Facilitating Productive Meetings with Rich Maltzman and Jim Stewart

“Ironically, a lot of these planning meetings are about planning a very well directed project, but often not a lot of time or preparation goes into planning for the meetings.”

If you’re a Time Limit listener, you’re likely stretched for time. And that means everything can feel rushed. But if there’s anything you can learn from this episode, it’s that taking the time to plan your work and your meetings will save you time--and anxiety--in the long-run of your projects. In this episode, we interviewed Rich Maltzman and Jim Stewart, co-authors of the new book How To Facilitate Productive Project Planning Meetings. In this focused conversation with two very experienced project managers and educators, a variety of topics around managing meetings is covered:

  • Common barriers PMs face when creating plans
  • The need for empathy, and its new inclusion in the PMBOK
  • Helpful meeting facilitation tactics
  • How to handle meeting “goblins”
  • Tips to facilitate remote meetings
  • How to pull a plan together even if you don’t have the time for a planning meeting

Resources mentioned in this episode:

About our guest


Rich Maltzman, PMP
Co-founder of EarthPM, LLC, Senior Lecturer at Boston University

Rich Maltzman, PMP, started his professional career in 1978 as an engineer at what is now Nokia after receiving a BSEE and MSIE degrees. His PM career started in 1988 as a PM Director and included a 2-year assignment in The Netherlands in which he built a team ofPMs for telecom deployments in EMEA. He has directed large projects (1996 summer Olympics telecom) and finished his career with 15 years in Nokia’sGlobal PMO.

In his PMO work, Rich has been responsible for the learning and professional advancement (career path, competency models, accreditation, credentialing, training) for about 2500project managers. In that role, Rich helped build a PM community by creating and organizing an annual International PM Day Symposium, Project Team of theYear awards and building corporate social media channels for project managers to collaborate.

Rich did a significant amount of PM consulting and teaching at Boston-area colleges and universities as well as medium and large businesses, including PMP® Exam preparation. He is the co-founder of EarthPM, LLC, a firm focusing on sustainable project management, and in that role is co-author of the book Green Project Management, the winner of PMI’s 2011 Cleland Award for literature, and has followed up with several co-authored books, including “Bridging the PM Competency Gap” and “HowTo Facilitate Productive Project Planning Meetings”.  Rich served as Vice President of Professional Development for the Mass Bay Chapter of PMI. He has presented (on invitation) on the topic of sustainability and project management at Project Management South Africa and for the Government of Malaysia, in Mexico, Costa Rica, and throughout North America. Rich has contributed to the latest two Editions of the PMBOK® Guide and the ISO21500standard. He is currently Senior Lecturer at Boston University, where he develops and teaches courses at the graduate level in Project Management and Qualitative and Quantitative Decision Making.

Jim Stewart, PMP, CSM, PMI-ACP, IC-Agile coach
Owner, JP Stewart Associates

After a long career in IT and as project manager, in 2003 Jim established JP Stewart Associates. Jim has been engaged in multiple endeavors including consulting, training and mentoring. A PMP since 2001 andCertified Scrum Master since 2013, he contributes by helping organizations increase their project maturity and best practices.

He has established PMOs for financial and cloud services organizations and provided best practices for several pharmaceuticals. Most recently he has been establishing portfolio management, mentoring and PMO for a software company near Boston. Jim also periodically provides PMP Prep training both in public and private in-house sessions.

Jim is on the Project Management advisory board of a training organization called MindEdge, Inc. and is co-author of the book,“Facilitating Project Planning Meetings: A Practical Guide to Ensuring ProjectSuccess.” He will be providing a one-day Intro to Agile workshop at Project Summit/Business Analyst World Boston in the fall.

Episode Transcript


Brett Harned:       Hi, welcome to Time Limit and thanks so much for listening. I'm your host, Brett Harned, and I'm just going to jump in and tell you that I'm pretty excited about this episode. My guests are Rich Maltzman and Jim Stewart and they just coauthored a really helpful book called How to Facilitate Productive Project Planning Meetings. I read the book within a couple of days and found myself nodding in agreement most of the time I was reading, but I also found some really helpful new tactics to use in meetings, which is awesome. That alone told me that I needed to get these guys on this show as soon as possible. Both of them have really amazing resumes and both have taught project management at respected universities.

