Project Management

What you need to know about the ALM methodology

Gerie Owen provides an overview of ALM methodology, covering its requirements, development and maintenance phases and its core components.

Application lifecycle management (ALM) is a framework through which the process of software development and ongoing maintenance is recorded and controlled. The ALM methodology is a more comprehensive approach than the traditional systems development lifecycle (SDLC) because it includes continuous management from an application’s inception until its decommissioning. In fact, there may be multiple systems development lifecycles throughout the life of an application product. This article defines ALM, discusses its different phases and covers its core components.

ALM practices approach the product lifecycle using a phase structure. At a high level, there are three stages, or phases, of ALM — requirements definition and design, development and operations and maintenance. These activities occur in all software projects, regardless of the project methodology (e.g., XP, scrum or Waterfall) espoused by the organization; the difference is only in the ways in which these tasks are approached. Across the phases, the ALM methodology provide a governance system designed to ensure that the application is meeting business needs not only at the individual business level, but also as part of the organization’s total information technology strategy.

Starting a project: The requirements and development phases

In the requirements and design phase, application development is accepted as a formal project and resources are assigned to the project team through the governance process. In larger, more mature IT organizations, individual projects are assigned as part of IT programs that may be managed by a project management office. The business, functional and non-functional requirements are gathered by business analysts or product owners — and the proposed application is designed by the solution architect. Governance plays a role here as well as solution design based on corporate information technology standards.

In the development stage, the application is built, tested and deployed into production, again with oversight through the governance process and the project methodology in use within the organization. Depending on the approach, the build and test may take place in a series of short iterations or may be individual phases within the project. It may also be deployed and modified in production using a DevOps strategy, which requires close coordination between development and IT operations.

From development to deployment: The operations phase

Once an application has been deployed to production, it moves into the operations and maintenance stage. In this stage, IT operations is responsible for keeping the application online and functioning, which includes applying patches, hot fixes and minor upgrades. ALM governance dictates how and when fixes and patches are applied, when upgrades of different types are allowed and if the operating system and other supporting software can be upgraded.

How the activities within the stages of ALM are executed depends on the approach followed by the individual organization. The two main categories of ALM methodology are Waterfall and Agile. Organizations using Waterfall follow the traditional systems development lifecycle. Waterfall follows a series of individual phases beginning with initiation, moving into design, build and test sequentially and finishing with deployment. These phases are performed sequentially, with the previous one completing before the next one begins.

Agile breaks software releases into short iterations. Each iteration focuses on providing shippable software. Types of Agile methodologies include scrum, Lean, Kanban and Extreme Programming. Iterations may be deployed and tested in production, both to provide essential features to the business quickly, and to get rapid user feedback. Some organizations have taken Agile further and are employing continuous delivery and continuous deployment. This latest trend generally incorporates DevOps, in which development and operations are part of the project team and all are responsible for testing.

To fully understand the ALM methodology, it is important to review the individual components of the framework. At a high level, the components can be grouped based on their roles during the life of the product.

When an application begins its life as an idea, the project management and software development components are employed in order to bring the application into production. The project management component focuses on balancing the triple constraint: scope, cost and schedule. Requirements management comes into play as requirements are gathered and refined. The software development components, which include test coverage and defect tracking, are used to ensure that the application is of an acceptable level of quality before it is deployed to production. The deployment control component of ALM consists of the processes by which the code is moved to production.

Once the application is in production, components such as version control, performance monitoring and incident management are used to govern on-going support. On-going performance monitoring processes are critical to the success of the application. Poor performance can mean loss of customers, and solid performance monitoring provides the capability to find and fix issues before the customers are affected by them. Incident management processes are also critical, as problems — whether they are related to hardware, software, security or performance — can result in lost customers. Incident management procedures ensure that the analysis and remediation of production problems happens as effectively and as expediently as possible.

Finally, the portfolio management component of ALM is used throughout the product’s lifecycle to ensure that relevance and importance within the overall organization’s information technology picture is maintained. It is through portfolio management that an organization’s leaders determine the strategic technological direction (i.e., how technology will be used to achieve business goals).

By achieving these goals, the ALM methodology provides a framework not only for managing an application’s lifecycle from inception to decommissioning, but also for developing and managing the strategic technologic vision for meeting an organization’s business objectives.

Interview Tips

5 things to avoid during job interviews

1. Performing in “Interview Mode”: It’s rare that I meet an interviewee being themselves during an interview. Most interviewees go into “interview mode”, which basically means they become rigid, formal and awkward. This is a dangerous game, as interviewers need to assess personality and organisational fit during an interview.

My advice: Recognise that a hiring decision is based on more than just skills and qualifications. Focus on getting genuine personality across at interview, a key factor for any hiring decision. Try to relax and be yourself. Smile, be friendly, and try to build rapport.

