Experts Share Their Best Tips for New Project Managers

We asked experienced project managers to divulge their #1 tip for newcomers to the field. Not surprisingly, these process fanatics shared a plethora of great tips to help newcomers succeed in this ever-changing area of work.

Read through their project management advice below, and see what you can learn as you walk into your first, second, or even tenth PM role.

“I think that all the important tips could be summarized with a metaphor:
You should be like an Orchestra Director for your team, with a detailed project plan as score.”
Jose Ignacio Bernaldo de Quiros Ochoa

Everyone Agrees — Excellent Communication is the #1 Indicator of Success

Understand the culture

Communication is key, and much of that will be informal, so building your network and understanding culture and dynamics are key.
Thomas J. Dickie, PMP

Be accessible to learn more

Always allow people to come to you. Be accessible and listen to what project team members will ask or comment all the time. The more you know, the better you are able to make decisions. Buy knowledge and sell solutions unless you want to pay for project deviations.
Fábio Issao Watanabe

Communicate to identify changes quickly

I think that success depends on communication and focus on the goal. Good communication with the team identifies deviations in a timely manner. Good communication with customers can quickly identify changes in scope.
Oscar Teran

Keep detailed project notes to share

Follow up on tasks and Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Keep detailed notes and make sure everyone on the team is aware of what is happening.
Monteau (Montee) Outlaw

Discuss challenges, roadblocks, & risks

Make sure to be transparent within your core and your extended project team, as well towards your managers, owner, sponsor. Communicate roadblocks, challenges, and risks clearly and in advance for everyone to see. Know and accept: no one cares for, or is as committed to your project as much, as you are/must be.
Janos Veres

Listen to opinions from everyone, even if you reject them later

Keep communication channels open for all stakeholders: the team, the sponsor, the customer, the end user, your boss, etc. I am not saying that you let yourself be manipulated by every party, just try to listen before making decisions. Hear every opinion, then make your route.
Mehmet Degirmencioglu

Respect every opinion as if it were your own

Train communication, create empathy with your stakeholders. Respect and value everybody’s opinions, even if you don’t completely agree.
João Rodrigues

Challenge ideas to make them better

You are hired to manage projects; your team is hired to be the technical expertise to deliver that project. Therefore, if they are telling you something, it’s usually a good idea to take in what they’re saying and, in some cases, challenge it. If you’re not technical, ask for clarification on points you genuinely don’t understand. That’s normally enough for technical teams to make them think through their explanations, so they’ll carry out an internal check to ensure their thinking is sound.
Andrew Hudson

Build rapport and trust with clients

Build rapport with the client. Build trust and then never lose it. Under promise and over deliver. Plan and communicate.
Marc Hammoud

Don’t Pretend You Know Everything on Day One

Always ask “that question”

You may not have the experience needed to do things 100% correct the first time, so keep it real and allow people to give you suggestions. My #1 suggestion to newbies is: Always ask “that question”. Finding a balance between asking questions or following up offline is a talent you will learn over time, but for now, don’t be shy. You might harm your own project by not speaking up until it becomes a show stopper near implementation time. Speak up and you will find your team is truly on your side!
John Skowronski, PMI-ACP, PMP

Don’t isolate your team with overconfidence

Do not think you know everything. I’ve seen too many project managers take a hard line and push things through because they think they know best. That breeds resentment in the project team. I’ve seen project managers exert their supposed technical or subject authority on a project, only for that project to ultimately remove those additions at a later and more expensive stage.
Andrew Hudson

Learn from every experience

You don’t have to know everything about everything — it’s ok to ask questions and learn from each experience.
Ann Lynne Dodson

To Be the Best, Hone Your Leadership & Management Skills

Make sure you motivate and lead your team

Soft skills are very important. The people involved make the difference between success and failure. You can have knowledge and methods, but you need skills to motivate and lead.
Maarten Verreck

Manage your people, not just your documentation

Following the PM process and keeping up with all the communication tools like the risk log, issue log, schedule, and deliverables should all take a back seat to leading your team. For years I prided myself in being really good at the documentation side of project management, but it never really mattered that much. The most important skill a project manager must master is Leadership!
Larry Sparkman

Build a bridge for two-way trust

Trust is the biggest thing for me, because if I don’t trust my technical team then I’m inherently suspicious of them and vice versa. Building a relationship of trust, and therefore openness, is crucial if you are to deliver multiple successful projects.
Andrew Hudson

Stay flexible to take on every challenge

Keep your knowledge constantly updated, trying to develop new capabilities and remaining flexible in terms of project management methodologies to use, etc. Things can change very rapidly in this field, and as the leader of your team, flexibility and a listening ear are most important to manage the risks and change.
Nirmal Singh

Delegate wisely and lead by example

Learn what you can delegate. Learn who you can delegate to. Lead by example. Work harder than anyone else. Treat everyone you touch with respect and kindness.
Lori Galster

Train your people to be future leaders

It should always be remembered that delegation is not purely about sharing workload. Also it gives the team member a sense of ownership and liability and allows them to learn… Today’s team member can be tomorrow’s PM.
Andy Nelson, AMBCS, P2 Cert Practitioner

Think outside the box

The key for successful PM is communication, problem-solving, and decision-making. Working smarter and offering solutions. Thinking outside the box and strategically looking at the bigger picture.
Kassim Toorawa

Protect your team

You “Protect” the project team, they do the rest.
Onur Karabulut

And don’t forget to proactively celebrate success!

The most important part: celebrate with your team who made it possible!
Puneet Gulati, MSP, PMP, ITIL v3

Be the Person Who Keeps Work Organized & Meetings Focused

Use templates to stay organized

Try to stay as organized as you can, use templates and other tools provided by PMI (you can find them on PMI’s website).
Bhawna Mundotia, PMP

Document! Document! Document!

