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Systemation Offers Practical Advice for Business Analysis and Project Management Performance Improvement

DENVER, CO – November 14, 2007 – Systemation, a practical, results-driven business analysis and project management training and consulting company, today published key insights from its training experts that address common challenges confronting Business Analysts and Project Managers. Drawing from nearly five decades of hands-on experience, Systemation trainers offer practical advice on several key issues, including project politics, the pitfalls of having more than one Project Sponsor, getting executive support and why it benefits Project Managers to be good public speakers.

“Systemation has been improving the performance of Business Analysts and Project Managers since 1959,” stated Ben Snyder, CEO of Systemation, “and over the course of time you begin to see some common challenges emerge. While our in-depth training workshops are chock full of custom instruction, students learn many universal principles and best practices as well. We wanted to open our kimono a bit and share some of this knowledge in hopes that others might benefit from our learning and experience.”

Tips From the Trenches: Expert Advice From Systemation Trainers

How can you make “project politics” work for you, not against you?

When thinking about the effort behind actualizing project objectives, it is clear formal and informal networks must be used to get work done. It’s no easy feat to get individuals and groups with disparate goals working collectively. It requires patience, organizational awareness, and a broad, deep network of relationships.

For project-driven change to occur it needs cultivated, fertile ground and a deep well of resources, but creating that doesn’t happen overnight. While building relationships cross-functionally is a great lateral first step to cultivation, it’s the caring and feeding of those relationships that sustain and maximize the effort and provide a deep well of resources when needed. How does one dig that well, then care for and maintain it so the invaluable resources it contains are available when needed? It starts with creating V.A.L.U.E.:

  • Visibility – Ask questions; be curious about people; adapt your style to the style of others;
  • Availability – Stop multi-tasking and be present for others;
  • Lead by Example – Do what you say you’re going to do; treat others how you like to be treated;
  • Understanding – Show empathy for constraints; lend a helping hand.
  • Embracement – Create ownership by hearing and incorporating others’ ideas.

Can you have more than one Project Sponsor?

The short answer: Yes. The better answer: The best run projects don’t. Here’s why.

An organization that’s on a quest to run an on time, on schedule and on budget project may not realize the negative impact that having two or more Project Sponsors (those that provide financial resources for the project AND have the full and final authority to approve or cancel it) can potentially have on the project. Think meeting time, scheduling nightmares, and decision making challenges. Next, think overall increased costs to deliver the project driven from the increased meetings, the meetings before meetings, and the time it will take to facilitate decisions on key issues across several Project Sponsors.

So what’s a Project Manager to do?  From the moment you are assigned a project, start getting your arms around the project structure by putting together a project organizational chart. The chart should clearly identify the names of the Stakeholders, Project Team, Project Manager and the (one) Project Sponsor.  It can be used not only to get the project structure defined, but also to facilitate team member assignments. Organizations succeed more often with a project organizational chart because:

  1. If you don’t put it in a picture it’s hard to see.
  2. Until you see the picture with multiple stakeholders you won’t realize how complicated (or ineffective) your project structure is or will be.
  3. Sometimes it’s as simple as educating the organization on the difference between a Sponsor and a Stakeholder.
  4. You can’t win if you don’t play. Or, if you accept the structure given, you’ll later regret you didn’t try to influence it.

How can you get greater Executive support?

Executives have the ability to help us through project logjams, such as when stakeholders can’t seem to agree. When decisions need to be made, the supportive executive can help navigate the process in a timely fashion, reducing delays that would otherwise paralyze projects. They have the positional power to secure resources and funding, and can articulate the business need driving the project.

Many Systemation facilitators are also executive coaches. Some of the biggest complaints executives have about their Project Managers include:

  • “They don’t talk to me for 3 months and now they’re asking for more time and money.”
  • “They bury me with details – just give me the headlines.”
  • “They think this is my only job.”
  • “They don’t take ownership.”

So, if you don’t have executive support, what can you do to get it? Consider how you’re communicating with your sponsor. Is the frequency appropriate? How about the level of detail? Should you be using more face-to-face than e-mail? When there are issues, do you bring options and recommendations? Do you know what the Sponsor’s priorities are? If you don’t know what keeps your Sponsor awake at night, it could be argued that you’re not doing your job.

Use a Communication Plan to more intentionally keep people in the loop. Show that you feel the weight of the project and are proactively seeking solutions to issues. Don’t hide behind e-mail. Last but not least, develop a better relationship with your Sponsor. Good rapport with your Sponsor will pay enormous project dividends.

How can effective public speaking help a Business Analyst or Project Manager?

Good speaking skills can help Business Analysts and Project Managers. Creating motivation and desire will fuel improvement. But while talking is easy, public speaking takes special knowledge and skill. Unfortunately, many well-meaning instructors have led students down the wrong path. Their tips usually include: speak slowly, use gestures, don’t use gestures, look at everyone, smile, don’t get nervous, and make believe they are sitting there in their underwear. Such tips may have value, but consider these:

  • Talk Faster – Our brains move many times faster than our mouth. Learn to speak faster and your listeners will actually hear more of what you say. This may not seem natural at first but with practice you will progress. A senior facilitator at Systemation has his students repeat, “Film at 6 and 10, WLS in Chicago”. He continually says it faster, and students become more comfortable with the faster speeds.
  • Talk Clearer – This is a tough one. It takes practice to say words clearly and with a punch. Put a wooden pencil in your mouth and say the first two lines of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb”. This exercise will strengthen your tongue and lips.
  • Talk Stronger – Do you find you can get through the morning okay but your voice becomes flat by the afternoon? Then sing, sing, sing. In the shower, in the car, wherever. The voice is just like any other muscle; it responds to exercise.
  • Talk Lower – A lower voice at the end of a sentence gives confidence to the listener. Say this phrase and lower your voice with each segment, “Like the ripples – from two stones – dropped in a pond.”
  • Be a Storyteller – Telling stories is not being a storyteller. Storytelling takes great skill and practice. The key elements are: make a point, take the listener on an emotional rollercoaster, use body language consistent with your words and end on a high note.
  • Change the Pace – This technique adds drama. When you are giving facts and information, use a rapid pace. Slow down when you get to your key point. Your listener will automatically give added weight because of the change of pace.