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Is Project Manager An Actual Title?

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 09:00

Apparently, “Project Manager” means different things to different people.

I came across a post in my LinkedIn feed from a PM from Bahrain, Eman Deabil, who sparked a healthy debate about whether “Project Manager” is a real title and “Project Management” is a real profession.

The crux of Eman’s argument is that project management is actually a set of interrelated skills that need to be developed by the person who is in charge of managing a project. These skills differ depending on the project, and especially depending on the industry in which the project will take place. For example, managing a project in IT requires a separate set of competencies than a project in the eLearning space.

No PM is One Size Fits All

Eman cites her concerns with the current PMP certification process, which she feels assumes that people who obtain this credential can go on to successfully coordinate a project in any industry. She simply doesn’t think this is the case. A Project Manager must not only have project management skills, but also the appropriate academic credentials and experience in the industry at hand.

Project Manager, she says, isn’t even a genuine title. Rather, titles related to project management should be much more descriptive – for instance adding details on the person’s line of business or type of project (e.g. Project Manager in Supply Chain). Instead of being asked to choose whether they are principally involved in project management or learning and development, for instance, professionals being considered for new positions should say they are “Project Managers in Learning and Development.”

I see Eman’s point, although I do think that transferable skills – or those that are appropriate across a wide range of industries and roles – are especially useful when it comes to project management. No matter what industry or business line you manage projects in, you’d better know how to lead disparate teams, coordinate multi-functional activities, manage timelines and budgets, monitor and report on progress, and analyze results. [Learn how to create a "GPS" for your own projects today at 2 PM. Or sign up for the OnDemand Recording.]

 What Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Can a Project Manager get certification (or obtain essential PM knowledge in another way) and then master the technicalities associated with a particular field, or must the field knowledge be present first, before someone can learn to be an effective Project Manager? Is it truly possible for Project Managers to easily switch industries as long as their PM skills remain intact and up-to-date? There doesn’t appear to be a clear cut answer.

Among the audience of PMs on LinkedIn, some people agree with Eman while others vehemently disagree. Says Ali Al Noory, a PM and training and development manager: “I’ve managed construction projects as well as training projects, and there are limited general skills that can be used for both. However, the industry knowledge is a must, and many of the skills associated with it are non-transferable.”

Samer Abdel Maksoudat, Ali Bin Technology Solutions counter-argues: “The project manager is the Maestro – he can’t play all the instruments himself but he is necessary to deliver a successfully concert.” Adds Mohammed Abu Shammalah at Turner Construction Company: “From the experience I have dealing with lots of PMs, I can say that a PM is not required to understand all of the technology related to the industry because he already has within his team qualified technical people.”

Based on the trajectory of your own PM career, what do you think?





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Photo Credit © Zazzle.com

The Buddha Walked into the Office: Workplace Meditation 

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 08:30

Arianna Huffington and director David Lynch have found meditation to be a big boost to life and career. The late Steve Jobs meditated too. Phil Jackson, president of the New York Knicks, brought meditation to the Knicks’ locker room after using it with previous NBA teams in Chicago and Los Angeles. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll attributes his team’s 2013 Super Bowl victory, in part, to meditation.

Lodro Rinzler, head of the Institute for Compassionate Leadership, also believes that meditation—the New Agey practice that’s considered to be wreathed in incense—has real career, workplace, and achievement applications. Toward that end, he has written a new book, his fourth, on meditation and work, called The Buddha Walks Into the Office: A Guide to Livelihood for a New Generation.

Meditation is the practice of training the mind to concentrate — either as a self-standing discipline with its own intrinsic benefits, or as a means to an end (mindfulness, visualization of goals, transcending one’s earthly concerns or achieving goals like compassionate business practices or intense focus). Practitioners may meditate in different places: sitting on a pillow at an ashram, at home, in a group in Manhattan or even on a subway. There are many kinds, some associated with a religion or culture and some not: Buddhist, transcendental (or Vedic, often with a mantra), energizing and a host of others.

According to Rinzler, the values of Buddhist meditation (the kind he practices) in the workplace can start with compassion for yourself and continue with compassion for the jerk at the next desk or the guy who just dissed you at a meeting.

