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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.

Thursday, 20 July 2017 18:30

Apply Project Management in a Scaleable Manner

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This content is from the Method123 weekly email dated 2017.20.07

Apply Project Management in a Scaleable Manner

Projects are how we do new things. This makes them different than operational work - which is the day-to-day running of the business. Other characteristics of a project include:

  • Projects are temporary endeavors.
  • All projects are unique. They may be similar to prior projects but they are unique in terms of timeframes, resources, business environment, etc.
  • Projects result in the creation of one or more deliverables.
  • Projects have assigned resources - either full-time, part-time or both. This is reflected in a true budget or an implicit budget based on allocated resources.
  • Projects have a defined scope of work.
Projects can be one hour, 100 hours or 10,000 hours (or more). However, the level of project management varies according to the size of the project. For a ten-hour project, you 'just do it'. Any planning, analysis and design is all done in your head. A 100 hour project probably has too much work to plan and manage all in your head. For instance, you need to start defining the work and building a simple schedule. A 10,000 hour project needs full project management discipline.

We categorize projects into sizes of small, medium and large. We use effort hours as the key criteria for sizing projects. This seems to be a true factor that differentiates the level of complexity. The basic scale we use is as follows.

  • Small project - less than 250 effort hours
  • Medium project - between 251 and 2500 effort hours
  • Large project - over 2500 effort hours
In your company, the effort hours for categorizing projects may be different. However, in general, smaller projects need less rigor and structure. Larger projects need more structure. 
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This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.19.7

Use These Five Communication Techniques on Your Projects

Many people think "managing communication" is the most important of the project management processes. If you think about it, over half of the time you spend managing projects involves some element of communication. Here are five techniques to help you be more effective.

  1. Use appendices for status report details. You want to focus on meaningful information in the status report. However, you may find that some of your audience finds meaning in the exceptions while others find meaning in the details. One way to satisfy both audiences is to write the formal Status Report as an exception-based document and include the details as appendices (attachments). If you are emailing the information, you could email the detailed logs and reports as separate documents.
  2. Report less detail as you get higher in the organization. Always keep the organizational level of your audience in mind. The organization level helps you determine the level of detail that is required in the Status Report. For instance, your team members need information that is highly detailed and highly specific to the work they are assigned. The manager of the project manager needs to have information summarized and delivered at a higher level. The next higher manager needs information at a higher level still.
  3. Use the best communication media. When you select the various types of communication that you need for your project, also determine the best medium for delivering the information. For instance:
    • Status Reports. These do not have to be on paper. Depending on the person sending and receiving the information, the status can be communicated via voicemail, email, videoconference or other collaborative tools.
    • Email. Use email for routine messages, information sharing and some marketing related messages. Spread these out so that you don’t inundate the same people over a short period of time.
    • Voicemail. Use voicemail to leave simple messages to individual people or to entire departments. Complicated or long messages are not appropriate for voicemails.
These and other mediums can be used to communicate effectively based on the message and the audience.

  1. Use green / yellow / red indicators to show project health. We refer to green/yellow/red colors as indicating the overall health of the project. "Health" takes into account schedule, budget and scope, but also quality, morale, risk and other project indicators. In our model, green means you are on track, red means you are in the ditch and you need to re-baseline and everyone else is yellow.
  2. Place communication activities on your schedule. The project manager should treat communication events like any project deliverable. You should add the activities to the schedule and assign people and end-dates so that the team understands when the communication is expected and who is responsible for creating and delivering it.
There are many elements of communication that require soft skills such as leading, negotiating and providing performance feedback. But there are other elements that simply rely on having good processes and good techniques. The best project managers have both the soft skills and the good process skills as well. 
Thursday, 13 July 2017 00:30

Use These Seven Steps for a Project Audit

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Use These Seven Steps for a Project Audit

In some cases, such as a government project, periodic audits may be called for as a part of the overall contract. The audit could also be described in the Quality Management Plan. An audit is conducted by a third-party. This third party could be any qualified person outside of the project manager and project team. In some cases, your organization may have a project audit specialist. It is possible that the Project Director or the Project Sponsor could also perform this audit. The outside party could be an outside contractor or consultant, but they do not need to be.

The audit itself focuses on whether effective project management processes are being utilized and whether the project appears to be on-track. A project audit asks questions about the processes used to manage the project and build deliverables. The audit can follow this process:

  1. Notify the parties (Auditor) - The auditor notifies the project manager of the upcoming audit and schedules a convenient time and place. Other key stakeholders are notified of the audit as well.
  2. Prepare for the audit (Auditor) - The auditor may request certain information up-front. The auditor might also ask the project manager to be prepared to discuss certain aspects of the project. This ensures that the actual meeting time is as productive as possible.
  3. Perform initial interview (Auditor, Project Manager) - During the initial meeting, the auditor asks the appropriate questions to ensure the project is on-track. If there are any areas that are not on track, the auditor notes them as such.
  4. Perform as many other interviews as necessary (optional) (Auditor, Project Team) - If the project is large or complex, the auditor might need to perform follow-up analysis. This includes meeting with other team members and clients, and reviewing further documentation.
  5. Document the findings (Auditor) - The auditor documents the status and the processes used on this project against best practices. If the organization has standards and policies in place for managing projects, the auditor determines whether any of these are not being followed. The auditor also makes recommendations on things that can be done to provide more effective and proactive management of the project.
  6. Review draft audit report (Auditor, Project Manager) - The auditor and the project manager meet again to go over the initial findings. This auditor describes any project management deficiencies and recommendations for changes. This review also provides an opportunity for the project manager to provide a rebuttal when necessary. The initial audit findings might be modified based on specific feedback from the project manager.
  7. Issue final report (Auditor) - The auditor issues a final report of findings and recommendations. The project manager may also issue a formal response to the audit. In the formal response, the project manager can accept points and discuss plans to implement them. The project manager may also voice his disagreement with certain audit points, and explain his reason why. In these cases, the project sponsor and the project director (manager of the project manager) will need to decide if the project manager should comply with the recommendations or not.

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