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Project Management Blog
You all know the drill. You are juggling managing a project, solving problems, providing leadership to the team, and trying to get all the work done on time and within budget. However, when your manager or your customer asks how the project is going, you simply reply “fine”.

Many project managers try to communicate with the minimum possible effort. Part of this hesitancy is a lack of comfort with written and verbal communication in general. It could also be that most project managers simply do not understand the value that proactive communication provides on a project.

Like it or not, communication is one of the core project management processes. However, the communication process can be scaled based on the size of the project. For small projects, the level of communication might be as simple as making sure the business customer understands that the work has begun, and notifying them when the work is completed. Nothing fancy there.

Status Reports Satisfy Basic Communication Requirements

Problems can occur when you apply this small project model to much larger projects. As you get into larger projects, you will need to get into status reporting. Status Reports provide information to the key stakeholders on the current status of the project and what work has been completed since the last communication. These are also forums to discuss outstanding issues, scope change requests, risks, etc. The main purpose of the status reports is to manage expectations and make sure there are no surprises. Delivering bad news is not a communications problem. Not effectively managing expectations is a problem. Lay it all out in the status report, and don’t surprise your stakeholders.

Create a Communication Plan for Large Projects

On larger projects, especially those that impact a wide variety of people, the basic status report is no longer enough. The communication needs to be proactive, multifaceted and targeted. This is the time for establishing a formal Communication Plan. In a Communication Plan, you think about your major stakeholders, their information needs, and the best way to satisfy those needs. Then, you can tailor specific types of communication to meet the particular needs of each audience. In a Communication Plan you identify and plan for three types of communication:

Mandatory communication such as budget and status reports.

Informational elements such as an online repository of project documentation, lunch and learns, and frequently asked questions.

Marketing elements such as pep rallies, success stories, testimonials, and posters to display in the company lobby.

Communication - Just Do It!

Project managers must get over the fear and reluctance to communicate proactively. There are some projects where the project manager thought he had done a good job, but the client was not satisfied because he or she did not know what was going on. There are also projects that went badly overbudget and deadline, but were still viewed as a success because the client knew what was going on and the expectations were managed well.

You have all heard the simple saying, “communicate, communicate, communicate.” Project managers should take this to heart. There are many aspects of a project that are not totally within your hands. Communication, however, is something that is directly within your control. You might be surprised how smoothly your project progresses when you communicate proactively to the team, customers, and stakeholders.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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This episode is sponsored by The Agile PrepCast. PDU for PMP::
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David Hillson
This interview with Dr. David Hillson was recorded at the 2015 PMI Global Congress in Orlando, Florida. We discuss his paper and presentation "Weight Loss For Risky Projects". Here is the paper's definition of Risk Obesity:

“Risk obesity” occurs when there is too much risk in the system, resulting from uncontrolled risk appetite (Hillson, 2014). This can affect the business as a whole if strategic risk-taking decisions by the senior management team lead to risk exposure that is greater than the organization can manage. But risk obesity can also occur at the project level, when a particular project is carrying levels of risk that are too high, posing a significant threat to the project’s success.

Each of the characteristics of physical obesity has parallels in risk obesity, where we accumulate excessive risk exposure that threatens the ongoing health of our project, and that may ultimately be terminal. Risk obesity also makes other risk ailments more likely, as high levels of risk exposure challenge the ability of our risk management processes to cope.

The main cause of risk obesity is an uncontrolled or inappropriate risk appetite (Hillson and Murray-Webster, 2012), leading us to take on too much risk without the ability to digest it and deal with it effectively. It is also possible in some cases that there is a built-in tendency to risk obesity arising from the “organizational DNA,” with a corporate ethos and culture that lead to excessive risk-taking.

The good news for projects suffering from risk obesity is that it is both treatable and preventable. This paper provides clear diagnostic symptoms to determine whether a project is risk obese, as well as proven treatment options.

