Using IBM Connections as a Project Management Tool – Part 4

If you have been following the series (link 1, link 2, link 3) of articles on using IBM Connections as a Project Management tool, you’ll be aware that we are working through the Association of Project Management’s key components of Project Management. This time we’re up to:

Leading and Motivating the Project Delivery Team

This topic is less about the features of IBM Connections and more about the way you can use those features to help deliver the kind of leadership and motivation with your team that will help ensure your continued success.

I don’t want to go into school today; Mum, I don’t feel like school work today.Oh, don’t make me go to school today, Mum

Oh, please let me stay home and play.But you must go to school, my cherub, my lamb, If you don’t it will be a disaster, How would they manage without you, my sweet, After all you are the headmaster!

Colin McNaughton

As a project manager you probably quite often feel like the headmaster in this poem. Unfortunately the energy and attitude you present in the project is the same one your team will take. If you’re having a bad day, your team wil feel it and their performance will drop. The same is true in reverse.

If you are in, say, a construction project or some other setting where you and your project team are in close physical proximity the normal human interactions and social conventions apply to help you get along, prioritise tasks, feel the pressure, etc. However if your team is spread over a wide physical distance or at least if you are not all in the one place, managing and motivating the team can be a whole lot harder.

There is a really great article on Entrepreneur.com, called 10 Ways to Successfully Manage Virtual Teams and I’d encourage you to check it out from the point of view of the tips and tricks you can apply to help you achieve high levels of motivation even on days when you don’t want to be the headmaster. Let’s look at some of the 10 ways and how IBM Connections can help…

1 – Define Work Systems

Its important to agree with your colleagues which tools and systems you’re going to use to manage your project. Of course I would recommend using a Community as the home for all of your information. It’s important to agree that everything will go into the Community. Don’t allow some people to use their chosen cloud based storage solution over what everyone else is doing. With one place you can be sure that you are all sharing and working together. Afterall if you were all in the same room you would be putting your stuff in the same place.

Here’s my quick checklist of tools in a community you can use to agree and centralise the work systems you’ll use:

  • To Do Lists – Activities
  • Procedures and Standards – Wiki Pages
  • File storage – Files
  • Document editing – Docs
  • Meetings – Connections Meetings
  • Scheduling meetings, defining dates and milestones – Event Calendar
  • Sharing links to other sites or information – Bookmarks
  • Information sharing about tasks being completed or news – Status Updates
  • Meeting Minutes, longer news items – Blog
  • Brainstorming, Idea collection and feedback – Ideation Blog

2 – Establish Multiple Communications Tools

Where possible I would encourage you to use the communications tools within a community to share information. This way the information is captured and knowledge exchanged with the whole group. Of course, it’s not always possible, appropriate or necessary to use something like Status Updates to discuss something as this is normally shared with everyone in the community. Thus, you should agree with your colleagues what other communication tool you will use for more spontaneous informal communications.

You may have heard of solutions like Slack, Cisco Spark and Watson Workspace as potential tools for this. These are great for having team discussions but they also introduce the ability to store files and other information outside of your agreed storage place – the community.

Instead, for normal person-to-person chat I would encourage you to use the Sametime facility in Connections Cloud S1. It’s integrated with IBM Verse, also part of Connections Cloud S1 and provides a great way for having a persistent chat with specific team-mates:

 

SC_Connections_Audio_Video.png

Using Sametime is both part of the product and enough functionality to allow you to have that immediate synchronous discussion with a colleague that you need over and above meetings and the asynchronous communications provided through Connections, such as Status updates.

3 – Schedule Regular Meetings

Any project will of course have meetings, but if you are working with a remote or dispersed team then you need to make sure that these happen regularly, on time and that people attend them. As well as providing the essential task of getting updates from each other and passing on information, in a disparate team it acts as a key way to socialise with your colleagues.

Connections makes it easy to do this by using the Events calendar. It’s easy to have the upcoming meetings on the homepage of your community and even for team members to subscribe to the calendar events using their favourite calendar application (such as IBM Notes of course!).

Capto_Capture 2017-05-06_09-39-44_am.png

The above is an example of our IBM Global Business Partner community which we use to connect all Business Partners who are working with Collaboration and Talent Solutions. The really nice thing about the Events calendar is that it automatically adjusts the date and time of the events to be your local time (which is why some things show up at 4am in the above example).