Brett Harned:       Rich is the coauthor of PMI's Cleland's award-winning Green Project Management, so that's another one to check out. These guys are serious PMPs within an interesting and unique point of view about project management with a side of dad humor, which is a perfect match for me. So give it a listen. Hey, Rich and Jim, thanks so much for joining me on Time Limit today. How are you guys doing?

Rich Maltzman:      Good.

Jim Stewart:        Doing well. Thanks.

Rich Maltzman:      Great to be here.

Brett Harned:       Awesome. Good. Well, thanks so much for writing How to Facilitate Productive Project Planning Meetings. It's a really good book and I think it's full of really good advice and tips and tactics. And I love the war stories part too. It's really great. I'm curious, how did you guys come together to write the book?

Jim Stewart:        Let me take that one if I can, Brett. As a project manager of some years, my background is IT, but I've been doing projects on my backgrounds it, but I've been doing pharmaceutical projects with a customer who hired me to come in and do them. We ran a lot of these big two day meetings. After a number of years of doing that, I went to a colleague of mine and said, "I'm trying to think of writing a book." He said, "You know those meetings you do? I'd read that." Oh, okay. I have known Rich for a number of years and he'd been writing books with other people. I said, "Rich, how about if we'd write a book?" I described it to him. He said, "Yeah, good idea." So I'll take credit for that, but I will give credit to Rich for doggedly pursuing a publisher. That's how that came about.

Brett Harned:       Yeah, that makes sense. I think the idea of writing a book is always a daunting one, but writing a book with a partner sounds like a great idea. How was your kind of process for that?

Rich Maltzman:      Well, I'll pipe in there. Jim actually acted kind of as the project manager, I do some teaching. In teaching project management at the graduate level, I use the analogy that a project manager is kind of like the producer getting things out, and the director has a different role. Jim kind of acted as the director, making sure that I wasn't being too artistic and wanting to put more and more into the book. Actually, I think I have those roles reversed. Jim was really the director of project manager. I was the producer who wants to make the scene perfect. Jim would say, "Rich, you know, done is better than perfect," which is an excellent saying for project managers.

Jim Stewart:        Rich wanted to do the rock opera and I just wanted like a three minute song, so we came somewhere in the middle.

Rich Maltzman:      That's right. I would say that's a great analogy. Right.

Brett Harned:       I love that you use done is better than perfect because we use that very often at TeamGantt. It's like this idea of producing something you're really excited about, not letting it kind of drag you down into the nitty gritty at first and then just kind of seeing where it takes you.

Rich Maltzman:      Every book I've done, I've done with someone else and in almost every case, they have to take me out back and shoot me or the book won't get out. That's what Jim was very, very good at besides the content.

Brett Harned:       Yeah, the content is great and really the book kind of focuses in a couple of areas, but really it feels like meetings is like really the kind of meat of it. I'd love to kind of start and just kind of talk about plans because obviously our audience are mostly people who are leading projects, leading teams and creating plans is something that they're doing as a part of TeamGantt. I'm curious from your points of view, maybe if I could start with Jim, what do you think the barriers that PMs face in terms of creating plans?

Jim Stewart:        Oh, really good question. As you know, both Rich and I teach. We teach a lot of PMP and other things. The project management body of knowledge has a lot of the 24 processes and planning. So I tasted and there's a message being sent. And I asked them... I do my own informal polls. This is great about having students. What prevents you from planning? Well, one of the things is some of them don't really even know they have to plan. They probably spend more time planning their vacations than they do a project, but it's also that management won't allow them time to do it. I'll just end this and then turn it over to Rich on this. I have a book that showed two pictures, cartoons. One is the guy, the project manager, who is sitting in planning and the other guy's got fires going.

Jim Stewart:        Well, management likes the guy that fire's going because something's happening. He's setting his own fires and putting him out. Well, the guy is planning. What is planning? What's he actually doing? What am I paying them for? It's not an understanding of management or even project managers that they have to plan, and then they never are given enough time. Rich and I make that point in the book and the fact you'll eventually have to plan and it's worse if you're doing it during execution. I think it's a function of culture. I think it's a function of time.

