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How to Initiate a Project Steering Committee

Someone decided that it was a good idea to bring project management into your organization. Perhaps it was your CEO or operations manager or IT Director. But for some reason, it never took off. Project management has not been supported by your culture. Let's look at how to get things in flight with a project steering committee.

Project Steering Committee

What's the Current State?

Start with an evaluation. Here are some questions to aid you in discovering the deeper issues. Interview your stakeholders to get their feedback.

  • When your organization introduced to project management, what were the problems project management was to address? If the problems have not been addressed, what is it costing you right now?
  • What's working well?
  • What's not working?
  • How can we get more value from project management?

Initiate a Project Steering Committee

Sometimes, the person responsible for project management (e.g., PMO Director or Project Services Manager) fails to involve stakeholders in evaluating project management. This person makes changes in project management with little to no input from the people being impacted. A better approach is to get regular feedback through a Project Steering Committee.

The purpose of the committee is to improve process and results. The Steering Committee determines the required changes, how much change is needed, and how fast changes need to occur.

Who Should Comprise the Project Steering Committee?

It is best if an influential senior member of your organization sponsors the committee. The sponsor helps to establish the vision and ensures the commitment of resources. But this person doesn’t have to manage the committee.

The Steering Committee may be managed by the person responsible for project management, a person with the proper credentials and experience. The team should include representatives from different areas such as IT, project management, and business operations. Ideally, team members have had project management training and have project experience.

Team Size and Tenure

An optimal team size is six to eight people. Team members should serve no longer than a year. You may wish to implement a staggered rotation where you add a couple of new team members and drop a couple of team members periodically.

Meeting Frequency/Time

The Steering Committee may meet as often as desired—for example, monthly, quarterly, or twice per year.

Plan for Improvement

How should the team approach the evaluation and improvement? Determine the problems and define a plan for improvement.

  • Define the problem(s) to be addressed (e.g., requirements defects are being identified late in the projects or poor communication between projects).
  • Define the goals.
  • Describe how you will measure success (i.e., desired effects).
  • Define the scope of changes (e.g., risk management planning process).
  • Identify team members who will develop, implement, and test the changes.
  • Define the action plan and completion date.
  • Execute the plan.

Try executing the changes for one of your projects to test the improvements.

Reviewing the Results

Once the team has executed and tested the improvement plan, the team should report their findings to the Steering Committee. The team should recommend one of the following:

  • Make the change(s) for subsequent projects.
  • Do not make the change(s).
  • Test again with modifications.

Final Thoughts

Implementing project management in an organization is not an easy task. Why? Because people are resistant to change, particularly when individuals do not understand the reason for the changes. Be patient. Listen carefully. Evolve at a healthy pace, not too fast and not too slow. Your Steering Committee can provide the feedback necessary to guide your pace and maturation.  


Five Bad Communication Habits to Avoid

A common denominator in challenged projects is poor communication. What are the results? Stakeholders make bad assumptions. Team members don't trust one another. Work has to be redone. Let’s look at ways to improve our communication by overcoming five bad communication habits.

lady speaking through a megaphone to a computer

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” —George Bernard Shaw

1. Communicating only once.

Busy Billy reviews the project charter to his team and other stakeholders in the kick-off meeting. Then he moves on to other project management tasks and never mentions it again.

How to improve:  Things pop up in projects and people want to know if it's in scope. At moments like these, project managers should review the charter with the project team to ensure that the team is aligned with the original intent of the project.

2. Giving stakeholders irrelevant information.

Some project managers email the project documents to all stakeholders including the project schedule, budget, process improvement plans, weekly status reports, project risks, and stakeholder analysis, to name a few. What do you think the stakeholders do? Yes, most ignore the email and miss critical information.

How to improve: Tailor your communication to the needs of your stakeholders. When analyzing your stakeholders—particularly your high-power/high-interest stakeholders, ask about their communication preferences. What information would they like to receive? How would they like to receive it?

3. Communicating to everyone the same way.

We all develop habits, some good and some bad. Are you one of those people who largely communicates in only one or two ways such as email and phone.

