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Project Management Blog
A lot of project managers can relate to the comment that it seems like the project manager does a lot of administrative work. However, administrative work is in the eye of the beholder. What one person sees as administrative work might be considered controlling the project to another person.

A quick overview

Let’s do a quick overview to make sure everyone is on the same page. In general, the project manager is responsible for the overall success of the project. He or she leads the team through a definition and planning phase, and then monitors and controls the project until it successfully (you hope) concludes. This would include managing scope, issues, quality, etc. Notice that performing administrative work is not a part of that simple definition.

Don’t forget people management

The project team may or may not report functionally to the project manager. The project team may report to a different manager for things like performance reviews, while reporting to the project manager for their work. In other companies, the functional reporting relationship goes directly to the project manager. However, in either case, the project manager must also perform people management responsibilities. This includes soft skills like listening, providing feedback, being empathetic, providing leadership, etc. There are many instances of project managers who are unsuccessful based solely on their lack of interpersonal and people management skills.

What exactly is administrative work?

You have quickly seen that the project manager has process management and people management responsibilities as a part of the general project management role. Now, consider administrative duties. The first question to ask yourself is exactly what is administrative work for a project manager? Part of the answer has to do with how you feel about the various responsibilities that a project manager has. Let’s look at a few and see what you think.

1.      Status reporting. You can tell a lot about the mindset of a project manager based on how he looks at status reporting. Many project managers think that status reporting falls under administrative work. Others believe that status reporting falls directly into the responsibility of a project manager to proactively communicate status. When in a project management role, you should plan out the best way to deliver status updates to your stakeholders as a part of a Communication Plan. Depending on your point of view, this may or may not be considered administrative work. It might just be considered a fundamental part of your project management responsibilities.

2.      Updating the schedule. Some project managers hate to update a workplan, and think that this is an administrative burden. What do you think? To many, updating the schedule is one of the core responsibilities of the project manager.

3.      Completing a Project Charter. Many project managers just want to get going and start the work. To them, planning is an afterthought, not something that should hold up work on a project. Others think that if the project manager views the chartering process as administrative work, it implies a certain lack of project management maturity. There is always a legitimate question as to how much planning is required, but there never should be a question about doing it or not doing it.

4.      Updating project logs and forms. Many projects have forms that they use to request scope changes, or perhaps the project manager is keeping track of issues on an Issues Log. Are these administrative tasks, or are they the valuable tools of a project manager?

5.      Performance reviews. If you have project team members that report to you, you undoubtedly have some paperwork to do around the performance review process. This has a direct tie to your people management role. Would you consider this administrative or not?

Ask again – what is administrative work?

With this in mind, you should again help define administrative work. You could probably come up with times when the work might be administrative. For instance, if your organization requires some type of report that is not project-focused, you might say that it is administrative. You may also participate in other non-project related activities such as interviewing new employees, filling out surveys and responding to management requests for information.

Summary

Some project managers think that anytime a document is involved, it is an administrative task. Some might go as far as to say that anything that requires writing (or typing) is administrative. But is that really the case? This response should give you some more insight into the project management role. Much of what might appear to be administrative work is really the direct input or output related to project management or people management. Project managers can master this aspect of their job and relegate it to a smaller percentage of their time. However, if you have an aversion to this type of work, project management may not be right for you.

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, 23 September 2014 21:07

Turning Around a Dysfunctional Project Team

Every project faces certain obstacles, but sometimes it may seem that the problems are insurmountable. If you feel like your chances of success on a project are unclear, you could look at the situation in two ways. One way is to consider yourself on a train that is heading for a certain wreck. If you are thinking of the project in this way, then the best actions to take may be to minimize the damage, see what can be salvaged and try to keep from having the company throw too much additional money on top of what has already been spent. You might be considered a hero in some circles if you recommend canceling the project.

On the other hand, there are project managers that are known as turnaround artists, and they love to take over projects like yours. In fact, many of them like the worst projects best of all. There are people like this at all levels, including CEO’s whose expertise lies in turning around companies that are in terrible shape.

The project may be need to be completed regardless of the cost in terms of dollars and human relationships. Let’s assume for now that you will try the latter course of action – the project turnaround.

The first thing you want to do is assess the current state of the project. This includes the project schedule and the project team dynamics. Your response to the project team problems will depend on where you are with the schedule. If you only have 30 days of work remaining on the schedule, you will have less ability to make an impact. In this case, the best course of action may be to try to motivate the team for the final push and watch the schedule like a hawk. On the other hand, if your project has many months to go, then you need to see what can be done to repair the damage on the team as well as to replan the schedule to deliver on a new realistic timeframe. Any plan is going to include the following items.

Communicate well. Have you been on a project where the project manager is a poor communicator? This trait usually results in a miserable project experience for everyone. Teams with poor morale tend to have poor communication channels. Don’t let rumors and uncertainty fester. Make sure you share as much information as you can about the project status and anything else that may impact the project team. There is hardly any time when over-communicating is a problem. In your case, it can do nothing but good.

Praise and compliment. When people on your team do a good job, make sure they know it. People do not expect money or gifts when they do a good job – just a pat on the back and a ‘well done’ by their manager. Give it to them – both informally and formally. Another cause of negative morale is poor or no positive feedback or recognition.

Set clear expectations. People like to understand what is expected of them so that they know the challenges they need to meet. They want to see the dragon and slay it. Make sure you give clear instructions when you hand out work so that people understand what they are expected to do. When you hand out work assignments, give a deadline date. When a team member is creating a paper deliverable, like a testing plan, give guidance on how it should be prepared.

Don’t overcommit your team. As you try to improve morale, you also need to be careful not to overcommit the team. Determine what exactly is required to finish the project, and remove anything that is extraneous or can be done after implementation. Make sure you manage scope tightly, and try to defer all changes until after the original project is completed. Poor morale can cause your team to miss deadlines, which causes more pressure and degrades morale even further. The opposite is true as well. If the team can start hitting some interim deadlines (and you communicate this fact and praise them), the team morale should improve, which may make it easier to hit your next deadline.

Summary

These are some ideas for turning the project around. First, make sure you understand where you are in the schedule so you know how much time you have to make significant changes. Also, make sure you try to identify as many team problems as you can, as well as the root causes if possible. Then, put together an action plan based on how much work and time is remaining on the project. If there is not a lot of time remaining, focus on the schedule. If a lot of time is remaining, focus on repairing the project team, as well as completing the schedule. There are many areas to look at as a part of repairing damage to the project team. Communication, timely performance feedback and clear expectations will be a part of every turnaround plan. Then, go out of your way to start building some successes – even interim ones. These general ideas, as well as others that you will identify, will give you a fighting chance to turn things around. Who knows - if you are successful and you enjoy the challenge, you might be known as a turnaround artist within your own organization!

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, 09 September 2014 20:37

"Managing" Outsourced Projects

"Managing" Outsourced Projects

Outsourcing of project work is more common today than ever. However, even though you outsource the work, you cannot completely outsource your obligation to make sure the project is progressing smoothly. If all goes well with the outsourcer, you do not have much work to do. Unfortunately, in many instances the outsourcing vendor does not meet expectations. If that happens, you want to know about it as soon as possible. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that your company has outsourced a project, or a portion of a project. Your company has also asked you to manage the relationship to ensure the vendor performs as expected.

Many people are not sure what they should be doing when they are asked to manage an outsourcing relationship. Part of the uncertainty is because some of the project roles are reversed when you outsource work to a third-party. On a normal internal project, the project manager assigns the work and manages issues, scope, risk, quality, etc. The project manager makes sure work is done on time and the project is progressing as it should. He or she is held accountable for the success of the project. Other people perform a quality assurance role to make sure that the project progresses as it should. A formal quality assurance group may do this, but it is more likely that the sponsor and the manager of the project manager perform this function. They are not interested in knowing all the details of what is going on, but they need to ask the right questions to feel comfortable knowing that activities are progressing as they should.

