Episode 71 – Managing Multiple Projects

Episode #71
Original Air Date: 12.14.2018

33 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Mike Pondiscio

Listen in to hear from a Project Manager who has years of experience in the trenches and has gained a practical understanding of what works for both large and small projects. Mike Pondiscio talks to us about the challenges of managing more than one project at a time, and he explains the contrast between being an active versus a passive PM.

Michael Pondiscio has twenty years of experience in project management. Since 2013, Mike has been a Solutions Consultant and Product Manager at Avtex Solutions. Mike has a unique and well-grounded approach to process deployment, and he’s learned how to execute projects to successful conclusions.

Mike and our Velociteach team discuss how to own a project without micromanaging your team. Hear advice on resourceful ways to manage change, communicate with stakeholders, and keep a project on track. We also ask Mike how he knows when it’s time to pull the plug and end a project.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

“For an active project manager, you really want to be one or two steps ahead of your team. In other words, bowling analogy: You need to clear the lane, set up the pins so that your team can knock them down. ”

- MIke Pondiscio

“The project manager ……… likened to a ship’s captain. You are responsible for that vessel, its mission, and the crew. And you have to know when to call for help. You have to know when to beach the ship….. You have to be able to weather the storms. The crew looks to you.”

- Mike Pondiscio

“And that is the mark of a good project manager who can manage multiple projects together is how to blend the resources across the tasks while making sure the customer’s needs are met.”

- Mike Pondiscio

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Table of Contents

00:50 … Meet Mike
03:12 … Active vs Passive PM
09:14 … Micromanaging Teams
11:14 … Managing Multiple Projects
12:59 … PM Tools and Processes
17:21 … Setting Expectations
21:40 … Communicating Solutions
23:24 … Keeping Projects on Task
27:16 … Know When to Pull the Plug
30:24 … Closing

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Absolutely.  For an active project manager, you really want to be one or two steps ahead of your team.  In other words, bowling analogy:  You need to clear the lane, set up the pins so that your team can knock them down.

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Every two weeks we get together for the express purpose of talking about what matters to you as a professional project manager.  We interview guests who can speak from experience.  We share in their successes and learn lessons from their challenges.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are the resident experts, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And Andy, this time around I think we’re going to be able to speak to where a lot of our listeners, perhaps even the majority of them, live every day.

ANDY CROWE:  You know, Nick, a lot of project managers are managing multiple smaller projects.  It can get chaotic.  It can be frenetic.  And there’s a lot to learn there.  So I’m looking forward to this episode.

Meet Mike

NICK WALKER:  Well, our guest today is Michael Pondiscio, who has 20 years of experience in project management.  Since 2013, Mike has been a solutions consultant and product manager at Avtex Solutions.  He’s a seasoned project manager who delivers creative solutions to tough technical challenges, and he does it on time and within budget.  Listen to this list of his current expertise:  engagement management, delivery management, bulletproof management, business analysis, consulting, process mapping, and RFP response management.  Mike, welcome to Manage This.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Well, thank you very much for having me.  I’m excited to be here and share what I can.

NICK WALKER:  Well, that’s a long list of things that you’re involved in.  Obviously, you’ve been doing this at least for a little while.  Tell us how you got into this business.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  I started out in this business working in a small telecommunications company.  And as you would find in a small company, everybody has multiple roles.  So one of my roles was engineering, and the other role was project management.  And naturally I moved to the project management role because, as I was watching the projects be delivered, I realized that I could do a better job of it.

So I said, “Let me go ahead and start helping these people out.”  And I sort of, just by natural propensity, ended up going down the project management path, but still managed to do some of the technical experience work as well – engineering, solution engineering, and going out with sales teams.  But that’s how I really started out was getting into telecommunications, starting in a smaller company, and then just growing with the field as it became Voice over IP solutions.

ANDY CROWE:  I believe that going out with a sales team, being a presales engineer, is like the greatest job in the world because you don’t actually really have to deliver it.  You just kind of make a bunch of promises.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Yeah, you just promise it.

ANDY CROWE:  I hook ‘em, you get to fry ‘em; right?

Active vs Passive PM

NICK WALKER:  Is that what we mean by “active project management” rather than “passive project management”?

ANDY CROWE:  Probably not.

NICK WALKER:  Well, that’s an important thing, though.  Obviously you were an active participant from the get-go.  How does that compare with maybe others who take a more passive approach?

