How do you celebrate birthdays? (celebrating team milestones)

OK- so I’ll admit that it’s my birthday. And acknowledging it made me think about milestones in general, and more specifically, for a project team. Birthdays are a great milestone that can—and should-be celebrated. Do you celebrate milestones for your team members? I wish I could say we do a great job; we at least get together once a month and have a cake for all the birthday folks. I already wrote about celebrating successes on your project, but I want to make sure we (as great managers of people) are celebrating our staff’s milestones too. The art of being a manager, no – being a great manager–is to balance and integrate work and life for yourself and your team. (Personal admission: I am probably the worst person to talk about balance!)

So a couple of thoughts here: what do you set as milestone celebrations and how do make sure that the “party actually happens?” There are many excellent books, posts and writings on how to celebrate success and milestones. I especially liked Paul McGuire’s post on “Stop and Celebrate Milestones.” His simple 5 step process for using milestones is easy to implement.

First, do you know what the milestones are for your project or team? Oh, I have talked about the need for a predictive project schedule which always has milestones in it, but I am talking more specifically about which ones you use as “celebration points” from both the schedule and people. How about some examples:

  • Birthday’s – everyone has one! Let’s celebrate the achievement and acknowledge their special day.
  • Length of time on the project or team – surely in the current business climate we should celebrate people who stay with our organization and continue to provide increased value.
  • Major project milestone – I really like doing this with the client or stakeholder. I know I always seem to fill my week with handling problems, so a short time-out to celebrate a success is always welcome.
  • Team member life event – people do have lives outside of work! Be aware of what is going on. An engagement, marriage, new baby, diploma or even new house are great opportunities for the team to celebrate and get to know each other better as individuals.
  • Company/Organization event – do you celebrate your organization’s birthday? I bet your HR folks would say it is a great way to have people realize the benefits of being a part of a going concern. Or how about celebrating promotions? I hope you don’t call someone in and say “Oh by the way, you are being promoted to Vice President” and then walk away. Most promotions come after demonstrated success and lots of hard work. This makes it a great milestone to celebrate, especially if you helped the individual in setting goals to achieve the position, or have mentored or coached them.


Second, when should you celebrate milestones and successes? As G. Legh’s wrote in Accidence of Armoury, “There is no time like the present.” Another way to think about this is celebrate often, and as close to the milestone as possible.

Third, how do you celebrate milestones and successes? The answer is simple – it depends. There have been some great posts and articles written on this subject, so I’ll refer you to some of the better ones:

Fourth, how do you ensure that the celebrations you hold will provide motivation and feedback? This is a little harder to do on a consistent basis. Just holding a party without any special meaning is fine for after work time – but if you are going to celebrate make it count. One way to ensure you are getting the most out of milestone celebrations is to first identify the right milestones! Both project and personal milestones come and go while we are too busy to identify and recognize them. If you are a project manager, you already know that planning is a key to accomplishing a goal. So involve your team in identifying Key Milestones that you all want to achieve and celebrate. I really like the quote from Zig Zigler, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time!” I don’t expect my team to make every goal we set, but when we do make them, they are certainly worth celebrating!!

Finally, be sure that the importance of the celebration and milestone are highlighted. Have you ever been told to come to an all hands meeting for a celebration and then were not sure what was being celebrated? Not the right way to do it! Make sure that the achievement is known and talk about the success.

I think it is time to go celebrate another year of sharing with you! Thank you for reading!

Keeping your project on track while the sky is falling (economically speaking)

Unless you have been underwater or on Mars for the last six months, you know that the economy in the United States (and globally) is in the worst shape anyone has experienced—except maybe your grandparents who talk about the Great Depression over Thanksgiving dinner. As a project manager, you are not immune from concerns about layoffs and falling investments and neither is your staff. In fact, you may find productivity steadily declining on your project as people’s individual worries trump their performance.

What’s happening?

Your staff is concerned about their job and the company’s future in this downturn. Layoffs are happening across industries, job types, and in all parts of the country. Many of them know good workers (and friends) who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and they wonder, “Could I be next?” Their mental energy and focus is being distracted by thoughts of personal security: They may be in self-protect mode. This behavior is a primitive, old brain response to perceived threat and cannot be overcome with logical or rational thought.  And logic would be what I, and most project managers, would try to use.

What can the project manager do to help lessen fears?

First, acknowledge the fear. Listen to your staff in group meetings and individually. This may be hard as you watch the tasks and work not getting done, but try this step. This is not an hour long therapy session, just giving them tacit permission to express their fears. Let them know it is okay to be worried and to talk about it. The stages of grief are applicable here—shock, denial, awareness, acceptance, and integration. Talk with your staff about what can be controlled and what cannot. Be honest. If you have information about the company’s position and future plans, share it (to the extent that you can). Believe me, what your project staff imagines is happening is often (no—always) far worse than reality.

Next, increase the perception of control. Fear is about the unknown and loss of control. Tell your staff what you are doing to improve the position of your project, and therefore the staff, in the view of senior management. Encourage your staff to come up with cost saving ideas, schedule improvements, new business opportunities, and let them know how you are sharing that information up the organization’s management chain. Provide a role model of dealing with the uncertainty while still moving forward on project goals.

Finally, if reducing headcount on your project is unavoidable, make the process as fair and transparent as possible. Work with senior management to implement layoffs with humanity and respect for individuals. Those who remain will be aware of unfair or disrespectful treatment and it will color their perception of the company even after prospects improve. Remember the saying “There but by the Grace of God…. It could have been me.”

How can you keep your project on track?

Of course you still have the problem of keeping project on target.  When everyone’s performance is being scrutinized, it is essential that you have measureable project goals and a doable project timetable. If your original project plan was based on a six month deliverables, change the time frame and focus to quarterly or even monthly. You need to be able to report progress and production every time senior management asks for a new projection and report. In fact, you can do it before they ask for it!  This strategy also gives your staff more of a feeling of accomplishment than longer range timelines or project goals provide.

Pay more attention than usual to staff accomplishments and reinforce on-target task behavior. When a staff member is falling behind, offer to find help. Your creativity will be challenged many times in getting problems solved during this tough time, but you may be surprised at the willingness to help and the imaginative solutions your team, working together, can offer.

Listen to the grapevine. If rumors are spreading—and you can be sure they are— it is time for a reality check and accurate information. Share information good or bad—hoarding does not help. As a last thought, during your weekly project meetings, add an agenda item about the future of your project, your technology, and the company. Remind people that there is a future and that what is happening now, as bad as it might be, is not the final story.  You can set the tone and outlook by how you act and lead.


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