In the preface, he explains why he wrote the book: “Sometimes at work people are jerks. Sometimes you are one of them.” The book, he adds, is about how not to be a jerk “and how to work with others so that mindfulness and empathy can flourish.”

Here are some examples of how people use the fruits of meditation – the presence you gain from a new, more mindful perspective — in the workplace.

It helps you pay attention.

You might have someone like Brett, who’s more and more a jerk. But if you slow down and are present enough, you might notice that something’s going on with him. You might be in his office and notice that the picture of him and his wife is no longer on the desk.”

When you notice the small clues, you can solve the bigger mystery: It turns out that Brett is separated, and because of his relationship woes, he can’t concentrate. “And our heart opens for him naturally,” Rinzler said. “But we wouldn’t have been able to ‘spare the rod’ unless we could slow down enough.”

The magic happens, Rinzler said, in noticing physical cues like the absence of the photograph. In a business context, meditation helps practitioners tune in to what’s going on right now.

“We can loosen our hold, stop forcing our agenda and be more open to, and inquisitive about, the people we are working with,” said Rinzler.

It helps you listen when no one is speaking.

Let’s say you’re a manager and running a meeting, pushing through your agenda. “As I’m leaving meetings,” Rinzler said, “I’ll notice that someone’s very quiet.”

A person who is focused on the agenda, and the agenda alone, may overlook this stakeholder’s silence. But in Rinzler’s case, “I’ll get inquisitive–‘Jeff, I notice that you haven’t said anything about the budget: Is there anything you want to say?’”

Jeff answers by saying he has misgivings about the budget and about priorities, Rinzler said, information that came out only when the boss was present enough to see Jeff’s reaction and ask for his opinion.

“We can start working together better as a team,” Rinzler said.

It helps you diffuse anger.

One of the biggest virtues Rinzler extols is the practice of being benevolent. “Often when we butt heads with someone, they’ve completely derailed our project, or maybe they said they would do something and didn’t,” he said “We might call them on it, and they get angry.”

But the compassionate results? “We don’t have to perpetuate that response,” he said. “When someone’ s very angry with you, you can come right back to them and say ‘Listen, buddy, I have to warn you, if you keep getting angry with me, I’m only going to get more gentle with you.’ ”

Rinzler likens this to a bull in a pen at a rodeo. The handlers tease the bull, rile it into a frenzy, and only at a certain point release it from the pen, raging, kicking and snorting.

“More often than not, when people are angry, we keep poking them,” he said. “But as a result of meditation, we can be benevolent: opening the gate, and letting the bull fly out of the gate into a wide open field.  At some point, the anger exhausts itself. The bull kicks and screams and eventually tires out. And then you can communicate.

“In other words, you don’t buy into the anger – you give that person enough space to calm down, and then you can relate to them like a normal person.”

Intrigued?

Rinzler was one of the instructors at The Path, a new meditation-focused start-up that holds weekly “sits,” as meditators refer to group sessions. in the West Village in Manhattan. It was founded by Dina Kaplan, formerly of blip.tv, and you can request information or an invitation to join at thepath.com.

Separate from The Path, Rinzler also does sessions in person and online, as do many teachers. If you want a deep dive, his Institute for Compassionate Leadership in New York City has a six-month part-time training program: a mix of meditation, leadership skills, and coaching. If your workplace is already compassionate enough, you can read one of Rinzler’s other books, Walk Like a Buddha: Even if Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex Is Torturing You, and You’re Hungover Again.






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3 Simple Questions to Ask Before Your Annual Project Planning

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 09:00

If your company is like most, this time of year is dedicated to focusing in on projects that will become a reality sometime in the near future. This normally means you’ll have to look at the project “wish list” to determine what’s doable and get them on the schedule to begin the process of getting it done.

It can be an arduous task that no one looks forward to since it typically involves several rounds of discussion to nail down projects that need to be done for maintenance purposes and new projects that will help move your business forward.

Before you really dig in to the process, it’s important to ask three simple questions that can help focus your efforts and make the outcome more meaningful.

