Feedback on Feedback

My previous post on feedback outlined a powerful but tricky method for building strong ties with your project team. It’s tricky because you’re working without the automatic empowerment that a line manager enjoys. I’d hazard that it’s even trickier if you’ve grown up on the more reserved side of the Atlantic. Still, in order to effect change, you have to be the change. And an experienced Project Manager is no stranger to a challenging situation!

If you haven’t read the other post (Effective Feedback, Affecting Behavior) then I recommend you do that before reading on. In summary, though, the technique goes like this:

1) Make sure you ask the person if it’s OK to give them some feedback. You need them to be receptive or there’s no point. (“May I give you some feedback?”)
2) Describe the behaviour you’re providing feedback on. (“When you do…”)
3) Describe the consequence. (“Here’s what happens…”)
4) Ask for new behaviour if you’re looking for a change (“Can you please change that?” “How might you do this differently in the future?”) or encourage good behaviour that should be repeated.  Don’t demand or dictate the change. Make it their choice and you’ll get more commitment. Be sure to show appreciation by providing positive feedback if you see improvement.

It’s inevitable that you’ll get a reaction when applying this approach, particularly in the beginning when people aren’t used to it. Unfortunately, there’s often a negative connotation about feedback. That’s something we can change, though. Here are a few possible scenarios and what to do about them.

“I have plenty to do already.” “I don’t have time to do that differently.”

This could be a challenge to your authority, which is difficult territory for many Project Managers. It may imply the person receiving your feedback doesn’t want to change or it could mean they need to manage their time more efficiently. It could also be that they’re overcommitted as a shared resource. Getting what you want doesn’t mean forgoing understanding of their situation.

If you’ve judged that the person responding to your feedback is simply resisting then you have to find a way to remind them that being part of your project team sometimes means having to be a team player. There may be times when they can’t do things how they would like or are used to. Clearly, this leans heavily on your diplomacy skills but avoid trying to assert the authority you don’t have (or even do have) and definitely don’t let the other person get under your skin.

“Other Project Managers don’t do that.”

Probably true but irrelevant. Everyone does things differently. It’s unlikely you’re breaking any protocols just by giving feedback and you have to manage the way you believe is most effective. As always, be understanding but ask them if they’ll commit to this new way of doing things. Ultimately, people need to take responsibility for their behaviour.

“I don’t want to.”

This one is definitely a challenge. If you’re applying the feedback model to everyone, including those more senior to you, then this may well happen. As always, don’t rise to the rebuttal. Remember, we need receptiveness from the other person. It may be wisest to revisit the issue another time. If the behaviour isn’t changing, revisit the consequences and ask again what the person can do. If they aren’t able to provide an answer but seem to be considering your comments, give them some more time. Eventually, if it’s something that really does need to change, make some suggestions to give direction. If all else fails, you may have to resort to speaking to their line manager if it’s important enough. Lastly, if the antagonist is senior to you, it may be that you just don’t win this one. Life isn’t perfect.

“I’ll think about it.” “That’s a good idea – let me think about it.”

Don’t be caught out – this isn’t an acceptable response. You’re not asking them to think about it, you’re asking them to change. If thinking time is a reasonable request, make sure you get a commitment for an update. But be cautious that this isn’t an evasion tactic.

When they say they’re going to do something but don’t.

While this situation can be frustrating, remember that feedback should be a simple, low-key event. It’s never a criticism. Don’t show frustration. Remain dispassionate but attentive. Focus on the behaviour, not the person. The model discussed here still applies.

“When I ask you to do ‘X’ and you say you will but then you don’t, here’s what happens: Not only does ‘X’ happen but there is an additional consequence – I wonder if you’re not going to do what you say you will in other situations?”

If you’re given multiple, different reasons for unchanging behaviour, stand firm but be pleasant. Point out that patterns are what you see and you draw conclusions from them, whatever the reasons you’re given.


Feedback is a series of subtle, small, consistent comments. The more comfortable you are, and the more quickly and easily you can give feedback, the more effective it becomes. Master the simplicity of it and people will soon get used to the way you work. Any awkwardness or trepidation will disappear at that point. Just make sure to keep it light.