How to improve: Use a wider variety of communication channels including but not limited to:

  • Email
  • Meetings
  • Instant messaging
  • Teleconferences / Videoconferences
  • Internal blogs
  • Newsletters

Also, have more face-to-face communication when possible. This allows you to improve communication. How? Body language and facial expressions can greatly enhance the understanding between you and your stakeholders.

4. Thinking that communication will just happen.

Jovial Julie thinks people should understand things through osmosis. She jokes, “Why should I have to be the one to carry the communication burden? We have professionals on my teams. I’ve got more important project management responsibilities to take care of.” Really?

How to improve: Be intentional about your communication. Develop and execute your communication plan. Periodically, review and update the plan. Ask for feedback from your stakeholders on how you can improve your communication.

5. Not planning your project meetings.

How often have you attended a project meeting and left mumbling—what’s was that all about? Many meetings are a complete waste of time. Why? Little thought in the planning.

How to improve: First, Develop and distribute your meeting agendas prior to your meetings. Ask the meeting participants if they have agenda items they would like to include. Attach materials that participants should read and bring to the meeting.

Second, invite subject matter experts who can communicate the needed information and help the team analyze things.

Third, determine how you will facilitate the discussion points. Are there items in which you wish to brainstorm? Should you present a prototype? Will you illustrate with an example?

Lastly, determine how decisions will be made. Will the project sponsor make the final decision? Does the project team have the authority to make the decision? Perhaps, you—the project manager—plans to get the team’s input and make the decision.

The Purpose Driven Project Manager. Got soft skills? Discover how to improve your communication, develop trust within your teams, enhance your decision making, and run productive meetings in my book—The Purpose Driven Project Manager.

How to Improve Your Project Communication

In my project management workshops, I ask this question, "What are the top causes of project failure?" Nine times out of ten, I hear the answer—poor communication. Hence, let's look at how to improve your project communication.

There are many ways in which project managers communicate — coaching, summarizing action items, influencing a stakeholder, educating team members, listening, facilitating decisions, creating a contract with a third party, escalating an issue, and meeting with a project sponsor, to name a few.

What happens when poor communication exists? Stakeholders get the wrong information. Others get the right information but at the wrong time. Consequently, individuals misunderstand and make bad assumptions.


"Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people." -Jim Rohn

Here's the bottom line -- poor communication drives projects into an abysmal valley. Your reputation is marred. The cost of your project spirals out of control. Heck, your team may even abandon ship.


The Purpose Drive Project Manager

Looking for ways to improve your interpersonal skills? Kick it up a notch with my book—The Purpose Driven Project Manager. Discover how to use your interpersonal skills to build high-performing, unified project teams.

7 Attributes of Great Project Communicators

If you want to improve your communication, consider these powerful attributes of great communicators:

  1. Intentional. One of the best ways to improve project communication is through the development of a communication plan. Who do you need to communicate to? What should be communicated? When will the communication occur? How will you communicate (e.g., face-to-face, email, presentation, meetings)? Why is it important? Click here for a communication plan template.
  2. Clear. The best project managers are clear. Put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders. What can you do to ensure clarity in your messages? Most noteworthy, lead by communicating in simple and clear terms.
  3. Relentless. Some project managers start out with a blast, communicating wonderfully. Somewhere along the way, they lose their steam. The project manager gets busy and fails to distribute minutes or fails to tell the developers about decisions to change the requirements. In contrast, the best project managers have a healthy habit of reviewing and updating their communication plan regularly and relentlessly executing the plan.
  4. Unforgettable. Your stakeholders are bombarded daily by information — advertising, emails, tweets, messaging, podcasts, and videos. What can you do to stand out? How can you communicate in a creative manner that catches your stakeholder's interest and keeps them coming back for more? For example, I once saw a quality assurance manager and her testing team dress up like bugs and invited team members to throw water balloons at them to celebrate a milestone in the number of bugs (i.e., software defects) that they found.
  5. Wise. One of the best things that a project manager can do is review the lessons learned from similar projects. What were the communication issues? What decisions were made? How were they made? What were the results of the decisions? There's no need to make the same mistakes of prior project managers.
  6. Honest. One of the most important attributes of a leader is honesty. People want to know that they are dealing with someone who is trustworthy and has their best interest in mind. Don't shade the truth or hide information intentionally. Furthermore, look for ways to be as transparent as possible.
  7. Harmonious. Finally, most of our communication comes through our body language such as facial expressions and gestures. Speech and tone of voice are also key. Want to enrich your communication? Make sure your words, body language, and speech are in alignment.