Always keep a track record of the work being done.
Pietro Cecere

Step up and capture ideas during meetings

If you are in a meeting that needs focus because people are talking in circles, step up to the white board or large note pad and start scribing their ideas, requirements, comments, issues, etc. — preferably into actionable categories. Do not speak! Just scribe. If they start to focus on what you are writing, then you can ask them if they want to identify owners for each actionable item.
Jerry B. Fisher

Learn What Inspires Your New Team, Then Achieve Success Together

Know the working culture before you introduce change

First understand the work/culture/situation, and then make your moves/changes. PMs always want to do something new and different based on their experiences, which is a good thing, but do it smartly. You can’t just jump in and start making changes to the system without understanding it; every company has their own limitations, constraints, and culture. Make changes in such a way that they get absorbed in the right attitude.
Santosh Maurya

Understand everyone’s motivations

Learn that project management can be as much about politics as handling projects. Remember that not everyone working on the project is actually for the project. Learn the motivations and intentions of not just your team, but also upwards to the stakeholders and business users.
Andy Nelson, AMBCS, P2 Cert Practitioner

Build a culture of sharing and innovation to build a strong team

Foster a culture where everyone’s ideas are heard to allow more innovation to take place. The added bonus is that the project team itself becomes a lot stronger — team members are far more open to suggesting and working through ideas if they know they’ll be heard, rather than thinking they’ll be shouted down all the time.
Andrew Hudson

Know the Limitations of Your Project Team — And Yourself

Don’t forget the human

The methodologies are great if well-used, but they won’t work if you do not remember that you are working with other people. Human responses are not always logical or predictable.
Tiago Prado

Know your team’s strengths

Understand the skill set & mind set of the people that you’re going to handle in your team.
Prabhu M

Leave egos behind

Be aware of strengths and limitations in your team and, more importantly, yourself. There is no room for egos.
Louie Turcotte, Jr

Find what sets you apart

Determine your specialization and go for it. The best thing you can do is to decide what sets you apart and make that shine. Remember you are turning concepts into realities and it takes creativity to get you there. Develop thick skin and never fall in love with your first draft, no matter what it is.
James L Thompson, PMP, CSM, Executive MBA, ITIL

Ask Questions to Understand Current Processes, & Keep Them Simple

Ask follow-up questions

When someone makes a suggestion, I like to follow up with background questions: When and under what circumstances have you implemented that in the past? Why was that approach successful? What made it more efficient, cost effective, etc.? Then I broaden my scope of understanding.
Lori Galster

Don’t make mountains out of molehills

DON’T make a huge mind-numbing deal out of the project. Newbies are generally so eager to implement their knowledge or are so psyched up about being in the shoes of a PM, they generally end up overcomplicating simple things. I have seen “accidental” project managers perform better than those who come to the job armed with the whole pedigree of PM tools, techniques, and strategies. It’s better to keep work simple and streamlined so that attention can be devoted to planning, actual implementation, and overall scope and quality control, instead of waiting for the heavens to open up and rain down!
Trina Moitra

Make progress the priority

Do not always look at things from a process perspective. Governance is important, but when it impedes progress then there is an issue.
Dave Regan

Clarify Everyone’s Roles & Responsibilities on Every Project

Understand your own role first

Clearly understand your role and responsibilities and your delegated authority. This will depend on the type of organization you’re operating under. Also understand your key stakeholders and their level of influence.
Kassim Toorawa

Analyze project heartbeats daily

I suggest accidental managers follow the RACI model and analyze project heartbeats daily.

R- Who is Responsible to do the work 
A- Who is Accountable for final decisions and ultimate ownership 
C- Who is Consulted before a decision or action is taken 
I- Who is Informed that the decision or action has been taken

The RACI model is helpful to define/identify/clarify roles and responsibilities. Once you have those, match them up with processes. It’s especially useful in clarifying roles and responsibilities in cross-functional processes. For example, an organization may have a person who performs the role of project manager, and may also perform the role of test manager.
Hambirrao Patil

Beware of role creep

Watch for ROLE creep, which is similar to scope creep in a project. In role creep, your role as a PM might be under constant pressure — from academics, LinkedIn groups, co-workers, and especially those working above you. This is because there are so many forces at work around a substantial project, especially in a non-projectized organization where there is no discipline to comply with standardized and repeatable project management processes. There will be pressure to be innovative, be creative, and be an agent of change, and you will have managers asking you to list all your accomplishments. Your ultimate role is always to deliver what is in the WBS and project plan, use a designated process for scope change, risk monitoring, and issue management, and maintain good communication.
Michael Ayres MS, PMP, CISSP, CSEP

Make Sure You Have a Full Understanding of the Project Objectives, Assets, & Risks

Know the project inside out

Understand the project — so the planning, objectives, results that the project wants to achieve, and of course know the monitoring plan: what are the indicators, its tools, etc.
Marta Acero

Set the goals first

Establish the goal and objectives (SMART) of your new project. Once this is done well, I would immediately do the PESTEL analysis and build the SWOT analysis. Then, it’s planning, communication, and organization. For your project setup plan, you can also use the What, When, Who, Which, Where, etc. model.
Osvaldo Mirante, PhD

Understand the project needs

Having a clear understanding of both the functional and technical definition/needs of the project upfront, with stakeholder buy-in, is extremely important.
Muqtader MBA

Make sure the project achieves its original goal

Focus on specified project objectives!
Muqtader MBA

Control the project scope

Knowing your exact scope of work very well is the key to controlling the rest.
Mohammad Hamdan, PMPⓇ

Think about what can outside forces could affect your project — positively or negatively

Look for organizational process assets that are available to you. Identify the environmental factors that will influence your projects and how they’ll be delivered.
Thomas J. Dickie, PMP

Make work actionable

Make sure everything is actionable and responsibilities are assigned and transparent.
Henriette Ebbesen Laidlaw

Allow time for multiple iterations

Plan and drive project activities according to strategic guidelines. Allow the project team a few iterations over viable and plausibly valid alternative solutions. Never be afraid to ask the project owner for clarification or adjustment of target, timeline, resources, or scope.
Janos Veres