In my last post, I spent several paragraphs bemoaning the way email can be misused. But Outlook abuse is nothing compared to the weapon of mass distraction that is PowerPoint. I suspect many of us have endured someone dutifully reading through paragraph after paragraph, on slide after slide, while we’re actually concentrating on appearing interested and not yawning or looking at our watch. The problem is simple: PowerPoint doesn’t do presentations, people do.

If you’re standing in front of a group with a set of slides to hand, it’s likely you’re there for a good reason. There’s something that people need to know and you’re there to tell them. Many presenters seem to believe their job is to point at the slides. Actually, they’ve missed the point. The presenter’s job is to tell a story, wrapping context and meaning around the information. The slides are only there to support the narrative. When Steve Jobs stood on stage to announce the latest Apple gizmo, he didn’t just point to bullets and numbers, he generated interest and enthusiasm. He told a story.

For most people, presenting is a skill they will need to practise and develop. But there are some basic guidelines for using PowerPoint that will help.

About six slides for a thirty-minute presentation

A good rule of thumb is to create 1-3 slides for every ten minutes of the presentation. You may be unable to present all the information necessary within those guidelines but keep in mind that people are rarely thrilled or engaged with a seemingly endless succession of slides. Remember, the main focus should be the presenter, not the slides.

Black on white

There’s a thread that runs through many of these guidelines – keep it simple. Use colour sparingly and only when the effect adds something to the presentation. Black on white is the easiest to see and avoids any issues for colourblind folks.

No more than three fonts

Using too many different fonts makes a presentation appear messy. Sans-serif fonts tend to look better. Don’t over-use bold text, either. Trademarks and logos are the exceptions.

Six bullets or fewer per slide

Be strict about editing down your content to the bone. Consider the impact of a single point in a slide compared to a cramped stack of them.

Use 24pt fonts

Everyone needs to see what’s on the slides, not just the front half of the room. If you’re sparing with the content of each slide, this won’t be a problem.

Maximum of two lines per bullet

Paragraphs of text are rarely, if ever, necessary. Hone your editing skills and remove every word that adds nothing to the point you’re making. Then chuck out most of the rest. Consider the essential message and don’t forget you’ll be talking about the subject as well.

An exception for paragraphs

There is one valid reason to put a paragraph of text on a slide – when it’s a direct quote. Even then, only use it if the message is important and keep to one quote per slide.

Don’t read the text on your slides

This is perhaps my biggest bugbear when I’m attending a presentation; putting a paragraph of text on a bullet point and reading it to your audience gives all the wrong messages. For one thing, it’s safe to assume everyone can read! As the presenter, you’re objective is to provide a narrative with the slides underpinning your message. Reading your own slides out loud may suggest you’re lacking an implicit understanding of that message.

Avoid gimmicks

A poor presentation will not be rescued by use of transitions, animations and sounds effects. They’re distracting at best and downright irritating at worst. Don’t be tempted.

Visual clarity

Clarity is always king. 3-dimensional charts may look good when they’re on the monitor in front of you but at a distance, on a projector screen, your graphs may not be pin sharp. A 2D chart is easier to see and helps avoid someone misreading the data. Similarly, spreadsheets can be tricky to see at a distance if the numbers are quite small. Is that a ‘6’ or an ‘8’? If the spreadsheet is necessary, consider using call-outs to highlight the important information.

Spelling and grammar

Use capitalisation correctly and make sure it’s consistent across slides. Use title case (Use Title Case) for titles and use sentence case (Use sentence case) for bullets. Check for grammatical errors, too. Automatic checkers aren’t infallible. Ask someone else to proofread your content before you put it in front of senior stakeholders! I see a surprising number of documents and emails written by people with a poor grasp of the capitalisation rules for nouns and pronouns. Correct spelling, grammar and attention to readability will make your slide deck look professional.

Good presenters create a story, consider their audience and build their message accordingly. When you have that nailed, create the slides and content that support the message. You’re unlikely to receive any applause but interested or even enthused people are a pretty good reward for your effort.

You’ve Got Mail – Now What?

“It was the best of tools, it was the worst of tools, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

My apologies to Charles Dickens but email has undoubtedly become a double-edged sword in today’s corporate world. It’s taken the concept of the humble memo from decades past and placed it firmly at the heart of our communications. And that’s the problem.

