PLAN. COMMUNICATE. LEAD.
In this article, I am revealing a few hints on how to set up an effective meeting culture. Your role will be to learn from this material, set up a new standard for yourself and others. Stop tolerating bad set up, be professional and the rest of the world will follow.
Here are my 10 laws of the effective meeting culture. If you follow them – you will become a meeting ninja and surprise everyone with your professionalism!
I’ve recently read a book of Thomas Erikson “Surrounded by Idiots” and since my life and work are all about project management, I am planning to share with you how I would apply the information from this book to my field of expertise – Project Management.
I started my Project Management career in IT in 2015. Before that, I was a working professional in another industry for 6 years (education and international logistics). In 2014 I got my first job in IT, in an international corporation (Atos) as a Service Desk agent. I had no prior experience in IT and I had no clue about where to develop further. During my first year in that company, I learned a lot about my new job responsibilities as well as about development opportunities. One of them was Project Management post-graduate studies. The company cooperated with the local institute and offered discounts for its employees. I quickly understood that the Service desk job was “neither my circus nor my monkeys” and I immediately used the chance to learn. During my studies, I decided to learn more about Project Management and became an active volunteer in PMI local chapter. After one year of learning theory and applying it while volunteering, I realized that was exactly what I loved doing (despite all the challenges down the road) and that was the career I wanted to pursue.
Since 2015 I am still dedicated to my profession, I am still learning every single day, I am still passionate about the career I chose for myself, I keep growing my experience and expertise. What is more, I have developed a whole roadmap for my own development for the next 10 years 😋 Since 2015 I am still staying true to myself and my development. Even though I’ve changed jobs 6 times, I stayed on the same career develoment path in Project Management. What has changed though, is the type of experience I gathered and the roles I’ve performed 👨🎓.
In today’s article, I want to share some insights about roles a project manager may be asked to perform. If I knew those things in 2015, who knows maybe my career would be even faster. Today this information will help you to choose your development path more carefully, ask hiring managers the right questions and craft the job descriptions better to reflect exact company needs.
When you look at job offers, many of them say “Project Manager” with different degrees of seniority. Apparently not only there is a difference, but the roles also differ. Here are my 7 insights about different roles you might need to perform which are under the same naming umbrella of the “Project Manager”.
1. Project Manager as People Manager
Some companies publish the open positions and call them “Project Manager”, but the role looks more like a “People Manager”. This is why it is important to ask the right questions about the role, responsibilities, and decision-making authority during the interview. Responsibilities will include but will be not limited to hiring and onboarding new people to the team, planning of the employees’ career development (promotions, salary increases, demotion, rotation etc), managing team conflicts, and customer escalations if any of them are related to the performance of the individuals. In such cases, the PM is not dealing much with the core PM’s responsibilities like project initiation, planning, execution, and closure.
If you ask me, I’ll say that team management is a good skill to have and develop, but not for too long. As a manager, you need to be able to treat people not just as resources but as individual contributors and find a common language with each of them. This is crucial for any project’s success because at the heart of any project are people. It is vital to understand what motivates people, how to manage their performance, and how to support them in their development. Servant leadership, my dears, servant leadership 👆 Be careful, though, not to stay too long in such positions, as you do not train other crucial PM skills in project planning, execution, monitoring and control.
2. Project Manager as a Scrum Master
This will sound a bit shocking to you, but I’ve witnessed it myself and I am still not able to find a proper explanation. The only thing which comes to my mind is that many, especially large, organizations are still new to Agile and they are still figuring out how they want to integrate the new roles into already existing organizational structure, positions, and processes. Especially now in 2021 when there is so much hype around Agile. Nowadays, even pure waterfall projects start using the elements of agile methodology. What scares me most, is that you might be hired as a Project Manager and perform a role of a Scrum Master or vice versa – be hired as a Scrum Master but perform a role of a Project manager. The worst thing is when an organization is mixing these 2 positions into one: when the Project Manager is also a Scrum Master. Such a combination is really bad because as per the Scrum Guide the Scrum Master is supposed to be a servant leader, protect the team and help them resolve issues and impediments. The Project Manager, on the other hand, is responsible to get things done and ensure the project progresses as expected, push things forward, and expects tasks to be managed properly and delivered as per scope, time, and schedule.
A colleague of mine told me a story that she was officially working as a Project Manager in one organization, and then during the Agile transformation initiative leadership decided to change the naming convention of the role from Project Manager to Scrum Master. Unexpected turn of events, isn’t it 😲?
Therefore, I think it is crucial to ask the hiring managers the proper questions and clarify the role, responsibilities, organizational and reporting structure. I remember during one of the interviews, the hiring manager told me that they offer me a Senior PM position but the role will be different depending on the project assignment: sometimes it can be a Scrum Master, sometimes a Project Manager. To be honest, it is a very vague explanation, moreover, it sounded to me like sometimes I will be promoted to Senior PM in one assignment and in another demoted to Scrum Master responsibilities. Come on 🙈!
3. Project Manager as Project Coordinator
Sometimes, just because you have years of experience, you are offered a role of a Project Manager/Senior Project manager, but in reality, you work as a project coordinator/senior project coordinator. Because you are not given a proper decision-making authority, because the things you are accountable for are not directly related to the project’s success or failure. Such situations have the right to exist, of course, but then there should be clarity on the position naming convention and responsibilities and decision-making authority. How can you effectively manage planning activities, risks and issues, scope, timelines, and budgets if you are not given proper authority?
This is where I never stop being surprised when I talk with certain types of project managers who have sufficient years of experience but always coordinated work, they never actually managed up to the project constraints.
4. Project Manager as both the Project Manager and Team Manager
This combination is interesting. I have observed it only in few companies (software development) and I really liked it. The concept is that as a Project Manager you are responsible for both the project and people assigned to it (their career development, promotions, or rotations). I think this is cool because you have an opportunity to select people who will be working with you, have decision-making authority over the hiring process, and be directly responsible for the scope, budgets, and schedules. You are able to build a better bond with your direct reports and be able to evaluate their performance objectively. In my personal opinion, such type of role is very mature and helps project managers develop ownership for the people they manage and the outcome of the project as a whole.
