Project Management Training for Non Project Managers

Project Management Training Isn’t Just for Project Managers!

As a corporate trainer and keynote speaker, I’m amazed by how often I’m asked to provide project management training or present project management focused talks for non project management audiences.  I really shouldn’t be though because my decades of experience as a project management practitioner and instructor has certainly taught me that EVERYONE needs project management skills because virtually everyone is a project manager.  No, you may not have ever held the title, but you’ve certainly managed many projects in your personal and processional life.  If you’ve planned a kid’s birthday party or a family event, you’ve managed a project!

So here are a few of my favorite project management skills/tips that virtually everyone can use to enhance their effectiveness.

  • Conduct kickoff meetings to start new projects.  Although it doesn’t have to be terribly formal, it’s so helpful to begin new projects by bringing key participants together to discuss key elements, define goals and scope, and clarify any areas of confusion.  This video provides tips for designing an effective project kickoff meeting.

  • Manage the project with a project schedule.  Again, it doesn’t have to be the most sophisticated MS Office Gantt Chart.  I managed complex projected using a spreadsheet just fine so the tool isn’t what’s important.  Instead, the focus should be on identifying chronological phases, key tasks, milestones, time estimates and owners.  Once those are documented, use that single document to serve as a focal point to help manage subsequent project related meetings and discussions.  Track actual timing against estimates to keep track of whether you project is behind/on/ahead of schedule.
  • Periodically check in with the team to debrief what’s working/what’s not.  Don’t make the classic mistake of waiting until the project is over and conducting a 5 minute drive by debrief.  Take the time periodically to check in to ask key questions:
    • What’s working?
    • What should we do differently?
    • Are we behind/ahead of schedule? Why?
    • Are we having any resource issues?
    • Are our meetings effective?  If not, what do we need to change?
    • Are any processes broken? What can we do to fix them?

More important than asking the questions is taking action to               continuously improve the project.

For more information watch 5 Common Project Management Mistakes…


Tips for Leading a Project Kickoff Meeting | Project Management Training

Leading a Project Kickoff Meeting

The Problem:

Most (if not all) projects begin with the famous “kickoff meeting”.  In many ways this meeting (for better or worse) sets the tone for the rest of the project.  As such, it’s important that the project leader conduct a very effective and efficient kickoff session for the team.  But, oftentimes team leaders don’t really understand the kickoff meeting.  What should really be accomplished during a kickoff meeting?  What is the purpose?  What can the team leader do to avoid common pitfalls?  The team leader must have a firm grasp on these answers prior to facilitating this critical meeting.  Here are some tips to help you as you plan for your next kickoff meeting.

Consider these suggestions….

  • Make sure you have a basic understanding of the key project elements (e.g. scope, goals, stakeholders, deliverables, etc.) before the meeting.
  • Conduct pre-meetings with the project sponsor or client to clarify his/her expectations on scope, time, cost, and quality.
  • Ensure that the project sponsor attends the session to emphasize the importance of the effort
  • Document and clearly post the project objective(s) to ensure they’re clearly understood by all.
  • Conduct detailed introductions including some personal information to ensure that all roles are fully understood and team members begin to make connections.
  • Communicate key background information to the team and work with them to develop more detail around key elements (e.g. scope (in/out), schedule, key tasks, milestones, costs, risks, etc.).
  • Address key process issues with the team (e.g. how will meeting notes be captured, decisions on meeting logistics, etc.).
  • Ask the team to develop meeting ground rules – utilize best practice input from previous projects.
  • Define success criteria for the project (with input from sponsor/client) – How will the team know if the project is successful?
  • If the project tasks aren’t clear, post a flip chart page on the wall for each phase of the project and ask team members to brainstorm tasks on post its. Then, organize the post its chronologically.
  • Allow task owners to provide timing estimates for tasks.
  • Ensure all task areas/phases have a single defined owner.
  • Ask each participant to share a potential risk (make it anonymous if needed).
  • Document all action items with an owner, task, and due date
  • Have food and make it fun!

Team Motivation for Project Managers | Retreat Facilitator Dana Brownlee

How Project Managers Can Provide Team Motivation During Meetings

Dear Dana,

I’m leading a team of six and our motivation seems to be dwindling quickly.  Even my best team members seem to be running out of steam these days.  We’ve got about three more months to go and a lot of meetings during that time.  What should I do?

