Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is a Project really a Project if it does not Deliver any Beneifts?

Organizations start a project for a variety of reasons, sometimes without any real clear understanding of the outcomes to be achieved. It could be the whim of a senior manager, in response to a ministerial announcement or a belief that implementing a solution will solve a difficult problem.

Project’s managers often go through a prescribed project planning process (perhaps following PRINCE2 ™); they produce sufficient documentation to satisfy audit requirements and then just head off in their own direction. While they always know what it is they have to DO (the project scope), it’s often not until the end of the project they examine what it is they were supposed to ACHIEVE, by which time it is too late.

Of course this is not the case in every project but it has been reported in studies like the Gershon review (2008) that this happens in 95% of projects. The unsettling statistic is that a massive 45% indicated that the project benefits were not measurable. This is extraordinary. It is difficult to imagine how this could possibly be the case.

What does this mean in practice?
Gershon suggests centralizing the co-ordination of projects to establish expected benefits at the outset and identifying ways to measure these benefits.
What it essentially means is that the Government has recognized that an enormous amount of money and effort is put into projects but there is not necessarily much to show taxpayers in terms of benefits delivered for this use of valuable resources.

Read this interesting article by Michael L. Young at:

Using Expert Stakeholders Wisely

A good article by Linda Bourne:

One group of stakeholders whose input is critical to most projects are experts -- subject matter experts, risk experts, quality experts. Project managers must know how to make effective use of these experts' knowledge.

Instead, project managers need to be more engaged and understand the basis of the expert's opinion. What makes sense to the expert may not make sense to you or may not be the optimum solution to your problem.

One technique you can use to make sure the expertise is useful and applied effectively is asking the expert to explain his or her ideas in simple language. Then dig into the assumptions, evidence and methodology used to reach his or her opinion.

Read full article at:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why every Project Manager should know about Project Governance

Apparently in the world of governance, ignorance on the part of the project manager isn't surprising.

Project governance helps make sure that a project is executed according to the standards of the organization performing the project. Governance keeps all project activities above board and ethical, and also creates accountability.

A project governance structure will also help define a project reporting system. It outlines specific roles and responsibilities for everyone involved in the project. Project managers can leverage a governance structure in their projects to help with setting project priorities.

By understanding how governance fits into the larger organization, a project manager can choose which objectives to pursue. Or, he or she can gain support to change objectives that don't align with the overall organizational goal. By monitoring governance, the project manager helps ensure his or her project will stay in tune with organizational expectations and remains a good investment as it continues in its life-cycle. 

A project manager can also use the steering committees that are part of most governance structures to resolve conflicts. Because steering committee members don't work on the project on a daily basis, the can serve as fresh eyes to see what's causing the conflict and offer an outside voice of reason. They can also offer solutions on how to resolve the conflict and adhere to the standards -- while still sticking to the overall goals of the organization.

Great article by Taralyn R. Frasqueri-Molina for Voices on Project Management:
Project Governance

Four Questions to Ask before Starting a Project

Ty Kiisel writes, in a perfect world, every potential project that provided business value would be pursued. However, anyone doing project-based work understands that we don’t live in a perfect world and that there always seems to be more work than there is time or resources to do it. Establishing a method for evaluating every potential project is important. Measuring and considering every potential project based upon merit is the first step to effectively managing demand-and why it’s so important to ask these questions before a project has even started.

Full article:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Are we Self-Organized yet?

The Agile Manifesto calls for teams to be "self organized," but this is often easier said than done. The manifesto states, "The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams." 

This can be a challenge for some team members. Project managers on traditional teams may be more comfortable working alone than working closely with each other, as Agile demands. So how can they implement self-organization?

Here are some ways to know if your team is self-organized:

1) Actions taken after Scrum meetings.
Good teams have frequent exchanges during the daily standup meetings. Are people mentioning problems and are teammates offering help? Do members take collaborative actions to solve those problems after the meeting? Watch for teams where people remain individually focused.

2) Flexible roles.
Members on self-organized teams will be able to support each other by handling tasks outside their usual specialties.

3) Communication.
Self-organized teams will use immediate forms of communication: text messages, instant messages, phone and even walking to each other's desk.

4) Role of the project manager.
On self-organized teams, the project manager will spend less time assigning work, and more time facilitating the team as work is "pulled" from the backlog.

5) Role of the manager.
The project manager's boss does less hands-on direct planning, but more coaching, rewarding and gathering resources for the team.

Teams may also benefit from better understanding of diverse personality styles (See my post: Making the Most of Team Differences).

The benefits of self-organization are not just a better product. You will sense renewed energy in the team.

Article by Bill Krebs for Voices on Project Management.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cost-down Activity: Portfolio or Project Management?

Roger Chou writes in Voices for Project Management:

Projects, programs and portfolios are all about executive power. The appropriate use of a project, program or portfolio depends on its function. When a project, operation or task can be performed to further the organization's business strategy, it should definitely be regarded as a part of portfolio management, and not a part of project management.