 

IBM Connections also aggregates this information together with all the other event calendars in all the other places in Connections that you work in. So, if you are a member of multiple project communities you can easily see, on your homepage all the events drawn together into a single schedule:

Do you see the Add to Personal Calendar link? Clicking on this gives you a URL you can use to add to IBM Notes, Google Mail, Apple Calendar, and the likes so you can overlay all your project meetings with your own meetings:

4 – Have Clear and Detailed Deliverables

It goes without saying that having clear and detailed deliverables is part of the job of any project manager, but how do you make sure that everyone is clear on what needs to be done, and when. Earlier in our series we looked at using Wikis to standardise documentation and I would certainly encourage you to use a Wiki for reasonably static information which can be revised and all changes tracked.

For tracking deliverables and deadlines and the likes, IBM Connections has a fantastic tool called Activities. This is like a task list on steroids and allows you to use it for basic task management all the way through to complete project management. So, let’s take a look at what Activities can do.

Let’s take the example of preparing and running a project meeting. We follow this process often without really stopping to consider how convoluted it can be. Nevertheless, the amount of communication involved when handled through a medium such as email can end up in you sinking under a pile of unnecessary data. Take this example:

  1. I need to have a meeting with my team of eight programmers. I use my calendaring and scheduling tool to check for a suitable time when we can all meet in the next few days. I send out invitations to the meeting, resulting in eight emails being sent.
  2. Two of my team respond with proposed new time for the meeting because they had un-booked commitments. I’ve now handled ten emails.
  3. I reschedule the meeting and send out the updated meeting invitation, resulting in eight more emails going out, adding up to eighteen in total so far.
  4. Before the meeting I prepare the standard agenda and send it out to the team for comments. That’s eight more emails, each with a file attachment of 320Kb attached. Twenty-six emails and 2.5Mb of mail used (ignoring the basic size of the mail itself).
  5. For members of the team send me back my agenda with alterations. That us up to thirty email and a further 1.2Mb to add to the 2.5Mb, making 3.7Mb in total.
  6. I alter the agenda as requested and send it out again to the team. Eight more emails make thirty-eight and 2.5Mb more of file attachments brings us up to 6.1Mb.
  7. Shortly before the meeting, I receive papers to accompany reports from three of my team. The total of the emails received is 2Mb each, so 6Mb received. I forward these to the other seven members of the team respectively: twenty-one more emails (fifty-nine in total now) and 42Mb added to the total (48Mb total size).
  8. We have the meeting and I record the meeting minutes. After the meeting I send the minutes out to the team. It comes to 720Kb for the Word document with the minutes, so an additional 4.8Mb is generated (52.8Mb in total now) and a total of sixty-eight emails.
  9. Two of the team come back with additions or adjustments to the minutes. We’re now up to seventy emails.
  10. I make the changes to the minutes and send out the final version. Seventy-eight emails and 57.4Mb in total.While this is just a simple process and I am highlighting the number of emails and sizes of attachments flying around, I hope you can see the point – this is just one meeting and a relatively normal flow. Your inbox would be bulging with the fire hose of information and different versions of the same file.Using IBM Connections I would create an activity to hold all of my meetings.
    1. I will use one activity to co-ordinate all of the meeting and use sections to split up the content for the different meetings themselves. I start by giving the activity a name, say “Weekly Management meetings”
    2. Next I want to set up some structure for my meetings. To do that, I’ll use Sections to define an area for each of the weekly meetings. I press the “Add Section” button.
    3. I enter a name for the Section and repeat this twice more so that I have three sections, one each for the upcoming meetings:Picture1.png

    Now I want to start preparing for my first meeting, and here’s where we start saving time and effort over our large number of emails and file attachments. My preference is to use IBM Notes to do the scheduling of meetings as it is able to look into the schedules of my team members and locate a suitable time. It’s also set up to handle reschedules and other changes. Once the date of the meeting is set, I get to work on my meeting preparations:

    Picture2.png

    I start by creating an “Entry” by pressing the “Add Entry” button. If the “Week 01 Meeting” section is highlighted, like shown, then the entry will automatically be added to that section. Don’t worry, it’s easy to move it to another section later if it turns up in the wrong place.

    A new form appears. I give the Entry a name, in this case “Week 01 Meeting Agenda”, and set some tags for it. I could upload files or perform some other actions at this point, but as my agenda is quite simple I opt to simply type it into the rich text area. I’ve used the number list and indent buttons to create a multi-level structure as you can see.