Question #1: Where are we now?

You absolutely must take a quick look back at what happened in the past year. Assess what got done, what stalled and what never got started. Make sure all the projects that were completed are properly closed out and archived for future reference.

You also want to consider any internal or external influences on your company. Has something shifted in those environments that will directly impact where you focus in the next twelve months?

Last, take a look at what worked really well in the past year for each of your projects. This is not one of the tasks that we do best, but it’s an important component of project success. Here are a couple areas you’ll want to take a look at.

  • Were there specific people involved that made things run smoothly?
  • Was a new tool or process used that helped to successfully move projects along from idea to execution?

Make sure you identify all of the key success factors so you can replicate them in the coming year.

Question #2: What didn’t work well and why?

You can more than likely tick off a laundry list of things that didn’t work well for your projects last year. We’re all pretty good at focusing on the things that don’t go right. But instead of just compiling a list, make the time to actually assess why they didn’t go so well.

After all, you can’t fix something if you don’t know what caused the issue in the first place. You may discover the root cause of the problem has an easy fix that can help make this year’s projects even more successful. Or you might find you need to totally ditch a tool or a process you’re using and find another way to fill the gap. Either way, knowing what caused the problem and addressing how to change that will save you time and money in the long run.

Question #3: Where do we want to be?

The first place to start answering this question is to take a look at this year’s business goals and strategic direction. Any projects that won’t have a direct impact should be moved to the bottom of the priority list. There’s no need to waste time and effort on something that has no chance of ever becoming a reality.

Then review what’s left and complete a tentative priority list based on your business drivers and requirements.

Asking these three simple questions before you begin can help streamline your project planning process to ensure you make the most of the time required to get your schedule set for the coming year.

Let us help you close the gaps by attending our free webinar January 21: “Creating a “GPS” for Your Projects: From Project Request to Success” Click here to register now. Alternatively, you may register for the OnDemand recording and free assets to watch on your own time.






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Workplace Success – What You Need to Know This Week

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 08:30

Here are three stories people are talking about this week.

1. Is business use of voicemail dying out?

Tech experts have long been predicting the death of voicemail as a business tool as people increasingly prefer email and texting, and now at least one large company has completely ditched the technology: The Coca-Cola Co. shut down its voicemail last month, in order to “simplify the way we work and increase productivity,” according to an internal memo. In situations where someone would have reached voicemail in the past, they now hear a message asking callers to try later or use a different method to reach the person.

The company did allow workers to keep their voicemail if they could present a critical business need for it, and about 6 percent of employees chose to retain it.

2. “Work hard, play hard” is real and potentially dangerous

People who work more than 48 hours a week are more likely to drink at dangerous levels (defined as 14 drinks per week for women and 21 for men) than people who work fewer hours, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal. The research found that the connection between work hours and alcohol consumption stayed consistent at all economic levels and suggests that employers should be more aware of the social and health impacts of working long hours.

3. What to do if you’re smarter than your boss

Harvard Business Review tackles what to do if you’re smarter than your boss, a problem a lot of people think we have (whether we really do or not). It suggests that you keep quiet about your assessment, notes that being smarter doesn’t mean you’re more effective, and suggests finding something to respect, focusing on doing a good job, and helping your boss be better but not covering up her mistakes. “There’s no reason not to be generous,” author Amy Gallo points out. “If your boss is successful, there’s a greater chance you’ll be successful too.”






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When it Comes to Strategy, are You Sitting at the Kid’s Table?

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 09:00

Looking back on past holidays, you may remember what it felt like to be stuck at the kid’s table. But you’re a grown up now – so how come you’re still sitting at the kid’s table at work? 

Take a look at comments posted on workplace blogs or on social media sites, and it won’t be long before you find an employee complaining that they’re often left out of the loop regarding business decisions.

These employees complain that their boss doesn’t keep them informed of strategic business decisions, what’s in the pipeline for the next year or even how their work is part of the bigger picture. Senior leaders are even worse, they contend.

It’s a frustration Mike Figliuolo has heard before, and he has a simple response: “That’s crap.”