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Wednesday, 13 January 2016 20:08

How to Deal with Uncertainty on Long Projects

Many times you are asked to manage a project that starts off with a lot of uncertainty. You may not be 100% sure of the resource requirements, final deliverables, cost, schedule, etc. You may also be working within a matrixed organization where team members are not allocated full-time to your project. They may be either assigned to other projects, or else to the support of production applications. Part of the planning process involves deciding how to manage the unknowns.

The good news is that project managers deal with the uncertainty associated with large projects all the time, and it is very likely that you can be successful. You can imagine projects with dozens (or hundreds) of workers, and very long timeframes. If those project managers can be successful, you can too.

Okay, so what should you do? Here are a couple suggestions for you to consider, depending on what you think will work best in your situation.

Break the work into smaller pieces

The first thing to do with a long project is to break it down into smaller pieces if possible. For example, let’s say you have a traditional waterfall type of project. Although you are not sure about the work to be done in nine months, you should at least know what you will need to do over the next few months. You are probably going to start in a requirements gathering process. Instead of defining a one year project, start by defining a project that will cover only the analysis phase. After that project, you can redefine and estimate the remainder of the work. If you still feel uncomfortable doing that, then perhaps you can create a project that just covers the design phase. Ultimately, you may complete the work in three or four smaller projects instead of one large one, but you will get there nonetheless. You will also be able to more easily confirm the resources you need for each of the shorter projects.

Provide less detail as the planning horizon gets further out

Many organizations are not structured in a way that allows you to break a large project into a set of smaller ones. These companies only want to pay for one project, and track one project. If you break it up into pieces, people could become confused.

The next idea is to estimate and plan the work for the entire timeframe, but understand that there will be less detail the further out in the future you get. Again, you should have a firm and detailed schedule for the next three months, but then the planning will be at a higher and higher level. You have a framework for completing the project, but only the short-term activities are planned out in detail. This is probably the approach most project managers take on long projects.

Of course, you cannot leave everything at a high level. Every month you need to replan the project, validating the detailed work for the next two months, and then building the details for the third month out. This makes sure that you always have a three-month detailed planning window, and you are filling in more and more detail for the outer months. If the detailed planning leads you to believe that you will not hit your deadline or your budget, attempt to resolve the situation immediately or raise this possibility as a potential risk.

Use multiple estimating techniques

The classic estimating technique is to build a work breakdown structure, estimate the work associated with the lowest level activities, and then add everything back up for the final overall estimate. This approach does not work well when you are not sure exactly what the work is a long way into the future. Fortunately, there are other estimating techniques that will help you cross-check your estimated effort, cost, and duration. Fist, you can rely on outside experts to review your Project Charter and schedule to see if they think your estimates are reasonable. Second, you can see whether there have been similar projects in your company where you can review the prior schedule and estimates to see how they line up with your project. Third, you can use industry guidelines to create overall estimates based on how much time you think the analysis phase will take. For example, if you find estimating guidelines that say that the analysis phase of a project with your characteristics takes 28% of the entire project, then you can provide a high-level estimate of the entire project based on your detailed estimate for the analysis phase.

If you are concerned about the availability of resources, this approach should work. When you create the initial schedule, you can start to communicate regarding the specific people you will need in the next three months, and the general types of people you will need further out. If you keep a detailed three-month planning window, you will be able to give the resource managers up to three months lead-time once you finally nail down who you need for the project work. If resources are not available, you also have up to three months to escalate the problem or to look for alternatives. Two to three months notice should be enough time to manage through any of these resource scenarios.

Risk management

Generally, the problem with long projects is that there are many things that can happen in the future that you do not know about today. In other words, there are potential risks. We have already discussed some ways to deal with the uncertainty of schedule and effort estimating risks. There are other risks as well. For instance, there is a risk that resources you need in the future will not be available when you need them.

All of these risks can be identified, and then a specific plan can be put into place to mitigate the risk and ensure it does not happen. Every month you would update the risk plan to ensure known risks are being managed and new risks are identified. If you think there is risk associated with any aspect of the project in the future, identify it and mitigate it.