Rich Maltzman:      Yep. I agree. I think also that when I hear that question, what barriers do you face as PMs when you're creating plans? The biggest one is the reason we wrote the book. You need meetings, like them, hate them, love them, regret them. You end up needing meetings. If you're going to plan, you need to do it as a group. You can't do it sitting by yourself in a cube or at a desk especially these days where you're remotely located. Plans require meetings because projects require people, and those people have to be together. One of the biggest barriers for creating a plan is the fact that you darn well have to have a meeting and we're there to try to help make the meeting a little bit more compelling, a little bit more meaningful and more helpful towards the plan.

Jim Stewart:        And it's a pleasant surprise when it's running well. Rich and I know, and you probably know as well, Brett, that people hate to go to meetings in part because they're so poorly run. If they go to one where there's well running, "Oh, this guy knows what's going on," it's as if you had to go to a... You found out your nephew was doing a music recital and said, I've got to go see him. That guy plays guitar like Eric Clapton. You go, "Wow, this guy is great."

Jim Stewart:        Same thing with the meeting. These guys are good at running a meeting. It's worthwhile coming to, so we're trying to get people to not only appreciate meetings but run them so people want to come to them.

Brett Harned:       I totally agree. Everything that you guys are saying, I'm sitting here nodding my head like crazy because there are so many barriers I think in place for a project manager to actually get in there and start getting the job done and preparing themselves for a lot of things that could happen or even go wrong on a project. I know in my experience, a big problem with trying to come up with an actual timeline or a project plan early on in the project is you just don't have enough information. A lot of times I can remember putting plans together and they'd be done piecemeal because I'd be relying on information from the team on tasks that they thought that needed to get done or different ways of approaching a problem and then talking to the stakeholders about the ways that they can impact the project and any barriers that they might kind of put in place.

Brett Harned:       And it can be really hard to get the attention of those people because they're busy. Often at the early planning stages of a project, they're busy working on something else. I'm curious if either of you have any recommendations on how a PM can really work to engage both the team and stakeholders to get those details early on so that they can actually create an accurate plan or a close to accurate plan.

Jim Stewart:        You want to take that one, Rich?

Rich Maltzman:      Sure. I think that the key to a successful project, and putting our book aside for just a moment, as painful as that is, the project has to be properly chartered. You don't necessarily have to have a three page precisely formatted project charter format. When I say chartered, I mean authorized by senior management so that people are... You're getting their attention because, "Oh, you're working on project R. I didn't want to be in that." You need the project to be properly charted. As far as getting people's attention, that's the key words here. How do you get people's attention? Because that's going to determine whether they come to your meeting, whether they pay attention, whether they're going to be a cynic in the back going, "Oh, this is never going to work." To bring them in with the proper attitude, you need to show them what's in it for them.

Rich Maltzman:      Whether that's just making sure their input is listened to at the beginning or whether they get to see what the project's outcome is going to mean for themselves personally, their career path, their organization. You really have to almost put yourself in the moccasins, sandals, shoes, Birkenstocks of your potential stakeholders and say, "Okay, I'm now the installation manager. What does this person, you know, Karen, what is she going to want to get out of this meeting?"

Rich Maltzman:      Those two things would be my piece here, properly chartering the project and authorization, recognition from senior management that this is real. This is an important project tied to the strategic goals of the company, hopefully, or the nonprofit. What's in it for your attendees and making that clear to them as you invite them to a kickoff meeting, let's say.

Jim Stewart:        And I would add one thing because people may have five projects that meet Richard's criteria. The other thing is to be where does this fit in the priority of things? Because people in organizations... The organization I'm working at now, everything is priority one. What happens is the people who are prioritizing the projects are the workers and they say, "Okay, if management won't give me direction, I will decide my priorities." When Rich and I come to them as project managers and say, "Okay, which of these other five should I give up?" If I really want mine to succeed, I have to get management to say this is your higher priority one.

