Book Review: Jumpstart Your Creativity

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Have a project issue? Do you need to create a list of project requirements? Let’s have a brainstorming session!
Actually, let’s not. According to Shawn Doyle, Steven Rowell, brainstorming has been done so many, so poorly, that it is more likely to result in a room full uninspiring people who groan when your whiteboard pens are pulled out than any good ideas.
They write that “Most people do brainstorming or ideation in an unrelated way to how the brain actually functions.” “The process of brainstorming is often too linear, which is why they fail so often.” We gather people in a conference room and hand them a marker and a flipchart. Then we say, “Okay, people, let’s come up with some ideas!”
Jumpstart Your Creativity focuses on being more creative in generating ideas.
Definition of creativity
Rowell and Doyle define creativity as “the act of creating ideas that have value.”
So why can’t you do it?
People believe they are not creative or can’t think creatively. It is easier to stick with what you know, especially when we are busy, stressed, or overwhelmed. We rush to make a decision and don’t take the time to consider alternatives or involve others in it. Some people fear making a mistake, or being ridiculed. In many cases, creativity is a product of the school system. Doyle and Rowell wrote:
We are in desperate need of creative thinkers who can take the information overload and make something new out of it.
It’s not hard to argue that creativity is a must in business right now. We are always looking for new ways to save money, deliver projects faster, and do more with less resources. So, accepting that you can tap back into your innate creativity in order to get to those good project-issue-solving ideas, the authors have a 6-step approach to firing up your inner creative engine, nattily called CREATE:
Be confident and courageous and commit to your goals.
Don’t worry about what might be coming up; let go of your expectations.
Embrace Play – Get out of your regular workplace environment to get the best creative thinking opportunities (they refer to this as the ‘play zone’).
Accept that you might not be perfect in your ideas and creativity process, but that what you are doing is sufficient.
Take your time. Give yourself enough time to process the ideas. Group work can take several sessions so don’t rush.
Engage – Take action, focus on the results and accept the discomfort and ambiguity of being creative.
Tapping into your creative self
The book is filled with ideas to harness the creativity we all have. The authors emphasize that creativity is worth the effort, even if it means being creative. They ask: “What is the worst thing that could happen?” What if you did nothing?
Some are designed to open you up to new ideas.
Be more attentive
Watch videos (such as the TED Talks), read, and be open to any information that comes your way
Keep an electronic notebook, file, or idea bank
For inspiration, look outside your industry
To make your environment more conducive for creativity, you can remodel your home, car, and workspace.

There are many other ideas that can be used to make group sessions more productive. The first chapter outlines 12 techniques that can be used in facilitated workshops to replace the traditional brainstorming approach. This is one idea that I loved.
The consult

Are you managing information overload?

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One of the main themes of the social media webinar that I presented for the PMI Lead Community of Practice was how to deal the additional information channels that social media tools provide.
People are often worried about how to manage information overload. They stop using tools that could be very helpful if used in the right way.
Graham Allcott discusses this in his book, “How To Be A Productivity Ninja”. Although it is a time-management book, it really focuses on how to stay organized. He said that information overload doesn’t mean having too much information. It’s a sign of other types of stress, he says.
Let’s take a look at them now.
This article:
Information overload vs. controllessness
Information overload vs. looking foolish
Information overload vs. Imposter syndrome
Information overload vs.ambiguity
Information overload vs. Conflict