Shaun in Atlanta

Dear Shaun,

Your team sounds like their motivation tanks are running on “E”, and they need a fill up!  If you can’t identify a significant structural problem with the team (e.g. unclear charter, difficult client, faulty product, etc.), they may just need a bit more acknowledgement and motivation.  Step back and think about how you can best motivate the team to finish the work with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and purpose!

Tips for increasing motivation in your team meetings…

  • Let the team know that you’re sensing a drop in morale and ask for feedback. One of the best ways to gather this feedback is to conduct a meeting debrief.  Simply conduct a round robin asking each person to share one thing that’s working well on the team and one thing that could be changed to enhance the team environment or performance levels.  Simply record all responses on a whiteboard or flip chart and discuss how the team can make changes to incorporate the team’s feedback.  If you’re concerned about team members not being candid, ask team members to record their comments on cards anonymously and drop them into a basket on their way out the meeting room.
  • Embed acknowledgment into your meeting agendas by creating an agenda item for peer recognition. Spend 5-10 minutes at the end of the meeting to allow (and encourage) team members to recognize anyone on the team (or outside the team) who has gone above and beyond and deserves recognition.
  • Ask each team member how they would prefer to be rewarded and attempt to customize rewards as much as possible. Some team members want additional visibility, leadership, and responsibility while others would prefer to have more time off, ability to work from home, or training opportunities.  Make sure you understand what type of reward would be most meaningful to an individual team member and don’t assume everyone is similarly motivated.
  • Jazz up your meetings! If you’ve been meeting onsite, try meeting offsite.  Bring some exotic coffees and pastries and have a “Name that Country” contest at the end of the meeting (with a gag prize awarded to the winner).  Close each meeting by asking each team member to share the best idea they heard that wasn’t theirs.
  • Recognize that the tendency on most teams is to punish the team stars by giving them more and more work. Remember that your team stars need (and deserve) timely acknowledgment and rewards.

See our video clip for more information on motivating team stars.

Conducting team retreats can be a very effective method for starting a new project or providing a motivating boost to a team that may be flailing a bit.  Retreats can be used to build relationships, develop ground rules and other project charter elements, provide a shared vision/clear goals, engage key stakeholders, define strategies, and/or celebrate successes.  Dana has designed and facilitated many team retreats for project teams.  This video provides insight into her team retreat design philosophy.


Project Status Meeting Best Practices | Project Management Training

Tips to Improve Your Project Status Meeting

Dear Dana,

I’m a new project manager and I’ve been having sporadic project status meetings with my team, but they’re NOT WORKING.  Every project status meeting turns into a big vent session, and I’m not really getting the information that I need.  Most people seem to just call in to say “everything is fine” while others insist they have a schedule conflict and can’t participate.  Please share tips I can use to improve our next project status meeting!

Julie in Lexington

Dear Julie,

In a word, YES!  There is help.  Let’s explore a few things you can begin doing immediately to enhance the effectiveness of your status meetings.

  • Get the team to agree to a regularly scheduled time for your status meetings (e.g. Mondays 9:00 – 10:00, every other Tuesday 2:00 – 4:00, etc.). Don’t try to schedule them sporadically.
  • Emphasize the importance of attending status meetings and discuss the procedures around missing a meeting (e.g. submitting status information to you prior to the meeting, sending a substitute, etc.)
  • Clarify EXACTLY what information you want each team member to provide during the status meeting. One of the easiest ways to do this is by developing a brief project status update form (typically includes schedule/budget/quality variance, potential risks, and issues).  Insist that team members complete the form prior to the meeting.
  • Let the team know that vague terms like “soon, asap, costly” are not sufficient for status updates. Instead, each team member should quantify/specify as much as possible (e.g. within 3 days, 2 defects, $50,000, etc.)
  • Develop a ground rule that anyone who voices a complaint must also suggest a solution. Develop a habit of asking the “venter” to take an action to identify potential solutions or next steps for the issue and provide an update during a future meeting.
  • Don’t allow team members to just report “everything is fine”. Press them for specific feedback on tasks, schedule, budget, quality levels, customer interactions, technology performance, etc.
  • Insist on having team members update the status of their action items or tasks in the appropriate spreadsheet/database before the action item/task due date.
  • Post a Risk List in the project war room (or on a Powerpoint slide if meeting virtually). Ask each person to document any potential risks on a bright pink post it and post it on the Risk List prior to the start of the meeting.