As I have already mentioned above, many large organizations separate these roles: there is a place for the project manager, there is a place for the people manager or counselor and there is a place for the person who is fully responsible for the outcome of the project or product (program director, product manager, delivery manager, etc). And often people managers, counselors have no clue about how you perform in the project. They only collect feedbacks from your peer team members or senior supervisors in the project or program. This becomes a real challenge when you plan your promotion and next career steps.
5. Project Manager as a Stream Leader
Think of it as if you are a part of a large program with many different streams and you are given a piece of it, which you are responsible for and have to deliver. At this point in time, you are managing as per scope, budget, and schedule, you are responsible for the outcome and you are the “owner of your territory”. At this point in time, you might not have enough experience to manage the whole program, but it is a great start because you have your own field where you make decisions, plan, monitor, report and most importantly – you are held accountable.
I remember when I first joined IBM, I was still gathering experience and trying my skills with projects of larger complexity and size. You know, there is a difference when you manage 5 projects simultaneously with low or medium complexity and team size up to 5 people each, and when you manage 1 stream with 10 project managers reporting to you, a team size of 50 FTE + and your budget is around 5-10 million dollars. There is a difference when you are one of many PMs and when you are the one and only responsible and accountable.
One of the things I’ve always done right – I’ve always asked for my own “territory” – a project/program for which I will be fully responsible and accountable. Even though in the project you are never alone and you have many individual contributors, at the same time there is only one person who will be asked for when things start to fall apart. This kind of ownership is challenging but is very rewarding from a career perspective.
6. Project Manager as a “Jack of all Trades”
This might be applicable mainly for smaller companies when they need a “go-to” person and call it project management. The good thing about it is that there is an opportunity to learn a bit of everything on a high level: marketing, finance, procurement, project management, IT etc. Sometimes is it great because you can extend your knowledge and grasp an understanding of different areas, which will be very useful for the helicopter view. On the other hand, it is also true that you can be a “jack of all trades” and master of none.
7. Project Manager as a Program Manager
Sometimes you are hired as a Project Manager/ Senior Project Manager and your role will be to manage a Program. I personally see no concern about it as long as it is giving you experience and or well reflected on your salary level. Sometimes the company may not have such a position in its structure, but the role exists internally and can be performed. But again, the Program Manager in a smaller company may have to deal with totally different project complexity than in a larger company. Here it is important to not get too confident in your role and keep developing and increasing the complexity if not within one company, then in different corporations.
As you have already read above, there are different roles you may be asked to perform at the position of the Project Manager. However, the most important thing is WHAT you do, and not how the position is called. As long as you do what you love, as long as your role is challenging and lets you develop – you will be OK!
I hope this information will help you in your own career development, give you insights about which questions to ask when looking for a new role or when looking for a new project manager to join your team:) If you know someone who can benefit from this information, please share. If you have additional useful insights, please reach back, I’d love to learn from you too. Let’s support each other in our continuous improvement. Sharing is caring!
Nowadays there is a great variety of digital tools which help project managers and teams track their work, prepare different kinds of project information radiators and generate reports for key project stakeholders. In the IT corporate world you will probably have to work with the 2 most popular tools like Jira (Atlassian) and Azure DevOps (Microsoft). I had a chance to work with both of them, but in this article, I will tell you about Azure boards (ADO) and share useful tips which will make your life much easier 😁
How have I ended up using the Azure DevOps?
The first time I had to deal with Azure Boards was when I joined EY. The challenge I faced was that I had a new software development project to kick off 😲 and I had to learn ADO from scratch, absorb and implement new knowledge really fast. Time was crucial because if you don’t do a proper setup from the very beginning, later you may face many issues adjusting things, renaming stuff, or changing the structure of the whole board (trust me, you don’t want to spend your time like that 🙃). As you know, the later the change occurs, the more time-consuming and costly it will be.
Another challenge was that in that newly formed team no one had a chance to use ADO before, there was no specific standard or guidelines set yet on how to use it properly. So you can imagine that I had to take up a very responsible task – learn the tool asap, teach my team how to use it, define some baseline for them on how we were going to proceed going forward, then start using it as the projects progressed and continuously improve. Later it became much easier as more was learned, standards were applied across our department and we adjusted to the best practices which were shared later.
My journey to learn about ADO was amazing. I had to spend a few evenings on research and self education, apply the new knowledge in real project, learn by trial and error, communicate with many colleagues and learn from their experience and advice, check some courses on Udemy and internet etc. And the funny thing, believe me or not, I could not find much useful and structured information about ADO which would specifically be designed for Project Managers.
Now, after a year of using ADO, I have decided to share with you, my dear Project Managers and partners in crime, some useful tips and tricks about the tool. I’ll leave the technical side up to you on how to configure and apply my recommendations, but most importantly is that I will give you ideas. These hints are not only applicable for ADO, they are valid for Jira and other tools. Let’s get started 👉
Power is in the structure. What to consider at Backlog Level?
- On the backlog level consider the structure first. There are no strict rules which you have to follow when using Epics, Features or User stories. Combinations can be different: Epic- Feature-User Story; Epic – User Story; Feature – Epic – User Story. But you need to think and define with your team how you want to structure your backlog. Think about it with a top-down approach: the biggest chunks of work can be Epics with duration over multiple quarters, Features will be shorter and stretch over 1-2 months, User Stories have to be completed within 1 sprint. I used the following structure in my functional decomposition of the work: Epics – Features – User Stories.
- The naming convention for backlog items. In one of the Udemy courses it was recommended to define the naming convention upfront. I am so glad I took this advice and implemented this from the very start of the project. Why? Because as your backlog grows, it becomes more and more difficult to correlate User Stories with Features and Epics. If you have an Epic called “XXX”, the feature can be called: “XXX_YY” and the User Story can be called “XXX_YY_ZZ”. It will be also helpful when you create queries to generate information radiators, to filter specific information related to the work items. Believe me, I saved an enormous amount of time for myself and the team by implementing this from the very beginning. P.S. Make sure all your team members follow these naming convention rules or the whole effort will be in vain ☝
- Order and Priority column. I am a real prioritization machine. I do it myself and coach others to put everything in the order of priority (Epics, Features, User Stories). Backlog must always be a prioritized list of work to be done.