Don’t forget to manage potential risks

You need to understand the organization’s culture to make a roadmap and deliver projects on time and within budget. You should also keep an eye on risks arising during the course of project implementation, with a risk mitigation plan in place.
Puneet Gulati, MSP, PMP, ITIL v3

Get Buy-In From Stakeholders Early & Manage Their Expectations Along the Way

Identify every stakeholder

Identify all stakeholders and develop terms of references. This will align all roles of different individuals in the project and make it easier to relate with them.
Lesiba Noah Konaite

Sell the project to all necessary parties

Involve as many as possible stakeholders at the beginning of a project to gain broader buy-in.
Andries Venter, Inclusive Project Manager

Hold 1-on-1 project feedback sessions

Before kicking off the project, connect with all the key stakeholders in 1-on-1 sessions to get their input on the project, their goals, their level of support, etc. This will uncover hidden “gotchas” and misalignment that may come up later if you don’t do this.
Tom Treanor

Make stakeholders believe in the goal, not just the budget

Getting stakeholder buy-in on the outcome and benefit of completing the project is more important than stakeholder acceptance of the scope, schedule, and budget. If decision-makers believe in what the project will achieve, they will be more likely to accept changes to the scope and tolerances if you can show that it will lead to a better outcome. If all you’ve sold is a budget and a delivery date, you’re doomed to failure.
Chris Cox

Continually manage expectations as the project goes on

Manage the stakeholders’ expectations within given limits. That would encompass all the necessary requirements such as deliverables, scope, etc.
John Mpungu

Don’t Be Afraid of Failure, Learn From It

Fail fast, recover faster

Failure is an option. Fail fast so you can recover quickly and learn.
Sreekumar Govindan

Turn mistakes into learning opportunities

Don’t be afraid of mistakes — learn from them. They are the building blocks for future success in this challenging and dynamic profession!
Susan Kirkpatrick, PMP, CSSBB

Deliver what the business actually needs

A high percentage of projects fail because they don’t deliver what the business needs. Even when you have that nice 400-page requirements document that was signed off on, it does not mean everyone understands what is being delivered.
Thomas J. Dickie, PMP

Ultimate Success Comes From Careful Management, Not Just Careful Planning

Manage the problem, not just the Gantt chart

Reality drives the schedule, not the other way around. It’s not about wrangling Gantt charts, it’s about wrangling people and problems.
James Radvan

Plan to succeed & persevere

Every day there is a chance that you will have your back to the wall. Plan to succeed. Coordinate your priorities, delegate to those in your team, and make the project work.
Paul Alwood

Keep your eye on the overall objectives

No one on the business side cares about the Gantt chart or status reports or the PM deliverables. What they are looking for is the capabilities to achieve the business objectives your project will deliver.
Thomas J. Dickie, PMP

And Remember: Nothing Beats Hands-On Experience

You can’t fake experience

Experience is the most valued ingredient of the perfect PM brew, and that can either come with the salt and pepper of years or from a very competent mentor. There is no way to fake experience.
Trina Moitra

Expose yourself to real-life situations early on

Gain as much experience in project management as you can. Books, theory, and concepts are all fine, but real-life situations are much tougher. The more you face these situations, the smarter you become. There is no better way to learn project management than to expose yourself to real-life situations.
Mangal Pandya

Rely on your people skills, and push for the success at the end of the project

Don’t give up. A Project Manager position is not a rewarding job every day. You have to work really hard to get things done (especially in a Matrix environment), so you have to rely on your people skills a lot. (Keep those sharp!) In the end, you will persevere, and when the project finishes successfully, you will love that feeling of success.
Bhawna Mundotia, PMP

What Advice Can You Share?

Let’s keep the conversation going here! Share your advice and thoughts in the comments below. Tell us what you’d add to this list, or expand upon a piece of advice that really resonated with you.

*Note: Some of the above responses have been slightly modified for clarity, grammar, and length.

How To Stay on Google’s Good Side (Infographic)

In the event that the words “Google Algorithm Update” don’t strike dread into your heart, than the way you earn a living must not be in the digital or eCommerce industry.  If that is the case, I want to know why you are here and what you do?  But that’s beside the point.  Every time Google releases another algorithm update your business has to evolve and change.  If you aren’t quick to change your practices and follow suit, and by that I mean update your content to Google’s new requirements, you run the risk of Google’s penalizing your digital marketing efforts.

Stay away from the ensuing headache by following these tips collected by the team at Quick Sprout.  The main shift is the shift towards a more organic experience for end-users and ability to be a trusted website on the internet.  Some quick top level things to remember: keep guest posting to a minimum, focus on relevance (and honest information), make sure your site is well designed (preferably responsive), and build trust.  All of this is to say Google doesn’t purposefully make these updates to hurt your business, in fact it’s to help with improvements online and make the internet a more trustworthy and easy to use place.

How to stay on Googles good side - infographic

11 Tips for Fashion Ecommerce Success

Success in the world of fashion eCommerce can be elusive. Competition is fierce and the bottom line is often defined by the appearance, usability, and mobility of your website. According to Statista, 25 percent of users abandon shopping carts due to complicated navigation, 21 percent because the ordering process takes too long, and 15 percent because the website times out.

Shopping cart abandonment is steadily increasing every year, and the monetary losses are staggering. In fact, Business Insider reports that about $4 trillion worth of merchandise will be abandoned in online carts in 2015.

The growing influence of mobile is an opportunity no retailer can afford to ignore. eMarketer predicts that 25 percent of eCommerce sales will be conducted from mobile devices by 2017. This “move” will translate into billions of dollars, and will also continue to increase.

But these are only a few parts of the equation. Grabbing more market share than your competitors requires a comprehensive marketing strategy. Here are 11 tips to help you stand out from the crowd and turn your website into a money-making machine.