This video provides additional tips to improve project status meetings.  For more information on project management or facilitation skills training, contact us.

Project Management Skills Every Leader Should Have | PM Training

Project Management Skills for Leaders

Years ago I decided to completely revamp my standard project management skills training workshop to develop a second version for non project managers because I’d been getting so many requests from non project manager types who had no intention of entering the project management field but just needed the skills on a day to day basis.  Looking back it makes complete sense.  After all, we’re all managing projects weekly, monthly, etc. whether it’s developing a marketing plan, launching a new product, hiring a new team, documenting a process, organizing a team event, completing appraisals – the list goes on and on! As a corporate trainer and team consultant, I’ve found that the most effective leaders are often those who have also mastered these critical project management skills:

  1. Managing Various Stakeholders (particularly difficult ones)

Project managers are the proverbial hub in the center of the wheel constantly being pulled on by various different stakeholders with different personalities and interests.  They must become masters at managing these different stakeholders and their associated expectations. What an amazing skill that all leaders could benefit from!

Tips for enhancing this project management skill:

  • Learn to listen: really understand your stakeholders and what makes them tick (or what keeps them up at night).
  • When working on a major task/project, don’t just consider the team most closely associated with it. Early on identify all potential stakeholders (anyone with a stake in the project).  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by not initially considering outside groups like Legal or Finance (or even an outside agency like the FDA) for example because they don’t seem to be directly associated with it.  If you’ve been asked to lead product development for a new caffeine laced cereal, trust me you want to engage Legal BEFORE there is a problem, not AFTER.
  • Customize communications to different stakeholder preferences. Project managers are masters at determining what level of detail/type/format of communication each stakeholder prefers and to the extent possible customizing to each.  Figure out early on whether the client/vendor/executive prefers to receive a monthly email summary or be invited to weekly team meetings to obtain status and try to customize to those preferences as much as possible.
  1. Quantifying Risk

Most of us realize intuitively that there’s risk associated with a new endeavor, but all too often we methodically (and quite consciously) plod onto the Titanic, check into our stateroom, take a nap and are shocked when we soon end up scrambling for a life boat.  Many leaders have a sick feeling when they’re tasked with the impossible or are asked to make organizational changes that don’t make sense but inexplicably, they tend to nod, smile and try to figure out how to “make it work”.  Project managers are adept at quantifying risk (sometimes even before the formal planning phase) to provide opportunities to mitigate risk, redesign/rescope the effort, or even reconsider the initiative overall.

Tips for enhancing this project management skill:

  • Develop a habit of gathering a broad cross section of stakeholders early on to brainstorm and quantify risks.
  • Estimate severity for each risk event by multiplying probability times impact (e.g. 25% chance of rain during the company wide event * $100K impact = $25K estimated severity).
  • Prioritize risks and develop mitigation strategies/back up plans for most severe risks.
  1. Encouraging Critique

So many leaders make the classic mistake of getting lathered up about their latest brilliant idea and jumping to execution without actually vetting the idea objectively (no, running it by your mother or spouse doesn’t necessarily count J). Let’s face it – even the leaders who might ask for constructive feedback are unlikely to get much candor.  After all, each leader has a pet project – their baby – and no one wants to tell the boss they have an “ugly baby”.  So, instead, the project moves forward and becomes a disaster.  Project managers are taught to take all projects through the Initiating Phase.  This is the first phase of Project Management which occurs even before planning, and the goal is to objectively vet the idea/concept to determine whether it should even become a project (e.g. have resources assigned, etc.)  Leaders in general tend to get very little constructive feedback by nature and as a result are much more likely to proceed with ill-conceived ideas.

Tips for enhancing this project management skill:

  • Build vetting into your standard processes for initiating new projects/work efforts. Simpler is often better so don’t strive for complexity. Possibly develop a simple one page form where the initiator documents anticipated benefits and costs for the potential effort, then the team reviews and discusses as appropriate.
  • Identify someone to play “devil’s advocate” during team meetings and rotate the role alphabetically. This will help build a culture where it’s not just ok but preferred to pick at an idea a bit before rubber stamping it.
  • Don’t just tell others that you want constructive feedback, show them. Actively reward those who provide constructive feedback – whether it’s a simple heartfelt thanks or $10 dropped in a special jar for each comment, find a way to provide positive affirmation.
  1. Temperature Check Constantly

In many ways project managers are walking thermometers of sorts.  Any time they step on an elevator with a stakeholder, they must be prepared to provide a quick synopsis of the status of the project or the project team.  They’re often asked to compare estimates to actuals, assess status relative to quality, time, cost, (good, fast, and cheap), provide updates on team conflicts or recent problems, etc.  Similarly, the best leaders have their fingers on the pulse of the organization – not checking in mid year and at year end, but truly finding ways to keep abreast of status on various initiatives and also maintain an accurate sense of the overall morale of the organization.