Figliuolo, managing director of thoughtLEADERSLLC, says that employees who complain that they don’t know what is going on within their company simply aren’t trying hard enough.

“If anything, it’s easier than ever,” he says. “Just look at your company’s organizational chart and find someone about two levels above you. Send that person an email and ask them to send you their department’s latest strategic plan.”

With that information, you’ll be able to see what’s going on and then be able to ask additional questions to determine how you or your department are affected by pending plans or possibly involved in a new initiative.

“It’s just pure laziness to sit back and say, ‘I’m not being included,’” he says. ““If you can’t take the initiative then sure, you’re going to sit at the kid’s table and eat chicken nuggets.”

An inclusive culture

Zappos is a company known for being transparent with workers. Employees not only receive detailed information about the company’s performance, but are encouraged to share information about the company. CEO Tony Hsieh often shares company news via Twitter and Facebook, even announcing the layoff of 124 workers in 2008 via Twitter.

Some employees may conclude that since they don’t work for a company like Zappos, they’re forever doomed to sit at the kid’s table because their company’s culture is different. But Figliuolo argues that many employees simply have never “reached out” to try and become better informed, and “they just expect management to spoon feed them.”

But if you’re an employee ready to become a strategic influence at your company, then Figliuolo suggests:

  • Stepping into someone else’s shoes. Instead of looking at an issue only from your perspective, try thinking of it from the position of someone in another department. For example, maybe you’re an expert on the minutia of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. But “that’s not going to get you invited to the table,” he says. The key is understanding how Sarbanes-Oxley is going to impact the CIO and plans for future development in that department. If you can explain that Sarbanes-Oxley is going to impede those plans, then you’re going to get attention because that person’s agenda is threatened, he explains. “You get invited to the adult’s table when you bring something from another perspective,” he says.
  • Doing your homework. Spend time talking to those in other departments to learn their top issues and concerns. Ask them to share their annual plans, which show priorities. This will help you refine how you can specifically add value when offering a new perspective or plan.
  • Never stop learning. Maybe your specialty is in sales, and you know nothing about IT. But there is a treasure trove of information online and through your company’s own website. The more you understand how your entire company functions, the challenges and industry trends, the better you can always be in position to offer insight or advice that can be seen as strategically important.

Management responsibility

Experts also advise that managers need to make it easier for employees to ask questions, and that the organization will benefit if they provide answers.

Paul Spiegelman, chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth, often writes on company culture, and says that managers and organizations can benefit by keeping workers more informed about the company’s success.

“You’ll earn the trust of your employees if you report on your company’s financial performance regularly throughout the year. Town hall meetings are an effective medium for communicating this information, so that staffers can ask questions. If the company is not performing as well as expected, own up to it, and let employees know how they can help impact the situation,” he says.

Harvey Deutschendorf, an emotional intelligence expert, says that if employees “are kept in the dark about what’s going on, they will make up their own version and it won’t be a positive one.”

That means if there is something negative going on, such as profits slipping and sales taking a hit from a new competitor, then employees need to be told, he contends. “Not disclosing will only breed mistrust, suspicions and fear,” he says.

In addition, it’s important that employees learn to understand through transparency that tough times don’t last, and there can be a brighter future, he says.

“Keeping employees constantly informed and involved in long-term thinking and planning for the future helps lift spirits and prevents knee-jerk decisions that could come back later to haunt you,” he says.

Keep your entire team in the know, join us January 21 for a special webinar presentation with project delivery and leadership expert, Gordon Tredgold, “Creating a “GPS” for Your Projects – from Project Request to Success.






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Work Needs You to Sleep Now (And Not When You’re Dead)

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 09:00

Skipping sleep to work doesn’t put you at an advantage.

Travis Bradberry is the co-author of the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, a provider of emotional intelligence tests and training. About a month ago, Travis published an eye-opening article on sleep and work function for Forbes. He confirmed what I’ve believed all along, which is that sleep is really important for high performers. Here are some of the reasons.

