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This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.16.3

Four Tips to Deal with Uncertainty on Long Projects

Long projects generally start off with a lot of uncertainty. You may be uncertain of the resource requirements, the final deliverables, the cost, schedule, etc. There will be many risks. The good news is that project managers deal with the uncertainty associated with large projects all the time, and it is very likely that you can be successful. Here are a couple tips to consider, depending on what you think will work best in your situation.
Break the work into smaller pieces

The first thing to do with a long project is to break it down into smaller pieces if possible. Although you may be unclear about the work to be done in the next year, you should at least know what you will need to do over the next few months. Instead of defining a two year project, for example, start by defining a project that will cover only the first phase. After that project, you can redefine and estimate the next major phase as a separate project. You will also be able to more easily plan and manage each of the shorter projects.

Plan at a higher level as the planning horizon gets further out

Many organizations will not allow you to break a large project into a set of smaller ones. Many companies only want to pay for one project, and track one project.
The next idea is to estimate and plan the work for the entire timeframe, but plan at a higher-level the further out in the future you get. You should have a firm and detailed schedule for the next three months, but then the planning will be at a higher and higher level. You have a framework for completing the project, but only the short-term activities are planned out in detail. This is probably the approach most project managers take on long projects.

Use multiple estimating techniques

The classic estimating technique is to build a work breakdown structure, estimate the work associates with the lowest level activities and then add everything back up for the final overall estimate. This approach does not work well when you are not sure exactly what the work is a long way into the future. Fortunately, there are other estimating techniques that will help you cross-check your estimated effort, cost and duration.

  • Rely on outside experts to review your Charter and schedule to see if they think your estimates are reasonable.
  • See whether there have been similar projects in your company where you can review the prior schedule and estimates to see how they line up with your project.
  • Create a parametric estimate based on some type of reasonable model.
It is best if you can use multiple estimating techniques to increase the accuracy of your final estimates.

Apply rigorous risk management

We have already discussed some ways to deal with the uncertainty of schedule and effort estimating risks. There will be many other risks as well. All of the risks need to be identified, and then a specific plan can be put into place to respond to the risks. Every month, you update the risk plan to ensure known risks are being managed and new risks are identified.

You are right to be concerned about the unknowns associated with long projects. However, there are a number of techniques that can be used to make you feel more comfortable. These means you have applied your best thinking to plan the project out as best you can, and then rely on good communication processes, risk management and schedule management to discover the detailed nature of the project as you progress.


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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387Click Here to Listen to the Interview: http://bit.ly/PMPODCAST387
Read More: http://bit.ly/PMPodcast_387

Project Portfolio Management and the realization that strategic alignment of all projects within an organization is crucial are both gaining ground. And this realization also emphasizes the need for having solid project selection methods.

But how exactly do you do all of this? The number of books that focus on practical advice for implementing a strategic project portfolio management process is quite small. Lucky for us that a new one with exactly that focus has just been published

The new book is titled Project Portfolio Management in Theory and Practice: Thirty Case Studies from around the World (Best Practices and Advances in Program Management) written by Jamal Moustafaev (https://ca.linkedin.com/in/jmoustafaev. In our discussion, we answer these questions:

1. What is project portfolio management?
2. What are the three pillars of strategic PPM?
3. What are some project selection models that support a company's strategy?
4. How do we achieve strategic alignment?

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This content is from the Method123 weekly email dated 2017.09.03

Use References to Evaluate New Product Purchases

If you are considering purchasing a significant product, you are going to perform some sort of evaluation. One of the activities that should be on your evaluation checklist is talking to companies that currently use the product. These companies are called "references". The purpose of checking references is to get past the marketing and sales hype and hear feedback from actual customers. The hope is that these companies will give you a more honest picture of how the product and the vendor actually perform in the real world.

The vendor is obviously going to give you the names of customers they already know will give a good reference. If you were the vendor, you would not provide reference accounts from customers who have had bad experiences. That would be nuts.

Finding unsolicited customer references

As a prospective customer you can decide whether you will accept the ones that come from the vendor, or whether you will try to get some unsolicited references. If you want to get unsolicited references, you have to know something about the current customer base. Sometimes the vendor will include the names or logos of current licensed companies on their websites or in their marketing brochures. One approach is to pick out some companies that you know are customers and just call them on your own.

This approach has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that you may be able to talk to someone who has had less than successful results. This gives you an opportunity to see how the vendor responded.

The disadvantage is that you have to do research and this could take a lot more time. You have to find some prior accounts on your own. You may have to cold-call into that company and look for the right person, and you have to hope they will talk to you. None of this is easy.

Talking to official references

The chances are that the vendor will have a number of potential references. The same person can call each company, or you can split the calls up between a couple of people. If you split the reference checks, make sure that everyone follows a similar process and questions in the reference call. This will allow you to more easily compare your results. 

Try to get companies that are as similar to you as possible. This could mean different things depending on the product. For instance, this may mean that you want to find companies in the same industry as you. It might mean that you want companies that are the same size as you. It might mean that you want companies that process as many transactions as you.