2. Hiding your interest: If they don’t think you’re interested, then you won’t get hired. Interviewees hide their interest for many reasons, thinking it’ll impact salary negotiations, or thinking they’ll come across desperate. Firstly, there won’t be any salary negotiations if the interviewer doesn’t think you’re interested. Secondly, I’d rather risk coming across desperate than risk coming across as lacking interest.

My advice: Don’t hide your interest. Inject passion and energy into your performance at interview. Prepare in advance for the “interest” related interview questions, such as, why do you want this job?

3. Talking too much: A combination of nerves and poor preparation can cause interviewees to talk too much during interview. It’s important to keep your answers crisp, relevant and impactful.

My advice: Invest more time into interview preparation. Ensure you are clear about the job requirements and how you meet them, and ensure you know your CV inside out. Answers questions confidently, then stop!

4. Little white lies: Simple, don’t lie, you’ll get caught out. I recall a story of a guy who lost a job offer because he tried to hide a three month gap in employment. This was uncovered during referencing, raising concerns about other potential lies. The job offer was retracted, even though the gap wasn’t a major issue for the employer.

My advice: Don’t lie, be upfront and honest! Conduct an audit of your achievements in advance of interview, ensuring you articulate these achievements during interview. Focus on the skills you bring to the table, not the skills you’re missing. Remember, in most cases, missing a few of the job requirements isn’t always a deal-breaker.

5. Negativity: Negativity will turn off most interviewers, and this includes negativity targeted towards current or previous employers.

My advice: Stay positive during an interview. Prepare clear reasons for leaving current/previous employment. Keep your guard up, as some interviewers may try to lead you down a path of negativity.

Paul Mullan is founder of Measurability, a leading Irish outplacement and career coaching service.

Team Building

What is shared leadership, and what influence can it have on project team success?

Global competition, technological advances, and environmental circumstances are driving organizations to stay competitive. Project team members are collaborating more than ever before: they are collaborating virtually, across nationalities and cultures, and are utilizing different languages to share ideas and form teams. The formulation of new types of leadership structures in project teams is one way companies are managing complex and innovative work as they strive to remain competitive in the marketplace.

Shared Leadership

Increasingly, the ability of the single Project Manager to provide all the different leadership functions in a complex project is being questioned in today’s organizations. One type of leadership that can be used in project teams is known as “shared leadership.” Different from a more vertical style of leadership, shared leadership is a team property that results from leadership influence across multiple members of the team. Some team researchers have found that a project culture supportive of shared leadership over time, and the willingness of project team members to offer influence as well as to receive it, are necessary for shared leadership to emerge in a project team.

How can Project Managers help teams benefit from shared leadership?

Some limited research studies have shown that shared leadership may have a positive influence on project team outcomes. In fact, several modern companies are already benefiting from establishment of shared leadership at the CEO and executive levels. Executives at Fluor, Britannia Industries Limited, and Catelent Pharma Solutions are managing complex organizations by sharing decision-making and accountability. Google’s success as a company may in part be attributed to the creation of a “bi-generational” and “bi-leadership” model in which a team of CEOs led the company during a critical growth decade, rather than a single, traditional leader being in the lead.

How can we, as Project Managers, increase the use of and benefit from shared leadership in our project teams? Below are three very helpful suggestions:

Begin early to understand the leadership strengths and weaknesses of project team members. Project work gives project team members excellent opportunities to lead a team in their areas of expertise. Have one-on-one meetings with project team members early in the team initiation process, to assess not only their technical capabilities, but also to identify what motivates them in their daily jobs and work tasks. Ask the team members if they prefer to work on solutions alone, or if they prefer to collaborate with others and have a voice in decisions and outcomes.

Promote a project culture of consensus, knowledge sharing, and accountability. There are several ways this can be done. One way is to ensure that all project team members have access to all project team information. Another way is to promote inclusion and sharing in decision-making. It is also important to clearly and publicly establish the goals that all project team members are working toward.
Provide your company or organization with awareness and education on the principles of shared leadership and how this type of leadership structure positively influences project outcomes.

A project is successful when it is completed on time and within budget and has achieved its goals with quality outcomes. Participative decision-making, empowerment to make decisions, accountability, and collaboration can all be implemented to increase the likelihood of project success!

Project Management

Ten Project Management Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

By Cynthia Snyder Stackpole from Project 2013 For Dummies

Managing a project is difficult. Scope, resources, expectations, schedules, and budgets are always changing. Although Microsoft Project can help you with the mechanics of organizing, planning, and tracking a project, it can’t help you prevent all the pitfalls in project management. Here’s a look at ten of the most common pitfalls and tips on how to avoid them.

Start too small

To start out on the right foot in a new project, start by reflecting on the big picture and work your way down to the details systematically. You have to understand the purpose, the objectives, and the strategic importance of the project before you dive into the detailed tasks that are necessary in order to complete the project.