1. Give Your Regular Customers Love.

According to the Harvard Business Review, it can cost anywhere from five to twenty-five percent more to acquire new customers than to keep existing ones. Your customer retention strategy should include loyalty programs such as discounts for frequent customers. They will be far less likely to browse your competitors’ sites when they know they can buy from your fashion eCommerce store to get the quality products they’re used to at a more favorable price.

2. Offer Customer Support.

Nothing frustrates a customer more than poor customer service. If you make returning items difficult, customers are likely to buy from a competitor the next time around. According to the Wall Street Journal, about a third of all Internet transactions are returned. If possible, have customer service agents available around-the-clock to field and resolve customer inquiries. Great customer support can significantly shorten the sales cycle and keep your customers coming back for more.

3. Give Customers a Reason to Come Back.

Speaking of keeping customers coming back, create and execute an email marketing campaign that delivers a new promotion into their inbox each week. Your fashion eCommerce store stays top-of-mind and, if different promotions are segmented to the right customer lists, you can count on more sales—not to mention a high ROI.

4. Use Amazing Images.

It’s no secret that successful fashion eCommerce requires excellent photography. Most stock images simply don’t cut it anymore. Hire a professional fashion photographer to take high quality photos of your inventory that go beyond the simple product shot to tell your brand story. Your store will outshine your competitors and the ROI will be well worth it.

5. Tell Stories.

Rather than just writing plain product descriptions, create vibrant stories that help your customers better imagine owning your product. For example, change “a gorgeous evening gown perfect for any party,” to “Picture yourself as the ‘it’ girl at your next extravagant party by wearing this elegant black and white dress that will make you the bell of the ball.”

6. Be Easy to Find.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is another critical component of your fashion eCommerce strategy. After all, if it’s difficult to find your website in the first place, how do you really expect to make sales? Work with an SEO consultant to make sure the copy on the page is optimized for every product, in addition to the meta tags that give search engines the information they need to properly index your product pages.

7. Partner With the Right Businesses.

Smart partnerships are always important when it comes to developing a successful fashion website. Build relationships with key influencers and bloggers who can be invaluable brand ambassadors for your eCommerce site. Start by reaching out to well-known reviewers who will lend a quote to the quality of your product, and develop relationships with industry websites who may allow you to post guest blogs and/or be one of their featured fashion sites.

8. Keep It Clean.

It may go without saying, but keeping your fashion eCommerce website clean is critical if you want visitors to continue browsing (and hopefully click the “buy now” button). Your user interface has to be impeccable, as does making the overall user experience as simple and interactive as possible. With so many other options, a buyer who’s ready to pull the trigger may leave for a competitor’s site because viewing product specs is difficult and reviewing checkout information is confusing.

9. Be Mobile.

If you’re seeing 25-30% of your customers coming from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, consider embracing responsive design for your website. They’re far more likely to browse your site on their tablet or smartphone on-the-go, so your fashion eCommerce site needs to be easy to read and interact with on any device.

10. Embody a Lifestyle.

The importance of differentiation in the fashion game can’t be overstated. With so much competition online, your best bet is to focus on a niche and spend your money on demonstrating your expertise in that niche. For instance, in the example above, focusing on extravagant evening gowns can be more lucrative than simply selling a wide variety of inexpensive dresses.

11. Get Pricing Right.

After everything you’ve done to get potential customers to purchase a product, the last thing you want to do is lose them because a competitor has a slightly lower price. Perform meticulous research on pricing, and always offer a bonus coupon or future promotion opportunity to give them the confidence to keep typing in that credit card number.

Q&A: Youtube vs Facebook for Ecommerce

Facebook’s video capabilities are gaining momentum, with new functionality and advertising options. Video is taking over our Facebook newsfeeds as companies and individuals alike are asking for more interactive content than pure articles.  With bandwidth growing by the day, many ecommerce video marketers are starting to question whether they should emphasize Facebook and not YouTube.

Usage

First let’s look at the usage stats. Facebook announced a key milestone for its video usage at the end of 2014, when it hit 3 billion views per day. However Facebook still a has lot of catching up to do: YouTube hit 4 billion daily views back in 2012.

Usage Winner: YouTube

Analytics

An essential aspect for any marketer is measurement. So how do the two platforms compare when it comes to analytics?

Facebook made the number of video views public in late 2014. Before then it was very difficult to know how video content performed on the platform. Now pages have access to additional metrics via the Facebook Insights platform, but video uploaded to personal profiles does not have this capability. In comparison, YouTube offers in depth metrics for all users who upload video, and video views have long been a public metric.

Analytics Winner: YouTube

Sharing Across the Web

When it comes to sharing video across the web, Facebook has lagged behind. The YouTube player is dominant — for personal and business sites. However, Facebook is now rolling out an embedded video player to all users in the coming weeks.

Sharing Across the Web Winner: Tie

Newsfeed Visibility

Facebook has an obvious preference to promote its own products. The visibility of video uploaded directly to the site is much higher than video pulled in from an external partner like YouTube.

There are two main ways in which Facebook promotes directly-uploaded video.

  • Autoplay. Facebook video benefits from the autoplay function in the newsfeed. This allows video content to begin playing automatically as soon as the player comes into view.
  • Better appearance. The look and feel of a Facebook video post is much more enticing compared to a YouTube video post. The Facebook video upload has a much larger thumbnail image and large call to action in the form of an obvious play button. A comparable YouTube video post is much more in line with the content Facebook automatically pulls in from a shared link. The thumbnail is small, often a play button doesn’t appear in the newsfeed to differentiate it as video content.

Newsfeed Visibility Winner: Facebook

Social Interaction

Engagement with Facebook video largely happens amongst friends rather than strangers. This creates a safer and arguably a more valuable discussion. Facebook also takes advantage of its tagging functionality to further increase the viral nature of the content, allowing the creator to ensure certain users see the content, rather than leaving it to the mercy of the newsfeed algorithm.

Meanwhile engagement with YouTube video is largely in the public comments. YouTube does not have a tag feature but it does allow users to subscribe to a creator’s channel that then alerts them each time a new video is published.