I’ve mentioned before how Project Managers working in a matrix managed environment are often under-empowered and therefore reliant on the relationships they’ve established. To be most effective this social skill requires the highest form of communication available, i.e. conversation, in person, that incorporates non-verbal elements in addition to language and intonation. Communication via email (or any text-based medium) provides only the language element. On a list of good ways to build solid relationships, face-to-face conversations would be at the top; email would languish somewhere near the bottom. While it may seem easier to stay parked in front of the monitor and manage the project from there, it’s likely to make the job harder and more frustrating.

Virtual teams and offshoring can make face-to-face conversations impossible, of course. Does that justify putting email at the forefront of your personal communication strategy? No – pick up the phone! It’s still a far more direct, nuanced way to communicate.

Not only is email far from being the most effective communication tool at your disposal, it’s also terrible at managing your workload. Email clients such as Outlook include task management functionality, it’s true, but this feature doesn’t resolve the fundamental issue.  Managing your workload is a huge topic in its own right. If you haven’t read David Allen’s Getting Things Done then I highly recommend it. Particularly if you regularly suffer the pain of disorganisation despite having thrown all sorts of software at the problem in your quest to bring order to the daily chaos. One of the tenets of Allen’s methodology is that your ‘inbox’ must be able to receive items from email, phone calls, Post-It notes, magazines, brochures…whatever! So you can see how email is part of the process, not the tool to manage your working life on a daily basis.

So, now that we’ve established email is often utilised inappropriately, how should we be using it? Here are some simple rules, techniques and behaviours that’ll definitely have a positive effect.

Check your email 3 times a day

Set aside 30 minutes (or whatever’s appropriate for the average number of emails you receive) and clear your inbox before you get into your working day. Check it again in the middle of the day, around lunchtime. Lastly, reserve some time at the end of your day to clear the decks before you go home. Quick replies can be dashed off immediately. Larger tasks that’ll take more than a couple of minutes should be moved to your to-do list for categorisation and prioritisation.

Turn off reminders

If you’re habitually processing email as described above, you don’t need the distraction of seeing every single message arrive. Switching off this feature will help to break the habit of reading everything immediately and being a slave to your inbox. It’s also disconnecting if you’re already talking to someone and stop to check your email. If a colleague has taken the time to come over and speak to you, give them your full attention. You’ll be glad you did when it’s you who needs their attention and they return the professional courtesy.

Turn off preview

Subject lines are your guide for processing email. If you have a preview window open you’re more likely to read every email as you get to it instead of quickly sorting and scanning for the important or most relevant ones via the subject line.

Set up rules for sorting your email as it arrives

Use Outlook to process your email automatically. Set it up to route email to various folders. There are many ways to manage your email storage practically. Everyone will develop their own preferences but here are some folders you could create:

  • The boss. This’ll contain priority email that you’ll want to read, and not to miss!
  • Your team.
  • Admin. Not all emails are created equal. This is usually low priority stuff that can wait.
  • Peers. If you’re working on a programme with other Project Managers, this is another group you may want to segregate.
  • Other high priority messages. E.g. suppliers.
  • Copied messages. If you’re CC’d on an email it’s probably not critical that you look at it immediately, or at all. You can cut down on a lot of your email traffic by funnelling these into their own holding area.
  • Junk. Not just for sales mailshots. Anything you consider junk can be routed here. Found yourself on a distribution list for something you don’t care about? Send those messages straight here.
  • 5-week. Inboxes become clogged partly because many emails don’t have an associated action but you’re unsure about deleting it straight away. One solution is to keep those emails in a holding area for five weeks. After that time, if nothing else has come up, you can probably delete it with impunity.

Using mobile devices

Having your email on your Blackberry or iPhone is a convenience, not a reason to check it every five minutes. (That’s what Twitter and Facebook are for.) One of the scourges of modern meetings is the predilection for processing email and instant messaging while other people are talking. If someone is concentrating on their phone they’re not focussed on the meeting, and that’s just unprofessional. If you follow the 3-times-a-day rule then you won’t need to do this. If everyone followed it, we’d probably have shorter meetings.

Keep emails short

Try to keep paragraphs down to a few sentences. If you need to write more than three or four paragraphs you’re probably better off talking it through directly, either in person or on the phone. The more senior the recipient, the more important this rule becomes.