You are right to be concerned about the unknowns associated with long projects. However, there are a number of techniques that can be used to make you feel more comfortable. Being comfortable does not imply that you know everything. Being comfortable means that you have taken your best shot at laying the project out as best you can, and then relying on a good set of communication processes, good risk management, and good issues management to deal with future threats and current problems as they arise.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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Project management presents a bigger challenge than just telling everyone on the team to perform tasks in a certain way. People who are not used to working within a formal structure and framework can sometimes rebel when they are asked to do it for the first time. These people will first tend to get negative and view the new processes as overhead before they start to grudgingly see the value.

If you were trying to implement a project management discipline throughout your entire organization, the job would be very complex and time-consuming. In that kind of an initiative, you are trying to change the culture for project managers, team members, functional managers, and customers. When you implement project management processes on just one project team, the challenge is much more contained and within your control. On the other hand, the benefits are obviously more limited as well. First, the value that you are providing is limited to your immediate project team. You will also have to create some of the processes and templates your team will use, rather than having a consistent set that your entire organization uses. When your entire organization is moving in the same direction, you will really start to see the overall value that good project management processes can provide.

To help you be successful, focus these five areas:


As the project manager, you are the primary person to lead this change. You set the priorities and you set the tone for how the project is run. If you make sure to define and plan the project well, and then to execute and control the project using good techniques, other members of the team should follow your lead. But, if project team members see that you are not communicating well, you are accepting new scope requirements on your own, or there confusion regarding who is doing what, they will obviously question the changes being made. Don’t let that happen to you. Talk the talk and walk the walk.

Project management deliverables

You cannot successfully introduce good project management discipline without implementing a set of processes that everyone can see and understand. This starts off with the planning processes. With a large project, it should be understood that you need a Project Charter and a schedule. You also need to have a process for managing issues, scope, risk, communication, etc. These don’t have to be long, tedious procedures, but they have to be detailed enough that people understand what is expected of them and how the project management processes work.

Project management advocate

Try to find someone on the team that can be an inside partner. The team will accept the new processes much more quickly if there is another team member who is also on your side. This person should be a senior individual whom the rest of the team respects. He doesn’t have to be a cheerleader, but he will set a good example and encourage the rest of the team to go along with the work processes that have been established for the entire team.


You should make sure that the team is aware of what you are doing and why. Explain to them the perceived value and benefit to the project. This is not a one-time message, but one that should be repeated over and over. This type of communication can take many shapes over time. For instance, you can catch someone doing something right regarding the project management procedures and praise them for their effort. You can also track and publicize how the team is doing in terms of meeting commitments for schedule, cost and quality. It is very difficult to introduce a culture change without a frequent, ongoing and consistent message.

Training / awareness

Lastly, after you have dealt successfully with the people dynamics and the required processes, you should make sure that no one has difficulty because of a skills problem. If your project were long enough, you would expect to receive a positive return on your training investment. You should think about providing short awareness training to the entire team, and then sending your team leaders or other project managers to more formal project management training.


There are some advantages and disadvantage associated with trying to implement formal project management processes on a project team. In general, the successful implementation is within your control. If your project is large enough, you should easily see the value and you will have a chance to integrate project management processes successfully before the project finishes.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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Wanda Curlee
Wanda Curlee, PMP, PgMP

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the ever-growing network of physical objects that feature an IP address for internet connectivity, and the communication that occurs between these objects and other Internet-enabled devices and systems.

Internet of Things (IoT) projects are the projects that you and I will be managing in order to make these devices a reality, and according to Wanda Curlee (www.wandacurlee.com) these type of projects have the potential to fundamentally change project management.

The way that an IoT project is changing project management is not just because anything and everything can be and will be internet enabled, but also because the project management software we use will be more interconnected and developing these IoT devices will require us project managers to get a better handle on research and development, which can be extremely nebulous in the internet of things.

In a nutshell, Wanda Curlee says that IoT project management is heading our way and even if your projects are not internet related today, they will be in the future, She has no doubt that you will be managing an internet of things project.

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It is difficult to address all the potential services having to do with PMOs, but here is an attempt to summarize some of them. Keep in mind that probably no single PMO will undertake responsibility for all of the services mentioned below. However, understanding the nature of the many services that can be offered will help you determine the most important areas that will be offered by your PMO.