- Use start and target dates for epics and features. It will help you better plan when you plan to accomplish certain chunks of work and will use this information for release planning.
- Use the “Status” information column to reflect the state of each work item. Which Epics and Features are in progress or new, which are “under refinement” etc.
- Track the information about the amount of total “Story Points” and “Effort” (Sum of User Story Points) for each work item (on Epic, Feature and User Story level).
- “Sum of Tasks Original Estimate” and “Sum of Tasks Completed Work”. In ADO in column options, you have a roll-up column option. It is very useful to track the total amount of hours for each work item at every level. You can find more information under this link.
- “Assigned to”. This will help you track to whom the work items are assigned.
- I liked the column option for the “Progress by User Story” bar chart (as depicted in the picture above). It lets you see the progress status for each work item.
- I added the “Iteration path” column to be able to track which work item is planned for which iteration, quarter, or calendar year. The structure – is power 👌
What to consider at Sprint Level?
Once you have started with your Sprints Cycles, you need to ensure you have following configured use it.
- Sprint Goal. Do you and your team set a goal for each Sprint? If not yet – time to start. Product Owner will define what he or she wants you to accomplish, your team will tell you what they can commit. Once the Sprint backlog is negotiated over the Sprint Planning session, put your Sprint goal in writing and pin it on top of your Sprint dashboard.
- Sprint Capacity. Officially we have 8h workday. Of course, you understand, that nobody is productive 8h in a row. People take breaks, chat, participate in meetings and work on issues. On average the productive time for an effective team is around 6h. So if you do the math, you know that in a 10 days Sprint, the capacity for 1 team member is 60h. The maximum amount of work will be for this amount of time, if not less. And also we are all people, we get sick, we go on vacations, we tend to embelish the work we do. So you need to plan people’s capacity including their time off (planned and unplanned). Sprint Capacity is designed for that.
- Sprint Backlog. I had to ensure that the following is always considered:
- User Story Order and Priority. Sprint backlogs need to be prioritized too. If there are any blockers, your team needs to know what they absolutely must finish, which items are of low priority, and can be dropped or moved to another sprint.
- Use information radiators for User Stories: State (Active, In Progress, Done etc), to whom it is assigned, how many story points it is estimated, iteration path, tags.
- Sprint User Story Tasks.
- Consider things like how many columns will you have to reflect the flow for tasks and bugs. From status “New” to status “Done” there can be columns like “Ready for Test”, “In Test”, “Ready for UAT” etc.
- Think about information radiators on the cards for each task and bug which you want to be seen:
- Activated date
- Closed date
- Original estimate
- Remaining work
- Completed work
- Activity (testing, development, resolved reason (for bugs))
- Use tags
- Use styles to reflect different information with a different color (for example mark the card red if it is blocked)
- Use the “Work Details” option to be able to see how many hours are utilized for each team member and be aware of who still has some capacity or needs support.
As you have seen, there is a great variety of options that you can apply to manage the boards effectively, receive information faster, and act upon it without delays. I have prepared for you a small bonus in addition to this article 🎁 You can download it below. You will find there key project management tips from me which helped me and my team stay on top of things all the time.
I hope this information was helpful and you will be effectively using these tips and tricks in managing your Azure DevOps boards going forward. If you know someone who can benefit from this information, please share. If you have additional useful insights about ADO please reach back to me, I would love to learn about them. Let’s support each other in our mutual continuous improvement. Sharing is caring!
This time I’d like to share a secret of how me and my teams continuously improve, identify the root causes for the issues, effectively mitigate risks and adjust processes according to their needs. We owe this super power to Agile Retrospectives.
Even though this tool has proved multiple times its effectiveness in real life, I still observe team leaders and project managers who misuse or save time on it 😥. In this article, I will try to convince you to give it a try and derive from it a real value for your team, your department, and even your company💪.
Let’s start with “Why”
- PMBOK guide states that lessons learned should be gathered at the end of each project. From my own experience and work on many different projects, it is a little bit too late. Lessons Learned provide an awesome input for any similar projects which are in the pipeline (remember, that one of the recommended actions, when you start a new project, is to check if similar projects took place and check for the lessons learned). However, if it is done at the very end (IF is it done … from what I have observed in real-life projects, people rarely do it due to lack of time), imagine how’d you feel if you could have improved something already, if you have identified good practices much earlier. Maybe you’d have changed the history of your project 👆
- Imagine how much time you could have saved if you and your team identified immediately the root causes of the issues. There is a very high chance you could have avoided spending time again and again on the same topics, saved your time and the time of your team from facing the same old stuff.
- Your boss will be happy because he/she pays you to solve problems and not to come with them to them. When they see how you and and your team tackle issues and continuously improve, you’d become known as a professional “issue-handler” and “preventer” 😀
- Your customers will be happy because they will see that you learn from mistakes and avoid repeating them again. Nothing disappoints customers more than facing the same issues multiple times. Moreover, I have conducted retros with customers and teams together and it was amazing to see how this helps both sides to understand each other better.
- You can use it as a super-effective communication tool for team integration. It helps your team members to open up and communicate what goes well and what could be improved, enhance their cooperation, see what they have to face and where you, as a servant leader, can help.
- You and your team need to understand what went well. People also need encouragement and have a helicopter view of what works well. Make them realize it and appreciate each other’s contribution and effort for common success.
- If something really goes well in your team, it is an opportunity to enhance further and share with others. Sharing is caring. Also, you will earn yourself a bonus of being a leader who contributes to the success of the other teams and makes a contribution to the company you all work for.
- Agile retrospectives in Scrum are done at the end of each Sprint, so it is “hard-coded” into the process. In any other type of project or initiative, you decide how often you want to conduct them. But consistency is what transforms average into excellence.
To be honest, I have many more reasons to prove why retro sessions are so important, but if those above are sufficient for now – keep reading 😉
What are the key considerations when planning for retro session?
