Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Category Archives: Small Business

Reflections from the 2011 PMI North American National Congress (Part 2-The Wonderful Things About Networking)

This is part two of three on reflections from the 2011 PMI North American National Congress held in Dallas, Texas, USA October 22 through October 25.  Part one provided information from workshops I attended.  Part three will focus on presenting, my observations as a participant and as a presenter.

There are a lot of resources out there that talk about networking.  Just today I saw a note in Twitter recommending 4 Networking Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making on  The purpose of this article is not to restate all the great advice available through the Internet, books, and people, but rather I want to focus on some surprise benefits that may result.

Asking for Advice: The REAL sincerest form of flattery

I was having lunch with a friend in the exhibition center when she spotted a speaker from a previous session that she admired and wanted to ask more questions of.  His topic, Agile, was something she had recently taken on in a new job.  She mentioned that she hoped to get a chance to talk to him at some point and I suggested that she go over now.  In a conference of 3,000 people, there is no guarantee that she would see him again and she should take the opportunity. She was reluctant to interrupt his lunch and conversation. I continued to encourage her to make the connection pointing out that it is flattering to be approached by someone who values your work and that he would likely appreciate the contact.  Still seeing her reluctance I suggested that she simply go to the table with business card in hand and say “I don’t want to interrupt your lunch, but I have some follow up questions from your presentation”.  Having a plan that she was comfortable with, she headed off toward his table.

I watched from afar suspecting that she would end up sitting down and talking to him. She did a wide circle around the table, gathering her courage, finally approaching him with card in hand, and finally, as predicted, she sits down.  I went about my business at this point knowing she was in good hands and we would catch up later.

Their conversation continued by email after the conference. He has offered to help her get training and certification in Scrum with assistance from his own network, since training dollars are not available where she works.  I believe a long term professional relationship is formed.

Pleasant Surprises: Stumbling Across Valuable Resources

I made it a point to personally introduce myself to every person that I am connected with through LinkedIn or Twitter, as well as presenters I enjoyed and learned from. I had two main motivators for this. One was to be able to mutually put names to faces and strengthen the connection, and also to show my appreciation and respect for their work.

In one such case I stayed back after a presentation in order spend a few moments with a LinkedIn connection, Samad Aidane.  Although Samad is located within 60 miles of me and we had corresponded on a number of occasions, I had not met him in person until the presentation.

Samad introduced me to another of his connections, Todd Williams. As it turns out, Todd is another relatively local area consultant, principal of eCameron, Inc., specializing in project audit and recovery services. Having just taken over managing a project in trouble, I was very interested in his expertise.  He discussed his strategy of auditing a project to uncover the organizational root causes.  Our conversation resulted in a new book for me to read and an offer for an initial consultation with my company. Todd and I have a tentative appointment for coffee next time he is in the area.  I look forward to the opportunity to gain additional insights on organizational changes that will improve project success in the future.

The Stuff Friendships Are Made Of

This last story actually started a year earlier.  I stayed at an offsite hotel for the 2010 Congress in Washington, DC.  There was a shuttle between the hotel and the conference center.  This is where I met Jeff Furman. We chatted in the van about my aspirations for speaking and his role in training on presentation skills.  In the van he made the assessment that I have what it takes to be a trainer, instructor, and presenter.  This being that I have a strong voice, confidence, and am articulate.  I appreciated this insight and we connected on LinkedIn following the conference.  A few months later I received an email from Jeff with a referral for someone who was looking for a virtual instructor for an upcoming program.  While this opportunity did not pan out, I truly appreciated the thought and referral.

I contacted Jeff prior to the trip to Dallas and we agreed to meet up to catch up. We did this, talking about his book, The Project Management Answer Book, and my upcoming presentation.  Jeff said he planned on attending the presentation. I was glad to hear this as I knew his insight would be extremely valuable.  The presentation went well and Jeff’s contributions as an audience member were great.

Even better are the things that have happened since.  First, Jeff was interviewed by Elizabeth Harrin for her video diary where he talks about my presentation; first commenting on the subject, sponsorship, and then publically admires my style in engaging the audience.  (Note to self, get copy of video for testimonial). The second thing that has happened is that Jeff and I have teamed to help build traffic to our respective blogs reflecting on the Congress through links and Tweets. (Jeff Furman’s Blog: Highlights of the PMI North American Congress 2011).

I know I have an ally in Jeff and can say he has one in me as well.  As I begin to focus on building the next steps of my career through writing and presenting, I know I have a mentor and supporter. I just hope I can return as much in the friendship.  It amazes me what conversation and exchange of business cards on a shuttle can do.


You don’t have to be actively seeking a job or clients to get significant value from networking. You never know where the benefits will present themselves.  Don’t be shy in establishing connections. Your interest in the person should be a welcomed gift.  If it isn’t, it will be their loss.