Jim Stewart:        Some things aren't entirely under our control. We just stop pretending as project managers that if we're good guys and show up, everything will happen. We need sponsorship and we need senior management to get behind our projects and make sure it's the high priority one that they really want to get done, and that'll help. Otherwise, if we're the fifth priority, I don't care how swell we are, it's not going to happen.

Brett Harned:       That's so true. Rich, I know you put the book aside for a minute. I'm going to bring it back on the table.

Rich Maltzman:      Please. Please do.

Brett Harned:       The book offers some really direct and easy to implement guidance on how to facilitate project meetings, like meetings of all types. I know it's probably not easy for you to name just one of these, but do you have a go-to facilitation tactic that you think can help someone who's in any kind of meetings scenario?

Rich Maltzman:      I do. I think it's pretty straightforward and easy to implement one and just often overlooked. People say, "Oh, we're going to parking lot that." That means to take the idea that's being discussed. It seems a little off. It's a new thread. It's going to divert the meeting. The simple idea of physically getting a flip chart and there's nothing wrong with... We're so used to Facebook and social media and everything on a screen. There's nothing wrong with, and I'd say there's everything right, with the feel the sound, the touch of paper in a meeting room. You post a piece of paper and at the beginning flip chart or if you have a whiteboard that's fine and you say, you know, we're going to reserve this spot. If someone has a great idea and we don't want to lose it, I'm going to write it down on that board or maybe even invite them to write it down.

Rich Maltzman:      This simple idea of a flip chart, or here we're in New England, so I'll say it properly, flip chat, that you use as a ground rule. At the beginning of the meeting it's clear to everyone that I have an idea and I know this could divert the meeting. And some people have that power trip where they want to divert the meeting, which is going to our goblins, which we can talk about. But the fact that you can append that behavior by saying here's a place to record these things, they will get attention after the meeting, we'll send copies, maybe even photos these days. You can take a picture of that to everyone so that this is followed up on. So that's my one simple facilitation technique.

Jim Stewart:        Mine would be techniques so much as a mindset. If you're having a meeting, whether it's a half hour or an hour or a half a day, keep your goal in mind. Because what happens is if you say to yourself, okay, within this morning we're going to have this discussion, this decision, and these two artifacts that keeps you focused. You don't have to worry about where you're spending your time. If Joe or Mary are sidetracked in the meeting, you say to yourself, okay, I've just lost 10 minutes to these goals I have. Now, of course you don't have to be stupid about it. Somebody else might say those things that Joe and Mary brought up maybe are more important than what we had planned, and so you'd go with that. If they're not, you have to keep your focus in mind, your goal in mind, and make sure that you're getting to those goals. Otherwise what's happened in the book is all about this, not letting other people hijack your meeting.

Jim Stewart:        By the time you leave after an hour or two, whatever, you've got one of your four goals done. You had a lot of pleasant conversation also happen with people, also had some coffee and donuts, and you didn't get to your goal. So keep your goal in mind as your focus.

Brett Harned:       Yeah, I love that, and I actually had prepared a question about this and you've already mentioned it a couple of times. I loved the meeting goblin section of the book. I think it's probably because we've all either been the goblin or have been in situations where we have to handle the goblin. That person tries to kind of take over, and I think you offer some really good advice in the book about how to minimize bad meeting behavior even just supported by what you were just talking about, Jim. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you could set expectations going into a meeting to maybe get ahead of some of those issues and kind of squashing them before you get in a room together.

Jim Stewart:        I'd like to turn that one over to Rich because he created the goblin thing and maybe could start it and I can tack on at the end.

Brett Harned:       Perfect, sure.

Rich Maltzman:      I'm not going to jump right into the goblins because it's like any, since they're goblins, suspense thriller type movie. You have to build up to their appearance. They don't just jump out at the beginning of the movie. So you have to have some suspense. I would say to answer your question, Brett, directly about setting expectations this may come up in another question or in our conversation later, but the key is preparation. Planning for the meetings. Ironically, a lot of these planning meetings are about planning a very well directed project, but often not a lot of time or preparation goes into planning for the meetings. That's kind of the setup for the goblins and the set up a big part of our book. To that end, homework, and I know it's a dreaded word, I'll just say work done before the meeting is not something that's going to cause brain damage.