Avoid attachments

This doesn’t mean spending more time in the office instead of with your spouse. If you send out a large attachment expecting people to read it, you’re going to be disappointed. If your email has an attachment that someone’s asked for, that’s okay. Just keep in mind that people won’t be reading what you distribute unless they already have a clear incentive. If you must send out a 50-page document for use in a meeting, help people out by highlighting key information they should to be aware of or just send them the relevant pages. The easier you can make their busy lives, the more likely it is you’ll get the result you’re after. They’ll appreciate it, too.

Use subject lines effectively

Some companies encourage the use of standard labels but if they don’t, you can still specify them in the communication strategy for your project. Incorporating shorthand in the subject line makes email more transparent and easier to manage. Use whatever labels you feel are most appropriate but keep it simple and be consistent. Drive the adoption by example. Good ideas catch on. Here are a few suggestions:

  • [AR] Action Required. E.g. “Please send me last week’s actuals.”
  • [SR] Contains a status report.
  • [INFO] There’s nothing in the message requiring action but it may contain relevant or useful content.
  • [DNR] Do not respond. This is information only and you’re not expected to reply. Used wisely this can head off long email conversations that should have been short meetings.
  • [EOM] End of message. There’s no body text in the email – everything is contained in the subject. E.g. “I’ll be leaving the office at 4pm today.”


When it comes to productivity, the ideas and suggestions in this post only scratch the surface. But if your days seem to revolve around your inbox, take control of your email and rediscover the benefits of building solid working relationships. It’s more rewarding in the long run and it may even boost your career.

Getting Meetings Right

Meetings consume a significant amount of our time every week. Running them properly is one of the most effective things we can do for our projects.

Let’s see if you recognise any of these:

Local meetings (everyone in the room)

  • People are using their phones, messaging colleagues outside the meeting or checking email.
  • People drift in up to five minutes after the meeting was due to start.
  • Three people in the room say nothing throughout the whole proceedings.
  • Three other people are falling over themselves to talk, often interrupting each other in the war for attention.
  • Despite having an agenda (you do have an agenda, right?) you have to stop people going off on tangents as thoughts pop into their heads or they see an opportunity to air their pet gripe.
  • Some people have brought laptops are half hidden behind the screen, typing and clicking away in a manner quite incongruous with the meeting.
  • You ask for someone to take ownership of an action. No one speaks and all potential owners studiously avoid eye contact with you.
Remote Meetings (teleconferencing)
  • You can hear the tapping of a keyboard that’s inconsistent with the meeting discussion.
  • Occasionally, the tapping of a keyboard is followed suspiciously closely by the ‘ping’ of an instant message arriving somewhere.
  • You direct a question to someone and there is a pause followed by, “Sorry, I was distracted. What was the question?” They’re not following the meeting.
  • You start the meeting on time but attendees continue to dial in over the next five minutes, talking straight over whoever’s speaking to announce their arrival.
  • It’s becoming clear that no one has read the agenda, or even has it with them.
  • No one is has a copy of the minutes from the last meeting. One or two “can’t find them” and require another copy.
  • Some people remain silent throughout the meeting.

I’m sure there are other annoyances that could be added to those lists but they’re all ones I encounter on an almost daily basis. If you don’t recognise those problems, you’re probably working in a great company – think hard before leaving!

Whether you’re in a risk review, a progress update, or a requirements discussion with a supplier, there are rules that apply to just about any meeting.

