The Evolving Definition of “Done”

“We’re more concerned about meeting customer needs than defining done.”

For years, I have defined “Done” as a clearly articulated definition of the output of a project. Simple enough. The project has scope. It’s my job to lead a team to deliver that scope. That scope is delivered, and now it’s time to move on to the next project.

Done And Done GIF - Done And Done Spongebob Finished - Discover & Share GIFs

But over the past year, I’ve had a change of heart in what “Done” means.

In early 2020, businesses had to pivot as COVID moved everyone into stay-at-home mode. Many projects pivoted, also. Then in 2021 as things started opening back up, pent up demand moved customers to buy. Businesses again were trying to pivot to meet consumer demand while balancing supply chain woes. As project professionals, many of our projects, and the way we support organizations, again had to pivot. “Done” became a moving target for many projects.

When trying to deliver projects, especially those in rapidly changing environments, “Done” quickly turns from a stake in the ground to a piece of straw in the sand on a beach near the desert. Projects may be released early with minimal features to “just get it out there,” or delayed until additional features can be added.

That’s why a couple weeks ago was very intriguing. When talking with a business owner, I inquired about one of their 2021 initiatives that was coming to a close. I asked if they had defined “Done” clearly up front. She laughed.

“We’re more concerned about meeting customer needs than defining done. If we locked ourselves down on the front end, we would’ve missed out on an opportunity we uncovered along the way.”

101 Meeting Customer Needs Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images -  iStock

For her, “Done” was less about clearly defining the end result, and more about how it competes in the market, solves a problem, or meets a customer need. Done is subjective, open to interpretation, evolving, and iterative. Done isn’t about the output, but the outcome. It’s not a thing, but a result. It’s a solution.

But how do stakeholders respond if Done is abstract and not concrete? They want to know what they’re getting for their investment of people, time and money, don’t they?

My answer is IT DEPENDS! Some stakeholders will be OK with it, others won’t. If a stakeholder works in a rapidly changing environment, they will probably be more understanding and still commit to project success. Those larger programs or more established companies may not be. If Done is a moving target, the stakeholder conversations could get challenging.

What is Done? Is it a clearly articulated deliverable, or something less tangible? Is it based on meeting a customer or market need, solving a problem, or iterative as more is learned? I don’t have an answer and it also depends on the company, culture, and environment they work in. Done may be a clearly defined deliverable. It may also be iterative as it strives to meet a customer need.

How do you define DONE?

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Negotiation: A Lifelong Skill!

Project “Buy a New Truck.”

Let me tell you, this project has been going on for months. With the supply chain woes, new vehicles are in short supply, which makes used vehicles in short supply, also. Because I’m a picky used buyer, I have very specific criteria a vehicle must meet before I even click on a picture. So when the day came where I found what I was looking for with the required features, mileage and price, I grabbed my wife and went to look at the target vehicle.

Everything checked out! Because I knew what my trade was worth, the down payment I was going to give and estimated payment to keep within, the financial discussion went fairly quickly. I did say at one point I didn’t NEED a new truck and would be happy to walk away, which helped get some accessories thrown in.

Deal = Done!

New truck at home!

While my short negotiation was going on, I overheard the conversation a month/daughter were having at a table near me. They had been at the dealership for five hours, test drove nine cars, and still couldn’t make a decision. The dealer came over and wanted to know if they made a selection. Nope, they actually wanted to see “just one more car, please.” The dealer huffed off. I then heard the daughter ask her mom, “Is that a good price? I don’t know anything about this kind of car, or SUV thing.” I think their five hours were going to turn into eight!

Let’s be honest, buying a car can be fun and a pain in the ass all at the same time. But car buying is an example of a critical skill we all must possess to make it successful; Negotiation. Negotiation techniques can help in many areas of your life, from buying a car, to selling a house, to getting a higher salary or better raise. It’s a life skill, one most of us probably never master.

Though I openly admit I’m not an expert in the field of negotiation, I have learned a few things about it throughout my career and life. I’ve had some helpful mentors along the way. Here are some of my keys to negotiating.

Do Your Research. What is my vehicle trade worth? How much could I get for my house? What am I worth to this company that’s offering me a job? Before entering into a negotiation, research the topic. Understand the numbers and go in with a strong case. This will take time, but it is time well spent.

Do your research and writing on any selected project topic by Idrisaogirima  | Fiverr

Make a Concrete First Offer. Seize control of the bargaining table by setting the initial terms of a negotiation. In the case of my truck, when I made the decision to buy, I told the dealer what I wanted for my trade (because I researched what it was worth), the money I would put down, and the interest rate I should expect. The numbers were concrete, not ranges. If I gave a range, they’d naturally go for the lower amount. I set the terms they had to react to. If you’re negotiating for salary and you’re thinking about a range, just give the higher number. The worst they can say is no.

