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Welcome to the CU Project Management Group blog, which shares some of the content being posted in the CU Project Management Group. The group is a place for project managers in the Carolinas to connect with their peers, share ideas and best practices, and get answers to PM questions. The group is open to all CU staff in the Carolinas who are registered members of the CCUL web site. To join the group, please log-in to your account and go to http://www.carolinasleague.org/members/group.aspx?id=199425 For more information, please contact Jeff Hardin (919-457-9063 or jhardin@carolinasleague.org).

 

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Top tags: Best practices  Management  Meetings 

Stick and torch

Posted By Sandon Nachmann, Tuesday, November 7, 2017

(Editor's note: this post originally appeared on the blog in the CU Project Management networking group. This group is open to credit union staff in the Carolinas who have a registered web site address. Please click here to view and join the group.) 

Written by: Sandon Nachmann, Coastal CU. 

Do you remember that project that was implemented at your CU two years ago?  You know the one that promised increased efficiencies, member satisfaction, and direct costs savings?  It’s a good thing that was implemented because your employees are now saving about 2 hours of manual work each day.  Or maybe it’s an hour each day… actually I’m not really sure.  Without a doubt though we’re saving a lot money each month, or at least that’s what we were promised when it went live.

 

Sound familiar?  How many times have you implemented a project and gone back months later to see if it accomplished its goals?  My guess is it almost never happens.  Post project evaluation is an important part of the project management process and its almost always overlooked.  A great way to accomplish this is by using the “Stick & Torch” approach.

 

Stick - First, evaluation is about accountability.  It’s a measuring ‘stick’ that can be used to justify the existence of the project.

 

Torch – Second, evaluation is about project improvement.  It’s a developmental process – a ‘torch’ that helps illuminate problems and recognize good practice.  This reduces the likelihood of repeating mistakes.

 

Simply put the stick and torch approach is not about beating and burning, it’s about measuring and learning.

 

With that here are three measurements we can look at:

 

1. Issues - What were the problems/issues the project was trying to solve? 

 

Was a business case developed and approved prior to the project going live?  If so the problems/issues the project was trying to solve should be clearly defined in the business case.  Need help with your business case? ** Stay tuned for future posts.

 

2. Results - How has the project succeded in its intentions? If it hasn’t, describe. 

 

The project as supposed to save money right?  Well has it?  How about the efficiencies that were promised, did they actually pay off?

 

3. Impact – What has been the impact of the project?  Good or bad…

  

Overall how did the project go?  Were members positively or negatively impacted?  Did anything significant come out of the project?  Maybe you were able to build a project plan template for future similar projects…

 

A good project management program should include a lessons learned in the project closure, but really the project process shouldn’t end there.  The project is officially complete when you go back after a period of time and apply the stick & torch.

Tags:  Management 

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Know THE people

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, October 31, 2017

(Editor's note: this post originally appeared on the blog in the CU Project Management networking group. This group is open to credit union staff in the Carolinas who have a registered web site address. Please click here to view and join the group.) 

Written by: Sandon Nachmann, Coastal CU. 

There’s lots to learn about project management.  Holding effective meetings helps…, but that’s just one small piece of it.  Over time you’ll gain experience.  You’ll learn how to hold effective meetings, create project plans, use fancy software.  And eventually you’ll reach the point where project management is project management, and a project is a project is a project…

 

Before coming to Coastal I had about 14 years of CU experience, 12 of which were involved in managing projects in some form.  The hardest part about coming to Coastal wasn’t project management itself, but not knowing any of the people.

 

Broken down into the simplest terms effectively managing projects comes down to managing the people and the tasks that they’re responsible for.  So how do you effectively manage the PEOPLE on projects?  The answer is knowing THE people.  Really knowing the people sets you up for success.  Knowing people lets you determine who you can count on and who needs extra attention.  It helps to know who you can go to or lean on for extra help, or who has experience doing similar projects.  Understanding personalities also helps with individual communication and motivation.