Rich Maltzman:      In fact, it will help prevent a lot of this goblinesque... Is that a word? Goblinesque behavior.

Brett Harned:       Now it's a word.

Rich Maltzman:      Trademark by Jim and Rich. For example, if everyone should have read something about... Let's say this is an architectural project and they should have read about the plot plan in the local area and the demographics of the customers in that area before they come to the meeting and it takes 15 minutes. Having 12 people spend 15 minutes before is going to save you all kinds of confusions, side conversations and again, goblinesque behavior because people are saying, well wait, why are we building this here? Well, you know why we're building it here. It's in the second paragraph of the reading that I asked you to do before. You know it's a little bit like homework in that if it's done well, you'll do better in the class, in this case, better in the meeting. As to the goblins, we have all kinds of them.

Rich Maltzman:      The book has a section on this. Our talks, since we've written the book have become even more... What's the right word? Flowery, elaborative on this. Just as an example, sometimes you just have a couple of people who are talking to each other in the back. You know, Mary and Kim, they're just talking to each other in the back.

Rich Maltzman:      This is a trick I actually learned from my daughter who teaches middle school. You just use what she calls macro body language. Instead of gesturing with arms and legs, facial expressions, she just slowly walks over to their area and stands near them and literally just approaching them. You don't say anything. They're like, why is he standing there? Well, he's standing there because I'm trying to get you to stop talking and it works like a charm. So that's an example of one of the solutions to one of the goblins, which I think is... I can't even remember the name of that one, but there's a whole array of bad behavior at meetings. We use these goblins to have a fun way to describe what has really been described to us by dozens of people.

Rich Maltzman:      We did research this not just from Rich Maltzman and Jim Stewart's massive experience in attending meetings, but we talked to many, many, many, many project management colleagues and got war stories from them. You said you liked the war stories part. The war stories yielded the goblins.

Jim Stewart:        And if I could take off from one of the other more difficult, I think, challenging goblins we have them called Nasties Naysayer. Now, I don't remember if I mentioned this in a book or not, but I mentioned it in a meeting, there's a guy in every company. His job is to go into every meeting, fold his arms and say, "It won't work." He goes home to his wife at night. She says, "What did you do today, Honey? He says, "I folded my arms and told five different projects they wouldn't work." So you get it. I'm kidding. By the same token, how do you deal with this guy or this gal? Somebody asked me that in that session. Well, I think first of all, we understand that maybe there's an issue with him, the way he has whatever causes him to be the way or her that way.

Jim Stewart:        I think there has to be, rather than a <inaudible>, there needs to be understanding and acceptance that Joe was always like this. We get it. Everyone in the company knows he's like this. So what do we do? The worst thing I think we can do is to bring him down. Joe brings up something, this will never work. I might say, "Hey everybody, Joe says this will never work. What do you think? Is this worth servicing?"

Jim Stewart:        Now we talk about it and they say, "Well, it's worth a try," et cetera. We're listening to Joe. We're hearing Joe out. We know he's a Nasty Naysayer, but we're hearing him out and listening to what he says. He's saving face a little bit. He's not being dissed, he's not being disregarded. We're discussing it. He might even turn around with it. If he does this continually, we then find other measures to deal with it, whether it's more discussion and more of that where people start turning him off. The worst case where I've seen maybe in the afternoon session, Joe isn't there anymore, he's got to play by the rules. I think the important thing is not to somehow, oh Joe, you don't know what you're talking about. You always say that. Treat him with respect, understand where he's coming from. You might even convert him, who knows, to some level. So I wanted to bring that one up.

Rich Maltzman:      I want to add to this, it's actually kind of important. It's perhaps a little bit more into the generic field of project management, but it does tie back to the meetings. If you've got, I think we call her Nancy Naysayer in your meeting, you could also think of this, and this is aging me a bit, but you could also think of Debbie Downer from SNL, Saturday Night Live. I don't know if you remember that.

Brett Harned:       Oh, I do.

Rich Maltzman:      This is a person you relish, you really want during your risk identification, especially your threat identification, because Debbie Downer is going to say, "Wah, wah, wah, that won't work, this won't work." Each time she speaks, she's identifying threats. Culturally, there's an interesting cultural thing here because I had two years in the Netherlands. One of the things I noticed about northern Europe is they have this easy to switch mindset where they can turn into pessimists and identify threat and then switch back to being optimists and get on with the project.