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Well, there’s very much a difference between an active and passive project manager.  And those are my terms, of course.  I don’t think there’s any industry standard that just defines with that is.  But just for definition purposes, the passive project managers that I’ve seen are very much folks who will go to the meetings.  They will provide status reports.  They will fill out their forms.  They’ll ask questions of each person and say, “When is the next piece going to be delivered?”  Or “We’ll have that during next week’s meeting.”  And then a week later they ask, “Hey, did you finish that piece?”  And if the response is no, then “When do you think we’ll have it again?”  And they write it down, and it goes into the status report.

ANDY CROWE:  And what obstacles are you encountering that are keeping you from hitting your goals, yeah.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Some of them will ask that.  Others will be overburdened or just not skilled yet in how to manage those pieces, and they’ll just ask the questions.  And that’s how projects sort of get that slowdown effect where it starts to grind a little bit.  So that’s more of your passive approach to project management, which I feel is – it’s doable for some projects that don’t have critical timelines.

But most projects are just that.  They have a timeframe and a reason for being and a deliverable that is crucial to some other part of the business.  So that’s where the active project manager comes in to say – an active project manager will look at the tasks at hand, ask the questions about when is this going to be done, and then follow up with those people during the week to make sure that those tasks are in progress.

ANDY CROWE:  Okay.  Okay.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Now, that doesn’t mean you’re babysitting these people.  But what it does mean is that, if there are challenges or issues, you can get ahead of it because you need to be able to solve the problems for them.  They are down there punching the keys or twisting the wrenches or whatever they have to do to get their job done.  But more importantly, they need to have the path cleared for them so that when they’re finished with that setup, they can move right onto the next piece.

ANDY CROWE:  You know, Mike, I’m like you in the sense that I’m managing multiple projects right now.  As you’re describing this, I’m finding that a couple of these I’m managing very actively.  Several of them I’m managing passively, but it’s because of the leadership on those projects.  I trust the leaders, I don’t have to stay on top of them.  I don’t have to keep on top of every task.  Some of them I do.  Some of them, like one of them I’m mentoring, and I’m trying to help teach this person project management and the way it works.  So I’m really actively involved every day.  Another one I don’t really trust the leadership.  It’s outside of this organization, but I don’t really trust the leadership, so I’m very actively involved in that.  And then the ones inside, generally I’m hands-off and kind of passively monitoring.  It’s interesting.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  It is.  And every project is different, and every project requires a certain amount of diplomacy, a certain amount of training.  The project manager is really kind of likened to a ship’s captain.  You are responsible for that vessel, its mission, and the crew.  And you have to know when to call for help.  You have to know when to beach the ship, to save the ship and the crew.  You have to be able to weather the storms.  The crew looks to you.  And then the people who sent you out on that ship need to know what’s happening and be able to trust that you’re going to make your mission successful with the crew and the ship that you’ve been given.  All those things are the project manager’s responsibility.  It’s a tough role.

BILL YATES:  I think one thing that I see in this active versus  passive, too, from my experience – and maybe this is true with you, too, Mike.  I know for me I tended to be passive earlier in my career.  I didn’t quite have the confidence yet, either in what the expectations were for me as the leader of the project or in the technical side of it.  So I didn’t want to go embarrass myself or embarrass the team by asking inappropriate questions.

ANDY CROWE:  That, I get that so much.

BILL YATES:  So then I’d wait until, okay, I’ll just wait until next week, and then I’ll ask, when I have the right people in the room.  So I see that as kind of a point of maturity for the project manager to get that confidence where he or she knows when to be active and when to assert, you know, between meetings and, hey, we need to have a one-off conversation and make sure that things are on track.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Absolutely.  That is just, again, back to the ship’s captain example.  Not everybody’s going to go out and steer an oil tanker the first day out.  You’ve got to get into a dinghy and get in the bay and try out some of the smaller waves first and get some skills.  Very much the same kind of thing.

ANDY CROWE:  You know what, Bill, as I hear you talking about that, one of the things that’s different about me today as opposed to 30 years ago when I was starting my career, 30 years ago I was really afraid of looking stupid.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  And I was worried about it.  And you and I sat in a meeting this week, and the meeting was an area where we didn’t have a tremendous amount of expertise, and I just had to stop and say, “I don’t understand this term.  I don’t know what you mean.  I don’t know how you’re getting this number.”  And I don’t mind doing that now.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  It’s like you – I think you even said, “This may sound stupid, but.”

