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Project Management Blog
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.

Summary

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

Summary

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. .
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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.

Summary

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.

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Obviously your project is in trouble if you are missing deadlines and consistently exceeding the estimated effort and cost to get work done. However, you may have a project that actually appears to be on schedule, yet you are concerned about potential problems down the road.

There are things that you can look for that will give you some sense as to whether there are potential troubles lurking. At this point you can’t really call them issues or problems, but they can be identified as risks that have the potential to throw your project off in the future.

Are You Falling Behind Early in the Project?

Many project managers believe that if they fall behind in a project early on, they can make up the time through the remainder of the project. Unfortunately, there is a natural tendency to fall behind as the project progresses. First of all, the more distant you look, the less accurately you can estimate. Second, there are always unexpected items that come up during projects. It is a good idea for project managers to try to get ahead of schedule early on in the project with the expectation that they will need the extra time later.

If you find that you are falling behind early in the project, your best remedy is to start developing corrective plans immediately. Don’t sit back passively and hope you can make the time up later. Be proactive instead, and put corrective plans in place today to get back on schedule.

Are You Identifying More and More Risks?

We are trying to identify warning signs that a project may be in trouble, even though it appears to be on schedule. If you have a multitude of issues that you are addressing today, you probably are not on schedule. However, you may be fine now, yet face a number of identified risks in the future. Of course, all projects have some future risks. However, if you see more and more risks as the project gets going, this could be a big warning sign that your project is in trouble.

If you face this problem, the good news is that you are identifying risks while there is still time to address them. Even if you have an abnormal number of risks, you may still be okay if you really focus on managing them successfully.

Customer Participation Starts to Fade

Your customer needs to be actively engaged during the planning process and the gathering of business requirements. If you cannot get them excited about participating during this timeframe, then you are really in trouble. However, many times the customer begins to become disengaged when the project is a third completed and the project work starts to turn more toward the internal project team. It is important to keep the customer actively involved. The project manager needs to continue to communicate proactively and seek the customer’s input on all scope changes, issue resolution, and risk plans. The customer also needs to be actively involved in testing. The project manager needs to make sure that the customer stays involved and enthusiastic. Otherwise testing and implementation will be a problem down the road.

Morale Starts to Decline

On the surface, if you are on schedule, there is no reason for morale to be going south. If you detect that this is happening, it could be a sign that you are in trouble. You need to determine the cause. Morale might be slipping because people are being asked to work a lot of hours to keep the project on track. That would tend to be an indicator of trouble in the future. It is also possible that the team may think the future schedule is unrealistic. In any case, poor morale needs to be investigated and combated.

Summary

One of the important responsibilities of a project manager is to continually forecast into the future to update the schedule, identify risks, and manage expectations. A project that seems on track today could have major problems tomorrow. Keep your eyes open for these warning signs that things are worse than they appear. If you recognize them ahead of time, they can all be classified as project risks, and can be managed and controlled in a manner that will allow your project to succeed.

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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Earned Value is a way to measure the progress of a project with greater precision and accuracy than is typically available. Earned Value metrics can be combined to show whether the project is on schedule and on budget. If it is not, Earned Value metrics can indicate the percentage the project is over or under budget and the percentage the project is ahead of or behind schedule.

Let’s look at the environmental factors that must be in place before Earned Value can be implemented, and examine why these factors can work against the adoption.

Project Factors

On the project side, the biggest factor to consider is the simple rule of “garbage in, garbage out” - you need to start with good project data to use Earned Value metrics effectively later in the project.

