Are you a Strong Project Manager?
Take a Quick Quiz to Find Out
Every couple years we re-issue a survey to help you decide if you are a strong project manager. The following questions have been worded in a way that will allow you to answer “yes” or “no,” even though there are shades of gray on some of them as well. Take out a sheet of paper and look at these ten project management skills and behaviors.
(Y / N) You don’t plan well because you consider yourself a “doer” rather than a planner. Many people consider themselves action oriented. When they are given an assignment, their first tendency is to jump in and solve the problem. The question has a built-in bias, since it implies that “planning” is not “doing”. Still, answer yes or no.
(Y / N) You manage with minimal collaboration and interaction with customers and team members. This is the classic case of the person who feels more comfortable working alone. Many people think they are more productive this way. They work by themselves on the project plan, hand out work assignments and manage the projects in front of their computer.
(Y / N) You tend to make excuses for problems rather than take responsibility. Some project managers take accountability for what goes on within a project. Others rationalize the external factors that cause expectations to be missed. What is your preference? Do you try to explain the problems away, or do you take responsibility for the good and the bad?
(Y / N) You are an order-taker. Does client-focused behavior to you mean that you take on whatever the client wants? Or do you push back against unreasonable requests? Do you invoke scope change processes to manage changes to the project?
(Y / N) You let problems sit until they become disasters? Are you too busy to deal with the problems that pop up on a project? Do you consider project problems to be nuisances that you hope will go away? Do you focus on problems only after they reach a high-enough threshold that they are impacting the project?
(Y / N) You do not keep your schedule up-to-date. Many project managers create a project schedule, but then they never update it, or they abandon it somewhere in the project lifecycle. If they are asked how much work is remaining, they have a vague idea, but cannot quantify the remaining work.
(Y / N) You would rather deliver poor quality than admit you need more time. Many projects finish on time and within budget, but do so only at the expense of quality and complete functionality. These project managers deliver poor quality on time, and then fix the problems in operations. Are you one of them?
(Y / N) You manage surprises at the last minute rather than manage expectations. This trait may be caused by a tendency to be overly optimistic about what can be done in a short time frame, or else a conscious act to hide information and hope things work out.
(Y / N) You ignore risks. Some risks can be seen from the start of a project. Other risks can be viewed later while the project is executing. Many project managers don’t even consider risk management as a part of their project responsibilities. Other managers can identify risk, but then they do nothing about it until it is too late.
(Y / N) You communicate the minimum information required. It is surprising how many project managers think that communication is one of the drudgeries of the job. Their project team might be making heroic efforts on the project, but when it comes to communicating status they want to do the bare minimum. They also don’t have regular status meetings. If your project requires extensive communication, would you relish the challenge or be frustrated by all the people who want to know what’s going on?
Okay, now lets add up the "yes" answers. There were ten categories total, right? The number grades should be as follows:
0 - If you did not answer yes to any category, you likely have a good chance of success as a project manager.
1 – You are not perfect, but not hopeless. Work on the category so that you can answer “no” in the future.
2 – This is a borderline score. Depending on what the two categories are, you may be able to overcome the weaknesses through additional focus. Work on the two categories in question to turn them around.
More the 2 – If you answered "yes" to three or more categories, you have work to do on your project management mindset. This doesn’t mean you are a bad person. But, given the categories above, you should question your knowledge and practice of good project management practices, or else your overall motivation for taking on project management work. Perhaps you can focus on these areas for improvement and take the test again in six months.
All of the categories above are worded to show weak project management practices. Answering “no” to all ten items does not guarantee success. However, answering “yes” on any of them shows an area that will place a project at risk – especially a larger or more complex one.
Last year at the Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Congress 2016 in San Diego, California I recorded an all time high of 14 interviews. They have all been published over the past few months and you’ve probably heard some or all of them. But what you don’t know is what happened once each interview was complete.
I pressed the recording button one more time and asked each of my guests the following question: Which is the interpersonal skill that you attribute the most of our success in your career to? In other words, what skill has helped you most on your projects when you interact with others?
And today you are going to get all the answers. In one nice mashup. Here are all the presenters in the order you will hear their answers
Kristy Tan Neckowicz
Kristine Hayes Munson
Cyndi Snyder Dionisio
Oh, and spoiler alert... the answer that I received most often was "Relationships".
Three Techniques to Get You Out of a Schedule Jam
There are maybe a dozen major techniques that can be use to try to get a project back on schedule. The exact techniques to use are based on the cause of the schedule drift. Three techniques are described below to help you get out of a schedule jam.