Start by asking these questions: Should the project be organized by deliverable? By phase? By geography? By type of technology? Think through the implications of organizing your project in each these ways. One you determine how you want to organize the project you can begin your work breakdown structure (WBS). If you decide to organize it by phase, each phase of your project is reflected in the top level of the WBS; if you decide that deliverables are a better way to organize the project, those are the top level. Once your top level is established, you can start to decompose the top level into more detailed work packages and from work packages into tasks.

Fail to cover your assumptions

You couldn’t plan a project without some assumptions. Making assumptions isn’t a problem, but believing that other people know — or even share — your assumptions is a problem.

Whenever you start a new project, create an assumption log — either in an Excel spreadsheet or as a Word table. Document the assumption, specify the deadline for validating it, and add a field for comments. It’s very simple, but it ensures that everyone is operating under the same set of assumptions.

Paste the assumption into the Notes section of the tasks affected by the assumption.

Treat your project as the only VIP (Very Important Project)

Your project is important to you; in fact, it may be the most important aspect of your work. It may not be as important to everyone else, however. If you work at an organization that has many ongoing projects, yours is likely not the No. 1 priority. Whenever resources are pulled from your project to help out on another one, simply return to the schedule and revise your plan to complete the work. You may need to revise the baseline or even create a new one.

Believe that availability is a skill set

When you’re working deep inside the project and trying to balance resource availability with the work that must be completed, the easiest strategy is to look for the first unallocated, or underallocated, resource and assign that person to a task. The problem is that the unallocated resource may not have the skills to do the work. An employee’s position in the IT department, for example, doesn’t guarantee, or even imply, that he can build a database or architect a system. Identify the skills necessary to complete the work, and identify the skill sets of available resources. You may even need to identify skill levels, such as entry level, midlevel, and expert.

Subscribe to the myth of unlimited resources

If you aren’t calculating the effort in, and duration of, every task, you run the risk of assigning too much work to a single resource. In most cases, resources aren’t dedicated to projects full time. Many resources work in a matrix organization; they work on multiple projects, or they do project work.

If you don’t determine how long resources must spend on the project and level the work accordingly, you face an unpleasant surprise when the project lags because its resources aren’t 100 percent dedicated or because you’ve overallocated them.

Rely on unrealistic estimates

As a project manager, you rely on team members to provide accurate cost and duration estimates of their work. After all, you can’t be a subject matter expert in every field. However, because you’re still held accountable for the schedule and budget you develop, you should understand how the estimates were developed and then verify the appropriate estimating method.

In the Notes section, document the basis of estimates and the assumptions used to develop an estimate to help keep track of the variables associated with the estimate.

Forget to prepare for Murphy’s Law

A project manager has a can-do attitude. Being in the business of solving problems and delivering results, however, doesn’t mean that you can afford to be blindly optimistic about projects. Delivering on time and on budget depends partly on establishing contingency reserve for both the schedule and the budget. You can establish reserve for individual tasks that are inherently risky and set an overall project reserve. For simpler projects, a reserve of 10 percent is sufficient. For leading-edge technology, you may need a 50 percent reserve or more.

Succumb to meeting madness

The No. 1 impediment to completing tasks is undoubtedly The Meeting. You may recall workdays where you hustled from one meeting to the next, only to reach the end of the day and realize that you failed to complete any of your own work. You probably didn’t need to attend all of them — or that if they at least had been run more effectively, they could have concluded in half the time.

Stop the meeting madness! Schedule meetings — even weekly status meetings — only when necessary. Experiment by holding team meetings every two weeks or conducting one-on-one meetings with individual team members.

If a specific topic on the agenda requires input from a stakeholder, invite that person to attend only that part of the meeting and then be excused to return to work.

Forget that it’s only a model

After you know how to create an effective schedule using Project, don’t mistake the schedule for reality. The schedule is simply a model of reality, given the information available at the time. Information, assumptions, estimates, and resources all change, risks and issues are ever present, and of course, the scope of the project changes. Therefore, as soon as you baseline the project, it’s probably outdated.

Do your best, of course, to update the model with the latest information, but remember that simply scheduling an event doesn’t guarantee that it will occur.

Relying on miracles

If you can’t figure out how to meet a deadline given the resources and the information you enter into Project, you’re unlikely to meet that deadline. In fact, Project can help you communicate the problems inherent in an aggressive delivery date. You can show stakeholders the schedule and ask them to help you determine how to speed the completion of tasks. In some cases, stakeholders can provide relevant information that helps you finish sooner; in other cases, however, they want the project done by a specific date, but there’s no reasonable way to meet the due date.

When you face an unrealistic deadline, meet it as best you can. If the deadline is simply impossible, however, acknowledge it. You can use Project to search for alternative approaches to achieving the project deliverables — though you can’t use it to compress time.