Secure a Communication Mentor

None of us are perfect communicators. We are blind to our bad habits. For years, I had a habit of looking up and away from the person to whom I was speaking. Why? I was thinking about how to solve the problem we were discussing. I was unaware of how this behavior was annoying others.

We don't know what we don't know. So, how can we discover our communication issues?

Ask a trusted mentor or friend to provide feedback on the communication strengths and weaknesses. What do you need to work on? Your writing skills. Your public speaking skills. Listening.

Is Poor Public Speaking Hurting Your Project Management Career?

Great project managers are great communicators. And we are often required to inform, persuade, inspire, and lead others. Let's look at how public speaking may be hurting your career and twelve ways to become a better speaker.

So, what is public speaking (also called oratory)? It is the process or act of performing a speech to a live audience.

When does this occur for project managers? Every time you lead a meeting. When you train others. Presentations to senior management. Board meetings. 

There are also opportunities to advance your career outside of your day-to-day projects. I regularly speak at PMI Chapter meetings and project management symposiums (which earns me PMI Professional Development Units). 

How do you feel about public speaking? According to the Washington Post, public speaking is one of our top fears (followed closely by bugs, snakes, and other animals). 

Here's the good news. You can learn to be a better speaker. Yes, it takes practice, but you can improve your confidence and your skills. Consequently, you will boost your career opportunities. Here's how.


“Fully 85 percent of your success as a leader will be determined by your ability to communicate effectively with others.” -Brian Tracy

12 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking

  1. Focus more on your audience and less on yourself. Think about your opportunity to serve others, to provide individuals and groups with knowledge, and to inspire others.
  2. Incrementally increase the size of the audience. Take baby steps.  Start small. Incrementally ask for more challenging events with larger audiences.
  3. Practice at meetings. Every time you lead a meeting, you have an opportunity to develop your public speaking skills. Work on the openings for your meetings. Practice the delivery.
  4. Learn through teaching. I love to teach! As I have taught through the years, I have learned to be a better communicator. You too can improve your communication skills by teaching.
  5. Build and manage your energy reserve. I often run the day before I speak at a PMI Chapter or symposium. This helps ensure that my mind is clear and sharp. When I can, I walk 5 to 10 minutes before I speak. This helps me relax.
  6. Arrive early. I always arrive early to get set up and ensure that everything is prepared.
  7. Always take backup equipment. Your host may say they have all the necessary equipment. They mean well, but things don’t always go as planned. I always carry backup equipment just in case I need it.
  8. Breathe deeply. When you feel nervous, take long, deep breaths before you speak. This has a calming effect.
  9. Join Toastmasters. I don’t know of a better way to improve your public speaking. Give it a try.
  10. Watch TED Talks. And here is a book tip: read “How to Deliver a Ted Talk.”
  11. Smile. When I first look into the eyes of my audience, I scan the room a few moments and smile. Positive, first impressions are critical!
  12. Make eye contact. During my speech, I make eye contact with one person, pause a few seconds, and rotate to another person and continue this pattern. All along, I pretend I am having a one-on-one conversation.

It’s Your Turn

Where can you improve your public speaking skills? In what ways? Identify an area or two that you will work on. Look through this list of 12 ways to improve your public speaking, and work on a few at a time.

How to Create a Cause and Effect Diagram

Do you have problems? Projects running behind schedule? Cycle time for a business process increasing? Sales down? People continuing to live in silos? Let's discuss a simple but powerful tool for solving problems - the Cause and Effect Diagram (alias Fishbone Diagram).

