Be Strategic About Your Career

I’ve always believed your career is in your hands. Your boss wants you to do a good job and deliver value in your day-to-day role. Exceptional bosses take an interest in your career. But, they’re also busy and don’t have time to shephard you through the process of figuring out your long-term goals.

People who are successful have a goal in mind. Once they have a goal, they develop a strategy, or an action plan, that is wholistic, specific and distinctive. They see the market they’re in, what’s trending and make choices that separates them from everyone else.

During these pandemic times when we’re working from home and social distancing, we find ourselves with more time on our hands. This extra time allows us to think about our careers and spend time strategizing the future. The pandemic will end at some point and we’ll still need to go to work. Wouldn’t you like to plan for what that will look like long term?

An Admin's Guide to Creating a Strategic Career Plan | Career ...

Strategy does not need to be complex. Simply, you analyze your current state, have a vision for the future state, then put an action plan together to accomplish it. Companies can be good at creating these, but when it comes to our careers, we’re usually not.

I’ve preached to others about taking the time to strategize their careers. Now it was time to take my own advice and update my own! Below are the steps I’ve taken over the last two weeks. Hopefully, these can help you get going with your own personal strategy sessions.

Decide to do this and allocate time to get it done. On the surface, there’s not a lot of immediate ROI in spending time being strategic about your career. In today’s society, we want things now. But given you’ll be spending a good chunk of your awake hours at work, investing time now can have payoffs in the long run.

Don’t worry about putting in 8 hours a day at this. Take just 20, uninterrupted minutes each day thinking, researching, connecting, promoting, and doing what you feel is necessary. If there is someone you trust, have them hold you accountable to putting in the time.

Define your long-term goals. I actually have a couple tracks I’m looking at; project management speaking & training under my own Bridge the Gap Consulting, LLC company, or running a PMO or Chief Project Officer (or similar) for a global company. Don’t be afraid to go big! Remember, you won’t start job this tomorrow. It could be five or more years from now.

As I started working on my long-term goals, I felt it best to do a check-in with myself first. Assessments are a good place to start. I took Strengths Finder 2.0, a free version from High5, and the Meyers Briggs (I’m an ENTJ). There are other assessments out there. Find the one that best suits you. I also talked to a couple trusted peers I’ve worked with before, sharing my goals and gathering feedback from them.

Find your target job on Indeed, LinkedIn or other job searching sites. Take an inventory of what skills they’re looking for. What are some of the gaps you see in yourself? What skills, education, certifications or other do you need to acquire? Make a list of these as you move into the next part.

Where is the industry going? In the field of project management, there is a rise of the “Project Economy.” With advances in automation and technology, the way we work, align teams to the project goals and get projects done will change. Though this is something I align to anyway, I still need to learn more about it and how it could impact my long term goals.

Now, going back to your gaps list and what you need to obtain to get that future job. Of those items you wrote down, are any of them relevant in the future? Is there a different skill you should be focused on based on where the industry is going? Are there any thought leaders you could research and look at their predictions? All questions to ask as you move forward.

Make a “bite-sized” strategic plans and tactics. Want to know how not to achieve a goal? Make it too time-consuming too fast and expect immediate results. If you do see immediate results, you either worked incredibly hard, got lucky, or your goal wasn’t big enough.

Below is one of my favorite pictures of strategy and tactics. Strategy is like a river. It’s flowing a certain direction. It’s not always in straight line, sometimes the current is faster or slower, and there could be rapids that try to flip you, but you get end. You’ll also want to define when to get to the end of the river. Maybe you have a certain quarter in mind (i.e. end of Q3 2020), or maybe a year (i.e. 12/31/2021). In either case, the river needs to end, and you need to define it.

The tactics, or what you take on the strategic river, could be a kayak, motor boat, log, innertube, or any number of things that float. If you’re taking a motor boat, is it an inboard or outboard? How fast do you want to get there? Don’t use a power boat when a kayak will do. Because it’s up to you, there’s no right or wrong answer, just the method that will get you to where you want to go. Also, beware of the shores as there can be things that distract or try to flip you.

