Category Archives for Projects

Project Team Motivation; 10 ways to improve it

How to improve project team motivation -  
Ten ways to motivate your project team using appreciation at work

Sometimes the difference between project success and failure can be as simple as showing your appreciation at work. We all know we perform at our best when we feel valued, so here are 10 project team motivation tips which you can build into your everyday leadership and management.

Why showing your appreciation at work matters to project team motivation

We all like to be appreciated. Whether it’s a simple wave from a fellow driver when you give way or a ‘thanks’ when you hold open the door for somebody, little acts of appreciation go a long way to making the world a better place.

It’s no different in the working environment and especially in the stressful and fast-paced world of projects. Project team motivation brings its own set of challenges and failure in this area can even put the delivery of the project at risk.

One of the challenges faced by project managers is that we are often not the line managers of the team involved, which means we have to rely on our leadership skills rather than any positional authority we may otherwise have. 

It also means we need to build and strengthen our relationships with those working on the projects, often in a short space of time, so that when things get tough – as they inevitably do on a project – people stay with us and keep performing at their best when we need it the most.

Working under pressure, or in environments which people find stressful, increases the risk of sickness and people choosing to leave their roles – and key points in projects are particularly vulnerable. One way we can reduce the risk of this happening is by showing appreciation for those working on the project. 

Such project team motivation doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming; it’s something we can easily build into how we lead our teams on a day-to-day basis.

How we experience appreciation

One thing which is important to understand is that we don’t all experience appreciation in the same way; Gary Chapman and Paul White describe these differences as different languages we each speak. In their book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, they explain that while we all understand all five languages, we each have a preference.

The languages are:

  1. Words of Affirmation – being praised for our accomplishments, our behaviours and our character.

  2. Quality Time – receiving focused attention, preferably one-to-one.

  3. Acts of Service – having someone volunteer to do something that helps us.

  4. Tangible Gifts – being given a thoughtful token that shows we have been appreciated.

  5. Appropriate Physical Touch – a well-timed high five or handshake.

With all of the languages, the key is to be thoughtful, intentional, personal, specific and sincere, all the time recognising people as individuals and for their particular contribution. 

Some of the things we can do to show our appreciation are specific to a certain language, while others can work for more than one language. 

For example, taking a team member out for a coffee gives them a tangible gift (the coffee), some quality time, as well as words of affirmation if you give them positive feedback or tell them how you have appreciated their input. It can also be an act of service if you know your coffee-loving colleague does not have time to make or get it for themselves at the moment!

We all know we perform at our best when we feel appreciated and valued but how can we create this culture of appreciation for those who work around us? 

Where possible, project team motivation needs to become part of everyday working life, rather than saved for major milestones. That way, you build a reserve of appreciation that can act as a boost to performance and a buffer against challenging project circumstances.

A note of caution

It's really important that when you show your appreciation work it is sincere and shows that you know the person you are appreciating.  One project manager I worked with decided to show his appreciation to the most under appreciated member of the team by buying her a bottle of wine and a big box of chocolates - because he had never had a conversation with her he didn't know she was a diabetic who didn't drink.  The result was the exact opposite of the one he intended, and the whole project team's motivation went down and he had a lot of work to do to repair it.

