4 Project Management Tips From the Pros

Successful project management doesn’t just happen overnight. But if you can master the skill, it can improve IT decision-making and communication, and help foster an effective work culture. In fact, a 2008 study from the Project Management Institute found that the more mature the project management in an organization, the greater the number of intangible values that came out of it -- not to mention that companies at every level of maturity that used project management in the study saw tangible benefits.

No matter what the project, these strategies will help you be the best project manager you can be.

1. Streamline with simplicity.
Have a detailed breakdown of all the elements in a project -- data, products and services -- so you know you’re not overlooking anything, suggests Ginger Levin, PMP, a consultant who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “Assign each work package to a specific individual or organizational unit to complete,” she says. “Then, list activities to be done to complete each work package, determine resource requirements, determine cost estimates, identify risks, and identify possible needs for outside procurements.” Keeping track of every detail will help you stay organized and on top of everything that needs to be done.

2. Identify all stakeholders.
Don’t procrastinate when it comes to involving stakeholders. When implementing a new project, you’ll probably have a list of obvious stakeholders, but it’s the people you leave off the list that can throw a wrench into it in the long run, says Albert Lee, lead analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, an IT research firm in Boulder, Colo. “It’s not just the IT people or management you need to worry about,” he says. “You also have to think about everyone who is going to interact with the project in the long run.” End users should be consulted, he says, as should outside contractors who might be affected by the new project.

3. Set a vision for the whole team.
What will your project mean to the IT department? The answer is probably very different from what someone in customer service or finance would say. This is why you need to make sure everyone on your team, including customers, has the same vision for your project, says Levin.

“Ideally, it should be done at the kickoff meeting with the customer,” she says. “Then, when a scope statement is prepared, include the vision and make sure everyone signs off on it.”

This should include bringing together representatives from every department and making sure they communicate from the start with IT and with each other. “Recognize that communications represent 90 percent of the project manager’s job,” says Levin.

4. Keep an eye on time and budget.
Before starting any project, create time and cost estimates for your project. Make sure you’re tracking progress of both on every task, even those that don’t seem critical. The sooner you can spot time or cost creep, the sooner you can squelch both or readjust stakeholder expectations. “You’ve got to track everything to make sure the process is smooth for everyone involved,” says Lee.

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5 Smart Tips for LinkedIn Self-Promotion

Smartly executed self-promotion is the key to career advancement, and in our hyper-connected days, LinkedIn is one of the best tools to help you do this. The question isn’t whether you should be on LinkedIn, the mega-popular professional networking service, but rather, how to best take advantage of this powerful medium to separate you from the pack. After all, with more than 80 million registered LinkedIn users, standing out among your peers can be a daunting consideration.

"Not doing something with LinkedIn is like leaving money on the table," says Debra Forman, a certified executive coach in Toronto, Ontario. "You don't need to pay for the upgrade -- the free service is all you need -- but the key is getting people to land on your page."

To get the right people to view your profile and to wow them while they’re there, consider these tactics:

  1. Get connected. "The key to LinkedIn is being found and being fabulous," says Irene Koehler, a social media consultant in San Francisco. Koehler says the first step is to make relevant connections. "Understand that the number of connections you have directly impacts how easily you can be found," explains Koehler. Forman agrees but believes there should be quality along with quantity: Don’t add more connections than you can keep up with, she says.
  2. Say something. Take advantage of the "Share" tab on your profile page, which lets you share insights, a website link or other information with your community. "Draw people into whatever you're doing, and it'll go out to all of your connections," says Forman, who promotes a monthly video in this fashion. "Remember, you might only have, say, 100 people in your network, but you could reach millions because every one of those connections has connections who can see what you're up to as well." Using the "Share" tab is a good way to be proactive in the search process, as if raising a hand above the crowd. Another way to be heard is to regularly answer questions in the question/answer component of LinkedIn, establishing your expert voice.
  3. Be a joiner. Belonging to a LinkedIn group that's relevant to your expertise opens up new opportunities, says Forman. "The beauty of groups is you can promote yourself, get work and be noticed.”
  4. Be a wordsmith. "Unless you optimize your profile, which includes using good keywords, you'll be the world's best-kept secret," says Koehler. "Understand which keywords are best to use, which speak to who you are and who you're trying to attract. Use the terms employers are using, says Koehler. "For example, if you're a Web designer, you'll want to use searchable words like 'web,' 'html,' 'graphics,' 'design,' 'designer' and so on. The top key words should be in the summary section of your profile page."
  5. Show, don’t tell. Aim for compelling text on your profile page, such as, "You've only got that one moment to impress them," says Koehler. Your profile should not look like a resume with bullet points; instead, potential employers should hear your voice and understand how you approach this job differently than the next person, she adds. Include links to your work-related blog and import feeds from Twitter if you offer commentary on IT issues.

