you are asked to do something, or when you state that you are going to do something, be deliberate in getting it done.  Identify what needs to be done, figure out how you will get it done, and then do it.

You should never be too far away from a method to record what needs to be done.  If you offer to do something via an e-mail, get it into your list; if someone asks you to take care of something in a meeting, get it into your list; if you wake up with the night sweats because you forgot to do something, get it into a list. So, whether you manage your list in a pad of stickies in your pocket, a nice folio, or a great app on your smart phone, getting the to-do recorded is the first step to ensuring that you do not forget to do it.

On Paper

During my first work term during university, I went out and bought a nice leather folio with room for business cards, a couple of pens, a calendar, and a space to write notes.  I immediately took out the calendar section and replaced it with regular ruled paper.  This became my to-do section. I ended up using this method for about 8 years, but retired it after getting my first decent smartphone (I’m not going to tell you which one, lest I start a flame war).


Lifehacker has a great comparison of the most popular to-do list managers.  It was here that I learned about Any.Do – the one that I have installed on my phone and in my browser.  I have used Any.Do for about a year now as a replacement for my former paper list, as my phone is always with me (and I am always with my phone).

However, lately I have found that sitting and trying to add multiple items to this digital list without a physical keyboard (yes, I was a BlackBerry fanboi for a long time) is getting to be either too time consuming or too rude.  As a result, I have started using Any.Do as an interim step before transferring the to do to a new paper list.


So how do you get things done?  Are you part of the cult of GTD?  Do you carry around a hipster PDA? I’d love to hear about it in comments.

Advice for Junior PMs – #7 – Keep your lessons close at hand

As a junior PM, you likely haven’t managed that many projects (call it less than 10 for argument’s sake).  As you go through these first few projects, it’s fairly easy to remember what the project was about, when risks became issues, and all of the lessons that the team learned.

However, as you get into more projects, the early ones start to blur together, the lessons you have learned start to evaporate, and you cannot remember which SME was responsible for which area.  This becomes especially problematic when you are asked to work on a project like one that you had worked on previously, and the only thing that you can remember about the project is that you wore brown shoes to that one meeting… Read more of this post

Guest Lecture on Project Risk Management

I was invited earlier this year to deliver a guest lecture to the MBA and MEng combined Project Risk Management class at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary.

This guest lecture was a bit of a trial run for me to see if I could take the written word from blogging and make it useful and usable for a broader audience.

The slideshare is here:



Advice for Junior PMs – #6 – Starting your own Project Management Knowledge Book

One of the Project Management RSS feeds which I read had an interesting article in it (it looks like a recycled link, but was new to me).  The article stated that in order to continue growing in your project management career, you should start keeping a binder of your best practices.

Given that I’m not particularly into dead tree and lugging a binder about, I fired up Google Docs and started a new file.  I spent 30 minutes hammering out everything I could think of as a best practice.

My first line item, which came from a fortune cookie that I have taped to a photo frame, was Promise Only What You Can Deliver. Read more of this post

Quotes for the Self Actualized Project Manager

One of my favorite frameworks for looking at how one is doing in life is through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  I’m not certain if it is the oversimplification of how we approach life, or the fact that I can broadly apply it to many of life’s circumstances, but I do think that it is the most succinct framework out there.

Thinking about the top of the triangle, I often ponder what true self actualization would feel like.   I think that being truly self actualized is the meaning of life.  I know many of my friends and colleagues have found their niche (pronounced “nee-sh”, not “nit-ch”) and say that they are self-actualizing in their career.  Personally, I think that most people stumble at the Self Actualization level due to the need to be displaying and constantly seeking their full potential.  So, that being said, I would offer this advice for those Project Managers who desire mastery of their art. Read more of this post

A better feedback model

This is just a quick plug for a tool that I have found to be super effective.   Special thanks to Manager Tools ( for the podcast and indirect coaching.  I highly recommend that you listen to their “Manager Tools Basics” series (even though it can be kind of rambly at points).

Typically, when giving feedback to someone, you give them the shit sandwich – “this was good, that was bad, the other thing was good; overall, keep up the good work but don’t forget about the thing that was bad.”  This model is a bad model, and should be very ashamed of itself.  It’s a bad model because it lets both good and bad behavior sit unattended until feedback review time.

The better way is to be proactive; however being proactive when using the above model can be hard to implement.  How do you walk up to someone and tell them that something that they did was good and/or bad without it happening in a formal review setting? Read more of this post

What if you are your project’s biggest risk?

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” – Alexander Pope

While I was studying to become a project manager, I believed what the PMBOK and my professors had to say as the gospel truth: a project is a project is a project.  It didn’t matter that I had no experience building a bridge, planning a wedding, or configuring a database server… I was going to be a professional project manager, and that meant that I could manage anything (so long as I followed the 5 phases of the PMBOK and did everything that the 11 knowledge areas told me to do)!

For a while, that was the case.  I made sure that all of my projects had strong technical people that were good communicators so as to provide good estimates, identify risks early and often, and manage the details of the deliverables.  I was able to focus on managing at the executive level, facilitating problem resolution, and provide project administration support.

But then it happened – I was assigned a project where I had a little bit of technical knowledge, but not much, and was paired with some intermediate resources.   Read more of this post

Communicating for results – consider your audience

Once upon a time:

  • I had a manager who attested that she was a good communicator – it was just that everyone else was a bad listener.  And then I tendered my resignation.
  • I had a colleague that claimed that she wanted to ensure everyone was having a good time – and then proceeded to order food for all of us based on what she thought we would like.
  • I worked with an organization that were making major changes to how they provisioned service based on recommendations from a book that the CIO loved.  They saw multiple “shadow IT” projects, groups, and employees pop up shortly thereafter.

It always amazes me that people claim to be good communicators but do not understand what they are trying to achieve.  I’ve asked some folks what they were trying to achieve when planning strategic communications, and the answer that I received most often was “to tell people what I think they need to know”.   It is staggering how little consideration is given to the audience. Read more of this post