Social Interaction Winner: Facebook

Search Visibility

Facebook video plays to the Facebook algorithm and not to the search engines. It is much more concerned with increasing engagement to promote viral growth, rather than targeting users looking for content via a Google search.

As a Google owned product, YouTube is closely integrated into the search experience. YouTube content is served on the search results pages where it is seen as relevant and potentially useful to the user and can take prime positions for key terms. The way videos are uploaded to YouTube fits well with how search is structured. Creators give each video key metadata and tags to describe it and entice searchers to view it. Creators can even add scripts and annotations to help Google’s algorithm understand the content more fully.

Search Visibility Winner: YouTube

Video Length

Facebook allows video of up to 40 minutes. However shorter formats have been shown to be most effective, with videos under a minute amongst the most likely to be viewed to the end and most likely to promote engagement. In comparison, YouTube began by focusing on shorter formats, limiting users to content around 10 minutes in length. However, in recent years YouTube has removed this limit, making way for long form television style content on the platform.

Video Length Winner: Tie

Overall Choice: Facebook Video vs. YouTube?

If your business strategy is focused on Facebook, then Facebook video comes out on top. It is more effective in terms of reach and engagement on Facebook and now offers a good suite of metrics to evaluate campaigns. However, YouTube has a huge, unmatched role in video marketing. YouTube’s embedded player is a simple and reliable tool for hosting most any video content.

12 Habits of Amazing Leaders

One of the most popular Dilbert comic strips in the cartoon’s history begins with Dilbert’s boss relaying senior leadership’s explanation for the company’s low profits. In response to his boss, Dilbert asks incredulously, “So they’re saying that profits went up because of great leadership and down because of a weak economy?” To which Dilbert’s boss replies, “These meetings will go faster if you stop putting things in context.”

Great leadership is indeed a difficult thing to pin down and understand. You know a great leader when you’re working for one, but even they can have a hard time explaining the specifics of what they do that makes their leadership so effective. Great leadership is dynamic; it melds a variety of unique skills into an integrated whole.

Below are 12 essential behaviors that exceptional leaders rely on every day. Give them a try and you can become a better leader today.

1. Courage

“Courage is the first virtue that makes all other virtues possible.” —Aristotle

People will wait to see if a leader is courageous before they’re willing to follow his or her lead. People need courage in their leaders. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the good of the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show courage themselves when their leaders do the same.

For the courageous leader adversity is a welcome test. Like a blacksmith’s molding of a red-hot iron, adversity is a trial by fire that refines leaders and sharpens their game. Adversity emboldens courageous leaders and leaves them more committed to their strategic direction.

Leaders who lack courage simply toe the company line. They follow the safest paththe path of least resistancebecause they’d rather cover their backside than lead.

2. Effective Communication

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” —Joseph Priestley

Communication is the real work of leadership. It’s a fundamental element of how leaders accomplish their goals each and every day. You simply can’t become a great leader until you are a great communicator.

Great communicators inspire people. They create a connection with their followers that is real, emotional, and personal, regardless of any physical distance between them. Great communicators forge this connection through an understanding of people and an ability to speak directly to their needs.

3. Generosity

“A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” —John Maxwell

Great leaders are generous. They share credit and offer enthusiastic praise. They’re as committed to their followers’ success as they are to their own. They want to inspire all of their employees to achieve their personal best – not just because it will make the team more successful, but because they care about each person as an individual.

4. Humility

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

Great leaders are humble. They don’t allow their position of authority to make them feel that they are better than anyone else. As such, they don’t hesitate to jump in and do the dirty work when needed, and they won’t ask their followers to do anything they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves.

5. Self-Awareness

“It is absurd that a man should rule others, who cannot rule himself.” —Latin Proverb

Contrary to what Dilbert might have us believe, leaders’ gaps in self-awareness are rarely due to deceitful, Machiavellian motives, or severe character deficits. In most cases, leaderslike everyone elseview themselves in a more favorable light than other people do.

Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence, a skill that 90% of top performing leaders possess in abundance. Great leaders’ high self-awareness means they have a clear and accurate image not just of their leadership style, but also of their own strengths and weaknesses. They know where they shine and where they’re weak, and they have effective strategies for leaning into their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses.

6. Adherence to the Golden Rule +1

“The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.” – Jon Wolfgang von Goethe

The Golden Rule – treat others as you want to be treated – assumes that all people are the same. It assumes that, if you treat your followers the way you would want a leader to treat you, they’ll be happy. It ignores that people are motivated by vastly different things. One person loves public recognition, while another loathes being the center of attention.

Great leaders don’t treat people how they themselves want to be treated. Instead, they take the Golden Rule a step further and treat each person as he or she would like to be treated. Great leaders learn what makes people tick, recognize their needs in the moment, and adapt their leadership style accordingly.

7. Passion

“If you just work on stuff that you like and are passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out.” – Mark Zuckerberg

Passion and enthusiasm are contagious. So are boredom and apathy. No one wants to work for a boss that’s unexcited about his or her job, or even one who’s just going through the motions. Great leaders are passionate about what they do, and they strive to share that passion with everyone around them.

8. Infectiousness

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” —Reverend Theodore Hesburgh

Great leaders know that having a clear vision isn’t enough. You have to make that vision come alive so that your followers can see it just as clearly as you do. Great leaders do that by telling stories and painting verbal pictures so that everyone can understand not just where they’re going, but what it will look and feel like when they get there. This inspires others to internalize the vision and make it their own.

9. Authenticity

“Just be who you are and speak from your guts and heart – it’s all a man has.” – Hubert Humphrey

Authenticity refers to being honest in all things – not just what you say and do, but who you are. When you’re authentic, your words and actions align with who you claim to be. Your followers shouldn’t be compelled to spend time trying to figure out if you have ulterior motives. Any time they spend doing so erodes their confidence in you and in their ability to execute.

Leaders who are authentic are transparent and forthcoming. They aren’t perfect, but they earn people’s respect by walking their talk.