Rich Maltzman:      As an American, we're eternal optimists and we tend to think of negative comments as you know Debbie Downers, as people who are considered naysayers and [inaudible 00:20:34]. And yet you need them at this point. I think it's interesting to note that from my experience in the Netherlands, the two years there, they could sit there and say, "This project won't work because this, this and this." Then they'd say, "Okay, let's go get some snacks or beer." Let's go start this project. I can't wait to get started. Americans are going, Oh my God, I'm so depressed.

Brett Harned:       We take everything personally on some level, right?

Rich Maltzman:      We look at all those negative comments as anti-optimistic when they're actually focused threat identifications. You can say to this person at the meeting, and I think we mentioned this in the book, you can say your input is going to be exceedingly valuable when we get to threat identification, so hold that thought.

Jim Stewart:        Yeah, I think what you're saying is project management or leadership requires empathy, right? You can't take everything at face value. You have to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

Rich Maltzman:      Absolutely.

Jim Stewart:        If you're not doing that, you're not doing it right. Right?

Rich Maltzman:      That's right. That's a huge part. And I hope, and I think I can even effect, because I'll be in the seventh edition review team for the book, that emotional intelligence and psychology and even neuroscience will worm its way, maybe work its way... I'm not sure the end of that word work. I just think work its way sounds better into the PMBOK Guide more than just appendix X, which I think it is right now. It's just this little short appendix on emotional intelligence and leadership skills and so-called soft skills. It's very scientific. There's much more science to this than people think. I think I can tell from your attitude, Brett, and I know, Jim, that it's a huge portion of a good project managers work.

Brett Harned:       I agree. There's not enough discussion or education around it at this point, so I'm really glad to hear that it's going to worm or work its way into the PMBOK because I think that's really important. It's really social skills, soft skills. Empathy is really, in my opinion, a big part of being an effective project manager and a likable one at the same time.

Rich Maltzman:      Yes, yes. That's an underpinning concept in our book, so we didn't write it that way. We didn't want to scare people away and write a book on neuroscience. No, we wrote a book on... how-to book, how to run a productive project planning meeting. The underpinnings of it are exactly what we're talking about right now.

Brett Harned:       I agree. I definitely picked up on that and I'm picking up on that just in this conversation. I think another theme we're kind of touching on here or there is when you take the time to do proper planning and preparation, you save time later. While to a PM it might feel... or even an executive, it might feel like it's taking too long to pull this plan together, a timeline together. Really, if you aren't taking that time to do it early on, you're going to waste time later on because it's not going to be effective in helping you to manage the project. I think another theme that I kind of want to touch on there is preparing for remote meetings. For our listeners sake, we just had an experience leading up to this recording where there was a problem, a challenge with the calendar invite that I sent.

Brett Harned:       Then there was a little confusion over getting into Skype and how we would record and we started about 15 minutes early and we actually ended up starting recording about five minutes early because we met early and resolved the issues together. To me that's a thing. I usually have that time baked into these recordings, but it's a good thing to think about, what are the things that you need to take into consideration when you're preparing for or moderating a meeting? I think when you're doing it remotely, that adds another level. So I'd love to hear kind of your thoughts on that.

Jim Stewart:        Let me jump in on that one. I'm sure Rich can buttress it. We actually have a chapter in the book. There's actually a guy named... Wayne Turmel, is it, Rich?

Rich Maltzman:      Yeah, Turmel.

Jim Stewart:        Wayne Turmel. He wrote a whole chapter for us on a virtual setup. There's two pieces to what you said. The virtual implies technology. I've talked about... Maybe it's in the book again. I can't remember. I've gone to meetings where they were in person meetings and something like my wireless mouse wouldn't work. People in the meeting spent 15 minutes trying to fix that wireless mouse. I'd say forget the wireless mouse, we're going to just get down to the meeting. We say in the book, make sure the technology works in advance. Have the gotchas, have the IT people ready. We all know how to use Skype and Webex and everything by now.