Project Management

Project management seems so straightforward. You set a deadline. You set a budget. You select the right people. The project gets done.

In reality, project management is rarely straightforward. The wrong people are assigned to the project. People don’t know what is expected of them or get conflicting information. The scope changes. Deadlines aren’t met. Put more succinctly: Stuff happens.

So what can businesses, and project managers, do to improve the odds of projects being completed on time and on budget? Dozens of project leaders and project management experts share nine secrets to successful project management.

1. Ensure that you have full project details before starting. “Creating a completely detailed project scope approved by all stakeholders is a necessity,” states Adam Balkwill, technical director, Garfield Group, an integrated marketing agency.

“The scope should include interim milestones, with deliverable dates and a budget worksheet that represents all time involved. If the initial project writeup has enough detail, the better you and your client will interact through its production,” Balkwill says. “Change requests will happen on every project, but this allows you to manage the client when something is out of scope.”

2. Have the right (and right-sized) project management team in place. In order for a project to be successful, you need to have the right project team in place, people whose skills and experience can benefit the project, from the project manager on down. It also helps to “limit the number of people involved,” says Josh Meah, COO, JackMyRep.com, a reputation management company.

“Amazon.com uses the ‘pizza’ team methodology based on the idea that a team shouldn’t be larger than 6 to 10 people,” he explains. “A manager really can only handle so many direct reports without losing grasp on either the vision for the project, details of the work involved, and personalities and personal requirements of their organization and staff,” he says. “So, to maximize effectiveness, limit the size of your project management teams.” And involve people whose skills match the project requirements.

3. Set expectations — and milestones — up front. “Set relatively (based on risk) frequent milestones and check in often to ensure projects stay on track,” advises Pat McGuinness, chief technology risk officer, GE Capital. “If you only set longer-term or high-level milestones, you won’t realize a project is in trouble until it’s too late. My team at GE Capital schedules multiple project benchmarks and iterative reviews to make sure the money being invested in an IT project is being used efficiently and that project goals are being addressed.”

“When [everyone] on the team clearly understands the [scope] from the beginning, you eliminate the ambiguity that can derail a project,” adds Juan Velasquez, marketing specialist, Do It Wiser, a provider of toner cartridges and green office supplies. A good way to do this,” he says, is to hold a kickoff meeting, where everyone involved attends. Kickoff meetings “help to set expectations,” where you can “discuss the project in detail,” create a workable roadmap and assign people roles and responsibilities.

4. Be clear about who is responsible for what — and deadlines. “When multiple people are collaborating on the same task, assignments, deadlines and other important details often get lost in translation,” explains Fred Mouawad, founder and CEO, Taskworld, a task management platform. To avoid confusion, “determine which team members are responsible for which pieces of work [up front], and enforce accountability. An online task management program is a simple way to do this.”

“It’s important that each member of your team understands what is expected from them,” adds Brandon Seymour, owner, Beymour Consulting, an SEO and inbound marketing firm. “This includes the full scope of the project and a precise timeline of when tasks need to be completed.” Because every project is different, “it helps for all of the key players to have a solid understanding of how each of their efforts contributes to the project as a whole. Project milestones and benchmarks are great for managing these expectations and keeping teams on track with deadlines.”

5. Don’t micromanage. “Meet regularly with the team members who will be working on the project. However, allow them breathing room to work without feeling micromanaged,” says Shilonda Downing, owner, Virtual Work Team, a virtual assistant company. “Creating a balance here is key to ensuring that work is being done and that team members feel empowered to do their best work.”

6. Make sure you have a good system in place for managing the project, one that everyone can and will use. “Email seems the most obvious form of communication when managing a project, but it can hinder progress,” says Chris Griffiths, CEO, DropTask, a visual task management solution. “Trawling through email threads for previous correspondence is a huge time waster. Using software that keeps all project information and communication in one place not only saves time, [it] maintains a productive workspace.”

“Our team and clients are located across the country, which means we can’t share physical files,” explains Amy Driehorst, lead project manager, Weaving Influence, which connects authors to online audiences. So “we use a digital project management application that not only allows us to manage all aspects of the project through task lists, but also serves as an online filing cabinet housing all the documents associated with the project as well as a discussion board,” she explains. “The ability to [easily] add clients to the project allows for smooth communication and sharing of information.”

7. Keep team members motivated by rewarding them when milestones are reached. “It is useful to set milestones while planning projects,” notes Ajay Kaul, managing partner, AgreeYa Solutions, a provider of business software. To ensure projects stay on track, “recognize team members whenever a milestone is met. Celebrating milestones can be a great way to track progress while keeping team members motivated.”

8. Hold regular project status meetings or calls, but keep them short. “Frequent communication with all members of the team as well as the client is the best way to ensure a project is on track,” says Driehorst. “This is especially important in a virtual environment, where [you] don’t have the luxury of popping into a colleague’s office to check the status of a task. I find scheduling regular calls in addition to all the other forms of digital communication we use ensures open and clear communication for all concerned.”