ANDY CROWE:  And I probably shouldn’t have said that because, you know what, it’s not my area of expertise.  And so when you’re sitting in meetings with engineers, and you’re not an engineer, or when you’re sitting in meetings with developers, and you’re not a developer, it can be intimidating.  And you have a phrase that I like, “Explain it to me like I’m a third‑grader.”

BILL YATES:  Yeah, like I’m a third-grader, right, right, yeah.  Denzel Washington delivered that line in a movie.  I think it was “Philadelphia” with Tom Hanks.

ANDY CROWE:  Okay.  But I like that because…

BILL YATES:  Yeah, me, too.

ANDY CROWE:  …you’re not pretending; you know?  And everybody wants to – we’re all afraid somebody’s going to figure out that we don’t know what we’re talking about.  Everybody’s afraid of that.  Everybody has impostor syndrome in some way.  Except Nick.  Nick is…

BILL YATES:  Nick’s very comfortable inside his skin.

NICK WALKER:  Well, yeah.

ANDY CROWE:  But the rest of us.  And it’s good to just sit down sometimes and say, okay, explain it to me like I’m a third-grader.  I don’t get it.

Micromanaging Teams

NICK WALKER:  And if you would explain something to me like a third-grader, I’m wondering if there’s also this fear that you might be labeled as a “micromanager” if you’re an active participant in this.  Or is there a danger of being a micromanager?

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Well, that comes with experience, like everything else, is to know who are the people you’re managing, and how far do you need to go down that road of keeping a hand on them before it becomes an obstruction to the success of the project.  So at some point in time you have to look at your crew and say, hey, this guy’s just not working out the way we need him to.  And maybe we need to change his task, his role, or put him on a different project.  So that’s all part of the experience that you get starting out with a small project and asking those questions, which actually give credibility, I believe, if you ask them.

ANDY CROWE:  They can.  They may irritate some people.  And some people thrive in explaining things in a way that you don’t understand.  So, you know, it helps deconstruct that and kind of move past that because I do want to understand most things.  Nick, I think you get into micromanagement when you start telling people how to do the job, and you start giving them steps and standing over them and watching.  Now, there’s a difference because you train somebody that way, certainly.  But I really respond poorly when somebody starts telling me how to do my job.  Just trust me, get out of my way, let me figure it out.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  And there does end up a bit of trust that comes between the project manager and the teams, that after you do ask those questions a few times, they realize that you’re not micromanaging.  You’re trying very hard to clear their path.  So they know, if you’re asking, it’s because you’re here to help them, not to tell them what to do.

ANDY CROWE:  And choreographing tasks might look like micromanaging at times.  But I think it gets into micromanaging when you start telling people specifics of how to do those tasks.

Managing Multiple Projects

NICK WALKER:  Yeah.  Something you mentioned, Andy, in the beginning was just managing multiple projects.  And I’m assuming this is fairly common for a lot of project managers, that they’re juggling more than one ball in the air at a time.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Absolutely.  When I first started out, I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into with multiple projects.  But of course I took the first project on.  And then if you do a good job, suddenly people say, hey, this guy’s pretty good, and they send…

ANDY CROWE:  The reward for success is more work; right?

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Precisely.  Absolutely.  And the next thing you know you have five or six projects running concurrently.  And the smaller they are, usually the easier that is to do.  There was one point when I was working at IBM that I had 12 projects running concurrently.  And after adjusting my project management methodologies that I used to get to that level, I was able to manage between seven and 12 projects really efficiently, smaller projects, because smaller projects allow you a lot of air time between tasks so you can fit more in.  And if you get them to start to flow, you can actually roll through them fairly rapidly.

BILL YATES:  What are some common mistakes that you’ve seen for those who are trying to manage those multiple projects, and it’s not working?

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Too much structure, I would say.  If you follow the project management tools too closely…

BILL YATES:  Okay, yeah.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  …you can’t flex to meet the need, especially if the tools don’t match how you think as a human being, which is a very important point.

ANDY CROWE:  And you will not be an interesting human being to be around, either.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  No, no.  And Tylenol will be your best friend.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  Tylenol and Rolaids.  Maybe we should look into getting sponsors for the show.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Brought to you by Rolaids.

