Archive for June, 2013

Projects: Mowing the lawn vs. cutting the grass

June 19th, 2013    Posted in Project Rules

My younger brother John used to mow our neighbor, Theo Ferg’s, lawn. One week, John had a football camp to go to so I volunteered to substitute for John. Heck, I needed the money, and he wasn’t home, so I figured we might as well keep it in the family.

After I finished, Theo Ferg (who was like an uncle to me) came over and asked my dad when John was coming back. My dad said, “Next week, why?” Theo Ferg replied, telling him that John mowed the lawn and I merely cut the grass. I didn’t want to ask anyone what he meant, but it stung. So, the next week, I watched John “mow the lawn” and I couldn’t figure out what Theo Ferg meant. We used the same mower, emptied the bag in the same place, and mowed to the same height. The only real difference is that John took longer.

I was stumped, and couldn’t still figure it out, so I pondered who I should ask. My dad already thought I was an idiot, so I couldn’t ask him. When I asked John, his answer was “people like him better,” which didn’t help. So, I swallowed some humble pie and asked Theo Ferg, knowing my uncle would level with me. Theo Ferg replied that we both cut the grass well. But unlike me, John trimmed the bushes, swept the deck, and cleaned up the garage when he finished. John took the initiative to do everything; he didn’t have to be told. It was a life lesson that has bled into everything I’ve done since.

Look at the yard with your projects-not the grass.

When working with customers, it’s not just about the software, costs, resources, timeline, or baseline issues. It’s all of those things—plus the things that our projects touch that we often don’t think about. Too often, we cut the grass in our projects and don’t mow the lawn. Instead of seeing the whole picture, we limit our view to just a slice.

Theo Ferg taught me two life lessons that summer:

  1. Mow the lawn in everything that I do.
  2. Everyone likes my younger brother better than me.

Do you and your team cut the grass or mow the lawn in your projects?

Does everyone like your younger sibling more than you?

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Sexy Project Management Reporting

June 6th, 2013    Posted in Project Rules

Project Management Reporting (PMR) will never teeter on the brink of being X-rated, but it shouldn’t be painfully boring, either. One thing is for certain, though: The planning, timelines and other pertinent information in a project management report, which are critical to the project, need to be effectively communicated to appropriate managers.

My friend Tom talks about “sexy-ing” up reports by making them look attractive. He has a point: when a report is ugly, it’s hard to look past the aesthetics and grasp what (very important) information is being relayed.

So, what can you do to develop sexy reports?

  1. Use color
    Printing or publishing color reports from a PDF file is no longer a technical or expensive problem. Color jumps out and grabs a reader’s attention. For example, red means “critical” for timelines and “alert” for status reports. Remember to include a legend that clearly explains the colors.
  2. Pictures & Diagrams
    The old cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” is absolutely true. Architectural drawings, equipment diagrams, plot plans and job progress pictures are all helpful visuals to present your report.
    A word of caution, however: Don’t let the pictures get in the way of the important information you’re trying to convey. Although pictures help tell a story and are excellent support components, the key takeaway for managers is the information you’re trying to communicate.
  3. Font Selection
    Try to keep the number of fonts you use in your report to a minimum. In most cases, three fonts is the max. If you divide the report into different levels or section, keep each section’s font in the same family. Also, always use both upper-case and lower-case letters. It’s very difficult to read reports that have all upper-case letters, especially if they have a lot of data.
  4. Paper Size
    Reports should be designed to fit on letter-sized paper. All users have access to a printer that prints on 8.5 by 11-inch paper.
  5. Use Subtotals
    In large reports that contain data, subtotal the results. Most readers want to see the big picture. Then, drill down the details.
  6. Graphics Packages
    When building a “sexy” report, programs that utilize and showcase graphics, like Microsoft PowerPoint, are excellent tools to communicate project data. You can also make far greater presentations with these programs than with many project management tools.
  7. The Truth
    Always reflect the truth in your project reports. The tendency may be to “fudge” or exaggerate information. For instance, no one likes to show that a project is behind schedule. Avoid the temptation! Reports should closely mirror what is in your project management software. The truth will always come out eventually…so don’t lie.

Communication is the most important part of project management and effective PMR will help a project by getting better buy-in and participation.

How do you make your reports informative and sexy?

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