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Welcome to the CU Project Management Group blog, which shares some of the content being posted in the CU Project Management Group. The group is a place for project managers in the Carolinas to connect with their peers, share ideas and best practices, and get answers to PM questions. The group is open to all CU staff in the Carolinas who are registered members of the CCUL web site. To join the group, please log-in to your account and go to http://www.carolinasleague.org/members/group.aspx?id=199425 For more information, please contact Jeff Hardin (919-457-9063 or jhardin@carolinasleague.org).

 

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Top tags: Best practices  Management  Meetings 

Know YOUR strengths

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 8, 2018

(Editor's note: this post originally appeared on the blog in the CU Project Management networking group. This group is open to credit union staff in the Carolinas who have a registered web site account. Please click here to view and join the group.) 

Written by: Sandon Nachmann, Coastal CU. 

I started CrossFit about 7 months ago.  Those who know me know I’m a fitness junky.  I’ve always been involved in some type of fitness/exercise activity since I was in my teens.  I spent about 12 years on and off competing in amateur kickboxing, then I got into goruck (goruck.com) and rucking, spent some time running, and most recently I’m addicted to CrossFit.


There are all different levels of athletes at my CrossFit gym, but being as competitive as I am a strived to be at the top as soon as I started.  I’m probably over simplifying this, but I would say the three main components of CrossFit are technique, strength, and stamina or endurance.  Right off the bat I have to say that endurance is my biggest strength.  When I started in July I was consistently ranking in the top 5-10 out of 50 or so men on a daily basis.  I didn’t have the technique or strength part, but I had years of performing endurance based workouts and grinding through the pain.  

As far as technique, I had some of the techniques from years of trying different weight lifting routines in my basement.  While there’s still a lot for me to learn in the way of technique, that’s been easy for me to pick up and adjust to.

Strength…  Being strong is definitely not my strength and I would say that I have average strength for my weight and height.  In contrast there are some men and woman at my gym that are genetic freaks and can throw around weight like it’s nothing.  That’s NOT me and never has been.  Based on that, I decided I was going to focus on strength to help bridge the gap between myself and the very BEST people at my gym.  

My kids also go to the kids class at night so I’m fortunate enough (or obsessed as my wife would say) to be able to go to the gym twice a day on most days.  I do the group/class workout in the morning before work, and I started focusing on strength at night when I brought my kids.  For four months I followed a specific weight lifting routine at night which focused on Bench Press, Deadlifts, Squats, and Overhead Press.  It was great to see the progress and I definitely got stronger.  My 1 rep max squat increased from 240lbs in July to 300lbs in late December.  

With all this new strength it goes without saying that I was now beating the elite people in my gym right? WRONG!  In fact my ranking compared to the elite people really hasn’t changed at all, and that’s because being strong isn’t my strength!  Sure I can squat 300lbs now, but some of the guys laugh at 300lbs and can squat 400lbs.  What I found was that in my efforts to focus on my weakness I was neglecting my natural strength which is endurance and stamina.  I’m sad to say that I only had this revelation in the past couple of weeks, but since then I’ve been incorporating running at night into my weekly routine and I feel better already.

Long story short, focus on your strengths.  However I believe the exception to this rule is when you have a fatal flaw.  A fatal flaw is not just a weakness, it’s something you do very wrong that is clearly holding you back.  For me that’s muscles-ups.  CrossFit workouts are written as Rx, which means you can do the exact workout with all weights and modalities as it’s prescribed.  If you can’t Rx the workout you can do a modified scaled down version.  I can Rx every workout except for when it includes muscle-ups, so for me that’s a fatal flaw and something I need to work on.

The concept of focusing on your strengths isn’t new to me.  It’s something I’ve read in books, blogs, discussed in school, and at work but I still went about it all wrong. We are all gifted with natural strengths, but a lot of times when people look to improve they focus on their weaknesses.  As you can see from my example above you need to focus on your strengths whether that be at work, personal life, hobbies, etc.

So, what are YOUR strengths?

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Know YOUR people

Posted By Administration, Monday, November 20, 2017
Updated: Monday, November 20, 2017

(Editor's note: this post originally appeared on the blog in the CU Project Management networking group. This group is open to credit union staff in the Carolinas who have a registered web site address. Please click here to view and join the group.) 

Written by: Sandon Nachmann, Coastal CU. 

If I were to ask you what’s more important to you, your family or your job what would you say?  If you were to ask your co-workers, boss, or direct reports (if you have any) the same question what do you think they would say?  I’m pretty sure the answer would be family.

 

I started going to crossfit about 4 months ago and became friends with one of the guys there.  We talk in the gym and have hung out a few times so I’ve learned that he has two boys.  I think they’re about 10 and 14 but I have no idea what their names are.  I’m sure he can tell you that I have 4 kids and might have an idea of their ages, but he also has no idea what their names are.  In contrast I have a few really good friends in NY that I’ve been friends with for 15 plus years.  I can say that I definitely know the names of their kids, just like they know the names of mine.