- Set the stage: It is very important to prepare a short agenda for the retrospective session and share it in advance. People need to be prepared to what is about to come, especially if you do it for the first time. Later, when everyone gets used to such types of meetings, it will be smoother and less preparation will be needed. These sessions will become your team’s “second nature”. The example of such agenda can be as simple as setting an objective (Sprint XX retrospective, Project milestone XX retrospective etc), time-boxing and sequencing the activities such as collect the input from team members (15 min), group ideas (5 min), vote (10 min), discuss and define action items ( 30 min).
- If you want people to play by the rules, you need to explain the rules. Usually the process looks like this:
a) Input: you ask participants to provide their inputs. I personally do it in advance, so that people have time to think. If you wish, you can do it during the retro itself and dedicate 10-15 minute to collect the inputs.
b) Grouping: review the board and group similar inputs.
c) Voting: ask your team members to vote for the topics they think are most relevant (it is neccessary to prioritize topics, if time allows you can cover even all of them).
d) Action: define what will be the next action item for each topic you discussed and put it in your backlog, in to do list or into your plan. Scrum recommends to identify 1 top priority action point and take in into the next Sprint. I personally try to work on each action item but allocate it wisely to consider timelines and priorities.
- Keep it simple with 3 standard columns: 😊what went well, 🤦♀️what went wrong, and ✔what is the next action item. Sometimes, I add an “idea” column so that people feel free to submit their ideas for any improvements.
- Keep it anonymous. It takes courage to say openly what does not work. And it takes courage to accept the mistakes. But it also takes time till team reaches such a state, that they speak openly about goods and bads.
- Act upon each identified action item. Look, it makes sense to conduct retros if you are going to do something about topics discussed. So make sure the action items from retros are actually done and implemented.
Are retros only for agile projects?
Of course not😎 I’ve been conducting retros for already more than 2,5 years in different projects and my only wish is that I have learned about them earlier. I used retros during complex cloud infrastructure migration project and we conducted lessons learned sessions every 2-3 weeks, even though it was not a software development project. But regularly conducted sessions helped us improve the migration process and productivity up to almost 30%. I conducted retros on a regularly 2-weeks basis with my scrum teams. I also had retros on a regular monthly basis with my team, where we had kanban. I recommended the approach and conducted a session within the Project Management community at EY when we had to look back and see what worked well, what did not, collect ideas and identify action items. As you can see, if you know how to retrospect, you can apply it to many initiatives within and outside your company and derive value immediately.
What tools can you use to conduct retros?
Nowadays there are so many free and paid tools, that you don’t have to worry about any specific one. Tools I have worked with and can recommend I list below. Many applications offer a great variety of features which help you be very effective and productive during retro sessions. One of the #projecthacks is that you can export the retro inputs into a word file or pdf, distribute them to additional stakeholders, and store them as part of the project documentation. Imagine how valuable it could be in the future?!
- Retrospective extention in Azure DevOps (I loved this one❤)
- Easyretro.io. Just a nice one.
- Mural.co. It is in general a great tool to get familiar with. I conducted couple of workshops with it and must say – I am impressed. It has dot voting feature, many templates including the one for retrospective session and will come in handy in general.
- MS Teams Planner or similar solutions (Trello). Even if you are limited with available tools within your company, you can use MS Teams planner or Trello, create famous 3 columns for retrospectives, provide access to your team and voilà.
Any good books to read?
I’d like to recommend 2 books 📚 on the topics, which might be helpful to cover the theory. But I personally advise you to start putting your new knowledge from this article into practice and decide now when you want to schedule your first retro if you don’t have it yet. You will be amazed by the output.
Book 1 “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” by Esther Derby, Diana Larsen and Ken Schwaber”
Book 2 “Improving Agile Retrospectives: Helping Teams become More Efficient” by Marc Loeffler.
I hope this information was useful and you will be effectively using retrospective sessions in your projects. If you know someone who can benefit from this information, please share. If you have additional useful insights about retrospective sessions and interesting ideas, please share, I would love to hear about them. Let’s support each other in our continuous improvement. Sharing is caring!
Getting certified. Why even bother? 🤷♀️
During the last couple of years, I added management of software development projects to my portfolio of skills . This is where knowledge about Agile came in handy. What is more, I am lucky to have a diverse experience. During one of the projects, I had an exciting opportunity to lead a very mature software development team, who became a role model of trust, cross-functionality, maturity, and agility. During another project – I took up the responsibility of building, leading a development team, and coach them in scrum adoption almost from scratch. So when I decided to prepare for the Scrum Certification, the goal was to kill 3 birds with one shot:
1. Validate the knowledge and experience I already had ☝
2. Gain new knowledge by doing extensive reading and research on Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, etc 📚
3. Continuously improve, experiment in real-life projects, and see what works well and what does not 🛠
It was an amazing research and study journey, I would like to encourage you to take this exam as well and would like to share some useful tips.
Getting certified as Professional Scrum Master: 3 key considerations
If you decide to take a Scrum Master certification, you will have a choice of 2 organizations: Scrumalliance.com and Scrum.org. In short, Scrum Alliance requires you to take a course first, as a prerequisite before you can approach the exam itself (this is part of their offering). Scrum.org recommends a course but does not put it as a requirement. Scrum.org exam for PSM I (Professional Scrum Master level I) costs 150 USD, and Scrum Alliance CSM (Certified Scrum Master) both course and exam costs 880 EUR. What is more, the Scrum.org examination is said to be a bit more difficult – 80 questions, 60 minutes, to pass you need to score a minimum of 85%. Scrum Alliance – 50 questions, 60 minutes, and 74% passing score.
I opted for the option offered by Scrum.org and here is why:
- Cost considerations. I can prepare on my own, take as much time as I need, and dig as deep as I want. The amount of knowledge I need wight not be covered in any of the 2 days training course, however well explained.
- Goal to get certified. Some people just need a certificate fast. They might not have much time to invest in preparation, or they need a very high-level understanding of the concept. Which is absolutely OK. As for me, I knew I wanted to understand better and in detail.
- Complexity. Many people will tell you that the passing score of the Scrum.org exam is quite high, you have less than 1 minute to answer 1 question (80 questions for 60 minutes). I didn’t want an easy solution. If it is easy, why bother?