While keeping everyone up to date on the project’s status is essential, “you need a way to communicate everyone’s status to the rest of the team without getting bogged down by the details,” says Martijn van Tilburg, CEO, 10,000ft, a project and resource management solution provider. To avoid participants tuning out, “keep status meetings short and sweet [by limiting] everyone to [for example] 90 seconds of talking. This encourages team members to focus on the most relevant details about the past week.”

9. Build in time for changes. “In technology, projects don’t ever seem to follow specifications exactly,” notes Samit Shah, cofounder, EventEdge, which builds custom event apps. “To avoid pain points and save time, build in extra time for specification changes and requests. You will be thankful.”

Leadership

The Most Important Management Concept You’re Missing

Task Relevant Maturity. Is there a less sexy, technical-sounding phrase for managers?

Probably not. Yet, whether you work at a 100,000 employee juggernaut, or a hot startup with a mostly flat organization, you need to add this management concept (and those 3 letters: TRM) to your leadership approach.

The Most Underrated Management Concept: Task Relevant Maturity

Not understanding Task Relevant Maturity (TRM) creates a lot of problems for managers and their teams that can cascade into big issues. It can lead to failure when delegating (like the comic above), a loss of confidence by your best people, and an inability to deliver great results in an ever-changing market. Fortunately, these problems can be easily avoided.

Given how critical those issues are, we’re going to be sure you fully understand TRM. By the end of this post, you’re going to understand what this management concept is, who coined the phrase, and how you can apply it as a manager today.

What is Task Relevant Maturity?

Here at Lighthouse, we’re big fans of legendary co-founder & CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, and his book High Output Management. Task Relevant Maturity comes directly from it. Grove describes it in the following way:

“How often you monitor should not be based on what you believe your subordinate can do in general, but on his experience with a specific task and his prior performance with it – his task relevant maturity…as the subordinate’s work improves over time, you should respond with a corresponding reduction in the intensity of the monitoring.”

Sounds simple enough, right?

Unfortunately, most managers get this wrong. They develop trust in the abilities of a person and believe they can throw anything to them, including new projects, new roles, and new responsibilities, all while maintaining the same level of involvement and coaching as they had before.

If a manager assists their team member as much on new things as they did old, something will go wrong; not providing more assistance for new tasks and roles is likely to lead to failure by the team member. This can be both frustrating and embarrassing for them, and have a direct, painful impact on the bottom line of the company.

Avoid Rookie Mistakes

What about learning from their mistakes? Isn’t failure a badge of honor now?

Not so fast. You may believe that, and in some cases it can be valuable, but consider the cost. As Grove wrote:

“He has to make his own mistakes. That’s how he learns!”

The problem with this is that the subordinate’s tuition is paid by his customers. And that is absolutely wrong. The responsibility for teaching the subordinate must be assumed by his supervisor, and not paid for by the customers of his organization, internal or external.“

When you’re managing people and developing leaders, there are times you’ll ask them to do things they’ve never done before. It’s essential at these times you become more hands on, even if they’re not asking you to.
Management Concept – you can’t manage one size fits all

Trust, but verify.

A common mistake managers make is to try to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to managing their teams. That’s a recipe for disaster. You neither want to be overbearing to your team members that are experienced and comfortable in their tasks at hand, nor be missing when a team member is struggling alone on a new task.

The key is to keep a pulse on everyone on your team, and adjust how hands on you are according to how they’re doing. Checking in on a team member working on something new will make it safe for you or they to acknowledge and fix problems when they’re small. Meanwhile, the occasional check in on a team member who you trust and is experienced in the task at hand can help you avoid a surprise when it may be more costly, or too late to fix.

A common issue we’ve heard many times is that after a promotion, team members struggle. Unfortunately, after just getting selected for the new role, the pressure to succeed and prove they were worthy of the new title makes them feel afraid to bring up struggles. They may feel they need to figure it out on their own or simply respect their manager’s time so much they don’t want to bother them. This is why you must check in and ask. An open door policy doesn’t work.

How to Apply Task Relevant Maturity

There are many ways you can apply this concept to your day to day and week to week activities as a manager. Here’s just a few:

Play to your team’s strengths

With more than a few people to manage, you’ll quickly find you cannot be involved with everything all of your people do. This is a good thing! Developing trust in their abilities to deliver can give your people the autonomy they desire and help you avoid micromanaging.

The key is to learn what your people’s strengths are. Their strengths are where they have the Task Relevant Maturity for you to be relatively hands off with them.

The time you save in being hands off with those on your team working in areas of strength can then be invested in being more hands on with those working on something they’re inexperienced in.

