Following the leader (off the cliff), No. 03

The office return, crappy decision making in meetings, & I review CAMPR PM suite (+ PMI Symposiums)

👆That number looks off, doesn't it… shouldn't this be number 17 or something? Well, yes-ish; after changing the format to a "real newsletter," I thought I should also update the editions to the correct numeral.

At any rate, a big welcome to the 40+ subscribers we (as in you and I) gained since last week! 🙌 Also, if you didn't read it on the PMFive, it moved to WordPress and this newsletter to Substack (I had some subscription issues).

Speaking of subscription, if you’re not currently a subscriber to this labor of love you can be!

How to not make a decision during a meeting

Are you the type of person who can't figure out why your meetings go sideways sometimes? Or perhaps you dread going into a meeting knowing who's going to be running it. I'm talking about those who, while they know their job or their specialty, can't run a meeting on the subject to save their life. (Full disclosure, I've been there, I've been "that guy.")

But really, is it their fault? Sometimes, but today it's not. Today they just couldn't get out of the trap in time.

👆Follow the leader, photo by Chandler Chen on Unsplash

I don't pretend to be a great meeting host, but I know what I do and don't like. And while I can't cover every aspect of meetings (today), I will discuss a significant problem we've all endured: "The questionable decision."

As this is aimed at the PM types, we're going to pretend you're a seasoned PM running the meeting, and it comes time to decide whether we should implement Option-A, Option-2, or Option-III. The question is raised, and the attendees are asked, "What should we do?" usually from most senior and working your way down the list to the junior decision-maker.

Warning: Pitfalls Ahead!

When we go around the room asking the group's opinion, here is what we're striving to avoid:

  • The Bandwagon Effect. This doesn't usually come into play until about halfway through the query of attendees. While one may have their own opinion on why Option-2 is better than Option-A, this one person doesn’t want to be the odd-one-out. Instead of stating an original idea, they jump on the bandwagon after Option-A began gaining ground with the rest of the crowd.

  • HiPPO. The HiPPO effect is seen when executives or perhaps the Sponsor/Stakeholders are attending. While as an attendee, you might know Option-2 is the best one for the plan. Yet, it's the Highest Paid Person's Opinion (HiPPO) that Option-III is the best. Because this is the highest-paid person in the room, it is oft inferred that they're the expert, thus people will follow their lead.

  • Groupthink. Groupthink is similar to The Bandwagon Effect. Where Groupthink differs is in both the individual who's pushing the choice (usually the most boisterous in the group) and individuals not wanting to voice their opinion. Instead, the individual member opts to keep the group's harmony and not speak their genuine view.

There are, however, several ways to mitigate falling for the traps,

  • Start at the bottom. Have the most junior person speak first, and work your way backward. If it were me, I'd forewarn the group that you're going to do this so that junior decision-maker isn't caught off guard. It's not your job to make them look bad.

  • The executive/sponsor/stakeholder doesn’t have a public vote. While this can't always be a reality, it's a good option for those meetings where they don't need to be part of the decision, but still want to be at the meeting.

  • Talk with the executive/sponsor/stakeholder on the expectations separately. This is a great way to do a preemptive strike, but only if you know your team (and the leadership). You can talk with your leadership about what you want to get out of the meeting and group. Sometimes (been here myself), the decision options don't immediately show themselves as having instant value. It's the long game everyone has to think of, and not everyone can do that on the spot.

  • If you’re caught off guard, and you see the meeting being swayed by a single person, you can, as a viable option, table the topic and let everyone know you'll reach out to them after the meeting. This allows you to poll people individually or send a vote button in an email, allowing people to choose their preferred option openly.

I am not a meeting expert, but I've seen and have been part of some bad meetings. Do as I suggest, not as I did. 😉Was there anything I missed, any other meeting decision pitfalls? I'd love to hear about them (I'm sure others too).

Leave a comment

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Are you ready to get back to the office? 🥺

I admit I'm enjoying working from home. I have views of squirrels running across my yard, stealing my neighbor's walnuts from their tree, and a beautiful view of my daughter's garden in front of the house. But while many, if not most of you, are still working from home- we all know it'll come to an end (maybe?). Eventually, we’ll return to the office or the project room (yes, the "project room," my take on that ample-sized room for group work). Are you ready to go back?

After reading this article last weekend, I began thinking about how my peers, my teams, and above all else, you, will handle "the return" (to work). Furthermore, how is your manager going to deal with it? And while I can’t answer that, I can tell you what I’d be working on before we're summoned back to the cubical-zone: communications, expectations, and the new norms. I dedicate this song to all of you managers out there. 🎶

Communication

Even before your team(s) or employees work their way back into the office it's best to keep them apprised of the current situation (today, right now!), protocol changes, and how this, that, and the other of general information is going to be communicated. However, even more crucial than merely communicating is ensuring you do so openly.

I sincerely hope that you've already been doing this, if not, start now.

As the boss, manager, or just "the one in charge," you need to ensure the team feels they can ask questions or bring up issues. You also need to realize that most of them/us have been working in what's been an autonomous world of work with wild animals running too and fro (‘er, squirrels). We know what we have to get done and how we need to do it, all while laying in our hammocks. When we’re back, we need to know you have our back and we can talk if needed (process or otherwise).

A lack of communication will tear your team apart (almost as fast as distrust). If you haven't been communicating correctly over the last few months, and are still trying to figure out what happened with your team dynamic, well, I hope you just figured it out.