10. Approachability

“Management is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too hard and you kill it, not hard enough and it flies away.” – Tommy Lasorda

Great leaders make it clear that they welcome challenges, criticism, and viewpoints other than their own. They know that an environment where people are afraid to speak up, offer insight, and ask good questions is destined for failure. By ensuring that they are approachable, great leaders facilitate the flow of great ideas throughout the organization.

11. Accountability

“The ancient Romans had a tradition: Whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: He stood under the arch.” – Michael Armstrong

Great leaders have their followers’ backs. They don’t try to shift blame, and they don’t avoid shame when they fail. They’re never afraid to say, “The buck stops here,” and they earn people’s trust by backing them up.

12. Sense Of Purpose

“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” – Ken Kesey

Whereas vision is a clear idea of where you’re going, a sense of purpose refers to an understanding of why you’re going there. People like to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Great leaders give people that feeling.

Bringing It All Together

Becoming a great leader doesn’t mean that you have to incorporate all of these traits at once. Focus on one or two at a time; each incremental improvement will make you more effective. It’s okay if you “act” some of these qualities at first. The more you practice, the more instinctive it will become, and the more you’ll internalize your new leadership style.

What other qualities would you like to see added to this list? Please share your thoughts on exceptional leadership in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

Top 7 Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Website

“Build it and they will come,” goes the line, but with so many options for online shoppers, how do you get them to come? Selling online means the world is your customer, but that can also mean more competition for those online dollars.  If you are looking for immediate traffic, and have set aside some funds for promotional use, paying for online ads is a fast way to build a customer base. You generally don’t pay based on how often your ad is displayed, but rather only when someone clicks on it, which makes online advertising a good way to get customers, and reinforce your brand. When you have more time and are looking for a long term strategy, there are a number of great ways such as SEO, social media and email to get the public’s attention; they just take some time and a bit of elbow grease. Done well, this is where you might have an edge over some of your competition since many stores often overlook these strategies as being too time-intensive, or not possibly relatable to their industry. Here are a few ways to lead those shoppers to your virtual door.

1. PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Ads

There are a lot of “pay-per-click” options out there, but PPC generally refers to the text-only ads that appear at the top of your search results. These text ads may not be as eye-catching as other types of online ads, but they do allow you an opportunity to describe unique benefits of your store and products: easy returns, non-stick, made in the USA.

Best for… broad categories of similar products that have an average to above-average profit margin (shower curtains, car parts) and for services (accounting, wedding planners)

2. Comparison Shopping Engines

These are the product images you might see while searching for products. Examples of comparison shopping engines include Google Shopping, Bing Shopping, Amazon Product Ads and Shopzilla.   These increasingly popular product ads run based upon a feed that is uploaded from your store to the shopping engine before being displayed. Should you change a product price, if an item is out of stock, or you add new products, those changes will appear in the shopping feed results almost immediately. These ads also display the product image you have in your store, so searchers literally have a clear picture of the product you are offering, increasing your conversion rate (the number of people who click on an ad and continue on to purchase) and discouraging unwanted clicks.

Best for… products with good pictures, product titles/descriptions and competitive pricing/shipping – since the price is displayed with the product for all ads for customers to compare.

3. Banner Ads

These are the rectangular graphic ads that appear on individual websites as opposed to in the results of search engine query. You can pick which participating websites you want to advertise on, but a more recent use of banner ads is called Remarketing or Retargeting Advertising, where you target customers who have already visited your store. Since they have already visited once, you have a higher likelihood of getting them to make a purchase in the future. You can create different messaging to target visitors who just perused your store, to those that added something to the shopping cart and left, or your customers that bought something and you want to encourage them to make future purchases. Remarketing ads are a good way of reinforcing your brand, and driving traffic to your store.

Best for… stores with a longer buying cycle (furniture, real estate, auto) or with frequent, returning sales (food, clothing). It is also best if you have the ability to design your own ads, or have access to someone who can.

4. Dynamic Shopping Feeds

Similar to remarketing, dynamic shopping ads populate a banner ad with a picture of a product your customer recently viewed. It’s basically an advertisement tailored for that customer! No design expertise required – just pick a format and color scheme, upload a logo, and the search engine will populate it with the appropriate products from your store.

5. SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has evolved along with the search engines’ algorithms. There are dozens of techniques and tactics when it comes to optimizing your site, but many of the current strategies can be boiled down to creating unique, relevant content for every category and product page of your site. Many of your competitors are using the same manufacturer-provided product information, or repeating the basic description for every product in a category. Writing detailed descriptions for each of your categories and products will help you stand out to the search engines. It’s a daunting task, so prioritize and update your site as you have time.

Best for…every online store!

6. Social Media

This is a great place to demonstrate your expertise in your industry and create a loyal group of customers. Best of all, you can create a community around just about any industry. If you sell air filters you can create a forum for allergy suffers to get advice from each other. Sell seasonal items like pool supplies? Keep your audience thinking of your through the off-season by posting dreamy, vacation-spot pool photos in the winter time. The goal here is to stay top of mind, so that when they are ready to buy, they visit your store first.
We have written much on this blog about the different flavors of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Snapchat, etc. They all have their audience, and one or more of them should work for your brand.

Best for…every store owner who has a finger on the pulse of their audience, and the time to post several times a week

7. Email

Don’t overlook email marketing for incentivizing your visitors to return to your store. Use targeted promotions, discounts, coupons, and articles relevant to your audience’s interest to keep them coming back.

Best for…stores that want to promote a design style, or service, and have the potential for frequently returning customers.

Whatever you do, don’t forget the passion you have for your own business, and put that into your marketing. Make people sit up and take notice, and turn them into customers for life.

Weak Link in the Agile Chain

I was talking to a fellow coach the other day and she was venting a bit about one of her teams and their Product Owner.