Help with engagement

Recognizing their strengths can also help with morale and motivation. By giving people work to leverage their strengths, they’ll be tapping into a key part of being engaged in the workplace as we learned from Gallup’s “State of the American Manager” study from earlier this year:

Management Concept – lean on your people’s strengths

If you strike a good balance between new, challenging tasks you’re hands on helping them with, and giving them work that uses their strengths, you’ll both win. They’re adding new strengths, while getting the chance to work on old ones, while you will have the right amount of time to help people as their Task Relevant Maturity dictates.

Adjust your one on ones

Your one on ones with your team members are the perfect time to discuss their Task Relevant Maturity.

First, you can should adjust the frequency of your one on ones based on their current responsibilities. The more comfortable you are with their TRM, the less often you’ll need to check in (every 3-4 weeks).

Meanwhile, when you promote them, or give them a new challenge they lack experience in, this is the time you should meet more often (every 1-2 weeks) no matter how busy your schedule. This is when they need you most and will be set up to fail and be frustrated otherwise.

The other key is to adjust what you talk about in your one on ones. As they develop more experience in their roles and responsibilities, the kinds of questions you’ll ask and what you’ll discuss will shift. We’ve recreated this chart from Grove’s High Output Management to highlight how that may go:

Management concept – applying task relevant maturity

When they’re inexperienced, you’ll be going over a lot of the skills and processes to succeed. Then, as they grow and learn, you can be more hands off, and focus on problem solving and high level progress.

A story of TRM gone wrong.

A friend of mine was promoted at his company after doing great work for them for over a year. It was clear that for that job his Task Relevant Maturity was excellent. However, when he was promoted, he was suddenly managing people for the first time, and had a series of challenges where he had much lower TRM than he had before.

Unfortunately, rather than stepping up to help guide him through these challenges, my friends manager actually started meeting with him less often. This led to him becoming frustrated and disengaged at work. It was only after others noticed and told his manager it seemed like he might quit that the manager stepped in.

This temporary assistance was half-hearted and too late. Just a few months later, my friend quit and found a new job where he’s now much happier and feels more supported.

If you don’t get Task Relevant Maturity right, it can not only affect the quality of your team’s work, but also cause turnover.

Ask good questions

Asking good questions is a critical management skill. In particular, to effectively understand where your people are on the spectrum of Task Relevant Maturity, asking good questions is particularly helpful.

When you ask questions, it provides more information and context to a situation. It can save you from jumping to conclusions and better diagnose a problem before you step in and start giving advice and help. It can also help you quickly learn how a project is going that may otherwise have not been raised by your team member on their own.

The power of 5 why’s

One of the best lines of questioning you can use is the simple process of 5 why’s. Rather than stopping at the surface of uncovering the problem, you instead probe deeper, asking why repeatedly until you get to the true root cause.

Not just for machines, 5 Why’s can help with any problem.

This can work for both soft and hard skill issues. Going through the process with one of your team members will often reveal many great teachable moments that you’d otherwise miss if you stayed only at the surface of a problem.

5 Why’s also saves you time in the long run. If all you do is treat symptoms on the surface, it’s likely that problems will reoccur, demanding more of your attention and time.

Meanwhile, when you get to the root cause, you’re more likely to ensure that the problems won’t happen again. The second and third order issues will often naturally be resolved, making your time coaching even more efficient.

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Being a manager means mastering many new skills. One key is understanding the leadership paradox of when to be consistent, and when to be flexible. Another is learning to develop the people around you, while leaning on their strengths. If you understand and apply the management concept of Task Relevant Maturity, you’ll master both.

What really good leaders do really well.

Good leaders do things well. Great leaders teach and inspire others to do things well. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime, right? The same concept applies to leadership: Successful leadership must contain equal amounts doing and holding others accountable.

The best-performing companies have leaders that do and teach, who instill confidence in their team and share their vision with others. These CEOs and executives manage at a macro-level, holding their teams and employees accountable while providing guidance and coaching to help them solve problems on their own.

So what characteristics do great leaders all possess? They…

1. Face the facts, no matter how brutal they may be.

Bad news is part of business. Great leaders don’t just wait for it, they seek it out. Rather than waiting until a task or project is completed, they look for red flags and identify when it’s off-track to reach the stated objective. And they don’t kill the messenger—when an employee points out underperforming or failing projects, these leaders appreciate the fact that it was brought to their attention. Identifying the problems earlier gives them extra time to find solutions and solve problems faster than their competition.

2. Take accountability seriously.

Executives want to get regular updates on all projects, whether it’s during weekly meetings or through software that facilitates strategy execution. They hold people accountable to do what they should be doing and completing the tasks on their plate. If goals aren’t being met, great leaders take the opportunity to discuss, gather insight, and make the adjustments necessary for the individual employees and the company to win.

3. Look for bright spots.

Great leaders actively look for not just good news, but victories that can be replicated across other departments and teams. It’s their job to observe and identify how these victories happened so the same strategies can be implemented elsewhere in the company for even greater success.