The structure which ensured me a success story
Now, if you still want to get certified, I will share some useful hints about what to start with and how to gather a significant amount of knowledge on your way. Moreover, I have prepared a cheatsheet for you with links and recommendations of useful videos, books and tests. You will be able to download it below in the artickle for free.
Here is my high level structure while preparing for any examination:
- Read the material. Understand and clarify the unknowns.
- Do a significant amount of testing. Identify your knowledge gaps and understand why you make mistakes.
- Read, research, and learn more.
- Repeat testing and re-testing.
- Take the exam and go celebrate🙂
- Start with the Scrum Guide. Download it here https://scrumguides.org, print it out, and read it attentively multiple times. In a few sources, you will see the recommendation to read the Scrum Guide couple of times – at least 4 or 5. In the beginning, I did not get it – why shall I read simple 19 pages so many times? I got the idea after doing the tests and also after I was implementing Scrum in practice and noticed some topics I could not find quick answers to. I used Scrum guide as a reference for help and Scrum Forum as a reference for my open questions (this one is really good if you know to use it😎). So yes, read the Scrum guide and make sure you make your notes/highlights of key elements.
- Ideally, while reading I recommend having a high-level picture in mind of what the Scrum framework is comprised of. Then decompose it into smaller elements and investigate each of them. Here is a link to the video: https://youtu.be/IAOTrBsJsoU. It gives a good overview structure and helps understand the major elements: Scrum roles, events, artifacts, and rules.
- How can we truly understand something if we don’t understand key terms and naming conventions? This is where you go to the scrum glossary and make sure you understand the terminology https://www.scrum.org/resources/scrum-glossary. What do you do if you still don’t get it? No problem – you can search for better explanations in the scrum forum, on Youtube, on the internet, or ask a colleague (NB: whatever questions you might have, feel free to reach out to me, I will be more than happy to help).
- If you are new to Scrum or want to get a little bit more knowledge of the concept and history, there are 2 books I’d like to recommend. I really enjoyed reading them and I believe they add value. “Scrum. The art of doing twice the work in half the time” written by the co-creator of Scrum Jeff Sutherland. “Scrum, A Smart Travel Companion. A pocket Guide” by Gunther Verheyen.
- The useful part of any tests is that they make you actively remember what you learn. One thing is to read and think you know it, another thing is to test how well and how much you remember of what you have read and learned. This is why I absolutely love tests and recommend them – this is your active learning part.
- Many sources, as well as on Scrum.org, keep underlining: you have to do open assessments. Start with them: https://www.scrum.org/open-assessments/scrum-open. Do at least the Scrum Open, Nexus Open (read the guide as well), Product Owner Open, and Agile Leadership Open. Do the tests as many times as you need until you continuously score 100%. After some time questions will be repeating because the pool of questions source is limited. Don’t just learn the answers by heart, understand them instead, find in the book why that answer is correct and if you are not sure – go to the scrum forum and search there.
- During my preparation and research, I have found some cool tests available for free and of good quality. I will share them below in a pdf file, which you can download for free. In general, be careful with the test sources since there are tests that provide answers that are not consistent with the Scrum guide🤔
- I have found an amazing Scrum exam preparation course at udemy.com. It has over 240 tests available. I definitely recommend it. A reliable source, good revision of material. It will be available in the pdf, which I will share.
- For your convenience, I have prepared a whole “cheatsheet” of useful reading, tests, and videos which I went through myself while preparing for the exam. You can download it for free below.
Reading and learning more
- While doing tests I bet you made mistakes. Don’t leave them alone. If you want to have a good understanding, you need to understand why you made those mistakes.
- For each mistake make a screenshot and store it in OneNote, Evernote, or whatever tool you use for making notes. Making mistakes is a great learning opportunity and shows where you lack knowledge or experience. You can revisit them later and cross-check again.
- Each mistake indicates where there is a gap in knowledge. Try doing some research on that, read some articles or books in addition to the recommended sources. it will broaden your perspective.
Testing and re-testing
- Keep doing the tests, keep marking, and reviewing your mistakes.
- The actual exam will take 60 minutes. You need to check if you can handle it. In the exam “cheat-sheet” I provided for download, you will find links where you can do full scope testing with timing.
Pass the Exam
- Take the exam with a fresh head. I did it on a beautiful Sunday morning. You probably already know that you can take the exam online and you can do it at any time convenient for you and at any place you like – from home, from the office, even from the seaside😉
- Registering for the exam is easy. All you need is your payment card. Here are your steps:
- Go to Scrum.org and make sure you are registered there, if not yet done – do so.
- Go to certification and select Professional Scrum Master.
- Choose PSM I assessment and click buy.
- Fill in all required details.
- It is said that you will be provided with a password within 1 business day. For me, Business day means a working day, so I was just about to be upset because I purchased it on Friday evening. Lucky me, I got the password in less than 1 hour on the same day. You will receive a password via e-mail.
- Now, select a day and time and prepare your computer (NB: if you can, it is better to use your private PC, because if you use your work PC, some firewall ports might block your connection to the website of scrum.org).
- Grab a coffee, make sure your phone is off and nobody interrupts you for the next 1h.
- Login to Scrum.org account and navigate to PSM I Start Assessment page.
- Click the Start Assessment button in the middle of the page.
- Enter the given password and GO. You have now 60 min to answer all 80 questions.
I hope this information was valuable for you and will help you in your journey for Scrum Master Certification. If you know someone who can benefit from this information, please share. If you have additional useful insights or questions for me – feel free to reach out, I’d love to hear about them. Let’s support each other in our continuous improvement. Sharing is caring!
It is a widespread belief among employers, recruiters, and employees that people who change jobs frequently make an impression of “job-hoppers”. This opinion makes many people stick to the jobs they hate or continue to coast in their comfort zone.
I do not agree with this general belief and I would like to present my subjective view on this topic, based on my own experience and objective facts and research, that prove that changing jobs tremendously boost our careers and benefits both the employee and the employer.
Understanding the difference between “job-hopping” and job change
This is one of the best questions to ask: how often is too often? Personally, I think the answer will largely depend on each individual, their approach to their career, and character. But during my research, I discovered a few facts which are worth mentioning in this article. I will let you digest these facts on your own.