It’s not just what you have to say, however. Recommendations from others who know your work in IT are important too, says Koehler. "We all think we're fabulous, sure, but it's more powerful to have others offer their perspective."

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The Drive for Real-time Collaboration

It's becoming a familiar scene in companies of all sizes: A team works closely together, jumping from instant messages to video conferences to over-the-phone meetings. They collaborate and accomplish goals side-by-side every day -- without ever actually meeting face-to-face.

Real-time collaboration tools not only connect teams more effectively, but also provide considerable cost savings to your organization. As a result, IT managers are increasingly recognizing the need for real-time collaboration among team members -- no matter their location. "The value of collaborating is about community. You have to be where people are to make it work," says Jon Arnold, an analyst and principal of J Arnold & Associates.

According to Ted Schadler of Forrester Research Inc., what’s driving the need is the growing trend of distributed organizations, the rising number of remote workers, and the upsurge of business-to-business teams. Here's what experts say you need to know about real-time collaboration tools and best practices for implementation:

1. Know the real-time collaboration tool landscape.
When it comes to real-time collaboration tools, the theme is "synchronous." Tools need to allow teams to truly communicate in real time. Among the real-time technologies becoming mainstays in many organizations are:

  • Advanced messaging. IM has grown beyond chat. Now, employees can send each other files without size limits, switch into video chatting or create a live conference with multiple co-workers on the spot

  • Smartphones. Employees can now stay seamlessly connected to their team via email, texting, document sharing and calls -- all on their smartphones

  • Screen sharing. These tools allow teams to actually see each other’s desktops at the same time. Some services even let you take control of someone else’s desktop, making it easy to work on projects at the same time, on the same screen

  • Virtual whiteboarding. The entire group can share a common sketchpad, easy for sharing ideas and files on a blank canvas

  • Telepresence or Web conferencing. Emerging telepresence tools create the illusion of teams interacting in the same room, even when they are miles apart. Webcams that enable one-on-one video conferencing also fall into this category. Many programs now offer recording features too, which are useful to play back later to note explicit directions and follow up with others

2. Know how tools solve common problems.
All teams don't need all real-time communication tools. And each communication tool does not need to have all the above features. The key is to offer and support the right mix that increases productivity (and ideally lowers costs) without creating distractions. "Look at key processes that can be improved by real-time collaboration," says Smith. "Maybe it's customer service -- like you can speed up the time it takes to answer clients.”

3. Know who is driving virtual collaboration.
Forrester recommends taking stock of so-called "alpha collaborators," or employees who are already using collaboration tools. “They are your greatest resource for identifying new tools, driving adoption and testing new scenarios," reports Forrester.

For employees, the expectations for real-time collaboration tools will only continue to expand. “People are living with these tools in their personal life,” says Arnold. “And they are bringing those expectations to the workplace."

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/alexsl

Hang Onto People Who’ll Help You Advance

Murky employment statistics don’t change one truth for IT departments across the country: Companies are still projecting shortages of qualified IT workers, so hanging on to good employees is more critical than ever.

If you want to advance, you need a quality workforce that makes you look good when it comes to handling projects and day-to-day operations. The first mistake you can make is to think keeping these employees happy is not your problem, says CEO Mark Murphy of Leadership IQ, a training and research center based in Washington, D.C., that teaches executive and management best practices.

“It has been easier for leaders to outsource retention to HR and say ‘That’s an HR issue,’” says Murphy, co-author of The Deadly Sins of Employee Retention. “Every company on Earth says, ‘People are our most important assets.’ But they spend more time monitoring the copy machine as an asset than they do their people.”

You need to think creatively to retain a skilled IT workforce, say Murphy and other experts. Here are strategies worth embracing:

  1. ID your best people. Knowing and understanding your current staff is critical, says Murphy. A Leadership IQ study found that a staggering 47 percent of high performers are actively seeking other jobs. Step one in keeping those employees is identifying them. Create an individual action plan for each of these workers.

  2. Make it personal. “Your retention practices really need to meet individual needs,” says Lily Mok, a research vice president in CIO workforce management for Gartner, an IT research and consulting firm. Understand that while one worker might value flexible hours and workdays, another might prefer the option of telecommuting when it’s feasible.