Pre-publish an agenda
  • Any meeting should have a specific purpose. That title heads the agenda and/or is the subject line in the Outlook invitation.
  • Indicate who owns each agenda item. Don’t do all the talking. The more you can spread the meeting around, the better your engagement will be.
  • Specify when the meeting will begin and end. Try not to end on the hour as people with back-to-back meetings are going to be late for their next one, just like they were for yours. Set a good precedent. You’ll be in the minority and it’ll be appreciated by your attendees.
  • List the names of people invited to the meeting.
  • Make sure the location or conference numbers are sent out. If you have international invitees, provide their local number to dial.
  • Make each item descriptive so it’s clear what the topic and objective are.
  • It’s not appropriate to all meetings but if you can, put a start time down for each agenda item. This helps you keep your agenda tight and specific.
  • Distribute your agenda at least a couple of hours in advance. Preferably the day before so it’s in the invitee’s inbox at the start of their day.
  • Some meetings will address just one specific issue and don’t need an agenda. Use your discretion but anything over 30 mins probably has more than one thing to talk about, so an agenda becomes appropriate.
Start on time
  • Make sure you’re ready to start the meeting on time. If you habitually start meetings late, people will know there’s no rush and will turn up late. Then you’re contributing to your own problem.
  • Run the meeting to the agenda (which includes a time element, remember). If no one shows up, run the meeting anyway. If people aren’t there to contribute then they don’t have a voice – that’s their incentive.
  • If the person owning an agenda item doesn’t isn’t there, skip to the next item. Reorganising your agenda on the fly, by putting their item to the bottom, shows you’re in control.
  • If people consistently turn up late or are unprepared to lead/discuss an item on the agenda, consider giving them some feedback outside the meeting.
  • Don’t embarrass people in the meeting who arrive late or unprepared. Yes, it’s unprofessional, but so is belittling your colleagues and you’ll lose hard earned respect.
  • If someone more senior arrives late and asks to be caught up, politely explain that you’ll do that during a break or after the meeting. If they insist, consider explaining, outside the meeting, that you’re trying to run meetings in a very structured way and try to find a compromise that works for both of you.
  • If your meeting lasts for more than an hour, add a 5-10 minute break. People returning with a fresh cup of coffee after stretching their legs will be more productive. You’ll get the time back.
Ground rules

Ground rules are the cultural aspect of your meeting. Make people aware of the rules without sounding dictatorial. If you’re sending invites electronically, consider adding it below the agenda in a smaller font so it’s there but not overshadowing the point of the meeting. Refer people to them if they’re a new attendee to your meetings.

  • The one-at-a-time rule. Let people talk without being interrupted. Once individuals know they’ll get a chance to speak they’ll be less likely to fight for their voice to be heard. This can take a lot of the tension out of a meeting.
  • No phones, or at least put them on vibrate to avoid disturbing the meeting. In most cases, calls and emails can wait. Obviously, this is hard to enforce on a teleconference but if people are caught not paying attention, assume they’re breaking this ground rule. If they do it habitually, give them feedback outside the meeting.
  • If someone does need to take a call, they should step outside or put their conference phone on mute.
  • If an attendee dials into a meeting from a noisy environment they should stay on mute until they need to speak.
  • If people start side conversations, lightly and politely request them to desist or, if it’s important, bring it into the meeting, either when the person currently speaking finishes or by placing it in the parking lot (see below).
Stick to the agenda
  • If people are out of time for their agenda item offer them one more minute but if they can’t commit, move on straight away. If you don’t do this, people will not respect the agenda timings.
  • Give people notice a couple of minutes before that they need to wrap up. Be more direct with one minute to go.
  • If people want to carry on discussing an item, come back at the end if there’s time or add it to the next meeting. The person talking may be irritated by this but others will appreciate your control of the agenda. It’s more than likely they already attend too many meetings that overrun and don’t feel productive.
  • If you find an agenda timing is wrong, let’s say an item blows up into a bigger discussion, run it off into another meeting if you can’t come back at the end and cover it. It’s a rare exception that an item needs to hijack the meeting beyond its time slot. Do it only if absolutely necessary.
  • If you finish an agenda item early, move on. Items have latest start times, you don’t have to wait.
Parking lot

This is similar to the familiar AOB but with a key addition – it’s also the time when deferred items are raised again.