 

With that here are four rules to help you get to know the people:

  1. Pay attention

  2. Build & maintain relationships

  3. Ask people who know

  4. Assume the best and the worst

 

1. Pay attention - "There's an old saying in Tennessee.  I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says, 'Fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. Fool me... You can't get fooled again!'" - George W Bush

 

Nothing is worse than repeating the same mistake twice!  Good or bad you need to pay attention to the work habits of those around you.  You need to be able to adjust mid project as well as be ready for the next time you work together on a future one.

 

2. Build & Maintain Relationships – I put ‘build’ and ‘maintain’ together because the same steps used to build relationships are also the keys to maintaining them.

  • Do lunch – Lunch is an easy way to get to know people and build relationships.  Business usually comes up at some point over lunch.  But even if you're just getting together to eat and talk about the weekend that’s great.
  • Drop in – Face to face is always best.  If location permits, nothing beats dropping in to say hi.
  • Send an email – Due to location dropping in isn’t always the easiest so sending an email to keep things going is a good solution.
  • Schedule time – Like it or not there’s always an A team in any company.  Once you figure out who those people are and build a relationship with them, it’s vital you maintain it. One easy way to do that is by scheduling time on your calendar.  Add a reoccurring event on your calendar to check in with ‘Mary’ every 6 months by doing lunch, dropping in, or sending an email.

3. Ask people who know – As the new person in a company the best way to get information about other employees is to ask those who know.  We’re not talking about water cooler dirt here, but work specific information that will help you on a project.

 

Assume you’ve been assigned a project with two resources you’ve never worked with before.  One of them being a developer from the IT department.  Start by asking someone with more experience (like your boss) if there’s anything specific you should know about them.  You might learn that the IT developer needs very detailed instructions and specific requirements before he will even entertain the coding process.  His strict attention to detail is perceived by some as resistance or lack of engagement.  However, once he gets what he needs he’s like a rock star and will deliver a bug free working solution every time!  That’s great information to know.

 

4. Assume the Best and the Worst – This one isn’t so much about getting to know the people, it’s about what to do before you do.  I recently went to lunch with one of my colleagues and he told me that he prepares for unknown possibly difficult situations by assuming the best and worst case scenarios.

 

If you're going to present on a topic what’s the worst and best questions that might get asked of you?  If you prepare using this technique every time, you should be better equipped to deal with difficult situations.  Coincidentally I liked this technique and added it to my learning journal.

 

This same technique can be applied to people you don’t know on projects.  If you’ve never worked with Johnny Root before then you don’t know what to expect out of him.  He might be a super star that needs little attention, or he might be someone who needs to be closely monitored throughout the project.  Until you’ve had the opportunity to get to know him its best to assumed both the worst and best case scenarios so you don’t get caught off guard.

Tags:  Best practices  Management 

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Effective meetings: What gives?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, October 31, 2017

(Editor's note: this post originally appeared on the blog in the CU Project Management networking group. This group is open to credit union staff in the Carolinas who have a registered web site address. Please click here to view and join the group.) 

Written by: Sandon Nachmann, Coastal CU. 

I learned the hard way early on in my career the importance of conducting effective meetings.  Here are 10 rules to help you do it the right way.

1. Pre-publish an agenda
2. Stick to the agenda
3. Start on time
4. End on time
5. Set ground rules
6. Use a parking lot
7. Fix responsibilities
8. Publish minutes
9. Use a facilitator
10. Continuously improve


I stumbled into project management by accident in 2000 before I even knew project management was a thing.  I was at what was considered a “small” credit union on Long Island back in 2000, as we had just reached our $1-billion-dollar mark.  I worked in the IT department and was a PC Technician by title, but was more of a jack of all trades as our small department was exploding to keep up with the growing infrastructure.  About a year into that role I was assigned my first real project which was deploying a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to the credit union.

We had our first meeting to get things kicked off and it was a mess because I didn’t know about any of the effective meeting rules mentioned above.  There was no agenda, we didn’t start on time, I didn’t fix responsibilities, and believe it or not I didn’t even have an ending time for the meeting.  I’m pretty sure we just talked until we all got bored...  After the meeting I knew it went horrible, the problem was I didn’t know what to do to fix it.  I had no one to turn to for help in the credit union and there weren’t and shining examples for me to learn from.   It took a lot more failed attempts of holding meetings and tons of research of what to do to fix it until I finally started piecing some things together.