Finally, I want to thank those that took the time to show an interest in me. My sincerest thanks to Jeff Furman,  Samad Aidane, Todd Williams, Peter Taylor, Rick Morris, Bill Fournet, Alfonso Bucero, and Ricardo Vargas.   I look forward to seeing you at future events. Please let me know if there is anything I can ever do for you.

Chandra, thanks for having my back, I will always have yours.

What Makes for Good Communication?

I have touted the need for better communication on a recent project. However, I realized that I have failed to specify what good communication means to me. Below is a list of important quality attributes for communication. Please comment to include your thoughts or add to the list.


Share information that will, or is at risk to, impact planned activities or the status quo as soon as possible. This provides the greatest chance of being able to respond appropriately to the situation with careful thought on planning.  Even if only a risk, the earlier the information is provided, the sooner mitigation planning can occur.  Not sure if there is an impact?  Share anyway. It is better to share too much information than to risk not sharing critical information.


Information is not useful unless it the truth. There may be reasons you are required to withhold partial information such as a confidentiality agreement or promise.  Let others know what you cannot share with the reason and they will respect that.  There are dangers in not being truthful.   Misinformation can lead to actions that negatively impact the actual situation. A loss of trust will impact the relationship indefinitely.


There is a good chance that others have information or experience that will impact the analysis of the current situation. You will not have a full picture of the impacts, implications, or opportunities if you are not open and offer the opportunity to share my knowledge with you.  Further, you will send the message that you do not value opinion or experience of those around you.


My biggest project mistake was related to this attribute.  I write very good status reports.  They are succinct; cover the top accomplishments, risks, and issues, and candid.  I rarely hide or sugarcoat anything.  They are always emailed with a “please let me know if you have comments or concerns“, to offer a two-way street.  What I did not do was confirm that the project sponsor had read and understood the status report. I found this out the hard way when in a rare one-on-one conversation I discovered that she was not aware of the current status and issues the project was facing.  She received the status reports but they did not make it to the top of her reading pile. If a message is provided, but not received, there was no communication.  I corrected this by scheduling 30 minutes each month to cover the status report with her one-on-one for future reporting.

The recipe for good communication is to share information as soon as you receive it to all that are potentially affected, be candid in the information you share, give an opportunity for feedback and discussion, and confirm that the message was received and understood.

Interview Tips Refresher

I recently made a drastic career change that would take me from an interview a decade to potentially an interview a week. I wanted to do some research on what makes a good interview. Well, honestly, my first interview could have been better so I NEEDED to do some work to improve for the next time. The following summarizes what I have learned through the interview process and by doing some light reading on the subject. I hope you find this as useful in reading (and as reference) as I did in putting it together.

Remember –

The interview goes two ways
This is not only the opportunity for the interviewer(s) to find out about you and if you are a good fit for the position being sought, but is also your opportunity to find out about the organization and position to decide if this is a good fit for you. Use the opportunity to learn about the organization and how you will fit in, as much as share.

Do your homework
What do you know about the position, company, or project? The internet brings us great advantages these days with the ability to read up on the organization, current projects, current news, business or strategic plans. This homework will serve dual purposes in helping you determine if the position is right for you, but also to help you ask intelligent questions about the position that will help show your foresight and research abilities as well as your ability to probe and analyze the situation which will transfer to the position you seek.

Prepare questions to ask
At the end of every interview you will likely be asked, “Do you have any questions for us?” Again, use you this opportunity to show your stuff. The previous paragraph discusses questions that will demonstrate your knowledge of the position or organization. This is important, but another type of question you should have in your arsenal is a question that you have an interest in helping meet their needs. Think about selling yourself by showing “what is in it for them”. Some examples may include; “what do you see this position accomplishing in the next 6-months”, or “what skill is the most important skill that the selected person can have to help better the organization”. Be ready to follow-up the answer on specifically how you can meet the need. Do not use this opportunity to look for make demands for yourself such as vacation or flexible schedules. That is better served in negotiation if offered the position.

Answer questions thoroughly
This does not mean that you should go on and on or speak without a goal in mind. The best essays and stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. This is especially necessary in situational questions. Briefly describe the specific situation, give background and context, then finally, your solution and how it helped or what you learned. Don’t jump to the solution without the background. This will not give interviewer(s) a chance to see the real you in action. At the same time, be concise and deliberate with your response being careful not to digress. If in doubt, ask if you provided the information they need and be ready to receive and respond to prompting questions.

Walk into the room as if you plan a comfortable yet brief stay
Take off your overcoat, accept the offer of water if given, smile, shake hands and learn the names. Do take notes and make eye contact. You need to show that you are interested in sharing, learning more about the interviewer(s) and organization, and finally that you can be comfortable and professional in a high pressure situation. Humor is also good, but make sure it is proper to the workplace and not criticism disguised as sarcasm.