  • If someone raises a tangential point in the meeting that you feel will deviate too far from the specified agenda item, defer it here to avoid discontinuity and keep your agenda on track.
  • Parking an item stops people thinking about it. They know it will get raised again later.
  • The last five minutes at the end of the parking lot is to decide on any further actions whether for individuals or to have another meeting.
  • If you have nothing in the parking lot, the meeting finishes early. This will make you popular with busy people!
Fixed responsibilities
  • At the end of an agenda item, check that actions have been taken and, critically, understood by the owner. Be clear and ensure people with actions confirm verbally. E.g. “Dave, you’re going to do x by Friday, right?” This is a simple but powerful method of gaining commitment.
Finish on time
  • It’s easier to do this with a strong, concise agenda that has start timings.
  • Pick up the pace of the meeting if necessary rather than overrunning.
  • As Project Managers, we know change is a fact of life, so there will inevitably be some meetings that will go past the published end time. If this is apparent ten minutes before the end of the meeting and you think you can finish only five minutes late, ask for consensus on the extension. Don’t ask at the end of the meeting. Give advance notice and see if your attendees can commit. It shows you’re respectful of their time.
  • Keep the pace tight and finish early if you can.
  • Bruise an ego rather than let people crash your agenda. This can be tricky, depending on whether it’s a member of your team or someone more senior. Once again, avoid confrontation in the meeting but discuss it outside rather than compromise your professional meeting principles.
  • If you haven’t completed the agenda and not sought consensus to overrun, close the meeting out of respect for other people’s time. If it’s a conference call, there will be a way to end the session for all callers. If it’s a face-to-face meeting, leave the room.
Publish minutes
  • Publishing even a simple set of minutes can save a lot of time and confusion later on. People’s memories are unreliable and interpretations of what’s been said can differ.
  • The format and formality of the minutes don’t usually matter. Capturing the high-level actions and owners does. There are (for example) some governance meetings that require more formal minutes but keep it simple if you can. If notes in an email will suffice, just do that.
  • Use bullet points. People are unlikely to read paragraphs of text. Don’t waste your time writing a lengthy synopsis.
  • In larger meetings, and this doesn’t apply to many project meetings in my experience, rotate the minute taking. The people who have most to contribute aren’t best placed to take minutes. Alternatively, if you’re taking the minutes and running the meeting, this is a good reason to let other people own agenda items.
  • Minutes must be sent to all attendees.
Continuous improvement
  • People will love you for running meetings professionally!
  • You may find yourself swimming upstream against an organisation’s culture so periodically review the ground rules in one of the meetings.
  • The rules may need tweaking sometimes. If something isn’t working, change it.
  • Cultural change comes from the top but as a Project Manager, you probably don’t have direct reports. That means you have to work harder at influencing people. Lead by example. Persevere. They will respond to positive change. More people turn up to my meetings on time that many others I attend because they know I start promptly and don’t overrun.
  • Give good feedback to people who contribute to successful, professional meetings.
If you can achieve half of the points above, you’ll be way ahead of most people in your organisation. Meetings are a prime opportunity to demonstrate your leadership and management capabilities. Use them well.


Effective Feedback, Affecting Behaviour

Feedback if a powerful tool for building a good working relationship with the members of your project team, if it’s done right.

As a Project Manager, I’m close to the day-to-day work the team are undertaking, which means I’m in a good position to give feedback. It’s for that reason I’m regularly asked to provide comments for annual reviews. While this may be useful for someone’s career progression, I’m actually less concerned with the team’s promotions and pay awards and more interested in their effectiveness delivering the project. So, the feedback I’m talking about today isn’t the stuff for appraisals, it’s direct communication between the PM and the team member, focussing on a specific point of their behaviour, or working practice, relating to the project.

Something to consider – your team members may feel your opinion isn’t as important as their functional managers’. Which means they may not be receptive to your comments in the beginning. Also, most line managers don’t offer feedback in this way so the team members probably expect to receive it only at appraisal time, in writing! If that’s the case, being confronted unexpectedly with an offer of verbal feedback may catch them off guard. Still, it remains true that feedback given easily and regularly is an effective way to steer people in the right direction and build strong relationships. A highly competent team will be more capable of working independently, meeting deadlines, and delivering quality. In turn, that reduces the risk of the project being implemented late and over budget.

Providing feedback effectively is a valuable skill for a Project Manager to master, then. It’s a skill because many people don’t feel comfortable doing it and if it’s executed clumsily it may be ineffective and perhaps undermine your reputation as a competent leader.

If you’re starting out with a new team, or you’re new to the organisation, you have the advantage of setting expectations from the outset. If your team is already established it may feel awkward to provide feedback at first, but persevere and they’ll accept this is the way you work (now) and you’ll soon become comfortable doing it.

It’s important to provide feedback regularly, succinctly and with ease. Remember, this isn’t criticism, it’s information designed to positively reinforce good behaviours, or encourage recognition and adjustment of undesirable ones. It should be short, specific and clear:

“When you come to me unprompted about a new risk you’ve identified it helps me manage the project effectively and keep us on track. Thanks, I appreciate it.”