Establish and Support a Document Repository

One of the value propositions for deploying common project management processes is the ability to reuse processes, procedures, templates, prior examples, etc. However, the ability to reuse documentation does not come about like magic. If project managers want to see whether there might be pre-existing material that would help them, they are not going to be expected to contact every other project manager. To facilitate process and document reuse, the PMO needs to establish and manage a Document Repository. This could be as easy as setting up a directory structure that everyone in the organization can access. It might also be more elaborate and multi-functional, like a tool specifically designed for document management. Depending on how you implement this facility, you need to properly set up a classification structure, make sure that only approved information is posted there, make sure the information stays current and relevant, and make sure that the facility is actively marketed and utilized by the organization.

Convert Key Learnings to Best Practices

At the end of every project, the project manager, team, client and major stakeholders should get together in an end-of-project meeting to discuss what was planned and what actually happened. At some point in the meeting, you should turn your attention to lessons learned. The lessons should be collected and consolidated in the Document Repository. However, one problem with lessons learned is that they typically only apply to that one project.

As the PMO collects more and more key learnings, they may start to see patterns emerge in the lessons learned. At some point, lessons learned from projects can be raised to the level of a best practice. A best practice statement implies that the benefit can be gained for all projects, not just the few that reported it.

Coordinating a Common Resource Pool

All companies need to have a process to staff projects. In some companies, the resources are allocated per business unit. In other companies, all of the project people are assigned to one central staff. Since the PMO is a focal point for all project management-related activities, it is the right place to manage these common resource pools. The resource pool could be for project managers only, or it could be for all potential project team members. Creating a common resource pool involves taking a skills inventory of all shared resources and keeping track of when each person will become available from his current project. The PMO can then have the information available as new projects are ready to start. In fact, the PMO can have certain projects started based on the availability of skillsets.

Document Review Service

Document reviews can be offered on a stand-alone basis to help ensure that project managers are utilizing the standard templates as they were intended and that they are being completed clearly and consistently. This service basically just involves project managers sending in project deliverables to receive a quick review and feedback. The PMO is not “approving” the document, but they are providing feedback on the content, format and readability of the specified document.

Defining the Role of Contractors on Projects

Most companies utilize contractors for some portion of their workload. The question that your company must answer is how best to utilize contractors and how best to utilize employees. There is not one answer that fits all companies. Each company and each organization must determine the things that are most important to them and create an overall policy for utilizing contractors within that context. For instance, one company might decide that their business runs on their legacy systems, and they are not going to trust contractors to keep those applications running. Another company may decide that the legacy systems represent the past, and that new projects represent the future. In that company, they may decide to rely on contractors for support, but they may prefer to utilize employees for new projects. Likewise, some companies insist that all senior positions be staffed with employees. Other companies do not have a problem placing contractors in any position where they are short of employees or do not have the right employee available. The PMO can help determine the right policies for your company.


As your company becomes more sophisticated at utilizing metrics, you might realize that collecting internal data on internal projects is valuable, but can only take you so far. You don't really know how efficient and effective your project delivery is unless you can compare how you deliver projects against other companies. Benchmarking studies (one-time) and benchmarking programs (longer-term) are a way to compare your organization against others. Benchmarking requires that you gather a set of predefined metrics that describe the result of very well-defined processes. The resulting metrics that are captured from other companies, using the same set of processes and definitions, can be used to create benchmarking statistics that allow you to compare your organization against others. This information can be evaluated to determine if there are changes that can be made in your organization to achieve similar results.

Benchmarking is an area that few companies want to try to start on their own. It requires a lot of work, and the processes you define need to be applicable to a range of outside companies. If you are going to benchmark, you are generally going to need to utilize an outside firm that specializes in benchmarking. This company may already have the core set of processes, metrics and benchmarks defined. They can also spend the time to get other companies involved, they can conduct the study and they can help interpret the results.