Read the full article:

Comparing Microsoft Project and Open Workbench

The Verdict

Both programs are strong tools project managers may want to use. Depending upon whether you prefer effort based or duration scheduling you will want to choose the program that works best for you and your situation. Open Workbench is great for companies that don't have the capital to invest in Microsoft Project. MS Project, on the other hand is featured in many books that have been written to help new users get started with the program. Finally, when deciding whether to go with MS Project or Open Workbench, you should take full advantage of the demo versions and any resources. Play around with each a little bit with a sample project or two to find out whether the program works for you and your team.

Read the full article by Ronda Roberts Levine:

The advantages of having a Project Manager

Claudia Vandermilt writes, skilled project managers are invaluable to businesses implementing complex, project-based processes completed by teams of workers. This specialty fulfills an increasingly important role in countless companies. With thousands of project manager openings currently posted on major job-search sites, it’s clear that project management is one of today’s fastest-growing professions.
Few companies can fulfill sales and profit goals, efficiency and productivity objectives, and shareholder expectations without skilled project managers. An excellent project manager’s leadership can result in higher morale, a greater sense of ownership and professionalism among team members, and increased productivity and profitability.

Read full article at:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Project Planning: Expect the Unexpected

John Duff writes, "Avoid trying to create a perfect plan. Instead, recognize that your plan is going to be wrong in some way, and be ready to change the plan as you go along to accommodate those imperfections."

It's foolish to think that any project plan is perfect and the predicted outcome will be smooth sailing. The use of templates and lessons learnt from previous projects is always a good indicator of expectations, but we need to be aware of unexpected occurrences and be ready to document it.

Read the full article:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Planning vs Making it up!

A number of studies and surveys have been conducted over the years as to why Projects fail. In almost all of them, directly or indirectly, one of the top reasons is ‘Lack of Planning’.

We’ve all been taught the benefits of planning but often it is not sufficiently undertaken because project managers, particularly those with specialist technical expertise, often have an anxiety to just “get on with it” or get pressured into gaining ‘quick wins’ by managers or even the client. They tend to rely on their expertise and adrenalin to be able just work it out and get through any eventuality, rather than take a systematic and considered approach.

There are good reasons to take the time out to plan and more often than not - time taken up front for planning saves time down the track as unanticipated events arise.

Full article:

Which came first - The Project or the Tool?

We believe that processes and tools need to work in harmony with each other, and that the process should determine how the tool needs to be used. Tools vary in their level of sophistication, and they can definitely help your efficiency and level of consistency and control if (1) they are appropriate for the task at hand, and (2) they are used properly. You cannot use a tool effectively unless you know the processes it guides or instructs you to follow. The need to know “why” and “how” to use a tool is the reason that you first need an understanding of processes (and behaviors). Without the “why” and the “how,” we will not understand the real meaning behind the task at hand.

Program and project managers need to combine process familiarity, embodied through behaviors and actions, with the tools to carry out their work. Understand your processes first, and then use the most appropriate tool available to you to undertake the process.

Article by PM Hut:

Dealing with Invincible Project Sponsors

It’s hard to argue that effective project sponsorship is a critical success factor. Whether it is through providing funding for the project, exerting influence to avoid roadblocks or supporting and championing the behavior changes that must occur to achieve expected business results, the absence of good sponsorship can leave a Project Manager feeling like they’ve jumped out of a plane with no parachute.

There are multiple possible causes for poor sponsorship including an inconsistent understanding of the role & its responsibilities, a lack of good governance practices related to project selection, prioritization or initiation, as well as missing links between project results and sponsor performance objectives.

There are equally as many methods of improving the situation – some are within the control of a project team, while others require systemic or governance changes.

Read Kiron D. Bondale's full article:

The 100% Utilization and Resource Scheduling

When you ask people to work at 100% utilization, you get much less work out of them than when you plan for them to work a roughly 6 hours of technical work day. People need time to read email, go to the occasional meeting, take bio breaks, have spirited discussions about the architecture or the coffee or something else. We seem to need spirited discussions in this industry! But if you plan for a good chunk of work in the morning and a couple of good chunks of work in the afternoon and keep the meetings to a minimum, technical people have done their fair share of work.
If you work in a meeting-happy organization, you can’t plan on 6 hours of technical work. You have to plan on less. You’re wasting people’s time with meetings. Hmm, maybe that should be the subject of my next lightning talk.

Article by Johanna Rothman for PM Hut:
100% utilization and resource scheduling

Finding the shortest path to Project success

So what's wrong with the way you currently manage a project from initiation to completion? Maybe nothing. But what if you could get there faster?

Try asking these questions to help you create the space in which actions towards the shortest path will arise:

  • What am I assuming about the project, team or requirements?

  • What am I considering as a roadblock? 

  • What decisions had I already made about the project before it started or before I took it on?

  • What are the actual project requirements?

  • What limitations did I already impose on my team, the organization and myself?
Full article by Dmitri Ivanenko:

Does Crowdsourcing work in the Project environment?

Geoff Mattie raises an interesting topic in this article. He writes, with many highly visible crowdsourcing projects, for example, there seems to be a lot of press about individuals within the "crowd" who ultimately feel cheated or used for their skills, having been inadequately compensated -- or not compensated at all.

It looks like you take a big chance when you sign on to these projects, given that there's usually no contract to fall back on. I imagine this risk goes both ways.

Read Geoff's full article at: