Project Management Insights from NCPMI 2014

It was a wonderful opportunity to attend this year’s North Carolina Project Management Institute (NCPMI) Annual Conference in the Raleigh Convention Center in lovely downtown. With ~ 800 of my dear fellow Project Managers, I attended multiple presentations by leaders in the Project Management field.

Karen Tate (twitter handle @GriffinTate_Inc) of the GriffinTate Group was one of the morning speakers. With her years of service to PMI at the national and even global levels, it was a special treat to have her present in person to this North Carolina crowd.

And I was delighted to learn she is one of the authors of the Project Management Memory Jogger – which was a required text in the Western Carolina University Masters of Project Management (MPM) program. The Memory Jogger is exactly that and a great resource to pinpoint processes and tools for a given Project Management challenge.


There was a ton of great information in Karen’s hour long presentation, but I’ll share some of the key points that I think are helpful no matter the type of project you are managing:

Characteristics of a great project manager

  • Hands on attitude
  • Embrace Risk
  • Politely Assertive
  • Takes Initiative

How to be a great project manager:

  • Own Your Own Project
  • Lead Team with Your Heart
  • Make it Happen attitude
  • Practice Project Intelligence
  • Adopt S.M.A.R.T. (Specific- Measurable-Achievable-Realistic-Tangible) goals

“Language of Management”

Karen also spoke to the topic of dealing with management, especially in today’s world of big data. Often managers want data but the data itself doesn’t tell the full story. A Project Manager needs to speak the “language of management” and bridge that potential gap between time, money, quality, and data. The data should be explained in terms of business impact. In other words, use data to explain the impact on time, money and quality. Rather than just say, “well, it will take longer” be able to use data to show how much longer, and the resulting impact on budget.

“Don’t Be a Data Dumper”

The “language of management” tied into a later comment from Karen. She advised her follow project managers: “don’t be a data dumper, but be a message mechanic”. This is a critical piece of advice that can be applied to project managers and other team members alike. It is important to not just “dump” data onto your project stakeholders or management or clients and walk away with a “well, there’s the data, deal with it” attitude. Rather, use the data to explain or support the key message or requested action. Also make sure that the data you are presenting aligns with the needs of your target audience. As the Project Manager, it is important to target your communications to your different project audiences.

“Effectively Execute”

And throughout your project, the Project Manager needs to have the pulse of the project. Karen provided 3 great phrases to summarize an ideal Project Manager during the execute phase:

  • Know “what’s going on?”
  • Be Brilliant, Be Brief, Be Gone
  • Communicate The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

In other words, the project manager needs to know the project status without getting in the team’s way and be able to communicate both good and bad news to keep needed information flowing.

A big thanks to Karen for being part of the NC PMI Annual Conference 2014! Her advice and insight is a great resource for all Project Managers. And to demonstrate the “Be Brilliant, Be Brief, Be Gone” advice….

The End.


Proposals for Creative Work

Admittedly, the proposal is not the most exciting part of the creative project process. More people will ask to see the new training video or marketing animation than will ask to read your proposal.  But having a strong proposal foundation can be the difference between project success and disaster.  The time you spend developing your proposal and project agreement is time you won’t have to waste later trying to figure out why your project doesn’t reflect your expectations.

A strong proposal can also help all of the project team members – from inside the company to outside vendors, from marketing to engineers, from training to customers – share a common vision of the project goal.  The “project cartoon” is one famous example of showing how many people talking about the very same project can really mean many different visions (or projects).

project cartoon

The below check list of proposal elements is based on my unique work experience in formal project management and 18+years in creative services.


1. Creative project description and/or notes: most likely, there have been communications with you and the vendor prior to a proposal. The proposal should include meeting notes, key creative requirements, delivery parameters and other information exchanged during the prior conversations.  This information in your proposal has two benefits: confirmation of the information exchanged to date, and validation that your vendor is LISTENING to your input.

2. Project responsibilities list for the Client and for the creative provider: the “who is doing what.”  For example, don’t assume that your vendor will write all original content…because they may assume they can just use your existing PowerPoint slides.  Have a clear listing of the core project responsibilities up front so that you don’t have “but I thought you were going to…” happen later in your project.

3. Scope of work description of the tasks, equipment, and work types: scope creep is a danger that projects of any type face and creative projects are no different.  The proposal should include parameters that shape the schedule, deliverables, and technical requirements of the creative work.  Are there video components? Will it be delivered as a stand along file to post in your LMS or a video to publish on YouTube?  Is a website part of the project?  Should it match existing branding or have a new visual style?  Project parameters in the proposal ensure the project goals are achievable in the stated timeline and budget.

4. Contact information: does the proposal include contact information for the document and company?  This may seem pretty basic, but it is a detail that can be lost in the shuffle. You want to know the person you can contact about the project at all stages, and a generic email address or 800-number isn’t the same.  You deserve personal attention, and a real live human being that you can contact.

5. Formal written signature approval: handshakes and email approvals are great, but not legally binding. The formal signature section enforces the importance of the agreement and often triggers people actually READING what they are going to approve (which can lead to further clarification and better communications).  When you ask someone to SIGN your proposal, it gives your project legitimacy.

6. Who, What, When, How: the proposal should contain the information that answers all four of those questions.  Who is doing what, How your creative media is made, When it will be done, What you get at the end.  Now, the qualifier is that all of those questions may not have definitive answers at the project start – after all, if the CEO wants the project, you probably will start the project and then find out some of the answers.  However, you can put in the information known at the time, and include general parameters before more specifics are locked down.

The proposal is often the first deliverable provided to you by the agency, and it should provide a high-level description of the work and services you are purchasing, without locking you into a specific creative treatment.  That is to say, the creative project should be described to the point where you are confident in your purchase, but still have room for changes down the road.

Define Your Project

Recently I was talking on the phone with a potential client about his media project. In this case, the Client had been considering many approaches from narrated PowerPoint to an interactive avatar as a means to provide critical healthcare information to patients.

A Client conversation about a project idea is an almost daily occurrence, and something that is a core part of my role of business developer and project manager. As the Client and I talked through topics like target audience, content delivery, measures of success, budget, timeline, visual style, and content topics, the media concept slowly moved from idea to a more defined project.

The goal in these conversations is to help the Client refine their idea and achieve the best communication solution. The solution can be in the format – video, motion graphic, 3D. Or, the solution can be in the delivery – social, CMS, LMS, mobile. And sometimes the solution is in the visual style – documentary, iconography, photography, illustration. Frequently, the Client isn’t sure of format, delivery, or style in the beginning and is now trying to create this new “thing.” Did I mention that success for the new “thing” is the only known requirement?

Pulling from my almost 20 years in the communications field, below are some of my suggested questions to help you in “finding project.”  These are questions to answer at the very onset of the effort, whether you are in the Client role or the Project Lead role. 

  1. What was the impetus in starting this project?
  2. For whom is  the media (video/web/animation) being created?
  3. Is there an existing version of this media that the target group uses?
  4. Is your content “stable” or something that changes often?
  5. Where do you see the media being used (or accessed)?  (this goes to geography, location, and technology)
  6. How much content do you need to convey (or, do you know how long this should be?)?
  7. Who is approving the content? Are there other approvers or layers of review required?
  8. What are some adjectives you use to describe your final media? Fun? Serious? Somber? Energetic?
  9. What is your timeline?  When will you be available to start?  When should the final file be ready?
  10. What is the budget or budget range for the project?
  11. Do you have existing resources to leverage (images, video, presentations, etc)?
  12. When you describe this project to others, what you see? What does it look like when it is done?

Admittedly, these “finding project” questions come from a Project Management slant. You’ll need to use different questions for shaping the visual style and creative sides of the project.  However, the information you gain with the Project questions directly impacts the work on the creative, so it is very important to have that initial framework in place.
What questions do you use when you are moving an idea to a definable project?  I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Communication 101 Recap

Far Side cartoons, Three’s Company TV show references, Project Management process diagrams…my “Communications 101” presentation for the Durham Chamber’s expert speaker series, Chamber U had it all.

Using the Project Management Institute (PMI) published guide, the Project Management Body of Knowledge (affectionately known as “PMBOK”) I reviewed the PMI Communication Process concept. Communication may happen all the time every day, but knowing what “communication” actually is can help you do it better. The PMBOK Communication process breaks down the roles and steps in a communication – sender, message, medium, and receiver.

Next, I talked about communication in professional settings: copywriting, Powerpoint, and meetings.  No matter your job, these are three communication types that almost all of us have done and/or received.  After showing examples of a horrible and brain-blowing, PowerPoint slide, the group and I then talked about ways to make sure your slide is an effective communication. Bad copywriting examples were used to highlight when a writer works too hard on copy that then fails to actually communicate the key point.

Finally, my presentation wrapped up with a review of area professional resources and groups. The Triangle is full of networking and professional opportunities for the taking.

The wrap-up group discussion provided some great suggestions on communication within professional settings. 

  •  No Devices at Meetings – from one attendee came this communication change in his work environment…They encouraged face-to-face communications during meetings with a rule that prevents phones, tablets, etc being used during the meeting. People looking at each other, instead of a screen, can help support a good communication environment.
  •  Meeting Ends and Book Group Begins – one attendee shared this experience from her workplace where speaking up was being encouraged…  The leadership team selected a business themed book and at the end of their scheduled monthly meetings, the last 15 minutes were used to discuss a book chapter.  This gave everyone a shared communication topic while adding to professional development efforts.
  • Adjust Communication Tool for Audience – another attendee spoke to how different groups tend to have communication tool preferences… Their company’s clients fall into two groups, each group having a preference for either phone or email communications. They adjust their client communications – phone or email – to suit the needs of their clients.

My thanks to the Durham Chamber of Commerce for their support of this topic within their 2104 Chamber U series. Hope to see everyone again soon!

Here’s a list of resources and tips to share. 

Tips For Social Intranet

I attended the International Association of Business Communicators NC Triangle chapter event, How To Increase Collaboration and Networking on Your Social Internet Through Use of Video and Blogging, with presenter Laura Grover of Quintiles.

I believe that knowing how Clients use digital media (video and animations for example) is a critical part of project planning and development.  Staying abreast of the challenges and delivery platforms ensures I understand my Client’s digital media needs.

Additionally, due to my previous experience running Sharepoint project and Team Sites, I was very interested in how Laura’s team used this Microsoft collaboration tool within a truly distributed, global organization.

As expected, the IABC and Laura provided a wonderful session with active discussion and sharing of lessons learned. A small sample of the tips and topics:

General Intranet

  • The customization used in this Intranet gives each employee a personalized experience while supporting a shared corporate culture; that combination of both personal and global is accomplished through planning, testing, and listening to the needs of the target audience.
  • Photo of the day, blogs, and video posts are just some of the features included; each has its own place within the intranet while being part of the full experience.

Intranet Blog Tips

  • Role agnostic – a person’s work title does not play into their blog posts or functionality
  • Update often –people’s investment and trust of information relates to timeliness of posts
  • Keep personal – a blog should reflect the “voice” of the author even in a corporate setting
  • Allow comments and sharing – build community and support collaboration

The group also discussed the relationship of Social Media Policy and intranet; how to “wrangle” team/project intranets with a larger global intranet; and governing (or not) employee posts within an intranet.

My thanks to David MacDonald, Lisa Arney, and the entire IABC NC Triangle board for arranging for a great session. And of course, a big thanks to Laura Grover for sharing her time and experience to benefit other business communicators.