  • Schedule. You need a good schedule with good estimates for all of the underlying activities. If you are imprecise with your effort and cost estimates, Earned Value calculations will not work well for you.
  • Scope change management. If you create good initial estimates for the work activities, but then you do a poor job of managing scope, the Earned Value calculations are going to go bad in a hurry. On the other hand, the Earned Value numbers would show the effects of taking on more unapproved work, and so they would start to raise a problem flag early in the project.
  • Capturing actual effort and cost. Many project managers build good schedules and manage the schedule based on completing the activities on time. Many projects don’t capture the actual effort hours associated with completing each activity. Obviously that is needed for Earned Value calculations to work.
Organizational Factors

It is difficult to implement Earned Value on one individual project if the entire organization is not behind it. First of all, it takes time to capture and calculate Earned Value numbers and you may find that this extra time is not appreciated by your manager – even if you could show that the extra time invested would ultimately result in a better managed project. Likewise, the resulting Earned Value numbers would be of interest to the project manager, but most other stakeholders in the organization won’t have a clue as to what the formulas mean.

From an organizational perspective, the implementation of Earned Value into the organization requires a change in the way people perform their jobs. As such, it needs to be seen as a culture change initiative. First and foremost in a culture change initiative is sponsorship and leadership. You must have a champion who is willing to be the sponsor and who will ensure the proper training, processes and incentives are put into place so that Earned Value concepts are applied consistently across the organization.

The work required to implement Earned Value also depends on the processes that exist in your organization today. If your organization is not used to creating detailed schedules with accurate effort, cost and duration estimates, it will take some work to build that skill. Likewise, if people aren’t used to tracking time and costs on an activity level, it will require major changes to how team members account for and track what they are working on. To implement time reporting may also require new tools and processes be established.

Weighing the Cost Against the Value

Executives should determine whether Earned Value is right for their organization.

First, they should look at the effort and cost associated with implementing the concepts successfully. As described earlier, depending on where the organization is today, the cost could be substantial and the timeframe could be quite long.

Second, they need to determine what other core skills will need to be enhanced to make the Earned Value concepts work. For instance, project managers may need to learn better estimating techniques for the calculations to be relevant. They may also need to learn better techniques for building more accurate schedules.

Third, after understanding the effort and cost, the executive need ask themselves what incremental value would be gained by more precisely managing project progress. For instance, if a project manager manages by end date, they should pretty much know whether the project is ahead or behind schedule. So, if the project manager can estimate that a project is three weeks over schedule, is there really much additional value with knowing that the project is trending three weeks and two days over schedule, as shown through Earned Value calculations? Likewise, a project manager may estimate a project is $10,000 overbudget, while the Earned Value calculation might show that the project is trending at $10,615 over budget. In other words, if the project managers have a decent skill set today, what incremental value will be gained by going to Earned Value?

Summary

Perhaps it is no wonder that organizations see a lot of pain in moving toward Earned Value and not a corresponding amount of incremental value. Given the alternative initiatives and the usage of resources, it is not surprising that in most organizations, a move toward Earned Value would not be one of the top priorities. It is a good concept and it makes sense intuitively. However, from the perspective of most companies, the pain of implementation seems to outweigh the value gained.

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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Why is it that most of us don’t have a problem working 70 hours a week taking care of our customer’s needs, and yet we have difficulty writing a decent status report? There are two major problems. First, some people do not have great written communication skills, and they are not comfortable writing. However, in most cases, the problems with communication are not a lack of skills, but a lack of focus. Many project managers do not appreciate the value of communicating proactively. When they do communicate, it tends to be short and cryptic, as if they are trying to get by with the minimum possible effort.

Keep the Reader in Mind

The key to communicating is to keep the receiver as the focal point – not the sender. Try to think about what the receiver of the communication needs and the information that will be most helpful to him. If you are creating a status report, put in all the information necessary for the reader to understand the true status of the project, including accomplishments, issues, risks, scope changes, etc.

In many organizations, the project manager needs to communicate with people at multiple levels. If so, remember that a one-size-fits-all approach may not apply to communication. You may need to modify the communication content between managers and executive managers. For instance, you may send a one-page report to your direct manager and major clients showing the project status and financial situation. This may be summarized to a half-page or even one paragraph for executive management.  