On an outsourced project, the roles are still in place, but different people perform them. If the work is truly outsourced, the project manager for the vendor should be the one who is worried about the details. The vendor project manager is planning and assigning the work, and managing issues, scope, risk, etc. In this situation, even though you may be asked to "manage" the outsourced project, you really take on the quality assurance role. You need to ask the right questions to make sure that the vendor is doing his or her job correctly. You do not necessarily need to know all the details of how he or she is managing and executing the project, but you have to feel comfortable that the project is progressing as expected.

What to Look For at the Beginning

First, look for the up-front deliverables that you expect from all projects. For example, is there a project definition document? You need to make sure that the vendor team has defined the project correctly and to your satisfaction. You should approve this document. The vendor must also have a project workplan. As the project moves forward, you must be aware of the key milestone dates, and there should be a formal checkpoint to ensure that the deliverables produced up to that point are complete, correct, and on time. You and your sponsor should formally approve the important ones. Depending on the nature of the project, you may require regular status meetings and formal status reports. The questions you should ask at the beginning of the project include:
  • Has a project definition (or similar document) been approved by the appropriate stakeholders and managers at your company?
  • Is there a contractual agreement that spells out the expectations of both parties in terms of deliverables to be produced, deadlines, payment schedule, completeness and correctness criteria, etc?
  • Has a comprehensive project workplan been created?
  • What project management procedures will the vendor use to control the project?
  • Has the vendor been clear on what resources will be needed from your company and when they will be needed?
  • Have milestones been established to review progress so far and validate that the project is on-track for completion?

Ongoing Questions

As the project is progressing, you must continue to ask questions to determine the current state of the work. You may have status meetings weekly, but there should be a formal quality assurance check at the end of every agreed-upon milestone. The types of questions you should ask at every milestone include:

  • Have the deliverables specified in the project definition been completed up to this point?
  • Have the appropriate deliverables been agreed to and approved by the company?
  • Can the vendor clearly explain where the project is vs. where it should be at this time?
  • Will all the future deliverables specified in the project definition be completed?
  • Are issues, scope, and risks being managed as stated in the project management procedures?
  • Should the contract or project definition be updated to reflect any major changes to the project?

Once you understand your role on the project, it is easier to ask the right questions to make sure that everything is progressing as it should.

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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There are almost as many varieties of PMO as there are companies. There are strong PMOs and weak PMOs. There are some that have many responsibilities in the organization and some that have only a few. Some companies rely on the PMO to be responsible for all areas of project management and project execution. Other companies only want the PMO to provide a consolidated reporting view of all the projects in the organization.

Before you can jump in and start up a PMO, you must first define what the PMO will look like. Without this foundation, all of the other work you do will be in jeopardy.

The place to start creating your PMO is through a formal organizational definition. The value of defining a logical organization is twofold. First, you gain clarity and agreement on what you are doing and why. This information is communicated to clients, stakeholders and your own staff so that everyone starts off with a common set of expectations. Second, this exercise provides a framework for the PMO to guide decision-making in the future. For instance, you would not want to undertake any projects that did not help you achieve your organizational objectives. Likewise, major decisions can be evaluated based on whether they fit into your strategy.

Building a Logical Organization

The term "logical organization" means that when the definition is complete, the organizational structure will only exist on paper. Once the logical organization is defined, you still need to actually staff the PMO at the right level to support the logical organization. Many companies have the expertise to perform this definition by themselves. However, defining missions and strategies is not something that you do every day. That is why consultants are sometimes brought in to assist. There are consultants that specialize in these organizational assessments. They can facilitate the definition process and make sure that the resulting logical organization provides a firm foundation for the subsequent staffing and project execution.

The following major components are used to define your logical PMO.

Mission. Describes what the PMO does, how it is done, and for whom. It is a very general statement, usually aligning the PMO to the value it provides to the business. An example of a PMO mission statement is "The Acme Project Management Office (PMO) implements and supports project management methodology to enable our organization to deliver projects faster, cheaper, with higher quality, and within estimates and expectations."