Bob, she said, I have an outstanding agile team. We’ve been working within our product organization for nearly two years. In that time, we’ve delivered an application upgrade that everyone has viewed as simply fantastic. Now we’re onto a building a critical piece of new system functionality for them—so we’ve earned everyone’s confidence in our abilities.

We work hard, we work well together, we deliver high-quality working code, and we have fun doing it.

Ok, I asked. That sounds like a fantastic situation. To be honest, I’m a bit jealous.

Well, she said, don’t be. I’m incredibly frustrated with our Product Owner. He:

  • always seems to be ill-prepared with stories;
  • hardly ever emphasizes or attends Backlog Refinement meetings;
  • brings new or under prepared stories directly to Sprint Planning;
  • in general is always undecided and under prepared.

We’ve gotten into the habit of being able to work around him and still deliver sufficient customer value at each sprint review…but it’s incredibly challenging. The team has to “bend over backwards” to help develop a view to our backlog.

And he constantly changes his mind, which is the cherry on top – increasing our rework and driving the entire team crazy.

Wow. I guess everything isn’t so great. Then I asked, have you made him aware of the behavior and your (and the teams’) concerns?

Of course, she said. This comes up in virtually every retrospective. He listens, agrees, and then promises to improve. There might be a slight change for a sprint or two, but he always falls back into the same old patterns.

I’ve even tried to escalate it (carefully) to his supervisor. And even she agrees that it’s a problem, but again, nothing seems to change.

I’m at a loss. What do you think I should do?

Taking A Step Back

On the surface, this is sort of an intractable situation. It reminds me that every team, agile teams included, is only as good as their “weakest link”. Sure, teams can collaborate and work around internal challenges such as this. And in some cases that’s the right thing to do. But when the behavior is affecting the entire team’s morale and performance, and when there is no consistent improvement; then I say something needs to be done.

What do you think? And what are the options here?

  1. It seems clear to me that the Product Owner’s manager is dropping the ball. There is a performance issue and (apparently) they’re ignoring it. One obvious and immediate action would be for his manager to begin taking it seriously and start actively coaching the PO, with a possible performance improvement plan as an outcome.
  2. Could the team “vote the Product Owner” off the island (team)? I’ve seen this happen in extreme cases with team members. It’s a very messy situation and somewhat of a last resort. However, if the team really is being negatively affected, then it might be the most congruent thing to do.
  3. Under the banner of “good team play”, should they just persevere along and keep dealing with it? That’s what this team has been doing. Sure, they’re talking about it. But it’s been happening for nearly TWO YEARS. What makes anyone think it will improve without a major intervention?

Overreact Or Underreact

I normally see two reactions to similar situations in my agile coaching travels. Either the team grows impatient too quickly and overreacts to remove someone from the team, many times without having a conversation with the person. It’s just easier for them to complain behind their back and then look to eject them.

Or

Like the team in this example, tolerate the underperforming behavior in perpetuity, working around it within the team. Sure, they bring it up occasionally, but the team essentially accepts it.

Is There Somewhere In “The Middle”?

I sure hope so!

You might be asking yourself, what counsel did I provide to my coaching colleague? Well, I’ll share it with you. But I’m still thinking about the situation and whether my advice was sound.

I told her that the team was “working around” an issue and that they weren’t transparent enough with the effects of the under performance. You see, they were working overtime to cover for the Product Owner and from a results perspective; the team was perceived to be high performing.

I basically said to stop doing that.

My advice was to allow the Product Owner to fail more often and to make those failures more transparent.

For example, the Product Owner was essentially bringing empty stories to the team for execution. The team would then meet with stakeholders and analysts across the organization to fill in the blanks. This would take tremendous time that wasn’t theirs to offer. In the end, they got very good at writing stories FOR the Product Owner.

I told her to stop that, to put in place Readiness Criteria for stories that would enter the teams’ sprints and to not accept “under-cooked” stories. If the Product Backlog became empty as a result of this, then so be it. Raise that as an impediment and wait until the Product Owner did their job and worked with the team to deliver a proper backlog.

I was careful not imply that the team sabotage or not help the Product Owner as a healthy team would. But I was firm in that they needed to stop doing the PO’s job for them AND allow the dysfunction, under performance and honest results to become transparent to all.

I suggested that IF they did this well, then the organization would reach out to the entire team to discover “what was wrong” and to help them “fix it”.

Wrapping Up

Now at this point, we broke the conversation off and went on our way. But I could tell that my colleague was very uncomfortable with my advice. To be honest, so was I.

But I keep thinking that it was a congruent suggestion for handling a “weak link” that is affecting team health AND not improving. That if teams have the option of helping / masking the problem vs. making it transparent, they might want to reflect whether their masking it IS part of the problem.

That’s what I intended here, but I do agree that it’s a fine line to walk. My biggest fear is that teams read this and start throwing struggling team members under the bus. That’s certainly not my intention.

I wonder what you think of my story and my advice? And if you’ve had a similar situation, what have you done?

Out of Control

Most project managers think they ought have total control of  their projects. They feel as though they have some sort of universal responsibility for the team, the client and the process. On some level, they do! But when it comes down to it, the responsibility is on a very high level. On the ground level, there are so many things that a PM cannot control. After all, we manage projects, we don’t control them. Combined teams control projects, and every individual of the team contributes to its prosperity.

You want control, don’t you?

As a PM, maybe your desire to control comes from a good place, because you think that if you can keep an eye on everything, all will go well. You want to be at the center of the project and know what’s happening at all times so you can jump in and solve issues for your team. You want to save them the time so they can focus on what’s important to their roles–designing or coding. That’s completely fair. Asking to be involved in all project decisions is not control: it’s setting expectations for good project communications. That’s not control; that’s good project management.

Your approach can make your simple desire to be involved feel like a ploy for control. So think about how you’re asking for that involvement–make sure that it’s known that you’re asking to help. The way you communicate with your team can truly make a difference between how you–and the role of project manager–is perceived on a team. But remember: actions speak louder than words! If you’re saying you’ll help, then help. Or, know when to recruit help, or just take a step back. As a PM it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish what you should do, what you can do, and what you shouldn’t do on a project. Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should!