Talk Less & Ask More. I had a mentor that told me to shut up when negotiating, but keep eye contact. Silence speaks volumes and can cause someone to talk more, ultimately making concessions. Also, ask open-ended questions and listen carefully. It took only two questions before I found out the truck I was trading in would probably be sold again within 48 hours given how fast that year and mileage of vehicle moved off their lots. That information came in handy when they wanted to give me less than what I requested, to which I said no.

Learn To Speak Less And Listen More | by Bruno (HE) Mirchevski | The  Logician | Medium

Walking Away IS an Option. As I told the dealer, I didn’t NEED a new truck. I WANTED one. Thus, I was fine walking away if my requirements weren’t met. Maybe you would be OK walking away from a job offer because they aren’t meeting your requirements. Or you got a low-ball offer selling your home. Be OK stepping away.

Don’t Take Someone’s Behaviors Personally. Have you ever asked for something and the other person gasps, or lets out a huge sigh, rolls their eyes, or does something that makes you cringe? We all have. Don’t let personal issues sidetrack the deal at hand. Sometimes they’re just doing it for show or a tactic to get you to wiggle more. Focus on the outcome!

Remember, Both Sides Should “Win.” If you go in with an “I win you lose” mindset, you may have one successful deal, but probably not two. Both parties should get something they want. I got a truck and the dealer got rid of it. I felt good and will probably go back to them when the need arises in the future. Maybe you’re negotiating for salary and you’re happy with the amount, and the employer feels they got a great employee. Or, you negotiated for a vendor contract and both parties feel the amount agreed to works well given the service offered. Win-win.

How to Create a Win-Win Relationship — Frank Sonnenberg Online

If you’re a project professional, you need negotiation skills! You’ll be negotiating for people, resources, money, time, or any host of things. Early in your career negotiating may feel uncomfortable, but through experience and training, you can get better at it.

Take the time to learn negotiation skills. Whether it be a class, YouTube, mentor, or another means, it will pay off both in your career in personal life. Negotiating with a sponsor and for a truck require similar skills, so hone those. Happy Negotiations!!

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Enabling Change – PMBOK 3.12

“Prepare those impacted for the adoption and sustainment of new and different behaviors and processes required for the transition from the current state to the intended future state created by the project outcomes.” PMBOK pg. 58

  • “What’s OCM?”
  • “Organizational Change Management.”
  • “Is that an actual job?”
  • “Yep. They tell us what’s gonna happen, do some training, give us stress balls, and leave.”

This was the gist of the conversation I had with another project manager in my department. A PMO consulting firm came in and did an assessment of where we were and where the new executive leadership wanted us to be. Coming out of that assessment, our processes were going to go through a full transformation to what the consultants called “scalable to accommodate growth.”

We were told there would be change and training. Their OCM consultant came in and did one training, one support training after going live, and was never seen again.

Six weeks later, we reverted back to the “old way” of project delivery. The change did not stick!

Let’s be honest, change is hard! Don’t think so? Wear your watch on the opposite wrist for a week. It’ll drive you crazy within a few hours. We humans love our routines. They’re comfortable and safe. How dare you change them!!

Why Change is So Hard in the Pool (and How to Make it Easier)

But, for companies to remain relevant, change is inevitable. Change in tecnology that impacts internal operations. New features that impact external customers. Change will happen, and project professionals are uniquely positioned to help drive that change.

I’ve lead and been part of projects where change went really well, and where it fell flat on its face! Here are what I feel are some of the key aspects of enabling change to obtain envisioned future state. One thing I will point out, though, is the best change is implemented in collaboration with an OCM professional.

Fully identify the change. You may be saying, this is easy! You know the project scope and what’s being delivered. C’mon! But if you’re implementing a new accounting module to the company’s ERP that impacts AP and AR, you might want to dive into what the change will be and how it impacts the company, department, and anyone external.

3 Ways for HR to Identify and Embrace Change

Identify the stakeholders who will be impacted by the change and engage quickly. This follows on the heels of identifying the change. Understand the stakeholder(s) impacted. If it’s an internal change, connect with the impacted area’s leaders. If an external change, reach out to a product manager or account rep. Do it as soon as possible so they know the change is coming!

Make it personal. Talking about why a change is happening is important, but it also needs to be personal. How does it impact the individual? Remember, everyone wants to know “But how does this impact me?” Tell them, and also how they play a role in the change’s success.

5 ways to create positive personal change | MiNDFOOD

Train, then train again. Like the example I gave of the PMO changes, only being trained once didn’t give it the chance to stick. After working with some OCM folks in my career, they train multiple times. One OCM person said when they upgrade their primary hospital software, the first training is 2 months in advance and have trainings every other week at a minimum.

Reinforce and support post go-live. Yeah, we went live!! Now what? The WHY behind the change, WHAT has changed and HOW it impacts the individual must be reinforced. Listen to feedback. Empathize. Document suggestions. Conduct additional training. Don’t say “We’re Live!”, drop off stress balls and leave. Support your stakeholders as they work to understand the new norm.