Strategy. There may be many ways to achieve your mission. A strategy is a high-level set of directions that articulate how the organization will achieve its mission. Defining a strategy also helps get the PMO aligned in the same direction as strategies in the rest of the company. Strategy defines how you will do things over the long-term - say three years - and is used as an overall framework for the more detailed tactical decisions that are made on a month-to-month and day-to-day basis.

Sponsor. All organizations do not have a sponsor, but a PMO typically does. In this respect, a PMO is similar to a project and, in fact, many PMOs are established with a project. The sponsor is the person responsible for the PMO funding, and in many cases the sponsor is the manager that the PMO reports to. Sponsors are important for all initiatives, but they are absolutely critical for a culture change initiative such as this.

Clients. Clients are the main individuals or groups that request and utilize the products and services your organization provides. (These people may also be referred to as customers.) While there may be many stakeholders (below), it is important to recognize who the clients are. They should be the ones the PMO focuses on to help them meet their project and business objectives.

Stakeholders. These are the specific people or groups who have an interest or a partial stake in the products and services your PMO provides. Internal stakeholders could include organizations you work with, but who are not directly under the PMO umbrella. External stakeholders could include suppliers, investors, community groups, and government organizations.

Objectives. Objectives are concrete statements describing what the PMO is trying to achieve in the short-term, perhaps up to one year. The objectives should be written at a low level, so that they can be evaluated at the end of the year to see whether they were achieved or not. A well-worded objective will be Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound (SMART).

Products / Services. Products describe tangible items that the PMO produces, and are typically produced as the result of a project. Services refer to work done for clients or stakeholders that does not result in the creation of tangible deliverables. Services provide value by fulfilling the needs of others through interaction with people. The PMO achieves its objectives through the creation of products and the delivery of services.

Transitional Activities. Transitional activities are the specific activities and projects that are required to implement the physical PMO. If the PMO is new, these activities describe the work required to build and staff the new organization. This does not imply the creation of a full workplan, but it includes the immediate activities required to get you to the point that the PMO workplan can be put into place.

There are other aspects of the organization that can be defined as well, including the PMO vision, principles, goals, skills, roles, and responsibilities.

Summary

A PMO should be established based on a need to help the organization in project management and project execution. There are many ways that a PMO can be established. The correct way for your company can be determined with an exercise to create a logical organization definition. When you have a consensus on the definition, the PMO has a much better chance of success and of meeting sponsor, client and stakeholder expectations. Once the logical organization is approved, the staff can be put into place to build the physical organization.

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
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 19:36

Getting Your Priorities Right

Most managers establish priorities and use them for guidance when making decisions. However, some say they have priorities, but they do not ever reference them. This is not prioritizing - it is wishful thinking. Unfortunately, success is rarely built on wishful thinking.

Why prioritize?

Without priorities, only the urgent work gets done and one may never get around to any activities that are merely considered important. Effective managers have always known that priorities help them to focus on tasks that make a difference. They provide purpose, direct energy, and drive action. They also encourage leaders to set their own agendas.

Successful businesses, corporations and other organizations spend considerable time developing a mission statement and defining goals because these activities are priorities. They identify what's valued, define what the organization is all about, and underscore where it is going. They minimize confusion and maximize consistency.

Don’ts

Setting priorities is not guesswork or magic. It's mostly a matter of common sense. Avoid identifying inappropriate priorities by never prioritizing something just because:
  • It's what you like to do most.
  • It's fun.
  • It's the easiest and quickest thing to do.
  • It's just always been a priority.
  • It just happens to be at the top of your to-do list.
  • It promises an immediate pay-off.
Dos

True priorities are those jobs, tasks, responsibilities or functions that keep people on track and guide everyday actions toward desired ends. A true priority can be identified when:
  • It's a key part of your job description.
  • It closely matches the mission of the organization.
  • It moves you toward individual and organizational goals.
  • It yields the biggest payoff.
  • The boss says so.
  • Only you can do it.
  • It's what you do best.
Anyone can identify and give lip service to high-sounding priorities. Priorities make a difference only when acted upon. Sorting out priorities can empower managers to consistently do what's important, not just what's next. However, it doesn't happen by chance. It has to be a conscious choice.