Jim Stewart:        But, you know, we learned something about recording because we came on the call. Know the technology, have backup technology if you can, make sure that you know how to use the technology that generally speaking works and then have that, and then know what the right technology is to use.

Jim Stewart:        For example, one of the things that Rich and I talked about in the book is doing a work breakdown structure across the virtual connection. When I've done that before, it's been sort of a hit or miss, hold the camera up to here and there. Well, I just found out the other day that Microsoft... I haven't used it yet, so I'm not promoting it. Microsoft has a product called Mural, M-U-R-A-L. Somebody told me about it, one of my friends/colleagues and he said it's great. You bring Mural up on both sides. You have virtual sticky notes you can move around. Now that you can do something like that, now you've got the technology, it's working, everybody's engaged, you can share things.

Jim Stewart:        I think it's first making sure the technology works and if you have a backup, if it doesn't, you're not just sort of wringing your hands or you have IT people you can call. Secondly, knowing as always the right tool for the job. If you're just going to share screens, Webex or Skype might be fine. But if you're actually going to be functioning across the screens you need Mural or some other tool that will allow you to communicate across that with the understanding it isn't going to be perfect. That's my thought on it.

Brett Harned:       Absolutely.

Rich Maltzman:      Let me just add the name of the book. The author is Wayne Turmel and it's The Long Distance Leader and I think that's the full title about becoming a long distance leader. We'll provide, of course, a link for you. We want to thank Wayne for helping us because that's his area of expertise and that's one of the other principals here. Someone knows stuff better than you, defer. Defer. Handoff. You don't need to be in charge of everything.

Brett Harned:       That's great. It's really good advice that I think a lot of people unfortunately don't take. I think a lot of times project managers feel like they need to be the end-all, be-all or they won't look good.

Rich Maltzman:      Exactly.

Brett Harned:       That's truly not the case. You look better when you hand off something to someone who's actually a specialist.

Rich Maltzman:      Yes.

Brett Harned:       All right, so we are coming up on our time limit, which is the title of the podcast, and it's kind of giving a nod to the fact that everybody's working under some kind of constraints. Right? It can definitely be true for project managers who are working on multiple projects with multiple team members and various locations and then stakeholders on top of that. I think PMs are often, we already talked about this in the beginning, pressured to deliver a plan quickly. Sometimes conducting the meetings that you might be recommending and getting full buy-in isn't always an option. What kind of advice do you have for folks who are put under that pressure?

Jim Stewart:        Geez, let me think about that. I think one of the things that I've suggested is, and I hate to suggest this, the ideal way to do any kind of planning is as a group with your team, put the schedule together, put the risk register together. If you have a minimum amount of time and you can't get people together, I'm okay with the idea of you as a project manager doing the straw man of it, but the straw man can't be the end-all or the be-all. I have a schedule, let's say a Gantt chart and Microsoft project for example. We're talking about waterfall, my initial risk register and then socialize that, get that going. Hey guys, gals, this is a draft, let's get on the phone to discuss it. It gives them a starting place to do that. So you're still kind of doing it, but you're not necessarily doing it from zero.

Jim Stewart:        You're doing it 50% or 60%. Or if you can, we have a second version of the meeting, which is like a one day version of the meeting, but somebody somewhere has to do some planning. You can't say we can't all get together, therefore there's no planning. I think it's incumbent upon the project manager to say, I will do some, but here's the important point. I will socialize with you so that there's buy-in, and if you don't get five days, if you get three days, if you get two days, if you get a half day, it's better than just saying we won't do any at all.

Brett Harned:       Completely agree. And you know that's been my process is to start with maybe even just a sketch. Maybe it's not a full Gantt chart. Maybe it's just an outline of here's what I think we need to deliver, here are the risks that we need to account for. Here's the resourcing challenges and then start a discussion about what the plan will be. I find that that buys accountability, which can often be a problem on projects. When you give the team an idea and you start a discussion about how you'll work together, it gets them engaged on a different level than saying like, here's the plan. Let's walk through it together.

Brett Harned:       Jim, curious if you have any thoughts here. I don't want to eat up your time.

Jim Stewart:        Well, that was Rich, you mean?