Information overload vs. controllessness
He suggests that, when we talk of feeling overwhelmed with information, we really mean that we don’t have control over it. As project managers, controlling stuff should be our job!
It’s normal to feel like we are losing control of the information available and the many ways people can interact with one another rather than through us.
This isn’t information overload. It’s an internal struggle to be in control.
Information overload vs. looking foolish
Allcott also stated that information overload is often misunderstood.
Many people are still learning how to use social media and collaboration tools.
This isn’t information overload. It’s worrying about appearing foolish.
Information overload vs. Imposter syndrome
It’s when it feels like everyone else knows what they’re doing, and you feel like you’re just trying to make ends meet, and you wait for everyone to realize that you don’t know how to manage projects, that’s Imposter Syndrome. (Read more about Imposter Syndrome here and my ebook on this topic.
It could manifest as information overload. Everyone else seems to be managing all the extra data well, and you are struggling.
This isn’t information overload. It’s the belief that everyone else has it.
Information overload vs.ambiguity
Allcott speaks out about the fact there are many ways data can arrive, which means that data may be unclear or ambiguous in some cases. There is also ambiguity about how we should handle it.
Is it a decision for us? For someone else? How can we find out who is actually receiving the broadcast message and performing the project task?
This isn’t information overload. It’s worrying about how you deal with uncertainty.
Information overload vs. Conflict
Many things happen quickly in many projects. There are often change requests that need to be processed quickly. These can come via many channels. There are often conflicting priorities and many stakeholders with their own opinions.
It can feel overwhelming to receive complaints from them about the project, their team, or why their favorite change was rejected.
But, this isn’t information overload. It’s dealing with conflicts.
Allcott suggests that you have systems in place to manage all of this. A good project management process is essential. Sort out conflicts before they escalate. You can manage your feelings of overwhelm by creating To Do lists and other systems that help you manage.
Check out my ebook on Imposter

6 Barriers to Customer Centricity

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This is an edited excerpt from Customer-Centric Project Management, by Elizabeth Harrin (Gower/Routledge 2012).
It would be wonderful if project-based organizations or PMOs saw the opportunity to improve stakeholder communication and improve stakeholder engagement by demonstrating customer focus (not sure what that means in the context project management). Learn more about customer-centric project management here.
There are likely to be concerns about doing things differently that will hinder a customer-centric approach to being implemented.
Six barriers have been identified that prevent customers from fully adopting a customer-centric approach. These are:
Type of organization
Let’s take a look at each one individually.
Sometimes, more sceptical and hardheaded business leaders have said that they don’t have the time to attend a monthly customer satisfaction meeting.
This is no problem, conference calls can be used to solve problems. In a matter of minutes, issues can be discussed, prioritized, and customer satisfaction scores determined. If necessary, you can also gather their feedback via email.
Once the customer has seen the benefits of the process, and has had success with it, they will request face-to-face meetings.
Leaders are often hesitant to discuss what could be considered a poor-performing business unit. This is the process of gathering customer satisfaction scores. These scores are related to how well the project manager or team are commenting on the level of project management maturity within the organization.
Fear of it not being as good as you hoped can make it difficult to implement this feedback loop. Honesty is key to the success of this process. Having access to data from multiple projects will allow you to run a health review on each project.
Remember that if you don’t know how customers view their projects, project managers, and their supporting PMO organizations, are unable to take corrective actions before the situation becomes untenable for the customer.
Transparency can also manifest in cultural issues. Project customers or team members from cultures that value harmony over transparency might find it difficult to share their honest thoughts during this process.
This is one way to tell if a project manager consistently scores high in customer satisfaction. This can be dangerous as project customers and their needs vary from one project to the next.
A project manager who consistently scores above average could be one of the best performers in the company and is often assigned the most challenging projects and stakeholders. This will be reflected on the scores.
Project managers will soon see that scores can vary due to outside factors and may be worried that this will reflect poorly on them. They might be reluctant to introduce a customer satisfaction program even though they support customer centricity.
The PMO can assure project managers that scores won’t be used to rank them. This is a way to deal with this issue. You must then follow through on this – don’t hide the ranking of assessment data.
Always consider the context in which the scores were received. This will make it difficult for project managers to determine the best way to avoid or circumvent satisfaction reviews. This is a very serious problem.

5 Ways to Work Smarter, Not harder

Did you know that overtime is a workweek in which an individual works overtime and is not paid until March 9th? This is 68 days of overtime that we give to our employers as overtime is not paid.
The 2017 Totally Money overtime survey found that 60% of respondents don’t feel they have a good balance between work and life.
Working from home for a part of the week has allowed me to regain a sense of balance that I had when I was working in an office every day. I have a garden office so I can still work from home, but it’s a much more peaceful environment than the commute and I can wear jeans. Plus, I’m more productive. I get at least as many things done in the office as I do in the home, and sometimes more.
However, working smarter and less hard is not just about having the time to work remotely.
We project managers are usually very organized and I didn’t expect to learn much at the event entitled “Working smarter, not harder”. However, I did learn some interesting statistics, including information about the unpaid overtime we all do. Here are some more stats:
78% of women report working for flexible work policies. However, better technology could make it easier to manage work and family.
55% felt their work/life balance was perfect, but they desired more.
45% of respondents said that their work/life balance was out of kilter and even beyond the point of being balanced.