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 you mention methodology to many project managers, their eyes roll upward as if to say “Oh no, something else to get in the way of getting my project done on time.” The term methodology often has a bad image, maybe partly because the word itself is long and mysterious.

However, all project managers use a methodology. The term just refers to the processes, procedures, templates and practices you use to manage your project. A better question to ask is whether you use a personal methodology based on experience, or a formal methodology that was defined by your company or purchased from a vendor.

Use Formal Processes on Large Projects

One of the reasons why project management methodology is not utilized as effectively as it should be has to do with scalability, or utilizing the right amount of structure and process based on the size of the project. For example, on small projects, you can get by with very reactive project management. You might manage scope loosely, because the chances of receiving a scope change request are small, and the impact to the project is typically just incremental. Many project managers are not very good at managing risk because small to medium sized projects don’t usually have much risk. In many cases, communication with the customer just means telling them when the work is complete.

Those same processes will usually fail miserably on large projects. Let’s say you have 50 people and a five million dollar budget. (In some shops even that is considered small to medium!) You have to manage the project proactively. Issues will arise that are too complex and too numerous to manage by the seat of your pants. Scope change on large projects is usually a given. If you aren’t careful, your five million dollar project will turn into ten million by the time it is done. You need to see risks coming and manage them, or your project will be in deep trouble. Communication with your stakeholders needs to be ongoing, multi-faceted and planned ahead of time. In other words, this is the time when you will be glad to have a full-featured project management methodology to rely on.

Apply Less Extensive Processes on Small Projects

Let’s take the other side now. The project starts. You create a 15-page Project Definition document and workplan. You gather your team and look for project risks. You expect weekly status reports from your team members and, in turn, send weekly updates to your customer. Scope change requests require extensive documentation and approval. Does all of this sound good so far? Well, it shouldn’t. The entire project is only 200 hours and three weeks in duration.

When this scenario happens, project managers see methodology as burdensome, cumbersome and not adding value to their project. Usually that means that the methodology was defined at a level necessary to manage large projects, and has not been appropriately scaled for smaller ones. The project can still be completed successfully under these conditions, but it introduces inefficiencies and frustration. The project costs more than it should and takes more time than it needs to. And remember, there are usually many more small to medium projects in your organization than large ones.

Methodology is Your Friend

As was said up front, the best answer is to apply scalability and common sense to your project management methodology. When a project starts, the project manager and project team need to go through the standard methodology and scale it to the level needed to manage your particular project. If your company went through this exercise already, there may be pre-existing guidelines that you can use based on the project size. The basic philosophy you should follow is “large methodology for large projects – small methodology for small projects.”

Let methodology work for you, not the other way around.

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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The Capability Maturity Model (CMM) describes a continuum of characteristics based on how well your company or organization follows common and repeatable processes to get your work done. The low end of the scale describes companies without repeatable processes, where much of the work is chaotic and ad-hoc. The highest end describes companies that use defined and repeatable processes, collect metrics to help them continuously improve their processes, and look for creative ways to do things better on an ongoing basis.

The CMM was developed from 1984 to 1987 by Watts Humphrey and the Software Engineering Institute (SEI). The SEI is a part of Carnegie Mellon University. The work was funded by the US Department of Defense (DoD), which was originally looking for ways to compare and measure the various contractors that were developing software for the DoD.

Although the SEI continues to enhance and expand the scope and breadth of various CMM models, the primary focus for most companies continues to be the software development world.

The five stage CMMI model

There are some slightly different interpretations of the CMMI model. Some companies have also identified their own proprietary versions of the CMMI process. However, in general, there are usually five defined stages.

(1) Ad-hoc / crises. Your organization has few common processes. The success of your projects depends on the strength and skills of your people. The organization provides little in a supporting environment to help make all projects successful. Most companies are at this level, although some companies say half-jokingly that they are at a 0 or -1 level.