It is generally considered OK to change job every 1-3 years. When people change jobs every 3-9 months, it might raise at least 2 red flags for the recruiters:
First red flag
When jobs aren’t clearly related, potential employers might find it hard to understand what your true interests are. It may seem like you are still searching for your calling and don’t know what you actually want and where you want to develop. The company might be reluctant to invest money and time into your onboarding knowing that you might leave in a couple of months.
“No matter how often you change jobs, your job history should reflect clear professional interests and expertise”.Source: hercampus.com
Second red flag
Staying at jobs less than 1 year might indicate that you are not dedicated enough to your professional development and challenges 👆, which rise with the new job. Staying with the employer for at least as long as 1 year may show that you took some effort to understand the specifics of the company and the job itself.
Interesting research has been done by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams for hbr.org where they have outlined the most common job-change mistakes. I highly recommend you to read this article as it gave me and will give you interesting insights about what we need to pay attention to when we are changing jobs. This will help mitigate the risk of being forced to change again 😉
What does the research say about actually changing jobs?
Before I jump into my own experience and share with you a few eye-opening insights, let’s have a look at some research data and facts.
Firstly, Forbes.com published interesting research about why successful people change jobs more often. It is observed, that the more an employer tends to hire people who have spent years in a previous job, the less good that employer can do for your career. The real value of the individual at work is to be measured by accomplishments and not the years they have spent with the organization.
Secondly, if the company does not grow fast enough, it simply won’t be able to present you with new experiences and challenges. The companies that move and change slow, often drown in bureaucracy and, often useless, processes. Even worse, they pull you down with them. And you, instead of dedicating your time and energy to new ideas, business development, and improvements, learn the great new skill of “following the process” 🥱
Unfortunately, the following is true for big companies:
“The majority of large organizations treat people as a resource only, as if “human element is completely removed from their business result”.Source: forbes.com
Research underlines that staying with the same organization for too long makes you lose touch with the outside world, makes your “brain go to sleep” because you get into your comfort zone and don’t take up the new challenges. The same is highlighted in Businessinsider.com in the article “7 reasons to change jobs, even if you don’t want to”. The reality is that many people tend to start coasting, once they found comfort in their lives.
“The longer professionals coast, the more they have to lose”Source: businessinsider.com
And finally, when you change jobs – you will get better at evaluating future employers, and every time you change – you re-define your value personally and professionally 🙂
How changing jobs impacted my development – my experience revealed
I have changed jobs multiple times, actually 5 times over the last 7 years. Some changes were caused by the need to change the city or country, but most of them were caused by the need to develop, increase the salary (because I was underpaid), or change the position. Now when I look back at all those changes, I have reflected on them and came up with important insights 😮 Maybe they will help some of you to take your career development into your own hands and act upon it, opt for more challenging roles, stop coasting and stay open for a change.
Changing jobs helped me:
1. Re-define my role and make a better match between what I love to do and what my employer wants me to do
I love my profession and what I do. I love to manage and take full responsibility for my teams, the business I am entrusted to develop and enhance, the customers I serve. But each company defines the roles which would fulfill such needs in their own specific way. When I started – it was a long journey to get experience and fine-tune what I wanted and loved to do with what I was hired to do. Changing jobs helped me understand from different companies’ perspectives how the role can be defined and which role fits my needs best. If I had worked for just one company, I would have still believed that project managers focus only on timelines, scope, and budgets.
What is more, very often organizations are not able to cover all the aspects of your profession. For example, in one company I used to work for, I did not have the responsibility to manage the budgets, even though I wanted to. For a project manager, this is one of the key aspects. So, you must grow and continue to acquire skills independent of your employer.
2. Get a better position
In my IT experience, I have never worked in small companies, mainly in international corporations. The painful truth, which many people know and discuss among themselves, is that it is easier and faster to leave the company and come back (if you want to, of course), rather than investing time into trying to get a promotion internally. Very often you end up working at the same position on a trial period for the new role for some time when the new hire gets all at once – better position and better money.
3. Increase my salary
You might be surprised now when reading it, but money is a secondary priority for me. It is a tool for exchange, not a goal itself. And this is not because I have rich parents or inherited something, that I don’t put money as priority. I do not. This is because I know I am a professional, that I invest into my development and if others can see it, they will pay me my worth. Until know – money has always come together with the interesting job offer.
From personal observations, when people work in the same companies for years, their incremental salary increase is lower than if they changed the employer. Sometimes the difference is 20-30% or more. Numbers don’t lie as well: if you earn now, say, 5000 USD at the current position, and another company offers you, say, 6000 USD. Every month, which you keep working in the old company, you lose 1000 USD. Think about that 😉 That’s 12k per year!
One more argument to support this opinion. In any company – big or small, there might be a limit of how much money they are ready to pay. If you reached that limit, you might stay as you are for a long time or be pushed to change.
So yes, changing jobs benefits you financially to greater extent than as if you stayed with the same employer.
“You start with a base salary and your annual raise is based off of a percentage of that number. There’s a limit to how high your manager can increase your salary.”
4. Get a richer corporate and organizational experience and awareness
Each change gradually enhanced my experience. Step by step I gained a better understanding of how organizations function, what processes they have, how they make business, how they operate, and what type of culture they are building. This is a huge bonus to my already existing portfolio of skills. Now, when I join a new company, it is a matter of weeks, if not days, to figure out what is what and make my next steps in new job.
I have many colleagues and friends, who are not so keen on opting for a change. Some sit 9 or 15 years in the same company. This becomes a dangerous trap because the world and the environment in which we live nowadays changes rapidly. Skills, which we obtained 5 years ago, are no longer valid today or are re-defined. Take the example with Agile: it used to be applicable only for software development projects, but now due to such a hype around it – even those PMs who used to be very “inflexible” to changes, need to learn new skills and apply them in the new reality. I see how managers and employees, who sit in companies for years, don’t even have a slight understanding of what is changing and still try to fit Agile under their own understanding (in the best case). Worst case they keep ignoring it and they don’t dedicate even the smallest amount of time to read and understand what is going on.