    Note that this entry will appear in the “Week 01 Meeting” section. If the Section field is blank, simply choose the section you want it to appear in. I don’t want this particular entry to be private (I want to share it with my team). I do, however, want to notify them that the agenda exists and to seek their feedback. I check the “Notify people of this entry” checkbox and then “All individual members of this activity”. The result when I press the “Save” button (not shown in the screenshot) is that each of the team members will receive an email from IBM Connections notifying them about the agenda.

    I press “Save” and can now see my agenda in the structure:

    Picture3.png

    Remember that my team will receive a notification that the agenda has been created. Shortly after sending this out I see in my Recent Updates that one of my team has commented on the agenda:

    Picture4.png

    Instead of me receiving an email asking me to change it, and perhaps receiving the same request from multiple people, everyone associated with the meeting can see the comment being made and can either choose to add their own comment, such as “Don’t forget Project Epsilon”, or even a comment against the comment, such as “I agree”.

    Even at this stage we are collaborating, communicating and being more productive. Fast forward a few hours or days and I come back to check on the status of my agenda and the documents, prior to the meeting:

    We can see that we now have a Project Alpha progress report, which has been uploaded as a file. These have been uploaded into the Activity as entries as they have the same status as the Agenda. They’re the things we need to consider at the meeting. We’ve used comments to provide feedback on the entries.

    At the meeting I create a new Entry, again in the Week 01 section. I can use the rich text editor to record the comments and minutes as I go along, although you might prefer to use a word processor document or spreadsheet – whatever you are comfortable with. I like to have the entry with the agreed agenda expanded (by clicking the “More” button next to the agenda) and type the notes as I go. The end result is a set of minutes completed as the meeting continues which is immediately available for everyone to see at the end of the meeting:

    Picture6.png

    I used a table in the rich text editor and set it up with a reasonable number of rows and columns to achieve the result you see in the screenshot. I set the headings “Item”, “Description” and “Action By” in bold text. I used the Table Properties to change the border of the table from the default “1” to “0” so that there were no table lines shown. I also changed the “Vertical Alignment” in the third column to be “top” so that I could use the return key on my keyboard enough times to push the person who is to action the point to be next to the action itself. I changed the “Horizontal Alignment” of column three to be “Center”.

    The nice thing about this approach is that the text of the meeting minutes is immediately there for you to see in the context of the meeting agenda and the supplier papers. I want to use the Activity’s built-in “To Do” functionality to make it easier for my team to track their actions. It’s one thing to formally record the actions in the meeting minutes, but my team tends to do a lot of meetings and keeping track of their actions across all of these would be difficult for them.

    Each time an action comes up, therefore, I also create a “To Do”:

     

    Picture7.png

    Note that you can select who is assigned to this task, the date it is due to be completed and you can also attach files, bookmarks, etc., as well as adding your own text. The result is that To Do items appear in the context of the Entry they relate to – the Meeting Minutes.

    When my team-mates log in to Connections, the default screen (and several other places) shows all of the tasks assigned to them, across all of the meetings and activities they are participants in:

    Picture8.png

    This is one of my favorite features of Activities. This represents the combined list of all the To Do items I have across the whole system. Outside the screenshot but on my (long) list of tasks are the two To Do items I created earlier. Clicking on any of these takes me straight back to the To Do item in the corresponding activity.

    When I am running a meeting I like to ask people who have To Do items like this to put a comment next to their To Do item when they mark it complete. Sometimes this is just simply “I’ve done it”, or its attaching the work product, such as a report or other document that the task was about. This is a useful thing to organize your information because it keeps the task and the result in the same place.

7 Choose (video) Calls Over Chatting and Emails

This is a piece of advice I am a big fan of. Although video calls are slowly (at last) becoming more commonplace, raising the medium to include video when you are having a regular call keeps people more engaged in the meeting. We all like to slope off and make a coffee while we’re on a conference call and that’ fine, but where you need attention and focus I always recommend using video to force people to behave as if they are in the office with you. It might seem a bit intimidating at times, but its no different to having a face to face meeting in the office, so why should it be a problem?

IBM Connections, of course, has a fantastic web meeting solution which combines whiteboarding, presentations, audio and video calls amongst other tools.

# Next Time

Join me next time to look at managing the risks, issues and changes on the project.

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