These figures were based on a survey of women in the room that we completed before we arrived.
Where do you begin if you want to work smarter? Here are five ways you can make your work more flexible and more in line with your lifestyle.
1. Know Your Strengths
Do not try to be all things to all people. It is a waste of time to do everything when someone else can do them better than you. Do not be afraid to surround yourself with positive people and have a great team. They will support you and make sure you look great.
2. Establish clear boundaries about the hours you work
If you have the time and energy to work on weekends or evenings, it’s okay. Flexibility is a virtue, but you must also take your time. This sets a good example for the team.
Although I’m trying very hard, it is still a work in progress.
3. Establish clear boundaries about how people contact you
It makes life easier if people can reach you via IM, mobile phone or desk phone, BlackBerry, email, or home phone. You should tell people how to contact you and keep it that way. You could make a “drop everything list” of people who have all your contact information. These people could be your child’s school or your partner. They would be the people you would make an exception for, as they won’t call you unless it was crucial. You can reach everyone else at your convenience.
4. Catch up and hide away
This is what I am doing right now! I have booked a weekend in a hotel to start writing my next book. I am also doing some blogging to take my mind off of it.
You can schedule time to work from home or at another office. While you can still reach me by phone, you will be more productive if people aren’t constantly interrupting your workstation. Although this is not a strategy that you can use every single day, it helps me tremendously to know that I have quarterly catch-up days already scheduled in my diary.
5. Learn How to Use Your Technology
Make sure you drive it and not vice versa. It is a time-waster and increases my stress levels.

These are 4 Tips for Effective Virtual Meetings

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This is Diana Ecker’s guest post.
Virtual meetings are something we take for granted. With just a few clicks, you can bring together people working remotely, at home, or in offices all over the world.
It allows you to work from anywhere and with contractors, clients, or teams.
It feels like we spend too much time in virtual meetings these days, but that is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Elizabeth offers some additional tips in her video at end of article.
Even if you host virtual team meetings every day, there are still opportunities to optimize. This article will share four quick and easy tips. Each one takes less than a minute.
This article:
1. Eliminate background noise
2. Prevent accidental disclosure
3. Seize the opportunity to be seen
4. Don’t let participants languish
Video: 5 Tips to Improve Virtual Meetings
Small Tips, Big Payoff
Further Reading

These tips are quick and easy to implement, and can help reduce aggravation. This will help you lead more efficient and effective virtual meetings.
1. Eliminate background noise
You want to hear your clients, colleagues, and coworkers (at least most of it!). However, with sensitive microphones, background noises such as traffic outside, dogs barking, or other talking people can distract from the meeting.
Typing is one of the most common offenders.
A microphone can pick up the sound of someone hitting the keys hard and make everyone mad. It’s something I’ve seen more than once.
There’s an easy solution. Most video conferencing software allows users to mut themselves or allow the host to mut them.
You can address this issue when you are leading a virtual group by welcoming participants to use the mute function and explaining the process.
It’s even more important to ensure that there is no background noise when using meeting transcription software.
This can help to avoid unnecessary irritation and help participants focus on the meeting.
A headset can help reduce background noise. Similar to this Logitech headset, I use it. Avoid accidental revelation
Many project meetings require screensharing to share a presentation, document, or app so that the group can work together. This tip is for those who may be required to share their screen during meetings.
Screen sharing is a great tool to make sure everyone is on the right page. It’s perfect for walking through slides or a spreadsheet.
Even with the best screen sharing capabilities, it is easy to accidentally share the wrong window from your computer. Before you know it you’re sharing a family photo, confidential document, or a draft that you don’t want to share.
When you’re setting up for your next meeting take a moment to close any windows you don’t want to accidentally open.
You won’t be worried about the wrong thing appearing when you share your screen.
3. Seize the opportunity to be seen
Video conferencing is so engaging and immediate because of the face-to-face aspect. You can see expressions and even micro-expressions if you are fast enough. ).
This also means that you are responsible for making sure your face is visible and well-lit on screen.
If you are in the shadows, which is most often when there is a bright light behind you, you can see the expressions of other people but not yours.
This is a serious issue. It can cause tension in virtual meetings.