10 Simple and cost effective ways you can show your project team you appreciate them

  1. Take someone for a coffee.
  2. Put a note on their desk recognising an achievement or simply thanking them for their effort.
  3. Thank people – both privately and publicly in meetings. Even if you do this when the person concerned is not present, it conveys to the wider team how much you appreciate them. 
  4. Start a ‘wisdom wall’ showcasing the great and insightful things people have said on the project – this can be a physical wall in the office, or a virtual pinboard.
  5. Create a welcome pack for new project team members and add a personal note explaining why you are pleased they are joining the project.
  6. Leave a thoughtful gift on someone's desk, not necessarily work-related – but make sure it’s something you know they will like.
  7. Treat the team to a meal; breakfast rolls, lunch or even a takeaway if everyone is working late.
  8. Give some unexpected time off (when the plan allows) to enjoy doing something with their friends or family.
  9. Create a team gallery to introduce everyone – who they are, what they do, their interests and something positive about them. To inject a little humour, you could even make this into a ‘Wanted Gallery’; each person is ‘wanted’ for achieving a certain aspect of the project. Another idea is to create cards in the style of football/baseball or ‘Top Trumps’ cards, highlighting people’s key achievements and attributes. If you have a physical gallery, these could be used as thank you gifts at the end of the project.
  10. Take time just to chat with people – and not about the project. Make sure you really listen to them; learn everyone’s name and a little about them.

These are just some of the day-to-day ways you can practise project team motivation. 

Key milestones in the project are an opportunity for a whole-team celebration and another way to show your appreciation for their efforts. But occasional lavish gestures are less valued than continued appreciation at work. 

Aim to make project team motivation an everyday habit; challenge yourself to find at least one opportunity a day to show your appreciation for the people working on your project. Making this a part of how you act and who you choose to be as a leader will pay dividends.

Helping leaders and teams develop ways of showing appreciation at work is just one part of Bekka’s work with project leaders, managers and PMOs. If you are looking to increase motivation at work, or have an important project you are launching, why not book a free consultation call to discuss how Bekka’s project expertise can help you? 

Coaching Skills for PMO

Coaching Skills for PMO Professionals - How they help everyone succeed 

Read how developing great coaching skills could set you on the path to PMO career  success and deliver great results for your business. 

Traditionally, developing your career in the PMO was based on having great technical skills but increasingly this is no longer enough. Being a great PMO professional means becoming a trusted business partner who delivers services the business values and that requires supplementing your technical skills with coaching skills.

The growing need for Coaching Skills for PMO Professionals can be seen in the increasing number of job adverts for PMO roles asking for coaching skills, and that trend is growing as Agile Project Methodologies become more prevalent.  

As I have worked with PMOs I have noticed how adding coaching skills has benefited team members at all levels, from the most junior to the PMO Leaders, and how actively developing them has boosted the team’s effectiveness and individuals’ careers.

So what do we mean by Coaching Skills for PMO Professionals?

For me, the best definition of coaching comes from Sir John Whitmore in his book Coaching for Performance, where he describes coaching as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their performance”.

Coaching skills span a whole continuum of ways to work with someone, from telling them what to do, through teaching, consulting, mentoring and coaching.  As you move along the continuum, the focus shifts from the coach’s knowledge and agenda to that of the person being coached.

The coach uses their coaching skills and facilitates tools to improve the performance of others. The knack of finding a delicate balance of coaching which works for everyone is definitely more of an art than a science!

When I shared the continuum of coaching at a PMO Flashmob session most people found that they spent time moving up and down the scale from telling and showing to mentoring and coaching on a daily basis – and sometimes even within one meeting!

Why does having coaching skills matter in the PMO?

Last year, the AIPMO (Association of International Project Management Officers) Advisory Board published a list of seven principles for PMO practitioners, four of which relate directly to coaching skills for PMO:

  1. Sponsorship (PMO Principle 1)
    Coaching skills are not just for training your staff; you can use them to build your relationship with your sponsors using coaching skills, which is critical to your success. With an improved understanding of their agenda, and an ability to help them articulate what needs to change and why, it is easier to explain your solutions and get their buy in. The skills developed in coaching will also help you align agendas within the business. 
  2. Challenge (PMO Principle 4)
    The skilful use of coaching tools will provide objective, rational and constructive challenges as you help your stakeholders explore situations and understand the options they have. In doing so, they will also allow you to create and develop trusted partnerships.
  3. Exemplar (PMO Principle 6)
    In the course of using your coaching skills, you lead by example. A consultative coaching-based approach has consistently been shown to be the most effective at leading change. And, at the end of the day, your role is to effect change.
  4. Improvement (PMO Principle 7)
    The very definition of coaching is to facilitate improvement, which is why this is the last – but most definitely not the least important – of the principles for PMO practitioners. 