PM Tools and Processes

NICK WALKER:  You may have something there.  Well, what about project management tools that do work?

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Well, that, again, is very, very personal.  There are so many project management tools out there now.  And many of those you have to use because a corporate entity requires that you fit into their project management entity and skill and they’re project management teams.  But I think the first thing to look at when trying to choose a project management tool for yourself is let’s use “The Matrix” example when the Oracle tells Neo, “Know thyself.”  Incredibly important.

You need to understand how you think and how you organize things.  For example, how do you do your homework?  Do you pick the hardest thing to do first or the easiest thing?  Or is it math you do first, or English?  Or do you have to clean your home before you can start something new because your mind is scattered?  You need to know all these things about yourself before you decide what tool to use; otherwise, the tool won’t match your thought process.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  So I don’t want to suggest any specific tool.  But the tool has to match.  Now…

ANDY CROWE:  I agree with you.  It’s not about the tool, it’s about the process.

NICK WALKER:  Hmm.

BILL YATES:  You bring up such a good point, too, of the client may dictate that.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Correct.

BILL YATES:  Right?  Many times it’s, okay well, this is the software we’re using.  This is what we do to track our progress.  This has to fit into our reporting tool.  Therefore you will you use this.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Correct.

BILL YATES:  You’re like, yes, sir, yes, ma’am, you’re paying the bills, I’m with you.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  That’s true.

ANDY CROWE:  All right, Bill.  Fun question for you.  Roughly how many projects would you say you’re managing right now?

BILL YATES:  That’s interesting.  I was thinking about prior to Velociteach a typical flow for me was two to four that I would manage at one time.  Projects now, a little higher than that, probably six to nine.

ANDY CROWE:  That would be my guess for you, as well.  I’m in a similar range.  And some of mine are inside the enterprise; some are out.  But, now, what process do you follow to make sure that they don’t fall apart?

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  And because my role varies in each one of those, the processes that I – my processes, therefore, have to change.  And to Mike’s point, whether it’s the…

ANDY CROWE:  This is like Bruce Lee’s the style that has no style, and that he’s adapting.

BILL YATES:  You’re right.  He is.  The internal versus external is such a big difference, too.  If I can walk across the office and talk with team members, that’s a lot easier than sending an email across the world to find out what’s going on with another project.  So it really varies.

ANDY CROWE:  With me, I write things down.  I keep them written. I use checklists and to-do lists religiously.  But that for the most part, now, there are software tools I’m using on one project, two projects.  But for the most part, that’s sufficient for me, to have everything in one book that I carry with me.  Everywhere I go, I have that book.  I mean, it’s really bad.  You talk about somebody being boring at a cocktail party; right?  Right?

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  I think we all – it’s interesting, I just had that conversation with a team member yesterday.  We were having a creative session.  And we had laptops, we had a whiteboard, and we had our journals.  And she pulled out her journal.  She said, you know, this is, for me, I want to be able to put pen on paper.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Absolutely.

BILL YATES:  I know I may end up scanning it and saving it as a PDF or whatever.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

BILL YATES:  But that’s where I like to start.  And I completely relate to that.  I know, Andy, you’re a big believer in journals.

ANDY CROWE:  The horrible curse for me is that I have atrocious handwriting.  And yet I write down so much.  So it’s sort of a double whammy.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Well, it’s a good skill to have a journal.  It helps keep things fresh in your mind because as project managers we also have lives and kids and families and other responsibilities.  So every morning I would sit down and flip the page and then rewrite all the tasks on the next day.  And any ones that were completed didn’t get put on the list.  So I have a constant history of what I’ve done and the progress we’re making.

ANDY CROWE:  I have the same thing, same system.  Now, this is funny because today I kind of blend my personal and professional lists.  I had a job where that was not welcomed.  And my manager was very actively engaged in my lists and didn’t want to see “Pick up dry cleaning on the way home” or anything else.  Even though it was my own journal that I bought with my own money, you know, and just kept the list, he wanted it kept pure and professional, and that would get a lot of unwelcome attention.

Setting Expectations

NICK WALKER:  We love stories here on Manage This.  And I’m just wondering if you have any stories about challenges that you face keeping a project on track, any success stories?  Does something come to mind?

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Yes.  As far as stories for project management success, there’s at least one experience where I learned to use a very powerful tool that young people really should learn, they don’t teach this in PMI or PMP school, which is how to set expectations about expectations.  In other words, the customer may come to you and say, well, something went wrong in go-live, and we need to know when it’s going to get fixed right now.  And the answer to that is I don’t know.