In summary, no large purchase should be made without talking to references. You know ahead of time that the reference will be positive; however, you can still learn a lot about the vendor by delving deeper into the customer’s experience. 
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.
Friday, 10 March 2017 02:32

Agile 101 - Agile Teams Use Simple Tools

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This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.08.3

Agile 101 - Agile Teams Use Simple Tools (Except for Testing)

Generally speaking, Agile teams are not big on software tools. Most of the time Agile teams utilize the simplest tool that will perform the job. For example, Agile teams typically do not create formal status reports, but that does not mean they don't communicate. A common approach is to have a central bulletin board with visual content that described the current sprint, status of user stories, any problems encountered, defects discovered, etc. This is often referred to as an Information Radiator.

Similarly, the Agile Team can identify the risks associated with the product backlog and the other aspects of the project. Risks can be plotted on a simple chart showing the total number of remaining risks over time. Since the risks will be addressed and resolved during the project, the remaining risks should show a declining line that trends down to zero at the end of the project. This is referred to as a Risk Burndown Chart.

Here are some additional examples of how Agile uses simple, visual tools to manage an iteration and to manage iterations over the life of a project.

  • Flipcharts and whiteboards. These are very good for drawing models and documenting meeting notes. They are simple, visual and allow the team to easily refer back to them as needed.
  • Post-it notes. These are good for displaying individual elements of models, showing the status on Kanban boards, posting notes on the Information Radiator, etc. They are easily movable, yet will remain in place long-term for future review and revision.
  • Index cards. These are generally used to document user stories and requirements. They are easy to shuffle so that the highest priority requirements are on top. Changing priorities is just a matter of re-ordering the index cards.
  • Cell phone camera. This is a simple tool for taking pictures of flipcharts and whiteboards. The digital image can then be shared with virtual team members or emailed to others for discussion.
It is not uncommon for Agile teams to display the high-level architecture of the solution on a flipchart or whiteboard. If the architecture needs to change, the white board diagram is simply updated as needed.

The Exceptions

On the other hand, the quick sprint cycles on an Agile project require good testing, integration and implementation (moving code to production) tools. You cannot spend two weeks doing full manual tests if your entire sprint is 30 days. If your entire sprint is two weeks, your testing must be even more automated.

Over the years, a number of simple software tools have become popular to managing the overall Agile project. These tools allow you to capture stories, prioritize work, capture documentation, collaborate virtually, etc. Even though an Agile management tool is not strictly needed, many organizations find that automating the manual Agile processes can help teams be more effective and consistent across the 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.
Friday, 10 March 2017 02:32

Agile 101 - Agile Teams Use Simple Tools

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Rate this item
(0 votes)
This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.08.3

Agile 101 - Agile Teams Use Simple Tools (Except for Testing)

Generally speaking, Agile teams are not big on software tools. Most of the time Agile teams utilize the simplest tool that will perform the job. For example, Agile teams typically do not create formal status reports, but that does not mean they don't communicate. A common approach is to have a central bulletin board with visual content that described the current sprint, status of user stories, any problems encountered, defects discovered, etc. This is often referred to as an Information Radiator.

Similarly, the Agile Team can identify the risks associated with the product backlog and the other aspects of the project. Risks can be plotted on a simple chart showing the total number of remaining risks over time. Since the risks will be addressed and resolved during the project, the remaining risks should show a declining line that trends down to zero at the end of the project. This is referred to as a Risk Burndown Chart.

Here are some additional examples of how Agile uses simple, visual tools to manage an iteration and to manage iterations over the life of a project.

  • Flipcharts and whiteboards. These are very good for drawing models and documenting meeting notes. They are simple, visual and allow the team to easily refer back to them as needed.
  • Post-it notes. These are good for displaying individual elements of models, showing the status on Kanban boards, posting notes on the Information Radiator, etc. They are easily movable, yet will remain in place long-term for future review and revision.
  • Index cards. These are generally used to document user stories and requirements. They are easy to shuffle so that the highest priority requirements are on top. Changing priorities is just a matter of re-ordering the index cards.
  • Cell phone camera. This is a simple tool for taking pictures of flipcharts and whiteboards. The digital image can then be shared with virtual team members or emailed to others for discussion.
It is not uncommon for Agile teams to display the high-level architecture of the solution on a flipchart or whiteboard. If the architecture needs to change, the white board diagram is simply updated as needed.

The Exceptions

On the other hand, the quick sprint cycles on an Agile project require good testing, integration and implementation (moving code to production) tools. You cannot spend two weeks doing full manual tests if your entire sprint is 30 days. If your entire sprint is two weeks, your testing must be even more automated.

Over the years, a number of simple software tools have become popular to managing the overall Agile project. These tools allow you to capture stories, prioritize work, capture documentation, collaborate virtually, etc. Even though an Agile management tool is not strictly needed, many organizations find that automating the manual Agile processes can help teams be more effective and consistent across the 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.

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