Include Useful Information - Not the Mundane

Try to focus the status reports so that the information in them can be used in the decision making process. Ask team members (and yourself) whether the information on the status report is there to communicate something valuable, or if it is just taking up space. With that in mind, what types of information should be included?

Typically the status report should include the following information:

  • Project name / project manager / time period / project description: This is all basic information that needs to be included each time so that people know what they are reading.
  • Overall status indicator: Typically there is a very short indicator that reflects the overall status of the project. A common way to express this is with color codes such as green (on track), yellow (caution), or red (problems).
  • High-level status summary: The top portion of the report should provide summary information regarding the overall project. Make sure that the questions are worded in a way so that a project that is on-track will answer either all 'yes' or all 'no'. Notice that the questions are focused on the present and future state of the project – not the past. For instance:Comments: Provide more information for any questions above that were answered negatively'.
    • Will the project be completed on time?
    • Will the project complete within budget?
    • Will the project deliverables be completed within acceptable quality levels?
    • Are scope change requests being managed successfully?
    • Are project issues being addressed successfully?
    • Are project risks being successfully mitigated?
    • Are all client concerns being addressed successfully?

Significant accomplishments this period: List major accomplishments from the previous reporting period. If the planned accomplishments from last period were not completed this period, the project manager should provide reasons as to why.

  • Planned accomplishments for next period: List major planned accomplishments for the next reporting period.
  • Additional comments or highlights: Describe any other comments that the reader should know that would not be reflected in the status report in the previous fields.
  • Attachments: There are many other project management reports that might be of interest to the reader. Again, make sure to remember your audience. For instance, the project schedule might be of interest to some of your readers, but is probably too much information for everyone. Likewise, your readers are probably interested in summary financial information, but not at a detailed level. Other potential attachments include the Issue Log, Scope Change Log, project metrics / statistics, earned value reports, and any other reports required by your company.
Focus Forward

If you are on a support team, your status reports are going to focus on the prior period up to the present time. That is because support is typically reactive and it is hard to know what you might encounter in the future. However, a project status report should focus more on the present and the future. Prior deliverable accomplishments are of some interest to the reader; however, they are more interested in what it will take to complete the project.

Summary

Writing good, effective, and objective status reports requires focus and diligence on the part of the project manager. The purpose of the status report is to communicate the true nature of the project – not how you wish it was. When you write a status report, include information that is of value to the readers and will help them understand what is going on. If there are issues or risks, they should be communicated as well. If your status report is too short, or at too high a level, the reader will not fully understand the status and may have to ask follow-up questions. Creating your status report allows you to keep everyone informed about the true status of the project at a particular point in time. Make sure that you communicate effectively so that the readers have an accurate understanding of the project.

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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It should normally be clear that training will be provided when the project solution is about to be deployed. However, what typically happens is that the work associated with training is also all pushed toward the end of the project. The result is that you may feel rushed to create the training material, and the training might not seem as effective as you wanted.

The key to effective training, as it is with other aspects of the project life cycle, is to start the planning process early. If you wait to consider your training needs until the end of the project, you will not have enough time to do it the way you would like.

Start with the strategy (maybe)

The first possible deliverable to consider is a Training Strategy. You would want to consider this level of planning if your project is complex and there is a large training component. For instance, if you are involved in a project to implement a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application, this type of application obviously has a dramatic impact on the Sales and Marketing users. You may want to create a Training Strategy first to make sure you have an agreement with the customer on the overall direction and approach to take.

All strategy documents on a project are typically done in the Analysis Phase. So, early on, as you are getting your business requirements, you also get requirements for the necessary training. These requirements are used to create an overall strategy, which should then be approved by the customer.

As you probably know from experience, most projects do not have such a complex training situation, and so the Training Strategy document is not needed for most projects.