4. Develop and prioritize winning moves.

Not every single good idea can be a great idea, one that will provide the best chance of achieving success. Implementing too many strategies can spread a team too thin and result in things falling through the cracks. Instead, great leaders focus on several key strategies, which they discuss and debate with their executive teams before deciding on which ones will bring the company closer to reaching its goals. Powerful winning moves will come from strategic thinking and decision-making, considering all the options and determining which ones will bring the biggest return—year over year, quarter over quarter.

5. Scrap what’s not working.

When you have conceptualized a project, product or service from the beginning, nurtured it and worked hard to, well, make it work, it’s hard to pull the plug if it’s not working. Great leaders must be able to realize when something isn’t working, no matter how hard they’ve worked to make it succeed. If a new product is eating into the revenue stream, these leaders are able to take a step back and scrap it. If not, the competition will swoop in with a bigger and better product.

6. Focus on the best and brightest.

It’s easy to get distracted by new ideas and strategies. But if a goal is big and bold enough, everyone will feel excited to work toward it. Rather than working on a bunch of smaller, less exciting ideas, a great leader will recognize the strategies that will motivate and inspire their teams to push toward success.

7. Plan successful quarters.

Focusing on annual goals is great, but quarterly goals are the ones that get you there, and great leaders know that each week in a quarter is crucial. The best companies focus on having successful weeks so they can achieve the right results at the end of the quarter. Business is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Each leg of the race (or quarter) supports the end goal—helping you reach the finish line in first place.

8. Encourage consistency but not complacency.

Getting into a rhythm can help business processes become as regular as breathing, but this doesn’t mean you should rest once you get there. When your business is predictable, growth stagnates and success can reach a limit. However, when a business is consistent, great leaders take that opportunity to focus on what’s needed to take it to the next level. This discipline of consistency helps executives think outside the box and evaluate what new strategies and calculated risks can help grow the business and achieve greater success.

9. Lead adjustment meetings.

Knowing the status of where projects stand is something all leaders must do in order to keep their business moving forward. But “status meetings” lack any means of providing solutions for problems that might have only just started to arise. Instead, great executives focus on leading adjustment meetings where the team can discuss plans that are already or about to get off-track and provide solutions and ideas for improvement.

Companies that are performing well and in the top tier of their industries all have one thing in common—great leadership. CEOs and executives who not only do things right but also inspire those around them to perform at their best can achieve consistent and remarkable growth, quarter after quarter, year after year.

Leadership

One of the biggest roadblocks to success is the fear of failure. Fear of failure is worse than failure itself because it condemns you to a life of unrealized potential.

A successful response to failure is all in your approach. In a study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers found that success in the face of failure comes from focusing on results (what you hope to achieve), rather than trying not to fail. While it’s tempting to try and avoid failure, people who do this fail far more often than those who optimistically focus on their goals.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” –Winston Churchill

This sounds rather easy and intuitive, but it’s very hard to do when the consequences of failure are severe. The researchers also found that positive feedback increased people’s chances of success because it fueled the same optimism you experience when focusing solely on your goals.

The people who make history—true innovators—take things a step further and see failure as a mere stepping stone to success. Thomas Edison is a great example. It took him 1,000 tries to develop a light bulb that actually worked. When someone asked him how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

That attitude is what separates the successes from the failures. Thomas Edison isn’t the only one. J. K. Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter was only accepted after twelve publishers denied it, and even then she was only paid a nominal advance. Oprah Winfrey lost her job as a Baltimore news anchor for becoming too emotionally involved in her stories, a quality that became her trademark. Henry Ford lost his financial backers twice before he was able to produce a workable prototype of an automobile. The list goes on and on.

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” –Henry Ford

So, what separates the people who let their failures derail them from those who use failure to their advantage? Some of it comes down to what you do, and the rest comes down to what you think.

The actions you take in the face of failure are critical to your ability to recover from it, and they have huge implications for how others view you and your mistakes. There are five actions you must take when you fail that will enable you to succeed in the future and allow others to see you positively in spite of your failure.

Break the bad news yourself. If you’ve made a mistake, don’t cross your fingers and hope that no one will notice, because someone is going to—it’s inevitable. When someone else points out your failure, that one failure turns into two. If you stay quiet, people are going to wonder why you didn’t say something, and they’re likely to attribute this to either cowardice or ignorance.

Offer an explanation, but don’t make excuses. Owning your mistakes can actually enhance your image. It shows confidence, accountability, and integrity. Just be sure to stick to the facts. “We lost the account because I missed the deadline” is a reason. “We lost the account because my dog was sick all weekend and that made me miss the deadline” is an excuse.