Sleepy People Are Dumber

Travis shared some data from the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, which said that the short-term productivity gains from skipping sleep to work are quickly washed away by the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on your mood and ability to focus, problem-solve, and access higher-level brain functions. The negative effects of sleep deprivation are so great that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep. Why is this? Travis cited a University of Rochester study, which found that when you sleep your brain removes toxic proteins from its neurons. When you don’t get enough sleep, the toxic proteins remain in your brain cells, impairing your ability to think and potentially derailing your career.

Sleepy People Miss Work

Travis remarked that sleep deprivation is linked to a variety of serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. When it is sleep-deprived, your body overproduces cortisol, which wreaks havoc on the immune system. This causes you to get sick more frequently, and stay sicker longer. You’ll also experience a variety of aches and pains that may be enough to send you to the doctor or contagious symptoms that will force you out of the office. Either way, when you’re thinking about how terribly you feel physically, you’re not concentrating about work.

Sleepy People Are Dangerous

As we’ve suggested, sleep deprivation decreases mental accuracy. But for those who work in any kind of job in which reaction time is a factor, it’s also bad news. We see news stories all the time about pilots, manufacturing employees, etc., who get into serious accidents because they aren’t getting enough sleep. And if you commute, sleep deprivation could be enough to kill you. Falling asleep at the wheel is a major cause of driving-related fatalities.

Sleepy People Are Bad Colleagues

Productivity and safety factors aside, being sleep-deprived will negatively impact your workplace relationships. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night in order to feel sufficiently rested, yet more than half of Americans get less than this. One of the most basic symptoms of long-term sleep deprivation is chronic stress and irritability. When you don’t get enough sleep, your ability to cope effectively with everyday interactions and stay cool under pressure goes way down, and your fuse blows much more quickly. A sleepy employee runs a much higher risk of being the colleague no one wants to work with.

What’s a Busy Person to Do?

Getting enough sleep is difficult, I agree. Even when I aim for eight hours, it feels like something always gets in the way – from a forgotten blog post to my three-year-old in my room at 5AM. But Travis had some good ideas that can help us do just a bit better.

First, stay away from sleeping pills. You may think you’re helping your body, but the effect is exactly the opposite. Sedatives interfere with the brain’s natural sleep process and greatly decrease the quality of your sleep.

Second, skip that cup of coffee after lunch. It takes a full 24 hours for caffeine to work its way out of your system, so much of the coffee you drink during the work day will keep you awake at bedtime.

Next, get rid of anything that emits a blue light (laptops, smartphones, etc.) in your bedroom. This kind of light halts production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and makes you feel more alert.

Finally, mind the basics. Try to keep your sleep schedule consistent – that is, go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. Use your bedroom only for sleep – that means no working in bed! And to the extent you can control it (see the point about the three-year-old), avoid middle-of-the-night interruptions like an alarm that isn’t set properly.

Recognizing that sleep is critical, and not just a minor annoyance you give in to occasionally, is half the battle. While sleep will surely be plentiful when you’re dead, it will also improve the quality of the time you have here – especially when it comes to work.






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Will IT Project Managers Join the Great Enterprise PMO Shift?

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 08:30

Current PMOs must prepare to transition to an EPMO model.

Recent research on project management indicates that the field is about to enter the spotlight. Once an isolated function, project management is quickly being elevated in strategic importance. According to analyst firm Gartner, by 2017 senior executives in the largest organizations in America will rely on enterprise program management offices (EPMOs) to execute projects in alignment with overall business strategy.

The business case is there, of course. An article in CIO Magazine by Moira Alexander of Conture Business Advisors cites Project Management Institute research illustrating that EPMOs are capable of significant ROI. Specifically, they are estimated to improve confirmation of business priorities and project alignment with strategic objectives by 10 percent.

If you wish to keep pace with your market and competition, it’s wise to adopt the EPMO model sooner rather than later. Paraphrased here are some initial ideas Moira Alexander recommends in her article.

Company-Wide Visibility

The principal role of an EPMO is to ensure that all business units are engaging in initiatives that are in line with the company’s vision. Therefore, it’s more important than ever that PMOs gain a seat at every table in the organization. By being everywhere at all times and by leading company-wide planning sessions in which they are able to communicate the organization’s direction, traditionally siloed PMOs become EPMOs that deliver greater value to the business.