Tips for enhancing this project management skill:

  • Build small relationship building elements into most group gatherings. Small consistent efforts can be more impactful than a once a year team retreat.
  • Develop agreed upon status elements/success criteria. Status can mean different things to different people so remove the mystery by determining up front which elements are important to define/report out on for key initiatives. If you’re most interested in getting regular feedback on defect rates, client satisfaction levels, wait times, actual vs. estimated costs, etc., clearly communicate that early on.  Better yet, develop a template for status reporting organization wide.
  • Periodically poll the group anonymously to gather tangible feedback to get an authentic sense of morale levels, concerns, etc.

Dana Brownlee is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant.  She is President of Professionalism Matters, Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm based in Atlanta, GA.  She can be reached at  Connect with her on Linked In @ and Twitter @DanaBrownlee. 

Using a Team Charter to Get Your Team Back on Track

How and why to use a team charter….

If your team is struggling, a team charter may be a great tool to get them back on track.  As a corporate trainer and leadership coach, I often consult with team leaders and executives who are at their whit’s end – completely frustrated with team members who seem to make their own rules, don’t deliver as promised, misunderstand or misinterpret tasks/requests, complain about unclear priorities, etc.  If that’s you, the good news is that YOU’RE NOT ALONE!!!!  Particularly in the early stages of team development (and unfortunately often during later stages as well), team leaders struggle with dysfunctional teams who simply aren’t “on the same page”.  My consulting experience has proved time and time again that the factors contributing to this dysfunction are definitely multi factorial (wrong skills sets on the team, poor leadership or lacking executive support, broken processes, confusing policy decisions, constant change, or poor organizational communications are just a few of the common culprits).  Because the causes of dysfunction are often varied, there is rarely one silver bullet solution; however, I have found one secret that seems to ameliorate many of these issues and has worked successfully time and time again….the Team Charter.  If your team doesn’t have one, it’s like a ship sailing without a rudder and don’t be surprised if you soon find yourself off course or as I often say…feeling like you’re combing spaghetti J

What is a team charter?

A team charter is a document that a team leader can use as an instrument to be facilitate discussion/consensus building on the fundamentals that really define the team, its goals and how the team will function to best achieve them.  Typical team charter elements can include the following:

  • Team Name – How does the team refer to itself?
  • Team Purpose – What is the team’s reason for existence?
  • Strategic Alignment – How does the team’s work support/relate to the larger organization’s goals?
  • Team’s Customers – Who are the team’s customers (internal and external)?
  • Team Objectives/Goals and Priorities – What are the team’s primary objectives and how are they prioritized?
  • Team Leader and Sponsor – Who is the team leader and who is the champion?
  • Key Stakeholders – Who are the key stakeholders that have an interest in the team’s work?
  • Key Deliverables – What are the team’s key deliverables or tangible work products?
  • Team Member Roles and Responsibilities – Who are the team members and what are their roles and responsibilities?
  • Team Member Time Commitments – What are the specific time commitment expectations for all team members?
  • Team Communication Plan – What are the communication rules for the team? How often will we communicate and what forms will communication take?
  • In/Out of Scope Elements – What tasks/functions are in scope for our team and which ones are out of scope?
  • Assumptions – What assumptions are we making about our team and how it operates? Are there any constraints or barriers that we should note?
  • Success Measurements – How will we measure the team’s success?
  • Risks – What risks should the team consider? How can we mitigate those risks?
  • Team Ground Rules – What ground rules should we adopt about how we interact with one another, conduct meetings, etc.?
  • Signatures – Can we all commit to this?