In my own journey, I’ve committed to carving out a minimum of 25 minutes a day. I say 25 because that’s about as long as my attention can be totally focused at one time before I need to stand up and move. Sometimes I can do more, but that is the exception.

In my goal to be a project management speaker and trainer, I have a strategy to create a training for small companies and nonprofits by the end of Q2 2020. My tactics are to research on these groups, understand their needs and/or problems they’re trying to solve, build a PowerPoint, create handouts, and develop a workbook to be used throughout the training. I’m also talking to other trainers to get tips and recommendations. All these tactics meet the Q2 2020 strategic goal.

The only person who will promote you, is you. I’m not talking about a promotion at work. I’m talking about you, your name, your brand, what people say or think when they hear your name. What does your LinkedIn profile say about you? How does your resume define you? How do those align to where you want to be? Find ways to get your name out there. Post on professional sites. Write or respond to articles or online conversations where you can add value. Find a way to get your name out there!

Invest in yourself during these unprecedented times. Take time to strategize your career. Set goals for where you want to be and tactics to get there. Hopefully, this whole pandemic will be past us quickly and we can move on with our lives. Wouldn’t it be great if you could move in a better direction?

How To Chart A Career Plan - FactSuite - Blog

What To Do Before Assigning Team Members

“We need Todd on this project. He’s critical!”

“What’s Todd’s role? What other roles do we need? Does Todd have the tools he needs?”

“I don’t know, but Todd needs to be on this. He’s on all projects.”

There was a couple problems with this conversation. First, Todd (who was a senior developer) was assigned to all projects. Second, not his role, or any others, were clearly defined. We also didn’t have a list of all the tools needed for this project.

Every question was met with “Well, Todd needs to be on this!” You know what? Todd probably DOES need to be on the project, but let’s take a deeper look before we over-commit him to yet another effort.

After you have worked with the sponsor and necessary stakeholders on clearly defining scope and what “done” looks like, it’s time to start setting your sites on the team who will actually do the work.

There are two steps I take when starting to put a team together; identify the roles and tools required.

Identifying roles. We naturally have a tendency to name people when starting a project. Unless you’re new or work at a large organization, chances are you have team members identified in your mind you want. As difficult as it is, resist the temptation!

Instead, look at the roles you’ll need on the project separate from the people who’ll actually do the work. Not sure all the roles you need? Yeah, happens to me all the time. Look at previous, similar projects. What roles did they have? Also, ask other project managers or domain experts what roles may be needed. For example, in a technology project I’ll find a senior IT person, buy them coffee and ask what roles they think I should have. Then, document them.

Identifying tools. If I’m building a shed, I’ll need items like a hammer, saw, screw driver, screws, nails and a level. But if I’m missing a tape measure, I’m going to get stuck pretty quick.

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Same goes for your project. As you put your team together, take a look at the tools required. Software licenses. Manufacturing equipment. Transportation for materials. It could be anything that when your team starts work, can stop progress quickly. Do your best to identify those up front. As with identifying roles, if you don’t know what’s needed up front, ask someone!

In both identifying roles and tools, you may get to a point where you say “Hey, we don’t have that person” or “We let that software expire”. Maybe your whole software development team is already 110% allocated and can’t take on any more. Identify and document these gaps. How will you fill them? In the instance of personnel, do you hire or engage with staff augmentation? How many software licenses are needed? Rent or buy equipment? All these gaps can be reviewed and filled. Be sure to engage the sponsor (and maybe accounting) in the discussion.

Once the roles and tools are identified and gaps filled, it’s time to add names! Create a simple table of names, roles and any tools the person will use and display it at the kickoff. Team members will appreciate how their role fits into the bigger picture.

Before you get some people together and say “Go forth and conquer this initiative!!”, take the time to identify the roles first, people second. Then, ensure you have the tools they need to be successful. Good luck!

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Will the Coronavirus Test Your Remote Team Leadership?

I remember when the H1N1 outbreak was happening in 2009. I was traveling frequently all over the U.S. As H1N1 picked up steam and more people contracted it, we were asked to temporarily limit or cancel travel all together. Getting on a plane posed a risk.

However, to my boss at the time, an H1N1 outbreak and reduced travel didn’t excuse us from showing up at our desks everyday. Sure, I had the ability to work remote. Yes, I had high-speed internet at home and could perform my job functions.