Single Equality Bill

The consultation for the Single Equality Bill seems to be over. Harriet Harman, Minister for Equality and Women recently revealed the draft Bill, which will be implemented in this autumn’s Queen’s Speech.
Unfortunately, there is no positive action. Yes, I’m a big fan of women’s rights to equality, but allowing employers to recruit on the basis of gender or any other non-relevant-to-the-job criteria really doesn’t do much to support the cause. I want to be hired because I’m good and not because the company has a few brunettes less than five feet tall.
The Equality Bill has many other positive aspects, including the stuff about equal pay that aims to close gender pay gaps. I like the idea of banning “gagging clauses” that prevent employees from comparing wages. This topic was recently covered by The Guardian.
The Bill’s remainder covers:
Public authorities are required to address discrimination and promote equality for all races, genders, and disabilities. This extension extends the existing requirement to include gender reassignment and sexual orientation.
Unjustifiable age discrimination should be banned. Don’t we already have this? I didn’t realize we were so behind as a society. It’s my hope that it works for young people, who also face a lot age discrimination.
Transparency will be increased by requiring public agencies to report on gender pay and ethnic minority employment. Publication of evidence about the effectiveness of equal pay audits in closing gender pay gaps will bring transparency to the private sector.
To strengthen enforcement, tribunals can make more recommendations in discrimination cases to ensure that there are benefits for all employees of the accused employer.

This Bill will apparently “declutter” 40+ years of discrimination law in nine pieces of legislation as well as statutory rules and regulations and statutory codes. Whatever. I want to see the actual changes. I imagine that the public sector will have their HR departments overwhelmed by managing the changes in legislation, while the private sector will continue as before until someone files a complaint. A new law won’t change how people behave, but it will make it more likely that they are successful in court against their employer for treating them badly.

PRINCE2: How to Manage Successful Projects

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The new PRINCE2(r), manual for project managers, feels much clearer and more structured. The new PRINCE2(r), Managing Successful Projects, has more diagrams and provides more information about the themes and processes.
This makes the book visually more interesting than the previous versions. I’m sure it makes it easier to read and reference on a daily base.
The business case is more prominent, and the text spends more time evaluating and understanding project context.
Chapter 5 outlines the project’s organizational environment and provides advice on how to work with a project team, whether part-time or not. It also includes guidance on training and line management responsibilities.
This edition has a more detailed definition of the quality approach and a sample agenda for quality review meetings. The book provides more structured guidance about the ‘how’ to manage a project, with examples of how the techniques or criteria are actually applied within a project.
Each Theme chapter ends in a table that explains the responsibilities of each member of the team as they relate to that Theme. This is repeated in a similar manner in the Processes chapters.
The text mentions a daily log, but I’m not convinced that this concept is useful in an electronic business environment.
There are many useful checklists in the book. The Closing a Project checklist seems particularly useful, even though it overlaps slightly with the Authorize Project Closure check-list.
The Appendix E health check lists offer project managers the chance to assess the status of any project. This is especially useful if you are near the end of a major stage or feel it is time to schedule a review.
This chapter provides clearer guidance on how PRINCE2 (r) fits within the OGC family of texts. There are also references to Management of Risk in Chapter 8.
This, along with the advice on how to tailor PRINCE2(r), makes the manual more practical and coherent. The PRINCE2r methods were prone to being applied in an “all or nothing” manner. But this new version puts organizational maturity and appetite at the core of the project management process.

Keeping up: Steps in a positive direction

This is the final part of a series of four on project management in the 21st century.
I’m seeing a shift to work in a more 21st-century way. Many recruiters now place more emphasis on people who have emotional intelligence (read more here) than technical competence. PMI has established a New Media Council to improve communication with members and non-members all over the world. BCS has a Social Media Executive. Soft skills are featured in frameworks and methods like PMBOK or the APM Body of Knowledge. TSO published a series of three books titled “Focus on Skills” earlier in the year.
All the “new ways of working tools” I reviewed last week are communication tools. We need people who are able to communicate well and open to business change in order to get the best out of our project team.
Understanding business change is key to building good working relationships with people who work in a different way to you. Let me show you an example of how stakeholders can be more forward-thinking when adopting new business practices.
Recently, I was speaking to Hal Malcomber and he shared with me a story about an exchange with a member of his project team. It was a construction project and he was speaking to one of the workers. One member of the team wanted to send updates via Twitter. He would complete a task and then tweet the status to the project manager.
It was a great idea to use a technique that the team member was familiar with and would be easy to use. The team member found it easy, and so did the project manager. There was no need to twist arms in order to get weekly status reports. They considered interfacing Twitter’s feed with the project software to automatically get the updates. It was impossible to do, but there are tools that accept Twitter updates, such as Basecamp.
These new methods of working are popular. These new ways of working should be adopted by us all. We should also update our project management methods to reflect how other people work. This will improve our results as well as our relationships.
Did you miss the previous articles? You can catch up here
Part 1: Aligning project Management to Real Business Part 2: Responding To Business Challenges Part 3: New Ways of Working

How to plan for next year

Are you a member of a team and have you completed your annual appraisal? You can also do them for your team members.
I won’t be doing any this yea, which makes a difference. But I will be thinking about 2022 and taking stock of my goals. This year has been a bit disappointing. It feels like I have barely managed to complete any work this year due to getting covid, homeschooling, and having to cut my work hours to make it work around school.
I had big plans, fun goals for my business, and I wanted to do some cool projects. Literally, anything that wasn’t contractually required or kept the lights on didn’t get done.
Last year, I wrote: “The only way you can get what your heart desires is to plan for it.” Follow the plan.
Lol. It worked.
Next year, I will be taking personal planning with a pinch salt. Is it going be another year of’maintenance? I really hope not. I know that having goals will help me make wise decisions about how I spend my limited time.
What about you? This is a great time to think about what you want out of 2022. Is it training? Is it a promotion or training? Increased visibility at work What does it mean to “Better” your projects?
Download my 2022 Career Planner to help you plan for next year and stay on track.
You know that planning is essential if you want something to happen. If you want 2022 career-wise to be a great one, take some time to consider your goals and the steps you will take to reach them.
Even if you don’t care about having a great 2022, and just want it to be good, think about what that could look and how you will make it happen.
When I was a parent of two under two-year-olds, my goals for the year were very low. Don’t assume that career planning is only for those with lofty goals like obtaining your PMP(R), or enrolling in an MBA program.
Get the only career planner you will ever need
My career planner template can help you determine what you want.
This document is quickly becoming a standard in project management! It has been a project management tool for me for the past few years. It has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. I hope that this year’s version will prove to be as useful to you in your planning for what you want to accomplish.
Get your copy here.

How to be helpful

If you are out for more than a day, set your out of office email address. You should also change your voicemail if you are at a critical point in the project or you know that people will want to reach you.
You will be able to tell people where your project team is so they can find the answers. Encourage them to also set up their voicemail and out-of-office email responses.
Your contact details should be included in your email signature. If your company already has a corporate signature format, you can use it. If your company does not have one, make something professional. Include your phone number. People will look at your last email first when looking for contact details. Outlook will not include your signature in a reply to an email unless you have specifically requested it to. It can be really frustrating to receive an email reply and then realize that you need to speak to the person. You will then have to look for their telephone number elsewhere because they don’t have a signature for return emails.
Your emails should be proofread and spell checked. Particularly if you are sending them via a BlackBerry or other mobile device. It is not helpful to anyone if the message isn’t understood by someone because you have missed ‘not’ or made a typo on the name of a document or person.
Make sure you have all the admin done: minutes of project team meetings, steering group meetings, shared project diaries, etc. It is important to keep it all current. If you need to, make sure to block time in your schedule for ‘admin days’.
Don’t promise to deliver what you can’t. This could be coffee for guests when the coffee machine is down, or project dates that you need to rely on unreliable people to deliver.
Follow through with what you say. Be clear about the deadline for feedback if you send a project document out for comment. Collect the feedback and update the document. This will allow others to plan around you.
Tell people as soon as you can if you are unable to do what you promised. This is the time of year to do capital reforecasting. If your project is not on track to deliver by December, adjust your forecasts immediately. It’s better than if your project sponsor discovers in October that you won’t be meeting your delivery or budget targets.