When I share this best practice during my training classes, participants sometimes respond by saying that it sounds great, but they don’t really have time to cover all this with their team.  My typical response is that if you want your team to be successful, you can’t afford not to do it.  It’s one of those pay me now, pay me later situations.  If you review the list and think about previous team failures you’ve experienced (whether you were the leader or a team member), I’d bet that at least 75% of the failures can be directly or indirectly attributed to lack of clarity or conflict about one of these items.  Actually, this process is terribly common if you consider partnering situations with external entities.  Any time a group works with a vendor, there is a contract that clearly spells out all terms and conditions and both parties are expected to sign it.  You wouldn’t commit to any work with an outside entity without a signed contract so why do we engage internally all the time without having the same critical discussions?  We shouldn’t.

How to Develop a Team Charter

In an ideal world a new team leader would kick off the team by conducting a “team charter development session” – not too different from the kickoff meeting that a project manager would have at the beginning of a new project.  Again, the point is that it’s so important to have a meeting of the minds to ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of understanding the team, its purpose, their role, etc. Since the team charter is broad and covers so many different topics, the reality is that it can take several meetings to work through all the elements.  However, don’t think of this as something that you have to do in addition to normal managerial work.  Instead, think of it as a guide helping you make sure that you’re covering all the key elements that could potentially derail the team if they’re left unclear.  The sample listing above provides the typical elements that you’d want to cover, but it by no means is hard and fast.  Feel free to edit the list to address the issues of most importance for your team.  However, I would strongly advise against removing too many of the elements.  I’m reminded of a quote that hung on my dentist’s wall while I got my cleanings.  It read “You don’t have to floss all your teeth – just the ones you want to keep!”  Similarly, you don’t have to discuss every element, just the ones where you want to ensure you have clarity and group consensus J

Please remember that when (I won’t even say “if”) you have conflict during these team charter discussions, that’s a good thing!  These are precisely the conflicts that you want to uncover and work through at the outset so that you can take action sooner rather than later.  For example, if you find that your time commitment expectation from “part time” team members is 20 hours/week but theirs is whenever they have free time, you want to discuss this early.  If you find that part of the team thought that international and marketing issues were out of scope for your team, but others thought they were in scope, again, you want to discuss it.  The team charter is so powerful because it’s like a crystal ball showing you where your team’s land mines are months or years in advance so that you have an opportunity to address and correct them early on.

Ideally, you’d conduct the session as a 2-3 day team workshop in an offsite location to encourage active participation and candor, but it can also be done through multiple shorter meetings, via conference call, or even over email if you have absolutely no other options.  Even with a 2 or 3 day session, you will likely need to assign members of your team to follow up on issues and/or work out details outside the session.  Many teams that I work with will have a multi day session initially, then assign action items to be completed after the session (oftentimes working through the details), and finally sign the document weeks later once the details have all been finalized.

Why do we need signatures?

Would you enter into a lease agreement or business partnership without a signature?   Of course not!  Getting signatures is such a powerful part of the process.  First, it creates an entirely different level of buy in.  The reality is that when people sign something, they simply take it more seriously.  Also, it changes the dynamic of the team session itself when participants know that they will be expected to sign the document ultimately.  For example, they’re much more likely to speak up/push back when the team leader describes the target cycle time of 20 minutes for customer call backs if they feel that expectation is unreasonable or the current process can’t support it.  I’ve had a few clients who shared experiences with me where one person refused to sign it, and they felt that was VERY telling.  Like a flashing red light, it immediately showed them that they had a problem on their hands and they were so glad it had been revealed early in the process.

The team charter should be a dynamic document evolving over time as there are changes in team composition, processes, overall organization design, or other factors impacting the team.  In my experience I’ve loved having a team charter to share with new team members joining my team because it not only projects an image of stability and structure but also provides an opportunity for me to solicit their input and let them begin to feel part of the team.  What was agreed to by the former team won’t be shoved down the throats of new team members.  Instead, we will come together to discuss any areas that may need to be changed to incorporate feedback from our newly defined team.  Very often when new people join a team, factions or cliques develop – the “old team” and the “new team”.  The team charter can be a great tool to help avoid that phenomena and build a true sense of camaraderie.

Building a strong team is not easy.  In fact, if it’s done correctly, it’s a lot of work!  But don’t make the mistake that so many managers and team leaders make of thinking that their natural charisma should bring the team together and they will work together like a well oiled machine by osmosis.  The team charter can be your magic wand.  It won’t do the work for you, but it will guide you through the process.

Dana Brownlee is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant.  She is President of Professionalism Matters, Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm based in Atlanta, GA.  She can be reached at  Connect with her on Linked In @ and Twitter @DanaBrownlee..