But alas, I still showed up every day. That is, until my boss suddenly got a fever and half of his team also got sick. Funny how we were all allowed to work from home for two weeks after that!

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The Coronavirus is a terrible sickness that continues to spread at an alarming rate. As it continues to spread, more and more companies will either let, or encourage, employees to work from home.

If you’re a project leader and are used to having your team co-located every day, there is a very real chance that soon you’ll be managing them in a remote capacity. We’re already seeing this with multi-national companies and it’s picking up steam in the US.

If you’re new to managing remote teams, here are some tips I have for remote team management.

Be ultra-available. Your team will want to know they can contact you at any time and you’ll get back to them quickly. Be available via instant message, phone, text, email, carrier pigeon, or whatever it takes. Respond quickly so they don’t go offline or switch gears and start to work on something else. If they ask a question you don’t know the answer to, it’s OK to tell them you don’t know but will find someone who does.

Regular check-ins. First, check in 1:1 with team members on a frequent basis. Make sure they have the information and tools to keep moving forward on their tasks. Also, let them know what else is going on. If people are used to working in an office and suddenly find themselves isolated at home, they may feel lonely. Most importantly, don’t cancel 1:1 meetings with them! Cancelling can send a message they’re not that important.

Second, have regular team meetings. If you get together once a week in the office, make it twice a week over the phone. Daily stand-ups can continue as normal. There are a host of applications that allow for voice and video conferencing (though I’ve never been a fan of turning my camera on at home). Keep your team connected to one another and engaged. In these virtual calls, I allow time for “small talk” so personal connections among team members are made.

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Beware of the grape vine. That damn vine! It’s always there. If you hear someone saying “Well I heard…”, get facts and share them with the whole team at the same time. This way, everyone hears the same message. Messages get skewed as its passed from one person to the next, so be sure to get accurate information out.

Be flexible in your schedule. I once had a developer who wouldn’t roll into the office until 10 AM. He’d then work to 7 PM. At the end of my day, I’d ask if he was good and had what he needed. If yes, I left. If no, I helped get an answer. Managing remote teams means you also need to be flexible in working hours. If you’re used to being done at 3:30, you may need to check in at 4:45 to make sure those still working have what they need.

Use a virtual white board. I love white boards. Writing, drawing, or sometimes random squiggles can bring about clarity when coming up with ideas, refining processes or solving issues. Though it’s not the same, find an online white board, or mind-mapping application, that allows you to draw on it and get feedback from your team.

With a little luck, time and smart scientists perfecting drugs to combat it, the Coronavirus will soon be contained. In the meantime, the remote team model will be tested as more companies allow employees to work from home. Be prepared to manage your projects and keep your teams on schedule.

Hitting the “Wall”

It was somewhere between mile 21 and 22. I’d felt it coming and was trying to prepare myself. My legs went from feeling OK to jelly. My body started to hurt in ways I’d never experienced. This marathon had to end. I wanted to be done. I hit the “Wall”.

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If you’re a runner, you probably know what I’m referring to. You get to a point where you feel physically, and usually emotionally, spent and don’t want to move forward any more. It’s hard to see the finish. The race has to end, and end soon. You’re done.

Though we hear about the “Wall” in running, there are other walls we hit on a regular basis. Interacting with pre-teen and teen kids. Dealing with a boss or co-worker. The project that’s been a problem and just won’t go away. Physically and emotionally, you’re spent and just want to be done.

As a project manager, you’ve probably had a project or two (or more) that has been draining. Especially closer to going live/implementation, the stress can go way up, team members & stakeholders may get grumpy, and you feel spent. It’s gotta end!

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This is when you need to get mentally tough, though! Everything is telling you to pull back, but you need to get your mind to jump all in. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But, it’s also necessary. As the project manager, the team leader and driver of change, it’s on you to get past the wall and deliver results.

I’ve hit those walls at work. Recently I had one of those “Wall” moments where I thought “Screw it! I’m Done!” But through a few strategies I’ve employed for personal, professional and athletic activities, I was able to overcome and keep moving forward. Here are my three big ones which I hope you find useful.