Fast tracking means that you look at activities that are normally done in sequence and execute them partially in parallel instead. For instance, when building a house, the frame cannot be constructed until the foundation is dry. However, fast-tracking might include building the walls on the ground while the foundation was drying so that the walls could be erected more quickly when the foundation dries.
Fast-tracking always involves a risk that you may have some rework later.
A good rule of thumb is that sequential activities can sometimes be fast-tracked by up to 33%. In other words, if you are fast-tracking, you can start the second of two sequential activities when the first activity is 67% complete. There is risk involved; however, at that level of overlap the risk that is normally acceptable.
Implement “Zero Tolerance” Scope Change
Many projects begin to trend over their deadline because they are doing more work than they originally committed to. This is probably the result of poor scope change management. However, if you are at risk of missing your deadline date, the project manager must work with the customer and team members to ensure that absolutely no unplanned work is being requested – even if it is just one hour – without going through proper scope change management procedures. All energy should go into completing the work that was agreed to. This does not mean there can be no change. However, all changes must go through scope change management for appropriate schedule and budget relief.
Check Discretionary Dependencies
When you map out the relationship between all of the activities you will notice that some of the activities have a hard dependency and others have a soft dependency. Hard dependencies mean that activities must take place in a certain order because of the nature of the work. However, in many cases there is discretion in the sequence of the activities. In this case you want to pick the order you feel is the most efficient. This is a discretionary dependency. It is important to know the difference.
As the project progresses, it is important to check these discretionary dependencies. It may turn out the activities can be rearranged to take advantage of resources, or perhaps because you may know more, you can plan a sequence that is more optimal. Of course, to have an impact, you must identify discretionary activities that are on the critical path or that influence the critical path.
Projects are the tool businesses use to take a strategy and turn it into reality. So your project better be aligned with your long term business plan. All of them!
This interview about strategic alignment with Jay Payette was recorded at the Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Congress 2016 in San Diego, California. We discuss his presentation and white paper Making it Happen - How Project Managers Can Drive Strategic Alignment and Strategy Execution. Here is the abstract:
Good strategy can be critical to organizational success, however in order for strategy to transform from ideas into results it must be successfully executed. In order for organizations to successfully formulate and execute strategy they must achieve sufficient strategic alignment.
Project managers and project team members can make a critical contribution to their organization’s strategic alignment. This paper examines strategic alignment through the frame of three strategic functions: formulate, align, and execute and how they interact with each other.
Additionally, three strategic alignment frameworks are presented and recommendations are made as to how they may be used by project managers to contribute to organizational strategic alignment at the project-level.
When to Implement a Change Request Freeze
Business is always changing and the project solutions must reflect these changes as well. That is why projects accommodate scope changes. To account for changing business needs, it may seem like you need to accommodate requested changes throughout the project. However, you need to finish the project as well. So, at some point you need to stop making changes. Freezing change requests is simply a technique to bring closure to the project.
The scope change freeze is an agreement with the sponsor to stop approving changes and focus on project completion. Of course, the sponsor still has the final word. If the sponsor understands the benefit of the change request, as well as the cost and impact to the project, she may still approve the request. However, even important changes may not get approved during the freeze for the sake of completing the work at hand.
What About Errors and Defects?
You may wonder whether you can still fix errors during a freeze. Remember that the freeze is on scope change requests. Of course, if you find problems or errors in the solution, they must be corrected. For example, let's say you are building an IT system. During final stress testing, you find that your hardware is not powerful enough to take the load. This may require new or upgraded hardware. This is not a scope change, but a change to fix a hardware deficiency. These types of changes are still required under the freeze.
Why the Freeze?
As a project progresses, the cost of change gets higher. This is because of the need to go backward in the lifecycle and re-do work that was already completed. For instance, a late change may require you to go back and update requirements, see how the change impacts the current design, and then integrate the changes into work that has already been built. In addition, late changes may cause previously designed and built components to break, which causes more trouble-shooting and rework.
Just as important, late changes require the team to refocus in areas that they thought were already complete. Introducing change in the late stages of a project can lead to sloppiness and quality problems. It is very disruptive.
When Do You Freeze?
You freeze changes late in the project - not early. For example, you do not freeze immediately after you gain approval on requirements. That puts way too much pressure on the customer to get things totally right the first time. That is unrealistic. Similarly. you cannot freeze the first time you show your customer a draft solution. That is again too early and does not allow a review and feedback cycle.
The time to freeze requirements is toward the end of the project when you are in the "drive to implementation". This is the time when the solution is in final review. When the team is focused on implementing the solution, it is better not to introduce change. .
This does not mean that the customer cannot request changes. However, once you are in the freeze, the changes are added to an evolution list (or punch list) to be completed later after implementation.