Simple as that. No discussion required. Similarly:

“When you turn up late for my meetings it’s difficult to get through a tight agenda. I’d appreciate it if you could make it to the next meeting on time. Thanks.”

Each of these comments, positive or negative, is aimed at directing future behaviour. It shouldn’t be a reprimand or just a pat on the back. That’s why keeping the point simple and delivering it in an easy, non-confrontational way is crucial to its effectiveness.

There’s one other important aspect of providing feedback effectively – ask the person if you can give it to them. This is important for functional managers as well but even more so Project Managers who aren’t ‘the boss’. If the person you’re talking to isn’t going to be receptive there’s no point providing your feedback at that time. They may be on their way to another meeting and don’t want to be late. Or perhaps they’re concentrating on a difficult task and won’t appreciate the interruption. They may just be in a bad mood! If you ask, “Hey, can I give you some feedback?” and they seem reluctant (or just say ‘no’) then just tell them “That’s ok, I’ll catch you later when you’re not busy”. You can’t force feedback on someone and still expect it to have the desired effect. Your willingness to wait for a better opportunity shows respect. You may get refusals more frequently in the beginning if people feel defensive and take the opportunity to avoid a perceived confrontation. When your feedback habit is established they’ll know you’re quite likely to be offering something positive and they’ll become more relaxed about the whole thing.

The toughest part of delivering feedback is dealing with that initial reaction and overcoming the self-consciousness you may feel until you gain confidence. Provided you stick by the rules for giving effective feedback, that’ll happen quite quickly. It just takes a little practise.

If you’ve tried the feedback model, please do let us know about your experience with it.


Initiation: Your Introduction to Project Management Theory

Technology is simple. People are complicated.

This is a project management blog but it’s not intended as a replacement for the PMBOK or any other similar resource. Neither is it particularly suitable as training material. If you’re looking for insight into obtaining a qualification then you’ll find other places more useful. Here we’ll take a slightly different perspective. Rather than discussing the mechanics of projects I want to focus on our most important resource – the people that deliver the projects. In particular, effective management of those people. Translating good management practices into project management terms.

To get the most out of the blog you’ll need a comfortable familiarity with project management concepts and at least a couple of years experience under your belt. If you have that already then you’ll probably have discovered some of the real-world challenges to project delivery and realised they’re often not technical or procedural. You’ll also have an idea of the limitations of the corporate environment you’re in, many of which you can’t change.

Different companies will have variations on the theme of project management. They may have their own methodologies adapted from PRINCE2, for example. They’ll certainly have their own corporate culture, organisational structure and other factors that, in combination, deviate from the textbook representation of project management.

A weak matrix management organisation can be a significant problem. The PM will have the responsibility for delivering the project but not the direct management of the team or control over who’s on it. The people working on your project will be accountable to the functional manager within their department or technical discipline, not you. Those departmental managers are typically focussed in running their own area, not delivering projects. After all, that’s the Project Manager’s problem!
With little empowerment, a PM faces an uphill struggle to get the best from the team. This adds risk to the project, something we’re trying to avoid. I’ve seen many PMs ignore this problem of accountability (or lack thereof). They underestimate the benefits of leading a team, not just administrating it. Often the results are delays, additional cost and stress. If your team isn’t accountable to you then they’re not your team, unless you find a way to provide effective leadership and get them on-side.

So what’s the disadvantaged PM to do? With no direct influence over those working on their project, soft skills become crucial tools. Leadership skills can make the difference between a successful project and one that strays over time and over budget. Respect is earned, and you need it.

A few years ago I came across the Manager Tools podcast. This long-running, weekly show is packed with sound advice from Mike Auzenne and Mike Horstman, two highly experienced managers dedicated to the cause of effective management. Their podcast is focussed on managing people, not projects. Even so, many of these management skills and techniques can be applied or adapted by the humble PM. We are still managers and dealing with people effectively is arguably our most vital capability.
I’ve plundered the Manager Tools and other resources, filtered them through the lens of my own project management experience, and defined the concepts here in a new context.

And speaking of context, my own training and qualification comes from the PMI. I’m a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and I’ve been putting it into practice since 2006. Because of my familiarity with the PMI, my references will often relate to that organisation’s description of project management. That’s not to say there’s any less value in PRINCE2 or even just hard-earned experience, it’s just what I’m most familiar with.