Create an overall Training Plan

The Training Plan is created during the Design Phase. If you have a Training Strategy, the Training Plan simply contains the additional details required to make the strategy real. If you do not have a Training Strategy, then the Training Plan typically has some initial aspects of strategy, and then quickly gets into the details. The Training Plan would include a description of the audience you are trying to reach (this could include customers and IT staff), an overview of the training needs, and s plan for how you will satisfy the needs. You also need to define how the training will be developed and executed, as well as when the training will be deployed. Remember that training does not only imply stand-up, internal classes. You may consider bringing in outside trainers, using vendor classes, coaching sessions, webinars, how-to instructions, frequently asked questions, computer-based training, etc.

Develop the training content needed

If you complete the planning documents ahead of time, you will be ready to develop the training content at the same time that you are developing the rest of the solution. The Training Plan is not a schedule,.so you will need to add the remaining development and deployment activities to your schedule. However, at this point the confusion has been lifted and it should be clear what has to happen in the training arena.

Test the training content, if necessary

In most instances, the first time you deploy training is actually in a live environment with real users. However, sometimes the training is offered first to an internal group, or even the project team. This serves as a test of the material to make sure that it flows well. It also helps prepare the instructors so that they will be more comfortable delivering the training to the end users. If you are going to hold webinars or any other type of distance learning, you can test the technology and the delivery at this time.

Implementation

It was mentioned earlier that you typically want to train your users right before the solution is implemented. However, this is a generalization. Actually, the training deployment is based on the timing specified in your project Training Plan. However, what you should notice is that this approach reduces the chance that your training will be rushed, or that your training will somehow miss the mark. Assuming you followed the prior steps, at this point in the project you should have developed (and perhaps even tested) your training content, and you should be ready to go regardless of when the training is needed.

Summary

What you see in this approach is that the training delivery also follows a life cycle. Just as you do not want to jump straight into your project Construction Phase, you also do not want to wait to the last moment and then quickly jump into building the training content. Some up-front planning is the key, as well as making sure that you do any construction of training content at the same time that you are constructing your solution. Just as you ensure that the implementation of your final solution will go smoothly, you can also ensure you will have a smooth training deployment by using this structured approach.

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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Traditionally, risks represent potential events or circumstances that exist in the future that could have a negative impact on your project. They are not problems today (if they were, they would be issues, not risks), but they have the potential to become problems in the future. On the other hand, they are not definite problems. There is a chance that the risk will occur, but there is a chance it will not. Identifying the risks that you need to focus on is a combination of identifying the risk event, determining the potential impact to your project, and determining the probability that the risk event will actually occur. When you are done with this exercise, you look for high-risk events and put together a plan to deal with each one.

Let’s take an example. Say you have a supplier that you are counting on to provide raw materials to build a prototype. However, the supplier has a union contract that is expiring in the next 60 days. There is a risk that the supplier will have a strike that will disrupt shipments. You need to identify this as a risk, estimate the probability of occurrence (perhaps this will increase or decrease over time), determine the impact to the project if it occurs, and then put together a plan to minimize the impact on the project if it occurs.

Is risk always a bad thing?

Now let’s get to the concept of positive risk. After all, isn’t everyone supposed to be an intelligent risk taker? Isn’t it right to push the envelope? Isn’t it better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all?

These statements get to a difference between how risk is typically identified from a project management perspective, and how it is utilized in culture. The concept of risk in language is broader than how it is typically used in project management. This broader definition takes into account the concept of positive risk, or opportunity risk.

Positive risk

Negative risks are potential future events that could impact your project negatively. In general, they are to be avoided (although there are different risk strategies, depending on the individual risk). Positive risk, on the other hand, refers to risk that we initiate ourselves because we see a potential opportunity, as well as a potential for failure. This is what we are referring to when we say that we are intelligent risk takers.

New technology may provide a good example. Say that you have a software development project that is scheduled to take 90 days to complete. Your business client would rather the project be delivered earlier, and would get more value if it were delivered earlier, but they understand that 90 days is how long the project will take.