Brett Harned:       Oh, I'm sorry.

Rich Maltzman:      That was Jim. So Jim, do you have any more? No? I would say that I would go back to the idea. I agree with this idea of kind of parsing out the planning by starting with a straw man. I would go back to the idea that in this case you really even more have to rely on some work. You send people the full rationale for the project, the background and your straw person and ask them to critique it. Sometimes it's true, people do better at picking apart a proposed idea than starting from scratch. I'll close my section here by saying nothing beats a well-run, well thought out planned meeting because in real time when brains are working together, there's strength in that versus cubicles and emails and texts.

Brett Harned:       For sure.

Jim Stewart:        There's also a little psychological game I can play within that, which is the following. I might go into a room and say, "Oh, we're going to create a work breakdown structure with a bunch of stickies." I don't want to do that. So, okay, I'll put up my version of the WBS, how it should look. Does that look good to you guys? No, that's all wrong. Why don't you come up and show me how it should look? I stand back and I take notes.

Jim Stewart:        So I guess I tricked him a little bit, but hopefully in a good way to say, okay, fix it for me. I think Rich is kind of alluding to that. Okay, if I've done it wrong here, why don't you... and then they get engaged. One way or the other they get engaged and they fix it and they do it right.

Rich Maltzman:      That's a way to expedite people into the planning phase. So when you are pressed for time, that is an excellent trick. I've used it myself.

Jim Stewart:        Yep.

Brett Harned:       Good. I'm glad to hear. We're definitely all on the same page there, and that's some of the stuff that I talk about in our planning webinars at TeamGantt. Good to hear that, that I'm not saying things that are terribly off base with the well-known PMs in the world. So wondering if there are any other resources like books, classes, podcasts you want to share with our listeners or even any parting thoughts before we take off?

Rich Maltzman:      Go ahead, Jim.

Jim Stewart:        I wish I could tell you books this and that besides ours. We had a hard time finding a good one, just part of why we read it. I'm drawing a blank. You go ahead, Rich. I'll think of something, but I can't think now.

Rich Maltzman:      I would say in our book we have a list of references from which we drew. The idea of our book is facilitating project planning meetings and that's the subset to some extent. I think there's some things that aren't in these books, but it's a subset of general facilitation. We did find some folks who were outstanding at that. Just general, you know, whatever meetings, you know, facilitation of meetings. And so we did draw from them. I think that's a broader base of knowledge to go to and the set of references we provide in the book would be what I would reiterate in terms of resources.

Brett Harned:       Great.

Jim Stewart:        That's a good point. If people don't know how to facilitate a meeting, let's say it's a full day meeting, better that they bring somebody in or don't do it at all than have a lousy facilitation because as I've said before in the book or otherwise, if you're bringing people in for an all-day meeting and you can't run that meeting, you think, "This guy's going to run my project?" So you better get good at facilitation or bring in an experienced facilitator or else it's just going to all go south.

Brett Harned:       All right.

Rich Maltzman:      Yep.

Brett Harned:       Well, thank you so much for joining me on Time Limit. I really appreciate it and I hope... I've really enjoyed this conversation. I hope we get to talk again soon.

Rich Maltzman:      Sure, absolutely.

Brett Harned:       Excellent. Thank you very much.

Jim Stewart:        Thank you for the opportunity.

Brett Harned:       Thank you. I'll say it again, but I was so happy to hear that everything we're teaching about project leadership at TeamGantt is in line with what the folks who are connected to PMI or teaching. It was especially exciting to hear that PMI will be including content about EQ and soft skills in its curriculum. That's a theme that's central to what I've been teaching in our weekly live classes and in The Art and Science of Leading Projects, which is a video course. Those classes and The Art and Science of Leading Projects are all completely free, so I hope you'll check them out at teamgantt.com or even on YouTube.

Brett Harned:       That's all for this episode. Check out our website for show notes, Rich and Jim's bio's, and a link to their book as well as a bunch of other great resources. If you're liking this show, please give us a thumbs up where you listen to your podcasts and share with your friends and colleagues as much as you can. We'll be back for episode 18 with Sue Howorth to talk about crafting your own process. Thanks.

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