Many companies are finding that they must build project management capabilities if they are going to meet business challenges in the future. It is also important to implement project management processes consistently across the organization. This leads to efficiency and helps to deliver projects better, faster, and cheaper. The next step is to determine how best to identify the common project management processes and make sure that they are leveraged as needed by the entire organization.

Many companies give this responsibility to one or more people in a Project Management Office (PMO). There are many structures for a PMO and many types of services that the PMO can offer. Each organization must first determine the services that are important to them and then create an overall approach for implementation. Since this is a culture change initiative, the effort can be time-consuming and difficult. However, the rewards are also large. If the PMO is established with a clear vision, strong sponsorship and a solid approach, it can be a vehicle for creating a tremendous amount of value for the company.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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They say the only sure things in life are death and taxes. However, there may be a third – change. Your project team can be very diligent in defining the project and capturing business requirements. However, once you get going, changes will occur.

Why Change?

Project changes are typically caused by two reasons. First, the client does not understand all of the details and nuances of what they need before the project begins. This is normal. The project team sometimes thinks that their clients must know every detail about the solution, but that is too high an expectation. Some requirements will come up later. Some requirements won’t be known until the client starts to see how the solution is shaping up.

The second reason for project change is that the business is changing, the industry is changing, and the world is changing. Even if your specifications were initially perfect, business change might require changes to your work.

It is vital that the project manager and project team recognize changes when they occur and manage the changes through scope change management. This allows the sponsor to make a decision on whether the value of the change is worth the cost to the project in terms of cost and schedule.

Change is not inherently bad or good. However, the team can react to changes in positive or negative ways, depending on the state of the project. Project teams will typically react to change with the thinking that if the project sponsor wants to make the changes, then they will go ahead and make the changes.

Changes Can Be Perceived Negatively

Some teams react to project change in a way that can be more problematic - the team may not want to make any more changes. This situation usually occurs on projects that have had problems, and there could be a variety of reasons for this reaction:
  • This may be a long project, perhaps requiring overtime, and people just want the project to end.
  • The proposed changes will require a lot of work, and the deadline date is being held firm. Again, overtime may be required from the team.
  • Members of the project team and the client have not had a smooth relationship on the project. There may be project team members that do not want to help the client and others that, again, may just want the project to end.
  • The changes require major upstream rework to the design, which will require changes to construction and re-testing of the entire solution.
All of these situations (and others) can result in a scenario where the project team is not motivated to support scope changes. This puts the project manager in a tough position. The project manager may also want to see the project completed; however, he usually does not have the luxury of complaining. (If he does, it should be to his own manager and project sponsor – not to the rest of the team.) So, the project manager has to get the rest of the team on board for one last charge.

It’s a Tough Sell

Frankly, it’s a tough sell. The team members are tired and they are not motivated. Morale may be poor. However, this is the time for the project manager to show leadership. Delivering yesterday’s solution is not going to help the company. The project manager must get the team motivated to make the changes. Since the cause of the team problems is probably complex, the solution should be multi-faceted as well. Here are some strategies for the project manager to consider.
  • Explain the facts first. Do not start with a rah-rah speech right away. First, meet with the team and explain the background and circumstances. Then, talk through the changes that are needed and why they are important from a business perspective. The project manager should make sure everyone has the same understanding of the problem and the challenges ahead.
  • Acknowledge the pain. The project manager must acknowledge the problems. Let the team know that you understand that they may not want to make the changes and that their morale is poor. Don’t dwell on it – but acknowledge it.
  • Be motivational. Now is the time to motivate the team. Appeal to their sense of working together as a team to get through this adversity. Let them know the value they are providing to the company.
  • Talk to everyone one-on-one. In addition to the team meeting, talk to the entire team one-on-one to understand where they are mentally. Listen to their concerns and get their personal commitment to work hard and keep going.
  • Get management and the sponsor involved. Now is a good time to ask your manager and your sponsor to talk to the team, thank them for their work so far, and ask for their continued help getting through the changes.
  • Look for perks. Little perks can help a team get through motivational and morale trouble. These can be as simple as donuts in the morning and pizza for those that have to work late.
  • Make sure the clients are in there with you. Normally if the project team is working more, the clients are sharing the pain as well. The project manager should make sure they are contributing.
  • Communicate proactively. Keep everyone informed about the state of the project and the time and effort remaining. If the project manager starts getting closed and secretive with information, it causes more morale problems.
  • Celebrate successes. The project manager does not need to wait until the project is over to declare success. Look for milestones, or mini-milestones, as opportunities to celebrate a victory and give praise to team members.