(2) Standard project management. Your organization has implemented standard project management processes. You are trying to establish a baseline foundation upon which to improve further in the future. Most companies that start down the CMM path are trying to reach this level.

(3) Standard lifecycle processes. You are trying to achieve standardization in your development process similar to what you did for project management in level 2. This includes common and repeatable software development processes, deliverables, tools, etc.

(4) Managed feedback. You collect metrics on all aspects of your project management and development processes. You have a repository of metrics and key learnings on historical projects that can be leveraged by new projects.

(5) Optimizing / continuous improvement. You have a closed loop of process execution, measurement and continuous improvement. You continuously use measurement, feedback and creativity to optimize your processes.

Is CMMI right for you?

Just as there are real benefits to reusing common program components, there is also value in reusing common processes. Why should every project manager in your company struggle over knowing how to define a project and how detailed the workplan should be? Why should project managers struggle to understand how to effectively manage scope, risks and quality? These are not new concepts. They should all be defined well on an organizational level and then reused by all project managers.

You can use the CMMI model as your guide as you try to implement common processes. You don’t have to start from level 1 and jump to level 5 in one year. The CMMI scale is a journey. Most companies only want to start by moving to step 2. However, even that short jump is not without pain. In many respects, implementing common project management processes is the most difficult part of the journey. In many organizations, this is the first time people will be asked to follow a common set of processes, and many won’t like it. If you can successfully get to level 2, then you should have already established the paradigm shift that will make the transition to level 3 a little easier.

Summary

Many companies are seeing that they can drive business value by implementing good, reusable processes throughout their organization. The Capability Maturity Model provides a framework that companies can use to measure themselves on a standard 1 - 5 scale. Most companies today are at level 1 and would love to get as high as level 2. Most managers and most organizations realize that they should have common and repeatable processes There is definitely pain involved. There is pain involved with all culture change initiatives when you ask people to change how they do their jobs. However, the pain is worth the gain if your company can stay focused while the culture change is taking effect.

Published in Blogs
Estimating is one of the most important parts of the planning process. Effort hours (man hours) must be estimated first, before duration and cost estimates can be prepared. Use the following ten steps to estimate effort hours.
  1. Determine how accurate your estimate needs to be Typically, the more accurate the estimate, the more detail you need to understand about the project, and perhaps the more time that is needed. If you are asked for a rough order of magnitude (ROM) estimate (-25% - +75%), you might be able to complete the work quickly, at a high level, and with a minimum amount of detail. On the other hand, if you must provide an accurate estimate within 10%, you need to spend more time and understand the work at a lower level of detail.
  2. Create the initial estimate of effort hours Estimate the work of the project using one or more estimating techniques (analogy, prior history, PERT, modeling, etc.). (These techniques will be described in a separate Tips email).
  3. (optional) Factor the effort hours based on the resources assigned Your estimates are probably based on the effort it will take an average resource to do the work (or perhaps the estimates are based on the effort it would take if you did the work). Sometimes you also have knowledge of the exact resource or the type of resource that will be assigned. If you do, you may want to factor the estimate up or down based on that resource.
  4. Add specialist resource hours Make sure you have included hours for part-time and specialty resources. This could include freelance people, training specialists, administrative help, etc. These are people that may not be obvious at first, but you may need them for special activities.  Because they are typically in project support roles, you may have forgotten to include their activities in the original Work Breakdown Structure.
  5. (optional) Add rework time In a perfect world, all project deliverables would be correct the first time. Rework is the result of flaws in your quality management process. It means that a deliverable that you thought was complete turns out to need more work. Some projects add in effort hours for rework, although this should be minimized.
  6. Add project management time Project management takes effort. A rule of thumb is to add 15% of the effort hours for project management. For instance, if a project estimate is 12,000 hours (7 - 8 people), then a full-time project manager (1800 hours) is needed.
  7. Add contingency hours Contingency is used to reflect the uncertainty or risk associated with the estimate. If you are asked to estimate work that is not well defined, you may add 50%, 75% or more to reflect the uncertainty. If the estimate was required on short notice, a large contingency may be required. Even if you have time to create a reasonably accurate estimate, your contingency may still be 10-25%. If you do not add a contingency amount, it would mean that you are 100% confident in your estimate. This may be the case if similar types of projects have been done before.
  8. Calculate the total effort Add up the estimates for all the work components described above.
  9. Review and adjust as necessary Sometimes when you add up all the components, the estimate seems obviously high or low. If your estimate does not look right, go back and make adjustments to your estimating assumptions to better reflect reality.  
  10. Document all assumptions You will never know all the details of a project for certain. Therefore, it is important to document all the assumptions you are making along with the estimate.