High-Level Communication

EPMOs work closely with senior management from the very beginning so that all projects throughout the organization tie directly to business goals. They are instrumental in helping executives determine what matters to the organization and establish key performance indicators so that these priorities are measured and monitored properly.

This means that the executive management team must view the EPMO as a strategic partner that reports in directly and has full access, rather than just another business unit that happens to be project-based. Senior management and the EPMO should maintain an ongoing conversation so that business objectives and projects never fall out of alignment.

Consistent Evaluation

Management involvement doesn’t stop once a project is off and running. At the end of each initiative, the EPMO is responsible for quantifying the success rates in relation to the established objectives and communicating this data to the executive team. Senior management and the EPMO should work together to assess lessons learned and make the changes required so that future projects can better meet business goals.

Increased Accountability

As we proceed further into the 21st century, more will be expected of stellar project managers. Members of the EPMO, says Moira, will need to be exceptionally efficient and effective, and maintain high performance in the face of constantly changing economic and business conditions. Since they’ll be operating at a higher level, their results will be scrutinized by more sponsors and other internal and external stakeholders, and they’ll be regularly challenged to raise the bar.

If your PMO is still a bit limited in scope, the most intelligent first step is to open a dialogue with senior management about the EPMO concept. Review Gartner’s research with your executive team and brainstorm together how your PMO can better understand and work against current company priorities. Perhaps you can select an initial business goal and project, and engender senior management’s trust by exceeding expectations.

Project managers, do you consider yourselves part of a PMO or an EPMO? What do you see as the essential differences? Do you think full strategic alignment with the business and involvement in all business units is feasible for your team in the near future? Want the tools to help get you there? Join us January 21 for a free Webinar with expert, Gordon Tredgold, “Creating a “GPS” for Your Business – from Project Request to Success.”





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What to Do When Work You’ve Assigned Turns Out Half Baked

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 09:00

If you’re a manager, you’ve probably known the frustrating feeling of assigning work, feeling confident that your employee understood the assignment and was equipped to do it, and then seeing the completed work and realizing that it doesn’t meet your expectations at all.

Often when this happens, it’s because of failures in two possible places: the original expectation-setting when you first delegated the project and/or the role you played (or didn’t play) as the work progressed. If you want to ensure that you and your team are aligned about what you’re looking for from their work, and ensure you don’t get unpleasant surprises once work is completed, these steps can make that happen.

  • Be more explicit about expectations at the very start. Have a detailed conversation with the staff member about what a successful outcome would look like, as well as any important details the person should know (such as prioritization, constraints they need to account for, available resources, examples similar to what you’re looking for, etc.).
  • If you’re not sure precisely what a successful outcome would look like, be transparent about that with your staff member that and brainstorm together. Or ask her to go away and think on it and come back to you with a proposal.
  • Before ending a discussion about an assignment, check to make sure you’re both on the same page by asking your staff member to summarize her understanding of the assignment, expected outcomes, and next steps. For complicated projects, you might also ask for a written plan to ensure that you’re both on the same page about how she will be moving forward.
  • Once the work is underway, be sure check in periodically. If you wait until the work is completed, you’ll lose the opportunity to give input or course-correct before it’s too late. Instead, touch base periodically as the work progresses, probe into the areas that you think are most likely to cause concern, and generally ensure that you have a solid feel for how the work is coming along.
  • When a project is large enough, ask to review a piece of work before the whole project is completed. For instance, you might ask to see a short segment of a document while it’s still in progress or a page from a new website design before the whole site is created.

Using the tactics above will ensure that you and your staff member are in agreement about what success will look like, and you’ll have a chance to catch any problems early on.

If you’re doing all this and the work still isn’t what you’re looking for, the issue might instead be one of performance and you might need to address it from that angle. But even then, doing the steps above will help you conclude that with more confidence, since you’ll know that you actively set the person up for success.

Managing projects? Learn how to set up and track your projects from request to success with Gordon Tredgold and Intuit QuickBase in this free webinar January 21.





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