Some people might read this column and say that the team members are being coddled. After all, they are paid to do a job, and they just need to do it.

Yes, you can take that approach as well, but this is an example of a team that is already hurting. Taking an attitude of “just do your job” can result in people cutting corners, short-changing testing, and looking for the path that gets them to the end with the least effort required. In the longer-term, it increases burnout and makes it harder for the team members to be productive in their next assignments. It can also lead to turnover, which is exactly what you do not want to happen in a situation like this.

A project manager needs to have more management and leadership tools than simply telling people to “do their jobs.” This is a tough situation and requires good people management skills to get through successfully. Success is never guaranteed, but utilizing some of these tips can help you push though.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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Many businesses struggle with the question of whether they are getting their money’s worth when sending employees to training. This question can be applied to any type of business training, including project management training, and any other type of business training. You know the cost side of training too well. But how do you determine the business value?

What We Ask Today

The most common way to determine business value today is to ask the trainee whether he thinks the class was valuable. This doesn’t give you much objective information, but it is probably the most that many companies ask in terms of follow-up. Another method is to see how much of the class content can be applied on the job. But again, this is usually done informally, without an attempt to actually see how the performance of the trainee improves.

A Rigorous Approach

There is a process for more rigorously determining the value received for your training dollars. These ideas are not for the faint of heart. They take more preparation and they take more of that most precious commodity – time. However, the results of this process will give you a much better feel for the value that you are receiving from training. You can also start with some of these steps, and try the rest later.

  1. First, the trainee and their manager meet a few weeks before the training is scheduled to make sure the trainee is ready for the class. The manager and trainee discuss how the training can help the trainee on the job. The discussion should include identifying opportunities where the trainee can apply the new skills on their job. This information should be documented so that it can be compared with a post-class assessment done later.
  2. When the actual class begins, each of the trainees should complete an initial survey showing their knowledge of the class material.
  3. Immediately after the class, each trainee should complete a survey rating whether he liked the class, the instructor skill level, the class logistics, etc. These surveys are designed for the benefit of the training company and the instructor. The survey provides a sense for how the class went and how the instructor performed. This survey is not designed to show how much you learned at the class.
  4. A week or two after the class, the trainee completes a post-class survey showing his current knowledge in the subject. For the most part, it is exactly the same as the initial survey from activity #2 above. This is compared to the initial survey to provide some sense as to how much the trainee learned and retained. If this survey comes out close to the original version, it may show that the training was not very effective. You would expect that the post-class survey would show improvement.
  5. Here is the key step. A few months after the class, the trainee and his manager meet again for a post-class assessment, which is a follow-up to activity number one. In this discussion, the trainee and manager discuss the value of the class, and whether the class resulted in increased productivity and increased business value. Part of this discussion focuses on the opportunities that the trainee has had to apply the new skills. In fact, the training may have been superb, but if there have been no opportunities to apply the new skills, then the business value will be marginal.


In most training classes today, the trainee completes the class feedback for the benefit of the training company, and then tells his or her manager how good the class was. This superficial feedback is all that is available to gauge business value. However, the real test of business value is whether the class resulted in an increased skill level that can be applied to your job to make you more productive. This cannot be determined immediately after a class. However, you can get a sense for the business value in two steps. The first is a knowledge survey completed a few weeks after the class, and compared with an initial baseline. This can be repeated a month or two later as well. The next step is to determine in the months after the class whether or not the training has been applied on the job. If you capture this information on all your classes, you will get a much more fact-based view of whether the classes you attend are providing business value to your company.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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When the idea for a project first comes up, you rarely know exactly all the resources you will need. As the project initially progresses, however, you start to define the scope, assumptions, deliverables, approach, etc. This gives you enough information to put together an initial estimate of the effort and other resources required for the project. From there you estimate the duration and cost of the project, gain approval and begin the work.

