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Multi-year projects can be “long, tedious, time-consuming and very heavy” for the project managers overseeing them, says Beth, who works for a large networking technology company in southern California. That’s why this portfolio manager knew she had to do something to keep her team from getting burned out during the 2 1/2 year project they were immersed in.
Recently, Beth shared her solution with MPUG during the recent PMI Symposium in Phoenix, AZ: “We started putting games and toys and things that you had to do as brain teasers [around] to keep them motivated.”

On top of that, during lengthy weekend implementations, she’d make sure the PMs took breaks to listen to music and watch movies. “They’d do some work, and we’d start and stop the movies in between, so it didn’t seem they were working that hard even though they were working 10- to 15-hour days to get something implemented. They’d get up, they’d move around, they’d play for a few minutes to stay motivated.”

Loosen Up the Thinking

Eileen, a project manager and Microsoft Project administrator who also recently took over portfolio management at the international hardwood floor manufacturer where she works, once faced the situation of low morale within her team.

As she recalls, “People were putting in long hours, and we weren’t getting the results we needed to see.” It was an agile project and they were going to be going into a retrospective meeting. So Eileen, who knew her people were real fans of microbreweries, picked up a case of mixed craft beers and a bunch of pizza and brought it all into the conference room. Facing the team, she said, “Have at it. Tell me what’s going on. What’s bugging you?”

By the time people had eaten the pizza and enjoyed the beer, “They were really open to expressing their issues and [being part of] that collaborative environment than if everybody were in the conference room with nothing more than a pen and paper.”

As she explains, the secret was to “more or less play to the needs of my project team and figure out how to get them to open up and motivate them to really want to get better.”

Set the Vision and Honor Big Contributions

Vince, manager of the PMO at a global motion and control technologies manufacturer, believes in the basics: expressing”very clearly” the vision of what the team is there to do. “The whole point is to set a vision and communicate it frequently using every possible way to do that.”

He advises trying to build a sense of team around the vision. “You want to build a camaraderie that it is a team effort and it’s going to take a team effort to accomplish the goal of the project. You want them to feel like they’re all part of a team and important contributors.”

But teams are made up of individuals, so he also emphasizes challenging each member and “giving them opportunities to show what they can do in front of the team and then rewarding the job well done and praising them in public in front of their peers.”

On one major three-year-plus rocket project done for NASA, Vince introduced an “MVP award,” which he describes as an acrylic desktop trophy that proclaimed the recipient an “Ares I Most Valuable Player.”

“We made a habit of handing out at least one of those at our weekly team meeting. That way people could start to see their peers being recognized.” A team member won the award for completing an “important and significant task for a deliverable that I could see was something that was within their capabilities and was important to the overall project accomplishment.”

When an award was handed over, a photographer was on hand to capture the moment. Not only did the recipient receive a copy of the photo taken, but the photo also became part of the official library of documentation for the entire project.

By the end of the project, he notes, everyone wanted an MVP award. “You weren’t a contributing member if you hadn’t done something to earn your MVP.”

Share your most inspired approach for keeping your project team motivated. Comment below.