Have a plan for fixing things. Owning up to a mistake is one thing, but you can’t end it there. What you do next is critical. Instead of standing there, waiting for someone else to clean up your mess, offer your own solutions. It’s even better if you can tell your boss (or whomever) the specific steps that you’ve already taken to get things back on track.

Have a plan for prevention. In addition to having a plan for fixing things, you should also have a plan for how you’ll avoid making the same mistake in the future. That’s the best way to reassure people that good things will come out of your failure.

Get back on the horse. It’s important that you don’t let failure make you timid. That’s a mindset that sucks you in and handicaps you every time you slip up. Take enough time to absorb the lessons of your failure, and as soon as you’ve done that, get right back out there and try again. Waiting only prolongs bad feelings and increases the chance that you’ll lose your nerve.

Your attitude when facing failure is just as important as the actions you take. Using failure to your advantage requires resilience and mental strength, both hallmarks of emotional intelligence. When you fail, there are three attitudes you want to maintain.

Perspective is the most important factor in handling failure. People who are skilled at rebounding after failure are more likely to blame the failure on something that they did—the wrong course of action or a specific oversight—rather than something that they are. People who are bad at handling failure tend to blame failure on their laziness, lack of intelligence, or some other personal quality, which implies that they had no control over the situation. That makes them more likely to avoid future risk-taking.

Optimism is another characteristic of people who bounce back from failure. One British study of 576 serial entrepreneurs found that they were much more likely to expect success than entrepreneurs who gave up after their first failure. That sense of optimism is what keeps people from feeling like failure is a permanent condition. Instead, they tend to see each failure as a building block to their ultimate success because of the learning it provides.

Persistence. Optimism is a feeling of positivity; persistence is what you do with it. It’s optimism in action. When everybody else says, “Enough is enough” and decides to quit and go home, persistent people shake off those failures and keep going. Persistent people are special because their optimism never dies. This makes them great at rising from failure.

Bringing It All Together

Failure is a product of your perspective. What one person considers a crushing defeat, another sees as a minor setback. The beauty is that you can change how you see failure so that you can use it to better yourself.

Project Management

Being busy has somehow become a badge of honor. The prevailing notion is that if you aren’t super busy, you aren’t important or hard working. The truth is, busyness makes you less productive.

When we think of a super busy person, we think of a ringing phone, a flood of e-mails, and a schedule that’s bursting at the seams with major projects and side-projects hitting simultaneously. Such a situation inevitably leads to multi-tasking and interruptions, which are both deadly to productivity.

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” -Socrates

David Meyer from the University of Michigan published a study recently that showed that switching what you’re doing mid-task increases the time it takes you to finish both tasks by 25%.

“Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes,” Meyer said. “Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.”

Microsoft decided to study this phenomenon in their workers and found that it took people an average of 15 minutes to return to their important projects (such as writing reports or computer code) every time they were interrupted by e-mails, phone calls, or other messages. They didn’t spend the 15 minutes on the interrupting messages, either; the interruptions led them to stray to other activities, such as surfing the web for pleasure.

“I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task,” said Eric Horvitz, the Microsoft research scientist behind the study. “If it’s this bad at Microsoft, it has to be bad at other companies, too.”

Beyond interruptions, busyness reduces productivity because there’s a bottleneck in the brain that prevents us from concentrating on two things at once. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully. In a breakthrough study, René Marois and his colleagues at Vanderbuilt University used MRIs to successfully pinpoint a physical source for this bottleneck.

“We are under the impression that we have this brain that can do more than it can,” Marois explained.
We’re so enamored with multitasking that we think we’re getting more done, even though our brains aren’t physically capable of this. Regardless of what we might think, we are most productive when we manage our schedules enough to ensure that we can focus effectively on the task at hand.

If you read my recent article on mindfulness, you’ll recall that practicing mindfulness increases your ability to focus and concentrate because it increases brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). As it turns out, multitasking has the opposite effect on this critical brain area. Researchers from the University of Sussex compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the ACC. It’s as if being busy all the time (via multitasking) trains your brain to be mindless and unproductive.

I doubt these findings completely surprise you as we’ve all felt the distracting pull of competing tasks when we’re busy. So why do we keep doing it?

Researchers from the University of Chicago have the answer. They found that the belief that busyness is a sign of success and hard work is so prevalent that we actually fear inactivity. A recent study there coined the term idleness aversion to describe how people are drawn to being busy regardless of how busyness harms their productivity.

The researchers also found that we use busyness to hide from our laziness and fear of failure. We burn valuable time doing things that aren’t necessary or important because this busyness makes us feel productive. For instance, responding to non-urgent e-mails when you know you have a big project that you need to finish. It’s tough, but you need to recognize when you’re using trivial activities to shield yourself from sloth or fear.

Bringing It All Together

We are naturally drawn to being busy despite the fact that this hinders our productivity. As it turns out, you really do have to slow down to do your best. When you don’t, the consequences can be severe.