​Developing Coaching skill for PMO Professionals

As I have already mentioned, coaching skills are not just for those in PMO leadership roles; they are useful for all those working in the PMO. They can make a huge difference even at the most junior level. Imagine you have been asked to compile the minutes for a meeting. This requires listening skills, the ability to summarise and report accurately what has been said, and the ability to ask questions which clarify thinking. Holding these skills can make a huge difference to the quality of minutes being taken and their usefulness.

As your career progresses, you may find yourself training others, or switching between consulting and coaching roles. For example, one of the project leaders you are working with may hit a problem and require your help to work out how to get through it – and your coaching skills will be invaluable.

Coaching skills for PMO are beneficial to everyone working within a team, not just for those in management roles but for many different work situations and at different stages of your career. They help a project run smoothly, with better communication and greater clarity all round.  To be the best PMO professional you can be, you need to work on developing these coaching skills and keep building upon them throughout your career.

Develop coaching skills you can start using immediately, and to learn about the one-day course I run in association with PMO Learning.

I would be happy to answer any questions you have – 
just book a call

5 Pantomime Lessons in Project Management

5 Lessons in Project Management
that Pantomime taught me 
– oh yes it did!

Pantomime divas, dames and villains may be more flamboyant than anyone you meet in your usual working life, but the challenges they present can be remarkably similar, which is how my forays into amateur dramatics taught me some key lessons in project management.  

The British pantomime tradition is something of a rite of passage for audience members, creative teams and the performers themselves. I expected many things when I agreed to direct the village panto a few years ago, but I did not expect to learn some key lessons in project management.

Act 1, Scene 1: Setting the scene

When you embark on your project/panto quest, knowing why you are doing it makes every other decision easier.  For us, panto was all about bringing the community together, fostering a love of theatre and developing people’s skills.  

Taking time to agree on that before we did anything else allowed us to speed up many decisions and ensure the way we worked together supported our goals.  For example, it led us to change the audition process from the traditional ‘contest’ to one where future cast members showed us their full performance potential, safe in the knowledge that we would find a great part for them.

Act 1, Scene 2: We’re all in this together

Panto is known for its larger-than-life characters and sometimes it feels the same is true of projects. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can think of a few workplace divas and villains! But it is not just the main players who keep the show on the road.  

It was only the second performance of the first panto I directed when I learned that one of the key lessons in project management is the importance of building a strong team beyond just the main players. One of the leading actors failed to show up on stage when they should have done, leaving three young and inexperienced cast members stranded mid-scene. It was a joy to see the whole team come together to keep the show going so the audience didn’t notice.  

It turned out that the missing cast member was looking for a prop that one of the backstage team had helpfully moved to the side of the stage so it was handy for them. Another lesson learned; even teams with the best intentions and a shared vision need to remember to communicate effectively.

Act 1, Scene 3: Coming up with a plan

When planning a pantomime, different teams come up with lots of plans. The set builder may want to design a set before you have even decided what show you’re doing; the choreographer may demand more dance rehearsal hours than there are rehearsal hours in total; the costume team may want to save time by deciding who plays which role based on the costumes that fit, and so on.

While project teams in workplaces are used to sharing the plan and working with its interdependencies, this was not a way many of our panto team had ever worked before and this director learned another key lesson in project management the hard (and stressful) way; the importance of reminding people frequently and clearly how what they do fits in with everyone else. Not to mention how changing their plan (once they had one – but that’s another story) impacted everyone else, so communication was critical.

Act 2, Scene 1: Would you believe?

A panto story is full of twists and turns – and I don’t just mean the scripted ones! Just like the risks on a project, thinking through what could go wrong and having a risk management plan for the more likely and higher impact ones is vital.  