I love telling this story because I can only imagine there are a lot of people in the same boat that I was in, and I still experience some of those same pitfalls when I attend other people’s meetings today.  With that, let’s break down each of the 10 rules.

1. Pre-publish an agenda – You need to pre-publish an agenda so people know what the meeting is about and can come prepared.  It is also used to keep the meeting on track.  

What should go into an agenda? 
Heading - The meeting or project name, person conducting meeting, attendees, date
Body -  Start time of each item on the agenda, The item of discussion, Person responsible for the agenda item

2. Stick to the agenda
 – Sticking to the agenda is easy to do and it serves two main purposes.  It keeps everyone focused and it helps you make sure you don’t run out of time during the meeting.  Remember that when we pre-publish and agenda we set approximate times that each item will start.  That’s so if we estimate we’re going to take 10 minutes per item and we realize we’re 20 minutes in and still on item one then it’s time to move on.


3. Start on time – If your meeting is scheduled to start at 10:00 am then start promptly at 10:00 am.  That means that you as the facilitator should be there five minutes early to get setup and be ready to go.

No chit-chat, just get right to it – I’ve been to meeting where the facilitator feels weird getting right to business and will start every meeting with a two-minute ice-breaker of non-work related chit-chat.  That doesn’t make effective use of time and isn’t necessary.

What if “everyone” isn’t there yet? – Our goal is to create effective meetings by starting on time.  Nothing worse than it being 10:04 am and having the facilitator announce, “we’re just going to give it another couple of minutes to see if anyone else shows up”.  Why?  The meeting was scheduled to start at 10:00 am and you should start at 10:00 am.  If you always delay the start of your meetings by 5-7 minutes, then you’re not giving any incentive for people to show up on time.  You’re also not respecting the time of the people who showed up ready to start at 10:00 am.

What if the right person isn’t there yet? – What if you’re waiting for a senior member of the management team to attend the meeting, then what do you do?  Same answer as above, start on time.  Someone who is late to a meeting won’t get mad at you for starting on time.  And the chances are the reason they’re late is because they just came from another meeting that went long.  If by chance, there is an early item on the agenda that needs specific employee involvement then skip ahead on the agenda and get back to it when the person arrives.  

4. End on time – Respect peoples time.  As mentioned above, a lot of time people are late to meetings because their previous meeting went long.  This step is simple but important, “always end on time”.  

Am I allowed to go over the meeting time? - There are exceptions to this rule, and that’s when its mutually agreed on by all participants in the room.  If everyone is free and agrees to stay a few extra minutes to complete the discussions, then that is acceptable.  What isn’t acceptable is to continue discussions past the designated meeting stop time with no mention of the time or that the meeting should have ended.

5. Set ground rules – ground rules establish the expectations for the meeting.  These may consist of reviewing the 10 rules of effective meetings.  For an ongoing project let the participants know that you will always start on time, always end on time, you’ll always pre-publish and agenda, etc.

You can also adjust the ground rules as needed.  I’m sure we’ve all been to meeting where there’s the one guy in the corner who spends the entire time on phone or laptop not listening to a word anyone is saying.  When it comes time for that person to provide some input you have to recap the last five minutes to bring them up to speed.  If something like that becomes an issue, then it’s perfectly acceptable to request that people put down their phones or laptops while in meetings.

6. Use a parking lot – Remember the 2nd rule, stick to the agenda?  A parking lot is used for items that come up that aren’t on the agenda.

How do I use the parking lot? – It can be implemented a few different ways.  You can save 5 minutes at the end of every meeting specifically for parking lot items.  The majority of the time this will be empty which is why you only save 5 minutes.  You can also add it as an agenda item on future meetings.

7. Fix responsibilities – One of the most important concepts of projects or meetings is “Who, Does What, By When?”  What that means is for every agenda item you need to assign Who is responsible, What they are doing, and When you expect to have it completed by.

8. Publish minutes – Minutes are used to capture meeting discussions, decisions, and the Who, Does What, by When.  These should be distributed as soon as possible following the meeting.  For projects with long durations minutes are often times used to reference discussions or decisions that were made early on.