Steps to Create a Cause and Effect Diagram

  1. Identify and clarify the problem. State the problem objectively. Ask questions concerning the problem. As Jack Welch said, “Continually expand your definition of the problem, and you expand your view of all the different ways that it can be solved.” Write out the problem or effect on the far-right-hand side of the diagram. Draw a horizontal line (the spine of the fish) to the problem.
  2. Identify the cause categories. For example, use the 4 M categories: Machine, Method, Materials, Manpower. Add the categories to the diagram. Draw diagonal lines (bones of the fish) to each category.
  3. Brainstorm causes for each category. Add causes to the appropriate category lines.
  4. Identify the most significant causes.  Ask the team to identify the most significant causes. Remember the Pareto Principle - 80% of the problem comes from 20% of the causes.
  5. Define the risk response plan. What can be done to eliminate or reduce the most significant causal factors? Who will be responsible for taking actions? When are the actions due? 

“A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.” -Anonymous

Power Tips for Cause and Effect Diagrams

  1. Invite creative problem solvers who lack knowledge of the problem domain. Does this sound counterintuitive? Your team members may have deep-seated thoughts and assumptions about problems. Ask someone unfamiliar with the problem to participate in the session. Invite them to challenge the norm and inject a different perspective.
  2. Resist the temptation to solve the problem when identifying the problem and causes. Many people prematurely jump to solutions before understanding the problem and causes. Seek first to understand.
  3. Dig deeper in identifying the causes. Use the 5 Whys technique. Identify the problem and then to ask “why” five times. You may ask “why” less than or more than five times. Continue until you identify the primary root causes in which you can take actions yielding significant results.
  4. Use the Cause and Effect Diagram to analyze an opportunity. For step 1, identify the opportunity rather than a problem. For step 5, seek to exploit or enhance the opportunity.

It's Your Turn

Are you behind schedule on one of your projects? Develop a cause and effect diagram to identify the causes. And then determine which of the causes had the greatest impact. Don't stop there. Determine how you will minimize the probability and impact of those causes going forward.

Build A PMO You Can Be Proud Of

Some Project Management Offices (PMOs) never get off the ground. I've seen others that are started and a year or so later die a slow painful death. So, how can you build a PMO you can be proud of, one that thrives?

Why Are There So Many Troubled PMOs?

No one intends to build an impotent PMO, but it happens. The PMO lacks power and effectiveness. Therefore, people see the PMO as a hindrance, not an enabler.

Click here to discover 40 reasons PMOs fail. Furthermore, I describe how to handle PMO threats—things that may hinder your ability to build a PMO—here.

Let's look at five ways we can improve vitality and provide value to our organization.


"There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." –Aristotle

Five Keys to Successful PMOs

1. PMO Sponsorship. Without a strong, influential sponsor, the PMO is doomed. Don’t have a sponsor? Then don’t create a PMO. Because you will be fighting an uphill battle, one that you will likely lose.

2. Clarity. Define specific, measurable goals. How will you measure the success of the PMO? What are the Key Performance Indicators?

The PMO leader should also be clear about the type of PMO being implemented. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) describes three types of PMOs:

  • Supportive – provide support to project managers in a consultative role. Provide templates, training, best practices, and lessons learned. Control is low.
  • Controlling – require project managers to follow a project management framework or methodology using specific tools and templates. Control is moderate.
  • Directive – projects are managed by project managers in the PMO. Control is high.

Since clarity is essential to success, you must continuously cast the vision of where you are going, how you get there, and why you are going there.

3. Alignment. Define a process to ensure projects align with the organization’s mission and goals. What criteria will be used to select projects?

For example, the project selection criterion might include:

  • Strategic importance: Does the project tightly link with the strategic plan?
  • Financial viability: Does the project contribute to the financial success of the organization? Is the project profitable?
  • Flexibility: Does the project provide business and technical flexibility to accommodate future changes?
  • Risk: How high is the risk? What is the project risk score?
  • Regulatory compliance: Is the organization required legally to comply with new regulations?

Kill non-value added projects. Transfer resources to value-added projects. Certainly, resource management across the project portfolio is a critical success factor.

Some organizations also use a gate review process. At certain stages of each project, the project is reviewed to ensure continuous alignment.