Working with an inexperienced team showed me how important it is not to make assumptions when you’re thinking about possible risks. What was obvious to me was not always obvious to them. Asking them what they thought could go wrong was not only a great team-building exercise but allowed us to plan for every eventuality and build the team’s confidence.

I am glad we never had to implement our plan for the curtain not opening – but I must say, however, that I am very pleased we’d planned what to do if an audience member fell ill.

Act 2, Scene 2: The Finale

I loved working with our panto team and bringing the complex needs of all the different stakeholders together. Their agendas differed widely, from parents managing their children’s needs and very busy diary, to raffle ticket sellers striving to make lots of money for the village, to the cast and crew who simply wanted to put on a great show and have fun. 

A key lesson in project management was remembering how important it is to keep everyone engaged and how different things mattered to each group. Managing their different priorities certainly sharpened my negotiating skills.  

However, the final lesson came after the end of the production. The village hall committee decided they needed to make more money – and that they could do that by bringing in a professional panto team who would pay them for the use of the hall.  This decision, made without consultation and while our panto representative was on holiday, brought down our final curtain and, as well as reminding me how to disband a team with dignity, taught me a lesson in keeping project goals and business goals aligned.

​So next time you are sitting in a project meeting, remember:

  • Booing and hissing the villain isn’t recommended, however tempting it may be;
  • The hero gets the girl (their goal) and baddies all turn good in the end;
  • Behind the scenes, someone is learning some key lessons in project management!

While for now my pantomime days are behind me, the lessons I learned are still benefiting me and the projects I am involved with. Underpinning the work I do on project initiations is remembering that investing the time and effort to set things up right at the start of the project accelerates overall progress and reduces the challenges you face along the way.

If you would like Bekka to share these key lessons in project management with your team or to discuss how to implement them in your business 

The Forgotten Project Planning Question

The forgotten planning and project management question: What if it works? 

You’ve planned for every eventuality… but have you planned for success?
This is something we tend to overlook when project planning, so don’t forget to ask yourself this vital project planning question.

When faced with a project, a programme or even just a big piece of work, as project managers we tend to start by getting clarity on what we want to deliver and how we will know if we have delivered it.  Then we will make a plan. We will think about all the things that could go wrong and how to manage those risks. We will question and interrogate our plans: what could go wrong? What if this doesn’t happen? What if that’s late? What if the unexpected happens? 

But recently, as I chatted to the managers of some very successful projects, it struck me that we may all be missing something in our planning processes.  A vital project planning question.

What if it goes well? 

It’s a trap I have fallen into, too. We get very creative in coming up with unlikely events taking our project off track and, yes, I do know of an IT project which was taken off track by a cannonball, so it’s not without reason.

But projects can and do go well and this can present its own issues. If you are running ahead of schedule, will the team be ready to start work on the next stage of the project?  

A project manager I spoke to was lamenting the fact that they had not brought resources in early enough on a project with tight timelines.  On delivery day, a critical go/no go decision came in three hours early but the people who could make the necessary system changes were not available until the originally expected time. This left the mission-critical project sitting waiting, while the managers watched the clock nervously, hoping there would be no problems later in the day – again, planning around what could go wrong!

What if your project goes well and your results are better than expected?  Will you have the capacity to manage them? I once led a team development and engagement programme which resulted in such a high level of participation that I had to find an extra two days a week to keep the momentum going; it’s a great problem to have but not a scenario I had planned for!

What if what you are working on goes well?  What would that mean for you? Do you have a plan in place?

To an extent, as project managers, we are paid to consider and plan for what could go wrong but are we really doing our jobs of we do not consider both sides of performance, the good as well as the bad?  Since what we plan for and focus on is what tends to happen, could we boost our project performance by planning for success?

​My challenge to you

Let’s bring this question to the front of our planning.  As you go through your scenario planning for your next project, your next programme or your next big piece of work, as well as considering all the things that could go wrong I would encourage you to reinstate the forgotten project planning question: What if it goes well?

For more information on effective meetings or to discuss further how you can set your projects up for success