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Quick, tell me about your employees: What are they doing? How long do they spend doing it? What should their top priorities be? Now tell me about your projects: Are they on time? Within budget? How many projects were profitable this year, last year, over the last five years? Perhaps you think these questions are unreasonable and maybe they are. But we live in an unreasonable world where every advantage should be realized. Because the truth is, while you may not be able to answer these questions easily, a large majority of your competitors can. Guess who holds the cards when it comes to executing complex, buzz-worthy projects?

Luckily, there are ways to quickly gain this knowledge. In fact, some excellent programs exist today that could provide all the information necessary to answer the above questions in one dashboard. Further, it is not at all difficult to implement a system in your company that will allow you to reap the benefits of well-tracked projects and resources.

1. Know Where Your People Are… And Where They Should Be.

In any organization, the immediate benefits of knowing what your employees are doing at any given point should be quite obvious: you want them working on tasks that are actually beneficial to the company. However, if you mistakenly believe that any forward progress is beneficial, roles become static and repetitive. Companies that have the same employee doing the exact same job for an extended period of time are quite frankly failing themselves and their employees. While roles might not be dynamic, humans are. Employees might become better at certain tasks over time and excel in areas outside their traditional roles.

If you are not paying attention, you could lose out on productivity. Additionally, your employees will get bored and dissatisfied very quickly. Implementing a system that allows employees to track time against specific tasks will allow you to see where they are most effective. Odds are that’s what they enjoy doing best. Now, don’t go changing employee job roles every day, but do consider a change when the evidence suggests that they’ve honed skills in a new area.

2. Know Exactly What People And Resources You Have Available

Project planning can be incredibly time consuming and tedious, but it’s worth it to keep a project running smoothly. A critical piece is creating your team. This task becomes much easier when you know exactly who is available (with the skill sets you need), and what their schedule will be for the duration of the project. It would create unnecessary stress if you, say, assigned an employee to a task or project and then found out the employee scheduled their annual trip to Acapulco for two weeks in the middle of the project. If you have an automated project management system, employee schedules are readily apparent and any requests for leave will be noted. You will also know the tasks that other employees are working on so you can avoid stretching resources too thin or allocating an individual to tasks they aren’t well suited for.

3. Track Time to Individual Projects

Tracking employee time spent on projects is great, but you will reap maximum benefit when you track each project separately. This allows you to view each project as a unique element in company profitability. This insight is incredibly valuable when allocating resources because you will know the parameters for each project relative to the current availability of the company. While too many metrics can paralyze decision-making, differentiated metrics allow you to execute projects with surgical precision.

4.  Analyze Resource Use Compared to Project Completion 

This is probably the most useful feature of tracking time to individual projects as it ensures you do not waste time or money…as in, ever. If you compare time and resources spent on a project versus percentage complete, you can see which projects are absorbing too many resources to remain profitable. This allows you to redistribute assets to projects as necessary or even kill projects that are too far-gone to benefit your company. It is always better to determine issues early on, and a dynamic tracking system provides that insight. Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and move on; costs can quickly spiral out of control, causing your situation to worsen.

5. Maintain a Backlog of All Projects 

In the long run, having a backlog of your projects will be incredibly valuable, though it takes some time to build. It will allow you to make estimates with pinpoint accuracy. Determine how many people it normally takes to finish a project; improve accuracy of your budgets based on scope; and perfect timelines based on overall project parameters. Even the least efficient projects become valuable because you can glean just as much information from them. You will know what did not work, what factors caused you to go over budget, and learn from the mistakes. Maintain the backlog well, and make sure it is easily accessible, because it can reduce the margin of error on your most important business tasks, and save time and money.