For instance, if a design comes through that I’m not fond of, I can offer my opinion. But I know I shouldn’t, because in most cases, the design aesthetic has absolutely nothing to do with my personal opinion. If I don’t love it, I’ll keep my mouth shut. At the same time, if I am reviewing that design and see something that will not make the clients happy (like a typo, or an “unlawful” treatment of a logo based on brand guidelines), I can say something about it and I should. So I will, because it will better the project.

Giving up the feeling of control will make you better.

Part of being a better project manager is knowing when to contribute to ideas and when to jump in and solve a problem. Owning all things PM-related is a good start–you know you can control tangible things like project plans and budgets. Contributing to ideas and providing an opinion on the project make you a part of a creative team. Conversely, asking for opinions on things like the process or plan will help you. If you wrangle for control or try to dictate a process or plan, you’ll immediately lose respect.  Again, the collective team is responsible for a project’s success.

Personally, I prefer to craft a project approach and present it to the team as a starting point. From there, we’ll work together to hone it and make it “ours”. I’ll own the creation of the plan, but take comfort in knowing that my team is behind the process. If they weren’t, I would not be comfortable. I think the same goes for design–if the entire team is on board, we’re stronger for it.

Now that you know I’m not a control freak, tell me about your thoughts on project ownership? Is your team invested in owning the project together and share the burden of the project deliverables, or are you a lone ranger PM? What do you own, and why?

eCommerce in 5-10 Years

5-10 years is a quite a while for anything in the technology and innovation industry and this article may seem exceptionally futuristic/science fiction. Some of these things might happen in the next 10 years, and some might be a little longer, but one thing is for sure, what we think we know about eCommerce will be changing rapidly.

Smaller and more number of distribution centers instead of large central warehouses

Since a bigger number of people will start utilizing e-commerce, it will become more efficient to have a larger number of little distribution centers for every few city blocks. These smaller warehouses will have those goods that are quick moving and perishable. Cold-storages will increase in these warehouses. The central and larger warehouses/fulfillment centers will be used only for rarely-ordered items, and for sorting and transporting to the smaller warehouses. Same-day delivery will become more basic and eventually the expedited delivery will be hours not day(s).

Google+ hangouts meet Amazon Video-on-demand

Streaming a film or TV-show in your room doesn’t have to be an activity that you do alone. You can do that while “hanging out” with your friends by video-conference. Either Google could integrate it’s Google+ hangouts with Google Play Movies, or Amazon can introduce a hangouts like feature for their video-on-demand.

30 minute delivery through drones

Amazon is working on an automated 30-minutes delivery system that can bring you any product within 30 minutes of ordering.

3D scanning and printing

Right now, if I had to pick a field that I could invest or found a startup in, it would be 3D printing. 3D printing is becoming cheaper, so we can expect more of such services.   There are some relatively cheap 3D printers on Amazon right this moment.

Trying out clothes without actually trying them

Envision if Amazon had your portraits and measurements in detail. Amazon would have the capacity to give you a realistic picture of how you would look when you try-out those garments on so that you can pick the right size. (This will turn into a reality when processors get to be faster to do handle this rigorous image-processing on every click).

Highly personalized experience – your allergies will be considered before ordering food

You can integrate your e-commerce provider with your medical insurance provider to get a list of all known allergies. This will make sure you won’t order any food has something you are allergic to. This would work even while ordering food online. Would look something like:

“Our records indicate that you are allergic to peanuts. Your order has trace amounts of peanuts in it. Do you want to continue?”

Deep integration to devices and life

E-commerce will be deeply integrated into every device and gadget you have. You won’t simply be shopping via the website from your computer or via an app on your mobile.  Your refrigerator will be able to keep track of the quantity left in your milk, how much ketchup you have left, etc, and will order them when required from your e-commerce provider like Amazon Fresh. Sensors in your bathrooms will measure the amount of shampoo, toothpaste, soap, and you can set them to order automatically. Another cool thing would be built in sensors, for example shampoo bottles will have sensors in them, and will order refills consequently so you don’t need to take time to log on and purchase.

Lockers like mail boxes for goods

Right now, one of the major inconveniences of ordering online is that, you might miss the delivery of an item if you are not at home. I expect package lockers, that appears like our current mailboxes before every house on the block, that are electronically locked with a password or keyword and have a camera surveillance for security. You will have to grant access to one of the lockers (of an appropriate size depending on the size of your package) when you order something online. Your eCommerce website will know the size of your lockers because you would set them in your shipping section during your checkout process.

What do you think? What do you think will be a trend in 5, 10, even 20 years from now?  Comment below.

Mailchimp Guide for Product Replenishment

Replenishable items are a powerful driver for repeat business. Replenishment products paired with effective email marketing campaigns drive customer loyalty, retention, and consistent revenue. Whether you are selling toothpaste or ink cartridges, there are many ways to build out a successful replenishment campaign to drive re-orders from your customers.  Your goal is to anticipate your customers’ needs through an automated replenishment email at the right time in the product lifecycle. This can be done in a number of ways: unique customer purchasing behavior, average customer usage, and even time that one thinks it should take to use a specific product. This guide will walk through two options for creating Replenishment Campaigns.

Option 1: for retailers who carry many replenishable items that customers tend to purchase together

Option 2: for retailers with a few replenishable items, and/or carry replenishable items that aren’t generally purchased together.

Windsor Circle provides the data integrations and services that a growing number of retailers and eCommerce businesses rely on to power their replenishment campaigns. We do so by connecting a merchant’s eCommerce platform (for example, Magento) to their MailChimp email marketing account.

In this “Replenish” Playbook, we’ll show you:

  • Case studies of successful campaigns
  • How to set up an automated Product

Replenishment Campaign

  • Best practices and examples

…so you can replenish the ranks!

Open PDF – Windsor Circle MailChimp Guide Replenish