One of your team members has an idea. If you utilize a new software-testing tool, it is possible that you can deliver the project in 60 days instead of 90 days. If this were a guaranteed solution, you would jump on it. However, there is risk, since it is the first time you have used the tool. There is a lack of expertise and a start-up learning curve. It is possible that if the tool does not work out, the project could end up taking 110 days to deliver. What would you do?

Of course, you don’t have enough information to make the decision now. However, this example illustrates the concept of opportunity risk. The business client will accept delivery in 90 days. If you decide to use the tool, it is a risk you are introducing yourself, based on an evaluation of the chances of success and the impact of success, versus the chances of failure and the impact of that failure. When it is said that we are intelligent risk-takers, it is these types of decisions that are being addressed.

The debate is on

Even though you may commonly think of project risks as having a negative connotation, you can also use risk management to identify and quantify potential positive risk. If you would be the one introducing the risk, the risk management plan would be within your control. You and your client can determine if you want to accept the risk after understanding the risk plan, the chances of success, the payoff if you are successful, and the impact if you are not successful.

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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Tuesday, 16 December 2014 15:17

Allocating Resources in a Matrix Organization

In large organizations, or on large projects, you may have the luxury of full-time resources for your entire team. However, in many (or most) situations, the project manager must utilize shared and part-time resources to complete the work. Some resources may be working on multiple projects, while other resources may also be working in support (or operations) roles. The process of gaining and retaining resources in this environment can be difficult, and is partly the result of how your organization is structured.

Let’s look first at the three basic organizational structures - functional, project, and matrixed. In a functional organization, people are organized into functional specialties such as the Finance Department, Marketing Department, and Information Technology Department. Projects are staffed with people from within the organization. Generally, your functional manager is also responsible for the success of the projects.

In a project organization structure, the people are all aligned around major projects. For instance, you may have an organization built around the building and deploying of a weapons system for the Department of Defense. All the people that are required for the project to be completed are assigned full-time to the project. This might include IT, manufacturing, procurement, finance, etc. The overall project manager is the functional manager as well.

The third option is a hybrid of the two – the matrix organization. People are assigned full-time to a functional organization, but can be temporarily assigned full-time or part-time to a project as well. In this case, the functional manager may be responsible for part of a team member’s workload, and a project manager may be responsible for assigning the work associated with the project. The matrix is especially efficient if your project does not need a full-time commitment from people in the supporting organization. These people can be used part-time on projects. (They may be working on enhancements, but these fit the definition of small projects.) A matrixed organization also works well when your projects are smaller and do not necessarily need full-time resources.

The matrixed organization can be the most efficient at utilizing and leveraging people’s time and skills. However, it only works if the functional manager and project manager (or multiple project managers) recognize the challenges and work together for the company’s overall benefit. The two areas to focus on are planning and communication.

Planning

In a matrix organization, it is important to maintain a planning window of upcoming projects and an estimate of their resource needs. If your staffing requirements fluctuate a lot from month to month, or if the projects cannot be forecast many months in advance, you can at least plan using a three-month rolling window. You should then update and refine the plan on a monthly basis. The closest month should be pretty firm. Two months out should be pretty close. Three months out and beyond is best guess.

On the other hand, if the projects in your organization are typically longer, and your staffing plan is well understood, you may want to maintain a three quarters (nine month) planning window and update the plan every quarter. The planning process should include the appropriate project managers and functional managers who tend to share a common pool of resources.

Communication

After the planning comes the proactive communication. Remember that in a matrix organization, project managers need resources to do their work, but they do not own them – the functional managers do. So, the onus is usually on the project managers to make sure that the resources are available when they are needed, and that there are no surprises. For instance, if you and the functional manager agree that a specific set of people will be available for one of your projects in two months, don’t just show up in two months and expect them to be ready to go. In fact, you should expect that they will not be ready if you have not communicated often and proactively. The project manager should gain agreement on resources two months in advance. The resources should be confirmed again at the next monthly staff allocation meeting. The project manager should double-check resources again two weeks before the start date, and follow-up with a reminder one week out. You are much more likely to have the resources available when you need them if you take these proactive steps.