9. Use a facilitator – A facilitator is used to help keep the meeting on track.  They can document the Who, Does What, by When. They can keep track of the time to help make sure you’re sticking to the agenda.  They can copy items to the parking lot if necessary.  Using a facilitator especially during large meetings lets the leader focus on the content, while the facilitator focusses on the process.

10. Continuously improve – This is especially useful during reoccurring project meetings.  For a 9-month project its useful to create a task on the agenda every 3 months to review the process.  How are the meetings working?  Are we starting and stopping on time?  Are we using the parking lot right? Are people getting lost on their phones?

One of the characteristics of a good project manager is creating reliability and consistency.  Following these 10 steps is an easy and extremely visible way for you to achieve that in your credit unions.  Having worked with both poor and great PM’s over the years I can tell you there’s nothing better than working with a PM who knows how to hold an effective meeting.  

Tags:  Best practices  Meetings 

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Learning journal

Posted By Jeff Hardin, Monday, October 16, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, October 31, 2017

(Editor's note: this post originally appeared on the blog in the CU Project Management networking group. This group is open to credit union staff in the Carolinas who have a registered web site address. Please click here to view and join the group.) 

Written by: Sandon Nachmann, Coastal CU. 

Have you ever heard that if you want to add a new word to your vocabulary you need to use that word three times in a sentence throughout the day?  Not sure if that’s true or not, but my idea of the learning journal follows the same type of logic.

 

Before we get into the how, let’s start with the what.   What is a learning journal...?  A learning journal is used to document something you learned today.  Pretty simple right?

 

Insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  The problem in trying to apply that analogy to our work lives is that often times we don’t really stop to recognize the positive and negative experiences we have throughout the day.  Because of that I think we’re destined to repeat the same mistakes before we begin to correct them if ever.  If I asked you right now to tell me one positive thing you learned today, what would it be?  Maybe it was you learned that you should start a learning journal.  

 

What kind of things go in a learning journal?  It can really be anything.  I’ll write down things I experience firsthand, read in blog, hear on a podcast, etc.  One thing I read in a blog about a year ago that I really liked was the power of saying Thank You.  In the article he lists 7 times when you should say Thank You.  You can read more about it here (https://jamesclear.com/say-thank-you), but I will say that my favorite one was saying Thank You when you’re running late. 

 

As he explains in his post being late is stressful for the person who is running late and it's disrespectful to the person who is waiting.  It might seem strange to thank someone for dealing with your hassle, but that's exactly the correct response. Most people stumble in the door and say, “Sorry I'm late.”  The problem is this response still makes the situation about you. Sorry, I'm late. Saying “Thank You” turns the tables and acknowledges the sacrifice the other person made by waiting. Thank you for waiting.

 

Example: You walk in the door 14 minutes late.

Instead of: “So sorry I’m late. Traffic was insane out there.”

Try saying: “Thank you for your patience.”

 

When we make a mistake, someone else often makes a sacrifice. Our default response is to apologize for our failure, but the better approach is to praise their patience and loyalty. Thank them for what they did despite your error.

 

Now that we have the “what” covered, let’s get to the “how”.  How do I document it.  Initially I experimented with writing everything I learned in a blog post so that it would all be saved digitally.  The problem with that was I found myself trying to perfect every post.  Even though it was just 'my' journal, and was only for 'my' reading, everything I entered turned into a long story that I was proof reading and spell checking.  I quickly got away from that and started writing in a notepad.  It was probably more of a mental thing than anything else, but using the notepad would allow me to just start with the date and begin scribbling what I learned that day.  It flowed so much easier.

 

The best part about the learning journal is that it starts to become a habit.  When I first started I had to make a conscious effort to look for things I was going to learn that day.  After a couple of weeks of actively practicing it, I was easily documenting a couple of things each day.

 

Similar to learning one new word a day, you have the opportunity learn one new business skill everyday through repetition.  Recognizing the learning experiences becomes the habit, which is the first step.  Step two is documenting it in your learning journal, where you relive it again.  Step three is going through your journal from time to time to make sure you haven’t lost sight of any of your entries.

 

So, what are you waiting for?  Get to it and start journaling…

Tags:  Best practices 

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