ANDY CROWE:  We don’t know; right.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Right.  So how do you get them to bring their shoulders down below their ears so that you can go back, regroup, and find out?  A tool that I came up with is saying I don’t know right now, but I’ll know by the end of day tomorrow when that date will happen.  So let me give you the expectation of saying tomorrow at close of business I’ll be able to tell you when we’ll be able to resolve the problem.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Which is incredibly powerful because the other project manager, the customer’s project manager, has to report up the chain of his command, and he doesn’t know what to do, per se.  And you’re the hired gun, so you’re supposed to know what to do.  So what you do is you’ve set his expectations properly.  You’ve given him a method to communicate to his management what’s going on, which gives you a buffer and him a buffer to resolve the problem so that when you do go back in front of management, you have an answer.  And that’s really a powerful tool is know when you’re going to know when.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  You know, Andy, one of the things that bothers me the most is, when I’ve been the sponsor or the one writing the checks, so to speak, for a project, is if a situation like that comes up, and I ask that of the project manager, and I feel like they’re blurting out an answer.  I’ve got, like, zero confidence in the date or the number or the risk, you know, their plan, whatever they’ve given because they answer too fast.  You know, there are times like that where there should be trust built between that end customer and the project manager so the project manager says, yeah, this bad thing has happened, our team needs time to get our hands around it.  And I should be able to trust them that, yeah, that’s a complex problem.  They do need time.

ANDY CROWE:  You’re right.  But it goes both ways because I’ve had – I had a sponsor years ago, and I was fortunately not the PM on this project, but I was on the project.  I was a software developer.  And I had a sponsor come in and say, “We are locking the doors.  We are sequestering everyone.  Nobody leaves this building.  You can have food brought in, whatever, until we get an answer to this.”  Well, now what’s your motivation?  Well, give him an answer so we can go home.  It may be a wrong answer.

BILL YATES:  I got somewhere to go.  Give him an answer.

ANDY CROWE:  And a lot of people did have somewhere to go, and nobody left.  But it was intense, and it was intimidating.  And so that kind of sponsorship really garners that kind of response from the PM of, okay, fine.  You want an answer?  I’ve got an answer.  It may not be right, but it’s an answer.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  You made a really good point about the confidence that you have in your hired project manager, about: “is his answer valid”?  Is it something I can count on?  Because his business is relying on that; right?  So they brought you in to solve a business problem.  You’re the hired gun who’s going to do it and keep the promises of the sales team.  So I’m going to go full nerd on you here, and we’re going to go and use a Star Trek reference.

ANDY CROWE:  Okay.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  So when it comes to setting expectations, you have to use the Scotty, the engineer solution, which is he always figures out how to solve the problem ahead of time so Captain Kirk can shoot the enemy and win and score.  But he does that by telling little lies.  He gives himself a little bit of a buffer.  “I won’t have the engines fixed for six hours, Captain.”  Right?  But of course…

ANDY CROWE:  “We’re giving her all she’s got.”  He always talks about the effort as opposed to the outcome.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Yes, absolutely.

ANDY CROWE:  We’re trying really hard.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  But he may believe he can get it done in three.  And if he does, he’s a hero.  If he doesn’t, he gives himself a little more buffer time to get it done.  So ultimately whatever you’re providing to the customer as a project manager, as a solution time, now you’re setting precedent that, if I say it, it’s going to happen one way or the other.  You can count on it.  And that’s really powerful.

Communicating Solutions

NICK WALKER:  So I’m hearing that communication obviously is a key, but not just – just communicating.  Also the way you communicate is so important.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  That’s part of the psychology of being the project manager and the diplomat, which is you may be able to deliver a solution to the customer when they’re stressed or you need to make a choice, or they’ve asked you to make a change order out of the project.  But how you deliver it is equally important.  So you never want to just go with one solution because the customer may feel you’re dictating to them what they need.  So you want to come with at least – and I always brought three solutions.  And how you order the solution delivery is important, as well.  So you may want to bring one that’s really expensive, one that’s going to take a long time, and then the one that you believe is going to solve the problem properly.

ANDY CROWE:  The Goldilocks.