As you know, the estimates that you prepare up-front are just that – estimates. The only time you know for sure what the effort, cost and duration of the project are is when the project is over. Up to that point, you are dealing with some level of estimating uncertainty and risk.

Estimating Contingency

So far, this is nothing new. All projects have some level of uncertainty. If possible, you account for the estimating uncertainty through the use of a contingency budget. If you believe your estimates are 80% accurate, you could request a 20% contingency budget. For example, if your project was estimated to cost $100,000, you would request an additional $20,000 contingency budget to cover some level of estimating inaccuracy and account for activities that are clearly in-scope but that you may have missed in the original estimate. Any money remaining in the contingency budget is returned to the client at the end of the project.

Planned Reserves

The nature of some projects requires that the project manager take this contingency even further. On some projects, you must actually plan for what the contingency resources look like and how you will get them when needed. You need a strategy and plan for having reserve resources available when needed. These could be labor or non-labor resources, such as hardware, equipment or supplies.

There are a few scenarios where you need to plan ahead for reserve resources.

Time is of the Essence

In a typical project, if you find that work is taking longer than you anticipated, you would ask for additional time and budget. However, if the deadline date is critical and cannot be moved, you may not have time to look for new resources when you first realize you need them. You may need to have a plan already in place for where the resources are and how to acquire them. For example, let’s look at the YR2K projects of the 1990s. If you were entering the final six months of 1999 and had a lot of work remaining, chances are you would have had a game plan for completing on time, plus a plan on how to acquire additional people if necessary. Having internal employees identified and in reserve would allow you to move quickly if you determined more resources were necessary.

High Incremental Costs of Obtaining Resources

You may have resources that are less expensive when purchased in bulk, but very expensive when purchased incrementally. For instance, if the solution you are building requires new hardware, you may find that the price per unit is less as you purchase more units. Let’s say that you estimate you will need 100 units. Depending on your estimating uncertainty, you may choose to purchase 110 instead, and have ten units in reserve. You would do this because the price to purchase the extra ten units now (as a part of the bulk order) is much less expensive that having to purchase ten units later, when the incremental cost would be much higher.  

Long Lead Times for Specialty Resources

Sometimes there is a long lead-time to acquire hard-to-find specialty resources. You may need to have them in reserve if needed. For example, you may work with consulting firms ahead of time to find specialty resources, such as experts in some obscure tool, with the understanding that the requirement is not 100% firm. The firms can work ahead of time to locate these people and try to have someone available on short notice in case you need them later on the project.

Creating a Reserve Plan as a Part of the Risk Plan

Use the following steps to identify the need for reserves and have them ready when needed.

Recognize the need. The first critical step is simply to understand that you have a need for reserves. If you do not recognize that you are in this situation until the need arises, it will already be too late to react. The need for reserve resources will typically come out as part of your risk management strategy. You may have identified a certain project risk and determined that the way to mitigate the risk is to have certain resources in reserve.

Determine the costs and benefits. There is obviously a benefit to having potentially necessary resources in reserve. There is usually a cost as well. For instance, there is the project management time required to put together and execute the Risk Plan. However, many times there are also additional project costs. Let’s look at the three prior examples.

In the YR2K example, there may not have been an incremental cost associated with identifying additional resources if they were internal to the company. The cost would have only been incurred if the resources were needed.

In the second example, you purchase an extra ten hardware units and have them in reserve. The cost to the project is increased by those additional ten units. If you end up needing the units, there is no additional cost. (In fact you probably saved some money.) However, if you don’t use them all, the remaining units may be unused and would be an extra cost that the project would not have had to spend otherwise.

In the third example, you ask consulting firms to look for a specialty resource. You would typically not have an incremental cost up front, unless you paid a consulting firm to have people available and in reserve. However, if you ended up needing an additional resource, the billing rate will probably be higher to reflect the additional work that the consulting firm invested.