Practice makes perfect and you don’t want the only practice you get to be in an actual interview situation. Practice your greetings, prepare questions for the interviewer(s) in advance, practice questions that you know or expect are common for the position. If you are a writer or a visual person, this may mean writing out the situations and responses for better retention and recall. If you are a verbal or demonstrative person; practice in front of a mirror, video camera, or friend. Do whatever is going to help you be more comfortable when you step into that room and begin responding to questions.

Your interviewer did not enter the room empty-handed and neither should you. Have a pad to take notes, a copy of your résumé, reference, or other material and keep a summary sheet for your reference on specific projects or experiences you have had handy. Even better, have your summary sheet interview audience ready and offer copies of your summarized experience. As a project manager my summary includes projects, years, technology or other information, team size, budget, my role, and any other useful notes. Your own summary will vary depending on your experience and the type of position you seek.

Follow up
You should thank interviewer(s) for their time upon concluding the interview. Ask for business cards and make sure you at least have the names if business cards are not available. Remember to smile, shake hands, and refer to people by name. Ask when you can call to check the status, it is about you making their jobs easier, not making demands on your prospective employer. Do send an email or note to again express your appreciation for their time. Don’t forget to offer your assistance and contact information in the event they think of anything more for you. Ask for a debrief on the interview once the recruitment is complete. Your interviewer will be in the best position to help you learn your weaknesses and your strengths so you know what to work on for the next interview.

With a little preparation and some easy to follow tips, you can enhance your interview experience. Keep in mind that an interview is chance for prospective employers and employees to learn how the relationship can be mutually beneficial. Practice does make better, so practice on your own or with a friend. Finally, one piece of advice I recently read was to not make the interview your sole focus of the day. Prepare the days in advance and then plan an activity that is unrelated for prior to the interview. This will help keep you relaxed and your adrenaline in check prior to the big moment.

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Successful Projects of all Kinds

There are 6 keys to success in any kind of project; from constructing a bridge, starting a business, or planning an event. That’s right. These are all projects by definition. A project is temporary, creates a unique product, has a beginning, and an end. Starting a business? The project is the startup. Once the business is in place and the doors are open, the project is over and operations begin.

Now that we have a common definition of “project”, here are the 6 keys.

Vision. When you close your eyes and think of the end of the project, what do you see? How do you describe it to your mother or your neighbors? You must have a clear vision of the end result before you can begin to plan or work on your project.

Pre-Planning. Before you can adequately plan your project you need to give a bit of thought to who the project might impact, or be impacted by, to include them in planning and/or communications. You also need an idea of the scope or size of the project. Is the event a 5-course sit down dinner or a potluck? How many people will you expect? Planning will go much more smoothly when began with this context in mind.

Planning. Start with the big things and breakdown to smaller pieces. Once you have an idea of that must be done, you can begin to plan for who will do what, how long it will take, what tasks or items must be done first, how much money will be involved, and build a realistic schedule and budget to get to project success. Be sure to build some extra time and dollars into your planning. Not everything will go as planned, but with a detailed plan and a little cushion, adjustments are much less stressful.

Do it. Enough said!

Monitor and control. Check your plan frequently and mark progress off as you go. You will likely run into cases where you are not able to follow the plan precisely. That is okay. The point is to plan in those changes and adjust for the impacts. This may mean changing the order and expected completion date for tasks or may mean using some of those extra dollars and time you built into the plan case. Be sure to monitor and appropriately react to new risks and issues that your project faces. Address the things that have the biggest impact on your project head on to prevent a mole hole turning into a mountain.

Reflect. The project is complete and the door is open (pick your analogy), it doesn’t matter. You are done. If the project was to create something that must be managed into the future, it is time to go into operations mode. Before you do, you will want to finish up a few things. Keep and store key information from the project. You may need to refer to it in the future and it could come in handy in helping another out with a similar project. Make notes of things you would do differently or that you did that went extremely well. This will help make your next project an even better success and again may help someone else out in the future. The most important step CELEBRATE!!!!! You deserve it.

While the above reflect a cyclical process, there is one more key to ensure project success.

Communicate. Projects usually mean change for someone or a group of people. It may be your employees, your family, your neighbors, or your customers. Begin communicating openly and honestly through all the steps from Vision to Celebration. They will then be ready for your change and may even provide some helpful insights or assistance along the way.

If this all sounds overwhelming for your project, consider further research or study in project management or working with a consultant. Project Management Professionals (PMP) are certified by the Project Management Institute© and have proven to understand the best practices of all industries for more than 40 years.

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