BILL YATES:  This guy, he’s a sales guy.  You hearing this?  This is perfect.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  But you always put the solution that you want the customer to take because you believe it’ll solve the problems and make the project go right as the second option.  It’s like the multiple-choice test when you’re a kid.  If you don’t know the answer, you pick C.

ANDY CROWE:  Yup.  When in doubt, Charlie out.

NICK WALKER:  Something you mentioned about what Scotty did is have actually have a solution before Captain Kirk notifies him of the problem.  Is that a concept in project management that works?

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Absolutely.  For an active project manager, you really want to be one or two steps ahead of your team.  In other words, bowling analogy:  You need to clear the lanes, set up the pins so that your team can knock them down.  And that’s what you want to do all the time.  “Once you finish this task, Bob, what’s the next thing you need to be on, and what do you need me to have done before you can do that next task?”  And then as an active project manager you go run that down for them.

Keeping Projects on Task

One other thing that we used to do as a good tool, depending on the type project you’ve working on, is I would go sometimes to the project room, bring an easel, a large sheet of paper, and a black marker.  And I would write all the tasks that needed to be done on that board so they could see them.  Because you don’t want the task list to be a secret.  You don’t want your project plan to be something you have to dictate.  Let them pick and choose.

When they get up and they finish a task and they’re thinking I’m going to go out and have a cigarette or get a Starbucks coffee, they walk by the board and go, oh, I can get that one more thing done before I leave.  And they’ll check them off as they go.  So the team starts to work off the board.  There are ways to motivate and get folks as a team rolling together to get a project done because you have to get past the doldrums.

ANDY CROWE:  Today checking Facebook has become the cigarette break/Starbucks run.  We lose 10 minutes an hour to that.

BILL YATES:  To Facebook.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  And pushing, well, let me jump in again.  And pushing the project, I mentioned doldrums in the project because every project has a cycle, and sometimes it cycles over and over.  The energy of a project has an ebb and flow.  So you’ll end up where the initial energy of the project is exciting, solutions focused and end result driven.  And then you get into the work, and then you get to the grind point where it seems like you’re putting a lot of time and effort in, but nothing’s really moving forward.  And that’s where the active project manager does a really good job of trying to pull his people through that period so that at the end you don’t have the crunch time and the need for the Rolaids and the Tylenol again.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  So being able to observe that and staying ahead of that curve and keeping your people motivated is a critical part of project management.  Again, the project manager isn’t just a task manager.  You’re not there just to check off the boxes and fill out the status reports and put the red, green, blue, yellow dots on the page.  You really are responsible for the people, the deliverables, the customer’s need, which has to be very personal.  If you don’t personally understand what you’re delivering, you’re going to fail.

ANDY CROWE:  I think a lot of times a project coordinator’s job is to do the red/green/blue and to keep tasks flowing and to keep things ordered.  But the PM is so much more than that.  I agree with that.

BILL YATES:  And Mike, one of the things that we like to talk about in some of the courses that we teach is in risk management, looking at positive risks.  And one of the common positive risks that, again, I think project managers need to be aware of is sometimes things are going to be done faster than you anticipate.  Sometimes resources…

ANDY CROWE:  Because Scotty sandbagged you earlier on his estimate; right.

BILL YATES:  Yes.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Seriously.

BILL YATES:  There’s sandbagging, there’s breakthroughs, there’s hey, we used a new tool this time, or this software worked even faster.  And then I love the idea that you present of, okay, is there something at a high level like a product backlog or something at a lower level like a task and activity list, where then those resources that do free up, you as the leader, as the captain of the ship, you said, okay, this is great news because I’ve got these additional things.  We’re actually going to – we’re going to land, you know, we’re going to get to the port faster than we planned because you freed up, you finished up something fast.  Here’s something else to work on.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Absolutely.

BILL YATES:  You’ve got to be proactive to do that, though.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  You do have to be proactive.  You have to know what tasks you have available.  Which works very well when managing multiple smaller projects because quite often you’ll have multiple projects, but one team of guys.  Or girls.  One team.

BILL YATES:  So then you have, yeah, you have those resources.  You’re flipping not only to task, but tasks within different projects, yeah.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Correct.  Correct.  And that is the mark of a good project manager who can manage multiple projects together is how to blend the resources across the tasks while making sure the customer’s needs are met.  It can be quite a challenge.

ANDY CROWE:  It’s understanding priorities.  It’s understanding relationships.  It’s setting expectations.  That’s a tough gig.