Gain approval. The risk, cost and benefit information should be taken to the sponsor for approval. You want to be sure that the sponsor agrees that your reserve plan is rigorous enough to reduce the risk to the project. You also want to make sure the sponsor approves any cost to the project and is aware of any incremental costs if the reserve resources need to be acquired.

Manage the Risk Plan. The activities associated with the Risk Plan need to be moved to the schedule and managed proactively. The project manager should also re-evaluate the risks on a scheduled basis, probably monthly or at the end of major milestones, to ensure that the reserves are still necessary and provide proper risk protection to the project


On most projects, if you find that you need more resources, you talk to your sponsor and revise the budget and schedule if necessary. However, on some projects you do not have the luxury of additional time. In those cases, the project manager must identify where the project may be at risk and have a plan in place to make sure resources are in reserve if needed. Sometimes you actually need to have the resources physically available. Other times, you just need to know that you could acquire them on short notice if necessary. The need for project reserves would typically be identified and managed through the risk management process, with reserve resources being a response to a specifically identified project risk.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
Published in Blogs
Quality management requires an investment of time and resources. However, you make this investment with the belief that your project and your deliverables will be of higher quality in the future. This higher quality, in turn, will lead to less rework and a more satisfied client. The basic value proposition for quality management is that you will save more cost and time over the life of your project than the cost and time required to set up and manage the quality management process.

Let’s look at that value proposition in a little more detail because there is a flip side to it as well. Like most project management processes, the time and effort you invest in quality management must be appropriate for the size of the project you are undertaking. So, the quality process that you implemented on your long project probably would not be appropriate on the smaller ones. If you implement an elaborate quality process on smaller projects, it may well be that the cost and time required will not be offset by overall cost and time savings. In general, this is not a good situation and is not a good use of project resources.

Large Projects Need a Formal Quality Management Process

Large projects typically have more that can go wrong in terms of the quality of their deliverables. They also have larger teams and more complexity in terms of how the project is executed. Quality management is not only helpful for large projects – it is required. On a large project, the quality management process can consist of:

  • Awareness and training. You can invest the time to make sure your team understands the importance of quality, and what their role is in making sure that quality results are produced.
  • Quality Management Plan. The project team can develop a specific Quality Management Plan that describes the quality assurance and quality control processes that will be followed. In many cases, large projects include specific full-time or part-time resource(s) to manage the quality process.
  • Metrics. You need good data to show the overall quality of your processes and the products you are delivering. Identifying and capturing metrics gives you the information you need.
  • Process improvement. Analyzing the results of the metrics gives you the information you need to change and improve the overall quality of the deliverables you are producing on the project. This information can be used to update and improve your Quality Management Plan. The capturing of subsequent metrics will point out whether your changes are resulting in process and product improvements.
Small Projects Rely on Individual Quality Activities

Smaller projects cannot implement such formal quality management processes because they do not have time to get through the metrics collection and process improvement steps. If your project is three months long, you may not be able to collect product-related metrics until half way through the project. If you collect metrics at that point, you have very little time to make process changes and collect another set of metrics to see whether you improved or not. If you do so, the project will be over.

That does not mean you give up on quality management. However, your overall process will be much simpler. You probably will not have a formal Quality Management Plan, but instead you will build quality activities directly into the schedule at appropriate points. For a small project, specific activities might include.

  • Discussing the importance of quality at team status meetings.
  • Using pre-existing templates and checklists to manage certain aspects of work.
  • Performing walkthroughs and inspections on deliverable components as they are built.
  • Getting the client involved in testing as early as possible.
  • Identifying simple metrics that can be collected early, with the hope that you can make one or maybe two rounds of improvements before the work gets too far.
Of course, all of these types of activities could also be a part of a larger Quality Management Plan. However, with smaller projects, the quality steps are usually seen as individual activities rather than in the context of an overall larger quality initiative.


Quality management processes must be scaled to the size of the project. Remember that there is a cost to managing quality, as well as a benefit. The effort and time required to manage quality must not exceed the overall value that you expect to gain from the process.

Published in Blogs

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