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Friday, 11 August 2017 00:43

Five Important Things to Know About Critical Path

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This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.09.08

Five Important Things to Know About Critical Path

Some people think the critical path is where the critical work is performed. Similarly, it was just a few weeks ago that a project management stated that she needed to pick the "right" critical path for her project. Both of these definitions are incorrect.

Critical path refers to the longest path through the schedule and represents the shortest time it takes to complete the project. The work on the critical path might or might not all be "critical". The critical path is determined by the work and the dependencies of your schedule. You do not pick the "right" critical path.

The critical path is an important aspect of your project schedule. Here are five things to know about critical path.

1. Float refers to schedule flexibility

On every project, no matter how complicated, there are always some activities that can be started earlier or completed later without jeopardizing the final completion date. This flexibility between the earliest time an activity CAN be completed and the latest time when it MUST be completed is called "float".

2. The critical path has no float

Now let’s look at those activities where you do not have the flexibility in the start and end-dates. These activities cannot be completed earlier because they are pending the completion of another activity. They also cannot be completed later without causing all the succeeding activities to be late. All of these activities back up tightly against other activities that precede or succeed them. In other words, the critical path has zero float.

3. The critical path is the longest path

The various network paths in your schedule have various lengths. The longest path is the critical path. Since it is the longest path, every other path will, at some point, have to wait while the critical path work is completed. This "wait" time is the float.

4. You need to understand critical path to manage the project with precision

If the project is trending late it is very important to identify the critical path activities. Unless you are able to accelerate activities on the critical path, the end-date for the entire project will not change. Applying additional resources to activities that are not on the critical path will not affect the overall project end-date. Your chance to make an impact on the projected end-date relies on your ability to identify and shorten the critical path.

5. The Critical Path May Change

Given that there are many, many paths through the schedule, it’s possible for the critical path to change. For instance, say you have a project with a critical path (longest path) of 22 activities over nine months. Let’s assume that there is another path of work that has 19 activities and takes 8 ½ months. There are two weeks of float on this path. Let's say one of the activities on the 8 ½ month path ends up taking an extra four weeks. Because there was only two weeks of float in the path, it will now become the critical path and force the entire project to complete in 9 1/2 months.

You will not be able to calculate critical path unless you are sequencing all activities. However, all project managers should understand this concept - even if you are not able to actually calculate one for your project. 
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YazClick Here to Listen to the Interview: http://bit.ly/PMPodcast395
Read More: http://bit.ly/pmpodcast_395

This is another episode where I’m asking: Are you currently studying or thinking about studying for your PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® Exam? Wonderful. That’s what we are going to be talking about.

In this interview you are going to meet Yazmine Darcy (https://www.linkedin.com/in/yazminedarcy). Yazmine is not only one of my students and coworkers, she is also the project manager in charge of developing the sample exam questions that we use in our PMI-ACP Simulator. And so, if you not only want to know how to prepare for your own PMI-ACP Exam but also want to hear about all the work that goes into creating one of the training tools you could be using, then you have come to the right place.

As you know, the rules of all Project Management Institute (PMI)® exams are such that we are not allowed to discuss specific questions from the exam. But we can discuss her overall experience, general thoughts on the process and her recommendations to you. So you can look forward to an experience and tip filled interview on how to prepare for and pass your PMI-ACP Exam.

Full disclosure: Yazmine Darcy and Cornelius Fichtner both work for OSP International LLC, makers of The Agile PrepCast and The PMI-ACP Exam Simulator.

Friday, 04 August 2017 11:11

Use These Seven Steps to Calculate Duration

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This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.02.08

Use These Seven Steps to Calculate Duration

When you build a schedule you need to understand how to estimate duration. If everyone worked eight hours per day, and was 100% productive for all eight hours, you could easily calculate duration by taking the number of effort hours, divided by the number of resources. For instance, if an activity was estimated at 80 hours, and you have one person assigned, and he works eight hours per day, the duration would be (80 / 8) = 10 days. Likewise, if two people were assigned full time, the duration would be (80 / 2 / 8) = 5 days.                           

However, that perfect productivity is not indicative of how work is actually performed. Therefore, you can convert effort hours to duration activities using the following process.

1. Estimate the productive hours per day

Normally the first step is to determine how many productive hours of work you can count on each person working per day over time. Using a factor of 6.5 productive hours per day will help you take into account socializing, ramp-up time, going to the bathroom etc.

2. Determine how many resources will be applied to each activity

In general, the more resources you can apply to activities, the quicker the activities can be completed. (These are called resource constrained activities.) You need to estimate how much duration can be saved with additional resources. Obviously two resources may be able to complete an activity faster than one person, but it may not be twice as fast. Similarly, a third person may allow the task to be completed sooner, but not in one-third the time. Each additional resource may shorten the duration incrementally - up to a point where additional resources actually will result in a longer duration.

3. Factor in available workdays

Take into account holidays, vacations and training.  This was not included in the productivity factor in the first item, since this non-project time can be scheduled and accounted for in advance. For instance, on a three-month project, one team member may be out for two vacation days, while another may also have ten days of vacation. To make your schedule more accurate, take into account any days that you know your team will not be available to work on the project.