 

Would you consider someone a “great” friend if after 15 years they had no idea what your kid’s names were?  Just think about that for a minute…  Does your best friend know the name of your kids, or the name of your spouse?  I’m not sure at what point during a friendship that distinction or the importance of that knowledge occurs, but it definitely does.

 

Where am I going with this?  If you want to build strong trusting relationships with those around you then you need to know them, and part of knowing them is knowing what’s important to them.  While your career is important if you had to pick between the two, your family usually trumps all.

 

“Know your people” - Try applying that same logic of your friends “knowing” you to your co-workers, directs, or boss.  When you first start working with someone you probably didn’t know too much about them.  Over time you might learn they have kids but might not have learned their names.  Now assume you worked closely with that same person for the next 15 years but never took the time to learn the name of their kids or spouse.  Would you consider that a close trusting relationship?

 

I worked with someone for 14+ years early on in my career.  Part of his ritual greeting was asking about my kids.  But in reality he knew nothing about my kids, didn’t know their ages, and definitely not their names.  I’d play along and say everyone was fine, but in the back of my mind I was thinking why does he ask because he really doesn’t care.

 

I challenge you to take a litmus test of those around you at work.  Do you know what’s important to them?  Do you know the names of their kids or spouse?  If not, then you have some homework to do.

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Stick and torch

Posted By Sandon Nachmann, Tuesday, November 7, 2017

(Editor's note: this post originally appeared on the blog in the CU Project Management networking group. This group is open to credit union staff in the Carolinas who have a registered web site address. Please click here to view and join the group.) 

Written by: Sandon Nachmann, Coastal CU. 

Do you remember that project that was implemented at your CU two years ago?  You know the one that promised increased efficiencies, member satisfaction, and direct costs savings?  It’s a good thing that was implemented because your employees are now saving about 2 hours of manual work each day.  Or maybe it’s an hour each day… actually I’m not really sure.  Without a doubt though we’re saving a lot money each month, or at least that’s what we were promised when it went live.

 

Sound familiar?  How many times have you implemented a project and gone back months later to see if it accomplished its goals?  My guess is it almost never happens.  Post project evaluation is an important part of the project management process and its almost always overlooked.  A great way to accomplish this is by using the “Stick & Torch” approach.

 

Stick - First, evaluation is about accountability.  It’s a measuring ‘stick’ that can be used to justify the existence of the project.

 

Torch – Second, evaluation is about project improvement.  It’s a developmental process – a ‘torch’ that helps illuminate problems and recognize good practice.  This reduces the likelihood of repeating mistakes.

 

Simply put the stick and torch approach is not about beating and burning, it’s about measuring and learning.

 

With that here are three measurements we can look at:

 

1. Issues - What were the problems/issues the project was trying to solve? 

 

Was a business case developed and approved prior to the project going live?  If so the problems/issues the project was trying to solve should be clearly defined in the business case.  Need help with your business case? ** Stay tuned for future posts.

 

2. Results - How has the project succeded in its intentions? If it hasn’t, describe. 

 

The project as supposed to save money right?  Well has it?  How about the efficiencies that were promised, did they actually pay off?

 

3. Impact – What has been the impact of the project?  Good or bad…

  

Overall how did the project go?  Were members positively or negatively impacted?  Did anything significant come out of the project?  Maybe you were able to build a project plan template for future similar projects…

 

A good project management program should include a lessons learned in the project closure, but really the project process shouldn’t end there.  The project is officially complete when you go back after a period of time and apply the stick & torch.

Tags:  Management 

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Know THE people

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, October 31, 2017

(Editor's note: this post originally appeared on the blog in the CU Project Management networking group. This group is open to credit union staff in the Carolinas who have a registered web site address. Please click here to view and join the group.) 

Written by: Sandon Nachmann, Coastal CU. 

There’s lots to learn about project management.  Holding effective meetings helps…, but that’s just one small piece of it.  Over time you’ll gain experience.  You’ll learn how to hold effective meetings, create project plans, use fancy software.  And eventually you’ll reach the point where project management is project management, and a project is a project is a project…

 

Before coming to Coastal I had about 14 years of CU experience, 12 of which were involved in managing projects in some form.  The hardest part about coming to Coastal wasn’t project management itself, but not knowing any of the people.

 

Broken down into the simplest terms effectively managing projects comes down to managing the people and the tasks that they’re responsible for.  So how do you effectively manage the PEOPLE on projects?  The answer is knowing THE people.  Really knowing the people sets you up for success.  Knowing people lets you determine who you can count on and who needs extra attention.  It helps to know who you can go to or lean on for extra help, or who has experience doing similar projects.  Understanding personalities also helps with individual communication and motivation.