Planning Tools

Secondary to getting a good planning and communication process in place is worrying about a tool. There are resource allocation tools on the market, but for small to medium organizations a good spreadsheet will work fine as well. The spreadsheet might have people down the rows and work across the columns (or visa-versa). Each month (or quarter) could be on a separate tab in the worksheet. For each month (or quarter), you plan the projected work allocation for each person, ensuring that all work is adequately staffed, and that all of your resources are fully engaged.

For larger organizations, a specialized resource/workload planning and tracking package may be appropriate. You can also document a skills inventory for each person so that you can see who might be a potential fit for projects coming up in the future.

Summary

Many companies and organizations struggle trying to optimize the people allocation in a matrix organization. You can get software to help make this easier. But software is just a tool. Overall staffing success in a matrix organization depends on having good planning processes in place, maintaining a partnering relationship between the project managers and functional managers, and communicating proactively and effectively.

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
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 19:43

When to Implement a Requirements Freeze

There are different opinions about when to implement a requirements freeze. When considering a freeze, it is important to keep the following facts in mind.

You Cannot Freeze Business Change

Business is always changing, and the project solutions that are built must reflect these changes. However, you can still freeze change requests. Freezing change requests is simply a technique to bring closure to the project. Remember that when you build a solution for your client, the project only represents the initial steps in the product lifecycle. Once the system goes into production, there may be follow-up phases to the project, or the solution will go into a support and enhance stage. This stage could easily end up representing ninety percent, or more, of the entire solution lifecycle. The enhancement process is the way that the application is changed over the long-term. So, do not seek to freeze business change overall, only to freeze changes that would extend the life of the initial project. If changes are needed after the project freeze is implemented, they go on the backlog to be addressed later as enhancements.

All that being said, you do not want to deliver a solution that does not meet the business needs. That would not make sense either. If you implement a requirements freeze, you must also have a process in place for getting around the freeze. What you are really doing is gaining agreement with the client sponsor to raise the threshold for scope change management. During the freeze, for instance, it may be that all change requests need to be approved by the sponsor personally. If the sponsor understands the benefit of the change request, as well as the cost and impact to the project, he may still approve the request if it is important enough. However, even important changes may not get approved during the freeze. What may happen instead is that the change will be prioritized high as part of an enhancement request after the solution goes live.

Fixing Errors is not Affected by the Requirements Freeze

You may wonder whether system testing is the right time to implement a freeze. Remember that the freeze is on business requirements changes. Of course, if you find problems or errors in the system test, they need to be corrected. System testing is a time when you do stress testing, usability testing, documentation testing, performance testing, etc. As an example, during requirements testing you may find that you misinterpreted a requirement, which will require a change. This is not a change to the requirements, but the correcting of an interpretation error. This may be allowed. During stress testing, you may find that your hardware is not powerful enough to take the load. This may require changes to the system configuration, or a change in how the transactions are processed. Again, this may be required under the freeze.

However, hopefully your client is not adding new business requirements during system testing. When you get to system testing, in many cases you have to retest when changes are introduced. For instance, if a change request is allowed during system testing, you must make the change, unit test it, run integration tests, and potentially rerun all the system tests. This is very disruptive, and if possible these changes should wait until the enhancement process after implementation. In fact, at this point in the project, you may even defer some errors that were uncovered during testing if they do not have a major impact to the value of the solution.

Summary

If you consider implementing a requirements freeze, it shows that you have recognized that continued change requests will jeopardize your ability to deliver within your budget and deadline. You can then come to an agreement with your sponsor to allow the team to focus on a fairly stable system for completion of the testing and implementation process. Critical change requests are still allowed, while less critical changes are deferred until after implementation, during the enhancement process.

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

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