Know When to Pull the Plug

NICK WALKER:  And in this whole process, how do you know when it’s time to end, to pull the plug?

MIKE PONDISCIO:  That is such a big question.  And it really is dependent on each project.  Sometimes it’s when the person who pays your check every month says it’s done.  Other times it’s when the project is signed off by the customer.  Sometimes the customer doesn’t want to let go.  They don’t want to cut the umbilical cord.

After the project you have a punch list or a post go-live period where you’re still onsite, and they don’t want you to leave.  And sometimes you have to go to your management and say, hey, these guys are done.  The project’s done.  The punch list is complete.  You’ve got to let them go.  Which is another part of expectation management early in the project to make sure that you identify somebody in-house who can then take over for you when you leave with confidence that they understand what they’ve been given, how to manage it.

ANDY CROWE:  Right, transitions.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Transition it.  Very important transitioning tools for that.  Most of the time the best way to solve a project closure, or the best way to close a project, for that  matter, is to properly document the deliverables in the first place, make sure they are complete.  Check them off.  Make sure that the promises kept by the salespeople behind the scope of work are met, and try and pull those out of them before you start the project so you can be confident going in.  And that’s how you finish a project properly.  But again, it depends on a number of things.  And every project’s a little different.  And I hate to be so open-ended to say “a number of things,” but it really could be change orders or time or any other thing.

BILL YATES:  Mike, if you’re giving advice to a project manager on this point, what key documents or artifacts do you tell them to go pull, to know when done is done?

MIKE PONDISCIO:  There are two documents, I would say, based upon the type of projects you’re doing.  One of those, or let me rephrase, or the methodology you’re using to deliver the project.  One would be the design document that is created after the scope of work is signed and before you start implementing.  That’s where you get all into the smaller nuances of what the actual deliverables are going to be.

The other one is a more personal document which is when you do receive a scope of work, typically that is an outline of what is to be delivered.  So there’s really no true definition of what “complete” is at that  point.  However, if you can get a hold of the sales engineer and the salesperson and find out exactly what the conversation had been, what is the initial solution that they need to solve the problem they brought us in to solve in the first place.  Because oftentimes that is lost in the technical details later.

BILL YATES:  Yes.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  “Why are we here?” is the question you need to ask the sales team.  And what did you promise them we were going to do in order to finish this, to solve their problem?

ANDY CROWE:  The Agile community puts a lot of emphasis on the definition of “done.”  How do we know when we’re done?  What does that actually mean?  Because that word can be misused very easily.

BILL YATES:  Litigated.

ANDY CROWE:  So let’s – that’s it, yeah.  Let’s define it for this project.

Closing

NICK WALKER:  Well, I think I’m going to be the one to say that we’re done; that we’ve accomplished what we set out to do on this podcast.  Mike, thanks so much for being a part of this podcast today.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  It was my pleasure.  I’m so glad I could be here and share.

NICK WALKER:  Before we go, is there a way folks can get in touch with you to maybe hear more of your expertise?

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Certainly.  I’m always willing to share.  I love to share my information on history and experience.  I find that many of the things we’ve discussed and many of the tools that I’ve talked about aren’t available in project management training.  It’s just skills that you acquire over years of being a project manager.  So if you’d like to reach out to me on LinkedIn, I can easily be found.  Check the notes from the podcast.  And I look forward to hearing from anybody that wants to reach out.

NICK WALKER:  Great.  And also we have a gift for you.  We don’t like anybody to leave empty-handed.  That Manage This coffee mug there in front of you is yours.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Which is a perfect tool for a project manager who needs lots of caffeine.

NICK WALKER:  Well, thanks again, Mike.

MIKE PONDISCIO:  Thank you.

NICK WALKER:  Listeners, we have something to give you, too.  Have you claimed your free PDUs yet?  You’ve already earned them, just for listening to this podcast.  To claim your free professional development units toward your recertifications, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and then click through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in next time for our next podcast.  In the meantime, you can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And you can always tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.

That’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

4 responses to “Episode 71 – Managing Multiple Projects”

  1. Avatar Shawn Lee says:

    Enjoy topic and guest speaker. Keep up the good work.

  2. Avatar BJ Bertens says:

    Great podcast

  3. Avatar Sandra Hernandez says:

    Great podcast. Good tips to be an active project manager. Thanks.

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