4. Take into account any resources that are not full-time

Factor in any resources that are not full time. For instance, if you have a resource allocated 50% of his time, it will take at least twice as long to do any individual activity. If you have an activity that has an estimated effort of 40 hours, and you assign a resource that is only allocated 25% to your project, the resulting duration will be at least four weeks, if not more.

5. Calculate delays and lag-times

Some activities have a small number of effort hours, but a long duration. For instance, a deliverable approval may take one hour, but might take two weeks to schedule the meeting. You need to take this lag time into account for your estimated duration.  

6. Identify resource constraints

When you build your initial schedule, you identify the activities that can be done sequentially and those that can be done in parallel. If you have enough resources, all of the parallel activities can, in fact, be done in parallel. However, you can only do the activities in parallel if you have the right resources available at the right time. There may be a set of activities that can be done in parallel; however they need to be worked on sequentially because only one person has the right skills to do the work. Be sure to factor in resource constraints. This adds additional duration.

7. Document all assumptions

You will never know all the details of a project. Therefore, it is important to document all the assumptions you are making along with the estimate.
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This content is from the Method123 weekly email dated 2017.27.07

A Few Words on the Value of a Project Manager

Not everyone believes in project managers. Some people say project managers are simply bureaucrats that push paper and don't provide value to the project. Others think project managers know about academic but not about the real work of the project.

It is true that not every project manager is competent, and even the capable ones are not perfect. (Just as engineers, lawyers and salespeople are not perfect.) Poor project management can certainly hinder the success of the project.

However, I think poor project managers are in the minority. Project management is a tough job, and it does not take too long to see what makes project managers valuable. Here is my perspective.

  • It seems intuitive that any major work initiative will be more successful if it is planned ahead of time and managed proactively (compared to projects that are planned poorly and managed ad-hoc.) The person that plans and manages projects is the project manager. So, project managers are valuable at this fundamental planning/managing level.
  • Some people believe that a good project manager can be successful on any type of project, regardless of whether they have any subject-matter expertise. Not everyone agrees. I believe a skilled project manager with no subject matter experience is better than a subject matter expert without project management experience. The project manager provides value to the project by applying the proactive planning and management discipline. The rest of the project team can fill in the subject matter expertise the project manager may be missing. On he other hand, the team is not likely to fill in the project management expertise if they do not have that skill.     
  • The project management processes used on a project must be scaled based on the size and complexity of the work itself. Small projects need less rigor and structure. Large projects need more. A good project manager knows how to apply the right processes based on the size of the project. 
So, here is my bottom line. Project managers that know what they are doing, implement proactive project management practices and apply processes scalably can contribute significantly to the success of the project. Do all project managers meet this criteria? No, of course not. Those that do are the real rock stars of project management. If you are a project manager, strive to this level of knowledge and performance, and then you too can rock on!
Thursday, 27 July 2017 04:55

Apply These Three Techniques for Managing Scope

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This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.26.7

Apply These Three Techniques for Managing Scope

Identifying and  managing project scope is one of the most important elements for project success. Saying this another way, a lack of understanding and managing of project scope is one of the major reasons for project challenges. Here are three techniques that will help you be more successful managing scope.

Freeze Scope Change Requests Late in the Project

 You might think that as long as the sponsor is willing to approve increases in budget and schedule to make a scope change, they should be able to do it. However, late scope changes tend to impact more than schedule and budget - they are a distraction. When a project team is focusing on implementation, it is time to freeze scope changes.

Depending on the nature of the project, this freeze is usually implemented as the team is getting ready for the “drive to implementation”. At this point, the team is focused on implementing the solution. Scope changes are not only costly, but they are also very disruptive. The team can lose focus and become mentally deflated. You may find that the next time there is a “drive to implementation” the team will get sloppy and make mistakes, since this would be the second time they performed these implementation activities.

This does not mean you cannot accept change requests after the freeze. However, the changes are held on a backlog and dealt with them later after the solution is implemented and stable.

Track all Scope Changes - Even Small Ones 

One reason projects get into trouble is through scope creep. Scope creep refers to small incremental changes than are implemented without going through the scope change management process. This is for two reasons. In some cases the project manager does not recognize a scope change has occurred. In other cases, the project manager chooses not to go though the formal process because the change is small. If you only have a couple small changes, the impact to your project may not be noticeable. However, when these small changes occur frequently, the cumulative effect can be enough to impact the entire project schedule and budget.

The solution is to make sure you identify and track all changes - even small ones. Small changes can still be managed flexibly. For example, small changes may have a fast-track approval process. However, you want to make sure they are all tracked. This keeps the integrity of project scope intact, and helps you understand the cumulative impact of the small changes.

Do Not Use Estimating Contingency for Scope Changes

One of the steps in the estimating process is to add contingency hours, budget and schedule to reflect the level of uncertainty associated with the estimate. For instance, if the effort hours were estimated at 5,000 hours, you might add 500 hours for contingency, which reflects a 90% confidence factor and 10% uncertainty. Once the contingency is approved, there will be pressure on the project manager to use the contingency to absorb additional requirements. The sponsor might say, “Why do we need to invoke scope change management for this 100 hour enhancement. You have 500 hours of contingency built into your estimate!”

The project manager must resist the temptation and the pressure. The purpose of the estimating contingency is to reflect uncertainty in the estimates. There will be plenty of opportunities to utilize the contingency when activities take longer than expected. Do not use the estimating contingency to absorb extra work.

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