5. Learn that the official job titles and descriptions do not accurately reflect the role
A certain level of disconnect will always exist and no one will help you understand what the actual roles are unless you try it. This is a trial and error method. But this lesson helps ask the right people better questions and evaluate the future employers better 😉
I hope this information was useful and it will help you look at the job change from a wider perspective. If you know someone who can benefit from this information, please share. If you have additional useful insights about career planning and job changes, please let me know I would love to hear about them. Let’s support each other in our continuous improvement. Sharing is caring!
I love to share interesting insights from my own life and work from the perspective of the Project Manager, especially when it is based on real hands-on experience. This time I decided to write about face-to-face conversations with team members.
How have I ended up having 1×1 with the team members?
The responsibility to conduct 1×1 conversations came when I changed the employer. For me, it has not been just a change of workplace. Now, when I look at it from the 2-year perspective, I realize that it made a major impact on me professionally and personally.
- 🥇 It added additional experience to my portfolio of skills. I used to work as an infrastructure project manager and I changed into agile project management and software delivery.
- 🎯 It shifted my focus to people and even better customer collaboration.
- 🎁 It adjusted my area of responsibility.
Once I started to conduct 1×1 meetings with the team, it has become an eye-opening experience for me. The thing is that without such conversations (formal or informal) the (project) manager lives in a vacuum, without proper access to project life behind the curtains (especially now, when we all work from home) and without any insight into what is going on “on the ground”, how people really feel and what challenges they face. If you do not see or know the real picture, you are blind in the field, meaning you might see only one side of the story…
Today, it does not matter in which company I work, whether having face-to-face conversations is one of my direct responsibilities or not, I keep having them, I keep asking my team members what is going on with them, give feedback and help them improve. They help me in return – by showing where I can do better as a leader and where steps are needed to make the project or product a success.
Why should you start having regular face-to-face conversations with your team members now?
Here are a couple of reasons why you should plan and conduct regular 1×1 sessions with your team members. If this helped me, I am sure this will help you too.
- You will connect with people personally. Managers shall not be the unreachable, always-busy “stars”, who have no time to speak to their employees. They absolutely must show interest in people. Your employees should know that you are available and can come to you to discuss any important feedback or concern. This builds mutual trust. You, as a manager, will know better who you work with. People are not soulless resources who like robots have to work 24/7. These are your employees, with their own lives, problems, and wishes. So if you want them to respect you, first you have to respect them.
- Face-to-face conversations provide an excellent opportunity for feedback. I have noticed that in many corporations feedback is less personal, it is more like “just say something nice”. And people often say good things, more than mentioning the areas for improvement. When you connect individually you can provide actual feedback to a person, with some real examples, and listen to what this person has to say. We know that giving publicly negative feedback is not acceptable anymore, so giving it during 1×1 is something very useful. If you need some insights on how to give feedback, here is my article with useful hints: https://anastazjamichalak.com/feedback/
- You can track actual progress from feedback sessions. I personally have helped multiple people over our 1×1 sessions to adjust their behavior, shared with them my observations, listened to their side of the story, and helped develop an objective view of the situation. We together have set goals for enhancing the desired behavior and reducing the undesired. Isn’t this amazing? I wish I had such sessions in my time!
- Team members give insights into the health of the team and the project. Different nations and different people behave in various ways. Sometimes you keep thinking all is great until you speak to one of your employees to realize that you were simply blindfolded. Behind a normal situation in the team, there might conflicts and misunderstandings, and a lot of mistakes.
- You have a chance to make a real impact. In many agile books, international studies, and research articles it is underlined how important it is to match what people like and want to do with the job opportunity and responsibilities. This may significantly impact the job satisfaction among employees, help build strong teams and reduce the % of the personnel turnover. The best tool to do that is to have 1×1 conversations, learn how the employee wants to develop, and help build the development plan and match it with the opportunities in the project or company in general.
There are many more reasons why 1×1 sessions are so useful and helpful, but I hope I managed to cover the most important ones😉
Steps you can take now and get immediate results.
I can provide multiple arguments to back up my opinion about 1×1 sessions. But I believe that if I give you a few exact recommendations about how to get results now, you will be able to act and derive the value immediately.
So, what is important to know, in order to make those 1×1 meetings valuable?
- Have the 1×1 conversations at least once a month.
- Be honest. About good things and about bad things. If you are faking it – your team members will know it and you will lose their trust forever.
- Create an open environment. Make sure that it is safe to talk about things. Follow the rule “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”.
- Don’t make the meeting look too formal. Remember – easy and open environment.
- If you decide on something together over those sessions, make sure there is an action plan and it is followed.
- Never promise something you can not make happen. It will undermine your manager’s credibility. Never!
- Truly and deeply care about people. If someone is asking for help or support – check what is it that you can do to help. The 1×1 meetings are not just for you to gather input and give feedback, but also for your employees to share, get support and see the value of those meetings.
As you can see, 1×1 meetings are very helpful and they are crucial. Nothing can be better than seeing that your methods work and bring value.
What results have I achieved by practicing 1×1 meetings with the team?
I managed to achieve some amazing results in my work and I’d love to share a few of them here. You can make a difference too💪!
- I coached some team members to resolve conflicts with other team members.
- I coached my teams on customer collaboration.
- I managed to understand the root cause of some team member’s behavior and act upon that.
- I helped a couple of team members to ensure they make their work visible and convinced them why it was important for future promotion and visibility.
- I coached the team members to speak up more during group meetings and be confident that their opinion mattered.
- Through one-to-one conversations, I was able to better influence individuals when I planned a major change in the projects and I needed support to make it happen and have their buy-in. (P.S. This is a powerful tool, but be careful 👆 with using it).
I hope this information was useful and it will help you manage your work even better from now on. If you know someone who can benefit from this information, please share. If you have additional useful insights about 1×1 conversations with the team, please share, I would love to hear about them. Let’s support each other in continuous improvement. Sharing is caring!