Customer Groups You Shouldn’t Upset (and other customer service observations)

At a September 25, 2012 event by the Triangle American Marketing Association (, speaker/social media guru/author Scott Stratten ( made this observation:
“…and the two groups of people you don’t want to tick off?  Geeks and Moms!…”
Now, as a Star Trek fan and mother of two, I found myself doubling agreeing with Scott’s sentiment. But the context for this (very accurate in my opinion) recommendation?  The quick, and often extremely to-the-point, posts, tweets and updates from geeks and moms in that wide, wide world of social media.  Twitter and Facebook, are the main sources, but don’t discredit Pinterest, Google+, and blogs.  Scott shared examples of where both geeks and moms posted bad customer experiences – to the world – and how the company referenced did (or did not) respond.

In a PapaJohn’s example that Scott shared, a customer was given a racial slur as name on her receipt, so she posted a picture of the slur typed on the receipt and in seconds…thousands of others knew.  But that Saturday didn’t have customer service reps on staff, so PapaJohn’s wasn’t able to respond and the negative incident spread…and spread…and amplified as only the negative information was carried globally via social media channels.

Scott also had an example of a video showing a FedEx employee throwing a package over a fence rather than delivering it safely.  The video, posted by those geeks and moms again, spread to web and media outlets.  But in that case, FedEx quickly posted an apology, in the form of a video with a high ranking executive apologizing. Because of their monitoring of customer posts, and quick reaction, FedEx’s apology video was tied to the video with the thrown package – Scott pointed out how this is an example of a company with customer service that keeps on top of customer social media posts and responds appropriately and quickly.

These stories of social media and customer service also tie into his point of “PR;” that is, “People React” and “People Respond.”

I’m looking forward to reading Scott’s latest book, The Book of Business Awesome. He provided a great session for the Triangle American Marketing Association group PLUS some insights that rang true for our work at Horizon Productions.  Thanks Scott!!

Stories referenced during the presentation:

PapaJohn Receipt in NY

FedEx delivery gone wrong

FedEx apology

What’s Your ELeaning Readiness

The reasons to create online or eLearning materials vary, but common motivators are include being able to connect with students regardless of geography, being able to standardize training materials, being able to provide training just-in-time rather than only at a scheduled class time, and supplementing class instruction.  Regardless of the reason, people across industries find themselves faced with the assignment of, “just take the class and make it online.”

My article includes some basic information to help plan your new eLearning project and to use as other eLearning projects emerge for you.

First – let’s get some basic terms identified.

“E-learning is a wide-ranging phrase that’s used to describe learning by the use of a computer that’s typically linked to a network. E-learning can also be referred to as online learning or education, distance learning or education and technology, web or computer-based training. Due its rise in popularity, numerous educational facilities, businesses and organizations now offer accredited classes, degrees and training through their e-learning programs.”

Learning Management System (LMS):
“A learning management system (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content.”

Learning Objectives:
“…A learning objective should describe what students should know or be able to do at the end of the course that they couldn’t do before… Each individual learning objective should support the overarching goal of the course…”

So, your elearning (the content) needs to be in a Learning Management System (content delivery) and be designed to fit learning objectives (content scope).

Now, let’s move in to your own elearning plans.

Here are some questions to use to judge your readiness to jump into elearning.

  1. Has the content been taught in another format (face-to-face or hybrid)?  YES /  NO
  2. Do you know how long the course should take to complete? YES /  NO
  3. Will the content be designed as instructor lead?  YES /  NO     (If yes, do you have an instructor who can lead the course? YES /  NO)
  4. Do you have the learning objectives for the course? YES /  NO
  5. Do you know the students’ learning will be assessed or graded?  YES /  NO
  6. Do you know how the elearning will be delivered to students?  YES /  NO

How many questions could you answer  with“yes”?  For most people, you can answer some questions easily – like how long the course should last – but probably paused a bit to other questions.  Of the 6 main questions, you should be able to answer at least 4 with “yes” before starting work on content.

If you couldn’t answer “yes” to any question, you need to do some planning before you really get into developing your elearning.  It is important to have those basic questions defined before you begin putting your content together.

The 6 questions listed touch upon the state of the existing content, the expectations of students’ time commitment, and content delivery.  Although each area is individually important to your elearning, you must be able to address all aspects to have a successful elearning experience for both instructor and student.