Self-talk. No, not talking to yourself where everyone around you gives the “that person’s crazy” look. I’m talking about the choice words that help elevate your performance and keeps you focused on why you’re doing this and the value you’re bringing.

My favorite phrase is “C’mon man, you got this!” It’s what someone used to say to me when I was young and I use it on myself today. No matter how tough something is, you got this!

Be Mindful and Step Back. Sometimes, especially when things aren’t going well, we tend to go down a rabbit hole and get too deep into the details. This is common. It can cause a lot of stress because while you’re trying to dig deep, you also think about all the other things that need to get done. Anxiety kicks in. Now, nothing gets done because you suddenly can’t focus.

First, recognize this is happening. Be mindful of yourself getting too into the details and the fact your mind is also thinking about 10 other things. Take a deep breath and step back. Be present and look at everything going on around you. Can someone else handle the details? Maybe. Should you be delegating? Probably. By taking a step back you can see the bigger picture and assign the right people to get, or keep, things moving.

Visualize If-Then Scenarios. This is a mental training technique I learned when preparing for my first 1/2 marathon years ago. A coach taught me to visualize having an issue while running, then what I would do to resolve it. For example, if I could visualize myself struggling near the end of a race, how would I handle it so I crossed the finish line successfully?

Same goes for work. We do if/then scenarios in excel. But, can you visualize how possible options play out when there’s an issue? That would make the discussion with the sponsor and stakeholders different because you’ve already seen how the options turn out.

We all can hit the “wall” in our personal and professional lives. Understand it’s bound to happen at some point. But, through positive self-talk, being mindful and stepping back, and visualizing if-then scenarios, you can knock those damn walls down!

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The Gift of Conflict

Let me start by saying that I’m not an advocate of conflict. I’m especially not a fan of conflict that turns personal or even physical. But, in my 20+ years of managing projects and teams of varying size and personalities, I’ve had to extend effort, and sometimes great effort, managing conflict. As uncomfortable as conflict can be, it can also be a gift.

As Americans, we generally view conflict as negative. Conflict comes with the real or perceived end goal of defeating an opponent. It’s an “I Win You Lose” mentality. Someone comes out the victor and the other defeated. Or, we avoid conflict altogether. In that case, we stew in our anger, wishing we could unleash on the other person but knowing that conflict would make things uncomfortable for both of us.

But, what if we changed our view? What if instead, we looked at it as a gift? What if we looked at is as an opportunity to discuss our differences and strengthen our relationship with others? Doesn’t make conflict seem so bad, does it!?

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I’ve classified office conflict into two categories; professional and personal. Professional conflict is when two or more co-workers disagree on an approach or method to complete work. I see this as “healthy conflict.” In the IT world, think of two Enterprise Architects agreeing on a new application (they very rarely do). Or, in the construction world, an architect and designer. I’ve seen disagreements between these be professional and eventually they come to an agreement. If they’re struggling with an agreement, ask for help from a third party.

Personal conflict is when someone doesn’t like someone else “just because.” These types on conflict must be handled quickly and aggressively. Even though professional conflict can impact the team’s morale, personal can destroy it. I’ve litterally had one team member dislike another because of their hair! Another because they chewed gum. Little things can turn big, so resolve them quickly.

There are a few reasons why I believe conflict is beneficial for the team.

First, conflict avoids groupthink. Groupthink happens when the team makes decisions as a group that discourages creativity. If everyone agrees on the wrong path, it’s still the wrong path. Having the right level of conflict helps the team see things from different angles. I’ve had to introduce strong personality members into a team where groupthink was prevalent.

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Next, as the conflict gets resolved, the team members take greater ownership of the solution. Once the team has had the opportunity to disagree, they work collaboratively on a solution and next steps. Because the team came up with these, there’s greater ownership and accountability to get them done.

Finally, there is open and honest communication on the team. Team members aren’t afraid to talk about their concerns. There’s better listening. Teams that are OK with conflict collaborate and get more done.

Healthy conflict increases team effectiveness. Don’t be afraid to allow professional conflict on your team and eliminate personal quickly. Look at conflict as a gift, one that will allow your team to perform better.