 

With that here are four rules to help you get to know the people:

  1. Pay attention

  2. Build & maintain relationships

  3. Ask people who know

  4. Assume the best and the worst

 

1. Pay attention - "There's an old saying in Tennessee.  I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says, 'Fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. Fool me... You can't get fooled again!'" - George W Bush

 

Nothing is worse than repeating the same mistake twice!  Good or bad you need to pay attention to the work habits of those around you.  You need to be able to adjust mid project as well as be ready for the next time you work together on a future one.

 

2. Build & Maintain Relationships – I put ‘build’ and ‘maintain’ together because the same steps used to build relationships are also the keys to maintaining them.

  • Do lunch – Lunch is an easy way to get to know people and build relationships.  Business usually comes up at some point over lunch.  But even if you're just getting together to eat and talk about the weekend that’s great.
  • Drop in – Face to face is always best.  If location permits, nothing beats dropping in to say hi.
  • Send an email – Due to location dropping in isn’t always the easiest so sending an email to keep things going is a good solution.
  • Schedule time – Like it or not there’s always an A team in any company.  Once you figure out who those people are and build a relationship with them, it’s vital you maintain it. One easy way to do that is by scheduling time on your calendar.  Add a reoccurring event on your calendar to check in with ‘Mary’ every 6 months by doing lunch, dropping in, or sending an email.

3. Ask people who know – As the new person in a company the best way to get information about other employees is to ask those who know.  We’re not talking about water cooler dirt here, but work specific information that will help you on a project.

 

Assume you’ve been assigned a project with two resources you’ve never worked with before.  One of them being a developer from the IT department.  Start by asking someone with more experience (like your boss) if there’s anything specific you should know about them.  You might learn that the IT developer needs very detailed instructions and specific requirements before he will even entertain the coding process.  His strict attention to detail is perceived by some as resistance or lack of engagement.  However, once he gets what he needs he’s like a rock star and will deliver a bug free working solution every time!  That’s great information to know.

 

4. Assume the Best and the Worst – This one isn’t so much about getting to know the people, it’s about what to do before you do.  I recently went to lunch with one of my colleagues and he told me that he prepares for unknown possibly difficult situations by assuming the best and worst case scenarios.

 

If you're going to present on a topic what’s the worst and best questions that might get asked of you?  If you prepare using this technique every time, you should be better equipped to deal with difficult situations.  Coincidentally I liked this technique and added it to my learning journal.

 

This same technique can be applied to people you don’t know on projects.  If you’ve never worked with Johnny Root before then you don’t know what to expect out of him.  He might be a super star that needs little attention, or he might be someone who needs to be closely monitored throughout the project.  Until you’ve had the opportunity to get to know him its best to assumed both the worst and best case scenarios so you don’t get caught off guard.

Tags:  Best practices  Management 

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Effective meetings: What gives?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, October 31, 2017

(Editor's note: this post originally appeared on the blog in the CU Project Management networking group. This group is open to credit union staff in the Carolinas who have a registered web site address. Please click here to view and join the group.) 

Written by: Sandon Nachmann, Coastal CU. 

I learned the hard way early on in my career the importance of conducting effective meetings.  Here are 10 rules to help you do it the right way.

1. Pre-publish an agenda
2. Stick to the agenda
3. Start on time
4. End on time
5. Set ground rules
6. Use a parking lot
7. Fix responsibilities
8. Publish minutes
9. Use a facilitator
10. Continuously improve


I stumbled into project management by accident in 2000 before I even knew project management was a thing.  I was at what was considered a “small” credit union on Long Island back in 2000, as we had just reached our $1-billion-dollar mark.  I worked in the IT department and was a PC Technician by title, but was more of a jack of all trades as our small department was exploding to keep up with the growing infrastructure.  About a year into that role I was assigned my first real project which was deploying a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to the credit union.

We had our first meeting to get things kicked off and it was a mess because I didn’t know about any of the effective meeting rules mentioned above.  There was no agenda, we didn’t start on time, I didn’t fix responsibilities, and believe it or not I didn’t even have an ending time for the meeting.  I’m pretty sure we just talked until we all got bored...  After the meeting I knew it went horrible, the problem was I didn’t know what to do to fix it.  I had no one to turn to for help in the credit union and there weren’t and shining examples for me to learn from.   It took a lot more failed attempts of holding meetings and tons of research of what to do to fix it until I finally started piecing some things together.

I love telling this story because I can only imagine there are a lot of people in the same boat that I was in, and I still experience some of those same pitfalls when I attend other people’s meetings today.  With that, let’s break down each of the 10 rules.