Project Managers make sure that plans get executed and others do their job – on time, according to agreed quality, and within scope. They keep a helicopter view of how the project is performing inside and outside. But even though nowadays they have powerful tools for planning and tracking other people’s work like Jira, Azure DevOps, Trello, there are still numerous individual micro activities that have to be tracked somewhere. At first sight, those activities might look simple and insignificant, but if checked and executed on time help us create a professional image of ourselves. Activities like: “Check if the invoice has been submitted by customer”, “Make sure the new colleague was provided all accesses”, “Complete internal training”, “Prepare product demo presentation for the new client”. These are our own individual tasks and adding them to the planning tools will be complete overkill. So where do we keep them? In our heads? In our project plans? On Paper? Or maybe in One Note?
Many times have I observed how my colleagues chaotically wrote To-Dos on sticky notes, on paper pieces, or in some word documents, which later never got sorted out and got forgotten. For quite a long time I myself made use of Outlook reminders, flagged my mails, and used my best friends at hand: pen and paper. Until I started to use the Microsoft To-Do application. Time to digitalize as well 😎 I absolutely fell in love with the product, and whenever I recommend it to my colleagues, they love it too.
Why should you give it a try?
- it is accessible both from your PC as well as your mobile phone
- it is free of charge
- it is available at hand everywhere, whenever any idea comes to your mind and you can capture it before it flies away
- it has a simple design, it is easy to use, and it is convenient
- anyone can use it for their own good to keep themselves organized and never forget things.
As a Project Manager, I got convinced with my own experience how this app helps me manage my work better. I am going to share with you a few life hacks to make your Project Manager’s life easier too. If you are not a PM, you will discover a few ideas on how to become a better-organized person🙂
#Lifehack No.1 External Storage
Take it all out of your head and keep it in one place. Use your head for ideas and for information processing, it is not to designed to be used as storage. Create Lists and List Groups in Microsoft To-Do to store any To-Dos for yourself or others. I recommend having a structure. How do I do it? I defined major areas where I get involved. These areas I define as Groups. Each group I can divide into sub-categories as Lists. If I have 3 projects to run at the same time, I will have 3 different group lists where I will add different lists sorted by topic.
You can make it even easier by simply using Tasks and adding all your To-Dos there.
Groups and Lists can be used for anything: create shopping lists, dream lists, ideas lists, topics to study and research, track home assignments, or track your tasks if you participate in any volunteering activities. The world is yours🙂
#Lifehack No.2 Sharing Is Caring
I absolutely love this option. You can invite anyone to collaborate in Microsoft To Do and have access to your list.
How do I use it? I have 1×1 calls with some team members, I have a mentee, I have a mentor, I have a boss. With each of them, I have a shared list. If anyone wants to add a topic for discussion or action point, we both can add there and tag a @person who has an action item. Isn’t it cool? We are aware of what we agreed to do and we make sure these things get done, and not just discussed. That is the secret of progress.
And all this can be done with one click – by clicking on the “Add” button to create a collaboration link. Moreover, you can customize the List name and even add a nice icon to it. You know, to foster the collaboration with visualization.
#Lifehack No.3 Get It Done
You will absolutely love it. For any task created you can add steps required to complete it, notes, attachments. Most importantly you can add to it a reminder and due date. So when the time comes to control the execution or request anything important for the project on time – you will not forget. Remember to enable notifications, so that even if you forget to check your To-DOs, they will not forget you!
#Lifehack No.4 Top Priorities
I love priorities. Effective Project Managers always know what their priorities are. Daily I identify 4 or 5 topics, which absolutely must get done and ensure they get done by the end of the day. Simply speaking, this is my 20% of effort which brings 80% of the result. I can mark it with the “star” if I want to mark it as important.
The option I use – I add the priority to “My Day”. You should try it too. If I mark too many things as important, I may get lost. When I add to “My Day” only priorities – it keeps me focused. Moreover, it indeed brings satisfaction to mark the important tasks “Complete” at the end of the working day. I have a feeling of actual achievement and I know – my work for today is done. I am not drowning in the endless flow of tasks or priorities of others and I don’t need to stay overtime 🙂
#Lifehack No.5 Outlook Know-How
If your company officially uses Microsoft To Do, then it might be already integrated with your Outlook. And any flagged e-mail – is added into “Flagged e-mail” section in the application. Try it once, no more browsing through e-mails in search for all important ones.
I hope this information was useful and it will help you manage your work even better from now on. If you discovered other interesting ideas on how to use the app or know someone who can benefit from this information, please share. Let’s support each other in continuous improvement. Sharing is caring!
Many books are written about leadership and leadership qualities and about how to be a leader, but you will never know what it is really like until you actually start performing the role of a leader and until you start acting like a leader.
In my experience I have made several observations – as a person who has been following leaders and as a person, who has been a leader herself and knows what it means to be followed. And I have made couple of observations.
- It is easy to follow because somebody has already selected a direction for you and the team. You don’t have to think much – you just do what you are told. Of course, you choose the way you will do it and you can raise your hand to make adjustments.
- It is not easy to be followed. Here you, as a leader, have to set a direction. And here you have to think – think about what is best not for yourself, but for the people for whom you select the direction. You need to take into consideration many different factors – strategy, goals, results and meaning for why you select the strategy, which you are going to pursue. And you need to be able to convince your people ( team, colleagues, friends) that what you think is good will be good for them too. You have to be able to sell your idea with the needed level of authority, so that people will be ready to follow you, trust and believe in it.
- You need to know what you want – both at work and in private life. If you don’t know what you want, you will always follows those, who know what they want and you will be implementing what they want.
- With leadership role comes responsibility. You can decide whatever you think is best, but remember that you will be held responsible for that. You and only you. There is no other person or circumstances, which you can blame. This is why it is easy to follow – you can always blame something or someone else. But if you are a leader – it is you who is held accountable. So you think twice. Think slow, decide fast.
- For the followers it is easy to complain about the leader and say they know best. But often, the minute you give them the right to decide and take leadership in their hands and be accountable for that – they back off. I made my own experiment in one of the project I led. And the outcome confirmed the expectation – sometimes, those who think they know better, rarely actually do better.
Did you experience the same challenges when you became a leader? Was the leadership role assigned to you or did you take matter in your own hands and started acting like a leader? Are you a natural leader or did you have to learn the leadership skills?