Change is hard and not everyone will want it to happen. But change is also necessary. Help stakeholders envision a future state while at the same time not overburdening them with too much change. Engage an OCM professional if possible, especially on the larger projects. But at the end of the day, projects are all about change, so spend time identifying what it is, communicate, train, and support post go-live. Good luck!

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Project Management Institute. (2021). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (7th ed.). Project Management Institute.

Project Management Trends in 2022

The project management industry continues to evolve. Traditional responsibilities of a project professional continue to be blurred. In our hybrid reality of remote teams and short-staffed companies, new challenges and opportunities will arise.

Below are my thoughts on eight 2022 trends based on what I’ve experienced, talking to others, and reading insights and articles from other project professionals.

Less Focus on “Resources” and More Focus on “People”. Let’s start with two simple definitions. Resources are equipment or other materials/licenses project teams require. People are people, and use those resources to complete tasks. People are not resources. Treat your team like people, not tools. They have feelings, other commitments outside of work, and are looking for more than just a paycheck. Treat them like people, not resources!

im-a-people-person-i-have-people-skills - Yellow Dog Consulting

Show Me the Data! Image if you could say “Alexa, what would the impact be if Task X is three days late?” and get an answer immediately? That’d be great! Maybe it already exists to some level. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will continue to be enhanced within project management. Redundant tasks will be automated. With all this AI and automation, project predictive analytics will begin to move more to the forefront of conversations. Leadership will want to see data on a project, or proposed project, to understand how it’s running and if ROI is still feasible. Sure, a PM can talk about progress, but data will be a “trust but verify” differentiator.

Drop the Project Manager Title; Be a Project Leader Instead. We all know project professionals need to be leaders. This has only intensified over the last couple of years. They must have the ability, in person and virtually, to influence, negotiate, facilitate, and effectively communicate with an array of stakeholder groups. Since they lead on all these levels, call them project leaders. That’s what they’re doing. I also see some direct team leadership (solid line, not dotted line) as staffing shortages have decreased the number of functional leaders. This direct leadership also leads to…

Project Professionals are Part of the Employee Retention Strategy. A recent podcast I listened to had a HR professional on. She said everyone in the company is part of their employee retention strategy. As a project leader, your goal is to create a culture of success with your project team that fosters psychological safety and interpersonal relationships. Continually honing those “soft skills” is required to create this environment and not drive staff to other companies. With staffing shortages, we’re all part of the retention strategy!

Who Owns Employee Retention: HR or Operations? | POWERS™ Management  Consulting

Your Methodology is ScrumBanaFall? That’s Cool. I have to give it to the latest PMBOK 7th edition; Section 3.7 is all about tailoring your approach based on the context of the project. There are a lot of processes a company, PMO and project professional can subscribe to. But do they make sense for the project you’re undertaking? Since every project is unique, be OK with tailoring your approach to deliver the maximum business value with the least amount of process overhead. Who knows, ScrumBanaFall may be a commonly used word in the future!

What Comes First; Agile or Agility? Agile practices will continue to gain popularity and adoption as the speed of business only increases. With digital transformations and changes in consumer preferences, project teams need to respond to change. Scrum, PMI-ACP, Kanban, DevOps, SAFe and more are available to project professionals and teams. But, does the company have organizational agility? Can the company see the bigger external and internal changes and respond? Can a company utilize agile practices if they cannot practice agility? Though I believe agile practices and organizational agility can go hand-in-hand, I like to see organizational agility first. With supply chain and personnel challenges, companies have to practice agility, and with that projects will need to be more agile.

Agile is Dead, Long live Agility | Wouter Tinbergen

To PM Tool, or Not to PM Tool? That is the (Repeated) Question. This is a question I get and read online constantly. “What project management tool do you like, why, and should I use it?” You’ll get a wide range of answers as well as messages from sale people. There are more and more project management tools on the market. This has helped drive down the cost and allowed smaller companies to subscribe to useful tools. Many tools now offer not only your traditional PM capabilities, but also more online and live collaboration capabilities. But if I’ve said it once I’ve said it 100 times; have your processes defined and documented first, find a tool to support and enhance those second. You probably could use a tool. Be prescriptive about which one you choose.

Remote Team Management is the Norm. Remote teams are the norm. No longer are they the exception. I’ve seen stats of anywhere between 40-60% of teams are remote. With the employee shortages many companies face, remote team members are a viable solution. If you haven’t looked at tips on remote team management already, I suggest you do so.

Remote Team Management: A Full Guide to Making Your Virtual Team Happy

With the profession continuing to evolve and our hybrid world, there are many trends project leaders will need to adapt to. 2022 will be full of challenges and opportunities. Let’s get out there and make it a successful year!

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