4. Execution. Teach project managers to use a scalable project management framework or methodology. Provide templates to aid project managers in their execution. Another tip, offer to mentor and support project managers during the execution of their projects.

5. Continuous Improvement. Evaluate the framework, tools, techniques, templates, as well as the projects. Develop and maintain lessons learned.

How to Jump-Start a PMO

Thinking about starting a PMO? I recommend that you develop a project charter with your project sponsor and key stakeholders. Define the problems you wish to overcome, goals, deliverables, assumptions, constraints, and top risks to a successful implementation. You can build a PMO that you are proud of through early collaboration with your stakeholders, persistent leadership, and staying focused on delivering value to your organization. Best wishes!

10 Terrific Traits of Exceptional Project Managers

Think about the project managers you've worked with through the years. Which ones were unusually good? Which ones qualify as exceptional project managers?

I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of project managers in my career. Here are some of the traits and behaviors that made them stand out. How many of these traits do you possess?


"Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." -Winston Churchill

1. Persistent

“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” -Winston Churchill

Projects are filled with pot-holes. Project managers and their team members make mistakes, create defective products, and stumble. Persistent project managers learn from their failures and lead with renewed enthusiasm.

2. Opportunistic

“Opportunities don’t happen; you create them.” -Chris Grosser

Project managers are risk managers that identify, assess, and manage risks including threats and opportunities. Great project managers have an eye for seeing, exploiting, and enhancing opportunities.

Continue reading

How To Manage Fixed Date Projects

Fixed date projects occur often these days. The project sponsor picks a date and hands you the project. So, what's a project manager to do? How can we manage fixed date projects?

First of all, don’t freak out. Some things are unrealistic, but others are not. Be positive and ask for some time to do some analysis. Let your sponsor know that you will come back in a week or two with the results.

Second, seek to understand why. Why is the deadline so critical? Be careful in how you ask this. You’re not challenging the sponsor. Rather, you simply want to see things from the perspective of the sponsor. Listen carefully.

Third, start defining the scope. What are the deliverables and the priorities of each deliverable? Can some of the deliverables be implemented later? 

Fourth, engage your stakeholders early. Ask them to help you with the analysis. Seek their expertise.

What to Share with Your Project Sponsor

So, what do you share with your sponsor when your analysis is complete? Think of the situation like a puzzle. Consequently, you may offer different options.

  • Respond with a date range such as, "The desired deadline was March 31st. Our analysis shows that the project can be completed between May 1st and June 30th."
  • See if additional resources can be added. "If we can add these two resources at a cost of $50,000, we can complete the project between April 15th and May 15th."
  • Can the scope can be modified? "Furthermore, if we can remove or postpone the lower priority deliverables, we can complete the project between March 31st and April 15th.

So, what do you say to a project sponsor when you've completed the analysis and you know that the deadline is unrealistic? Tell them the truth. Explain the process you went through, who was involved, the constraints, and the results.

10 Things to Do in Fixed Date Projects

When challenged with a fixed date project, think of it as an opportunity. Often times, you can deliver the project on time with the right approach. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Be positive. Establish a positive working relationship with your sponsor and stakeholders.
  2. Negotiate for the best resources. People, more than anything, will win the day.
  3. Select your project lifecycle. Will you use a traditional waterfall approach or an agile method? The answer to this question has significant implications in aiding or hindering your goals.
  4. Define the project charter. Include a problem statement, goals, deliverables, assumptions, constraints, exclusions, high-level risks, stakeholders, and team members.
  5. Define and prioritize requirements. In agile projects, work with your product owner to define and prioritize your user stories in the requirements backlog.
  6. Define the scope. Clarify what will be included in the product scope and determine your project scope—the work to be done to create and deliver the products, service, and results.
  7. Create the work breakdown structure (WBS). One of the best ways to engage your team members and define the scope is through the facilitation of a WBS exercise
  8. Develop your schedule. If your critical path extends beyond the fixed date, work with your sponsor and team to reduce the scope or postpone features for future stages or iterations (part of managing the triple threat constraint).
  9. Complete the initial risk identification and assessment. 
  10. Build a contingency reserve. This reserve is not an artificial buffer. The contingency reserve is based on known residual risks.