As you can see, none of these actions are hard to do, and with a quality, automated time and project tracking system in place, they actually take less time than traditional paper based timesheets. The business advantages make it well worth the effort, and the conservation of time and resources will prove a huge benefit for your company. With a deeper understanding of your processes, you can move quickly and efficiently, and stay ahead of any competition to complete important (and profitable) projects.

Author Bio:

Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Founded in 1996, Journyx automates payroll, billing and cost accounting while easing management of employee time and expenses, and provides confidence that all resources are utilized correctly and completely. Curt earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Virginia Tech.  Curt created the world's first web-based timesheet application and the foundation for the current Journyx product offerings in 1997. Learn more about Curt at http://journyx.com/company/curtfinch.  
Published in Blogs

Many owners of small businesses have a preconceived notion that project management is for their larger competitors. They may consider project management unnecessary simply because they do things on a smaller scale. In reality, even in small businesses, questions of meeting deadlines, controlling costs, respecting budgets and satisfying customers with efficient delivery of the product or service are of utmost importance.

Lets take a quick look at the principals of project management and see just how it could help your business.

What is a Project?

A “project” is any activity carried out that is separate from the regular running of the business. Businesses will have accounting processes, client calls and follow-ups, day-to-day sales and invoicing. A project is a particular activity, supported by the routine, but unique in that it involves specific attention during an established timeframe.

What is Project Management?

Project management is coordination. Beginning with a planning stage in which objectives, budgets and individual responsibilities are laid out, project management becomes a group effort, with a leader, the project manager, motivating and controlling the ongoing project. In small businesses, project management is working in harmony with shared goals resulting in effective results.

Planning the project

Small business projects will benefit from careful planning. A project manager will first identify what the objective of the project is, then indicate when the project should come to its logical conclusion. Input from the participants is essential at this stage as they will be responsible for the work in bringing the project to fruit.

Why are you doing a project? The answer will be the objectives: to increase sales, to bring in new clients, to diversify business opportunities. How will the project be achieved? Through clear, planned steps and responsibilities outlined, with goals and deadlines. What can go wrong? Everything or nothing; however, through brainstorming pitfalls with the participants, alternatives can be developed to meet obstacles.

The Role of the Project Manager

Once the planning and presentation stage has been completed; a project manager will become the main coordinator of the project. Their responsibilities will include evaluation of record keeping, deadline control, and problem solving and overall keeping to the objectives. They are the leader, the answer-man. Above all, they must be a motivating factor, reminding participants and management of the value of the project itself and its importance to the business once completed.

Common Pitfalls in Project Management

- Though a clear objective is important, concentrating only on the objective without consideration for the individual actions can be damaging to the project and moral. Each action carried out is one move closer to the objective and should be recognised, evaluated and shared.

- Letting deadlines slip can bring a project to a halt, especially if the different participants inter-depend on their colleagues. Deadlines are also powerful, effective motivators. Keeping a deadline in mind, preparing for that deadline through regular work towards meeting it, will help keep a project running smoothly.

- Record keeping is extremely important. Both participants and the project manager should keep careful records of all activities during a project, from spending to telephone calls, from time spent creating a form letter to time spent in meetings. This information will be of use during the evaluation once the project is over as part of the learning process for future projects.

- Making things overly complicated can slow a project down. When an activity takes on a complicated format, it is best not to delve into the complications. Divide things into simple steps tackling them one by one, creating mini-objectives that will gather together into the larger objective.

SUMMARY

Doing business successfully is more than selling a product or a service, invoicing, and doing up the payroll. A business of any size, especially a small business, has the resources of collaborators and employees who can help find innovative ways of building the business. Projects are one way of being innovative; however, they should not be improvised. A successful project will be one that has been managed effectively, from planning through evaluation at its conclusion.

 

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