  3. Provide diverse experiences. Young workers enjoy the excitement of trying different opportunities that help them develop a diverse, marketable skill set. If you follow a traditional set schedule, expecting a young employee to advance in two or three years, the employee will likely leave. “If you miss the window, they’re going to look for opportunities elsewhere,” says Mok.

  4. Conduct "stay" interviews. An annual review isn’t enough to stay on top of an employee’s satisfaction level, say Mok and Murphy. And certainly, an exit interview is too late, since that employee you trust is already headed out the door. Mok recommends a “stay” interview instead. Take the time to talk to your employees about their job satisfaction and concerns. “It could be as simple as a 20-minute conversation once a month,” says Murphy.

  5. Meet pay expectations. The bottom line is still, well, the bottom line. “Money still talks,” says Mok. “When people start looking elsewhere is when they realize their value is not recognized in an organization.” Mok recommends regularly benchmarking pay positions against industry standards to retain competitiveness.

Ultimately, retaining the workers who’ll help your own career is primarily about what Murphy calls “softer” issues. “Our high performers want to work on teams with great people; they want to know the manager has their back,” he says. “It’s really about understanding.”

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/Yuri_Arcurs

5 Business Lessons You Can Learn From Mark Zuckerberg

First in an occasional series looking at career lessons you can learn from tech icons.

He’s the world’s second youngest billionaire, turning 27 this past May. (The youngest -- by eight days -- is Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.) He was portrayed in The Social Network (unfairly, some argue) as being socially awkward to the point that he displayed signs of autism. And he’s been the subject of repeated lawsuits, most notably by a pair of twins who claim he stole their idea -- all the way up to the Supreme Court.

You might or might not “like” the man or even Facebook itself, with its ever-changing layout and questionable privacy practices. But it’s pretty hard to argue with a site that has nearly 700 million users worldwide and is still growing fast. Here, five business lessons every IT executive can learn from Mark Zuckerberg’s spectacular success:

Love What You Do
“I’d never met anyone who would walk away from a billion dollars,” said Terry Semel, who, as CEO of Yahoo!, offered Zuckerberg that sum for the company he’d built. Zuckerberg refused, explaining it wasn’t about the money.

Indeed not. Even today, “Zuck,” as his friends and colleagues call him, can often be found writing code on weekends and holidays. It takes grueling, hard work to be a success -- especially in the tech world, where long hours are the norm for pretty much everyone. If you don’t love the work, you’ll be torturing yourself to get there.

Stay Focused
Through multiple lawsuits, angry accusations that he disregards users’ privacy, even a hugely unflattering movie, Zuckerberg has remained relentlessly focused on managing and improving Facebook, as demonstrated by the company’s continuous and growing success. His perseverance shows how important it is to keep your head in the game.

Be Willing to Change
“Every time Zuck looks at a product, it’s as if he does so with fresh eyes. He isn't burdened by what other products are like or what the existing product is like,” wrote Facebook engineer Andrew Bosworth in a primer for new employees that Facebook later posted for the public at large. “He doesn’t care what he said yesterday, even if he was presented with the same product.” This willingness to be flexible has likely come into play when Facebook was forced to make changes after encountering controversy over its privacy policies.

Simpler Is Better
MySpace is facing its second round of dramatic layoffs in less than a year and will wind up reducing its staff by much more than half. So it seems like a good moment to consider what Facebook did right and MySpace did wrong.

“MySpace, as the No. 1 social network site, was not very easy to use,” notes Brandon Wade, founder of the websites SeekingArrangement.com and WhatsYourPrice.com. “Facebook is simpler, which makes it easier to use and faster to load. It has a simpler, better design.”

By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why Facebook uses blue for nearly everything, the reason is that Zuckerberg has red-green color blindness, and blue is one of the colors he sees best.

Be Media-savvy

During the privacy controversies, Zuckerberg broke out in a bad case of “flop sweat” while being video-recorded at a technology conference, an embarrassing moment  that has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. He’s gotten much better in front of the cameras after that incident, notes Mark Scott, senior vice president of MSL Atlanta, a public relations and marketing agency.

“He likely brought some great communicators in to coach him on his messaging,” says Scott. “For such a high-profile company, a put-together, confident CEO who can get his messages across in the media, in board rooms, at investor conferences, etc., is crucial to success, and Zuckerberg obviously understood that and has made some terrific improvements.”

In fact, Zuckerberg has gotten so relaxed and image-aware that, far from suing or even protesting over his portrayal in The Social Network, he joined its star , Jesse Eisenberg, onstage at “Saturday Night Live.” Eisenberg asked Zuckerberg if he’d seen the film, and what he thought of it.

“It was … interesting,” Zuck responded.


Photo Credit: Getty Images