Keep in mind - good risk management often shortens the project. Risks are eliminated or decreased. However, there are always residual risks that should be recognized in your contingency reserve. For example, you may specify that the project requires an additional six weeks to accommodate risks on the project.

Two Ways to Deliver Faster

  • Add resources to critical path tasks. Be careful. Adding resources or stretching existing resources may cause more harm than help. Crashing also results in increased costs.
  • Fast track tasks. Look for ways to execute critical path tasks in parallel. Be careful—​fast-tracking tasks can result in rework and greater risks.

Your approach to a fixed date project will determine your success. The project manager must have the right attitude, ensure appropriate commitments by the sponsor and the team, and select the right processes, tools, and techniques.

5 Reasons to Get Your PMI-RMP® Certification

I recently had a project manager ask me which of the PMI certifications he should pursue. That depends—it depends on your goals as a project manager. Certainly, the Project Management Professional (PMP)® and the Project Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)® certifications supercharged my project management career.

I became a Project Management Professional (PMP) in 2001. And in 2012, I became in PMI-RMP. There were several reasons I choose the PMI-RMP certification.

PMI-RMP Certification Benefits

  1. To improve my project success rate. What’s the project success rate for your organization? Thirty percent? Fifty percent? Project risk management gives you the ability to identify and assess risks, mitigate threats, and capitalize on opportunities. Hence, improve your success.
  2. To help my organization with risk management, top to bottom. I served as the Director of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) for a large insurance company. Our ERM policy and processes were largely developed based on what I had learned about risk management as a PMP and PMI-RMP. Risk management always involves identifying, evaluating, responding to risks, and monitoring risks. Furthermore, these processes may be applied at different levels of an organization—enterprise, departments or business units, portfolios, programs, and projects.
  3. To increase my career opportunities. If you’ve been in the project management job market lately, you have seen the high percentage of employers looking for certified project managers. Having an additional certification provides project managers with a wider range of opportunities—it’s like having a double major. Most noteworthy, employee compensation surveys report that certified project managers enjoy higher salaries compared to uncertified project managers.
  4. To sharpen my saw. Life gets stale when we’re not learning new things. I like to sharpen my saw physically, socially, mentally, and spiritually. Likewise, pursuing the PMI-RMP was a challenging and rewarding journey that helped me grow professionally.
  5. To boost my knowledge and expertise. Any time we invest in ourselves by focusing on our profession is time well spent. Consequently, we’re going to get better at what we do. Studying and applying risk management principles has helped me learn practical tips, tools, and techniques.

"Eighty-three percent of organizations that are high performers in project management practice risk management frequently while just 49 percent of low performers do so." —Pulse of Profession report

How to Jump-Start Your PMI-RMP Certification Process

So, how does one get started? 

First, check out the PMI Risk Management (PMI-RMP) Handbook. To be eligible for the certification, you must meet certain educational and professional experience requirements.

The Handbook provides a timeline of the PMI-RMP Certification Process. You will discover the exam policies and procedures. Furthermore, the application process and fees are explained.

Second, determine the resources that you plan to use. What books and courses will you use? 

Third, develop a study plan. When will you study each week? Will you prepare along or with a group?

The PMI-RMP Exam

The certification exam has 170 multiple-choice questions. And you have 3.5 hours to complete it. To maintain your PMI-RMP, you must earn 30 professional development units in risk management topics every three years.

Nine Awesome Benefits in the World of Stakeholder Management

John has been failing to exploit and enhance the benefits of stakeholder management. Why? He's not been be convinced of the benefits. Allow me to pull back the veil and share nine benefits of stakeholder management.

If you are a Project Management Professional (PMP), you’ve likely studied Chapter 13 of the Project Management Body of Knowledge – Stakeholder Management, which was added in the Fifth Edition. PMPs know about identifying and assessing stakeholders. You’ve learned how to develop a stakeholder management plan of when to engage stakeholders at in a project.

You understand the concepts. You have the book knowledge. But are actually engaging your stakeholders?Continue reading