1. Pre-publish an agenda – You need to pre-publish an agenda so people know what the meeting is about and can come prepared.  It is also used to keep the meeting on track.  

What should go into an agenda? 
Heading - The meeting or project name, person conducting meeting, attendees, date
Body -  Start time of each item on the agenda, The item of discussion, Person responsible for the agenda item

2. Stick to the agenda
 – Sticking to the agenda is easy to do and it serves two main purposes.  It keeps everyone focused and it helps you make sure you don’t run out of time during the meeting.  Remember that when we pre-publish and agenda we set approximate times that each item will start.  That’s so if we estimate we’re going to take 10 minutes per item and we realize we’re 20 minutes in and still on item one then it’s time to move on.


3. Start on time – If your meeting is scheduled to start at 10:00 am then start promptly at 10:00 am.  That means that you as the facilitator should be there five minutes early to get setup and be ready to go.

No chit-chat, just get right to it – I’ve been to meeting where the facilitator feels weird getting right to business and will start every meeting with a two-minute ice-breaker of non-work related chit-chat.  That doesn’t make effective use of time and isn’t necessary.

What if “everyone” isn’t there yet? – Our goal is to create effective meetings by starting on time.  Nothing worse than it being 10:04 am and having the facilitator announce, “we’re just going to give it another couple of minutes to see if anyone else shows up”.  Why?  The meeting was scheduled to start at 10:00 am and you should start at 10:00 am.  If you always delay the start of your meetings by 5-7 minutes, then you’re not giving any incentive for people to show up on time.  You’re also not respecting the time of the people who showed up ready to start at 10:00 am.

What if the right person isn’t there yet? – What if you’re waiting for a senior member of the management team to attend the meeting, then what do you do?  Same answer as above, start on time.  Someone who is late to a meeting won’t get mad at you for starting on time.  And the chances are the reason they’re late is because they just came from another meeting that went long.  If by chance, there is an early item on the agenda that needs specific employee involvement then skip ahead on the agenda and get back to it when the person arrives.  

4. End on time – Respect peoples time.  As mentioned above, a lot of time people are late to meetings because their previous meeting went long.  This step is simple but important, “always end on time”.  

Am I allowed to go over the meeting time? - There are exceptions to this rule, and that’s when its mutually agreed on by all participants in the room.  If everyone is free and agrees to stay a few extra minutes to complete the discussions, then that is acceptable.  What isn’t acceptable is to continue discussions past the designated meeting stop time with no mention of the time or that the meeting should have ended.

5. Set ground rules – ground rules establish the expectations for the meeting.  These may consist of reviewing the 10 rules of effective meetings.  For an ongoing project let the participants know that you will always start on time, always end on time, you’ll always pre-publish and agenda, etc.

You can also adjust the ground rules as needed.  I’m sure we’ve all been to meeting where there’s the one guy in the corner who spends the entire time on phone or laptop not listening to a word anyone is saying.  When it comes time for that person to provide some input you have to recap the last five minutes to bring them up to speed.  If something like that becomes an issue, then it’s perfectly acceptable to request that people put down their phones or laptops while in meetings.

6. Use a parking lot – Remember the 2nd rule, stick to the agenda?  A parking lot is used for items that come up that aren’t on the agenda.

How do I use the parking lot? – It can be implemented a few different ways.  You can save 5 minutes at the end of every meeting specifically for parking lot items.  The majority of the time this will be empty which is why you only save 5 minutes.  You can also add it as an agenda item on future meetings.

7. Fix responsibilities – One of the most important concepts of projects or meetings is “Who, Does What, By When?”  What that means is for every agenda item you need to assign Who is responsible, What they are doing, and When you expect to have it completed by.

8. Publish minutes – Minutes are used to capture meeting discussions, decisions, and the Who, Does What, by When.  These should be distributed as soon as possible following the meeting.  For projects with long durations minutes are often times used to reference discussions or decisions that were made early on.

9. Use a facilitator – A facilitator is used to help keep the meeting on track.  They can document the Who, Does What, by When. They can keep track of the time to help make sure you’re sticking to the agenda.  They can copy items to the parking lot if necessary.  Using a facilitator especially during large meetings lets the leader focus on the content, while the facilitator focusses on the process.

10. Continuously improve – This is especially useful during reoccurring project meetings.  For a 9-month project its useful to create a task on the agenda every 3 months to review the process.  How are the meetings working?  Are we starting and stopping on time?  Are we using the parking lot right? Are people getting lost on their phones?

One of the characteristics of a good project manager is creating reliability and consistency.  Following these 10 steps is an easy and extremely visible way for you to achieve that in your credit unions.  Having worked with both poor and great PM’s over the years I can tell you there’s nothing better than working with a PM who knows how to hold an effective meeting.  

Tags:  Best practices  Meetings 

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