Be sure to keep the conversations going even after you've come back to work. While the team is there, many won't bring up issues they're having at that point. They may not even realize they're having a problem until back at home, so let the team know they can reach out even after-hours. I know many supervisors are not available after hours. Still, as a manager, if you suspect issues, you may want to let those individuals know you're able to talk "whenever," then make sure you are.

Expectations

Setting the expectations, again before your employees get back, is essential. Yet, how you frame said expectations are just as important. For example, telling everyone that "the meeting schedule that was previously used in January is back on" will not go over well.

You need to be transparent with the group and tell them we're going to eventually get back to “normal.” However, we're going to concentrate on getting the team back to work in the office first.

A lot has changed in the office; are there any office faux pas that one should avoid in this post-COVID (we can only hope) work environment?

Managers may also have to work with individualized schedules. Many workplaces can be flexible with their hours; some like to work early; others want to work later. Use this to your advantage for continuous coverage over a long workday. It doesn't mean you (the manager/supervisor) need to be there the whole time, either. Put trust in your employees, and they'll reward you with trusted productivity.

For some curmudgeons, this is going to be hard to swallow. I get it. You want to get the team back to work ASAP, but the game of change (not to mention safety) is afoot, and you need to play it to get the most from your team(s). Be understanding. Be aware. Be ready. (Be Semper Paratus!)

New Normals

We're never going to back to the way "it used to be." It's a fact we all need to accept. In many states/countries, the new norm in the office will be plenty of space between desks, people, or ongoing work. So, set the new norms upfront, or at least a few of them. Remind your teams that we're going to see how this or that goes and adjust accordingly. For the foreseeable future, I can see lunchbreaks being different, in-person conference room meetings (especially with outside teams) being awkward, or even informal discussions, with those you don't interact with regularly, not happening. (Did I hear a cough from over there?!?! will be an issue for some time.)

It's easy to forget sitting at home with your fuzzy slippers, but once you're back at work, many people will be on edge about COVID.

The "new norms" will eventually become just "the norm." Until then, let's keep open-communications, expectations, and change at the forefront of what the next phase will be. It'll make everyone's return a lot easier to swallow.

How are you or your organization getting ready to go back? If you've already done so, how did it go?

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Project Management Digital Tools Review: CAMPR

Name/motto: CAMPR, precise project management for professionals

This week I review CAMPR, a free and open-source project management suite. I reached out to the developer but didn't get a reply. All the same, the review must go on. However, before we move forward, let's understand what today's app is.

CAMPR is an enterprise Project Management software scalable for projects of any size to cover your individual needs.

The tool is lean, intuitively designed, and offers everything from project initiation [through] [closeout] and allows you [to] collaborate successfully with other project members following industry standards.

And most of all: Our project management tools are Open Source and free.

Their front page is nice looking too,

Keeping it consistent across my reviews, here's what I based the criteria on:

  1. Visually. Is the site/app appealing to look at design-wise?

  2. Ease of use. Is the site/app easy to use; are there hints/tips or a noticeable help menu?

  3. Tools. As a PM, what means does this site/app have to help my team and me?

  4. Practicality. Is it practical to use this site/app every day or regularly?

  5. Overall. Was the overall user experience good, bad, or ugly?

CAMPR, a review

Visually

CAMPR's overall aesthetics are great. However, the design choice of light/dark colors of the same hue (light blue on dark blue) wasn’t a good choice in some areas. There is a lighter option too. However, not all of the colors were adequately translated, and it was hard to read at some points.

Ease of use

I didn't use the helper menu to navigate, yet they are available to walk you through the app areas. That being said, it was still easy to navigate and figure out what I was looking at. CAMPR is a near-full suite for an entire project. I didn't play with everything, but you can see via these screenshots that it has a lot to offer. I honestly thought it was just as easy as the previously reviewed items (Myko and Simpletasking), which were singularly digital Kanban boards. CAMPR has that too.

Tools

Let’s visualize this:

Well, maybe not everything, but it's got a plethora tools, especially for the price (free!). To note, its Dashboard is a wealth of knowledge that covers nearly every aspect of the projects (yes, more than one at a time). When you're creating a project, you're also asked if you'd like to add items such as contract tab, RASCI matrix, risk and opportunities, or a WBS. It seriously has nearly everything you need for a full project. (Check out the screenshots)

The whole app can also be installed at your local facility (or home), and it's available via Github (and another win for open-source software!). ✅

Practicality

If you're looking for a tool to use for a full project, this might be a good fit. As noted above, it's easy to use, and it has a lot that comes with it. I think it could use some more love from some corporate types to get the boost it needs. If you might be thinking of this for your simple project, you might want to look elsewhere. It's a full-blown PM software solution.

It also offers better security than the last two reviewed apps as it provides two-factor authentication to its login. (That is another plus for me!) ➕

Overall

For being open-source and free, it's a win. Since the team didn't write me back, I can only assume that this is not an English-first site as there are a few minor spelling errors (and it's hosted in Germany). That aside, I'm very impressed with the entire app.

One of my questions at the onset of looking at this was its security, especially if you're putting personally identifiable information (PII) or sensitive data within. However, a quick look at their FAQs and we're greeted with this,

Each workspace is created as its own encrypted container. The data itself is encrypted in the database. Access to data from another workspace or project is therefore impossible.

Ok, I'm on board. I think you'd be hardpressed to find another suite as thorough as this, especially at this price: $0. Without using it for a full project, I can't give it a 100% review statement. Yet, with my hour plus, I can say, "I recommend CAMPR as a PM tool… to a 99.8% degree."

Screenshots available here. 👈

📢 Extra, Extra!

In case you missed it, two symposiums are coming up. One starts today (it be ongoing as you read this) and the other is towards the end of next month: