How to Make Project Decisions

"A decision is only an idea if it does not have a funded plan"

Are you managing a project or working in an organization "that just can't make decisions"? If so, perhaps you need a new approach to recognizing the difference between IDEAS and DECISIONS.  

Most project managers learn how to manage Risks, Issues and Actions (click here for more information).  However, making project decisions can be tricky. And many decisions need to be made outside the four walls of the project. 

Ideas vs. Decisions:  Let's say one of the project decision-makers has a good idea.  Everyone nods their heads in agreement. The project manager documents the "decision".  And then.... often... nothing happens.  The decision-maker wonders why the project manager isn't listening!

In this scenario, a DECISION has NOT been made.  Rather, an IDEA has been articulated. 

Managing Decisions: The Practical Project Manager knows an idea is not a decision until it is supported with a funded action plan.

Step 1: Documents ideas. Record an action item to verify approved funding & resources along with an implementation plan to transform the idea into something real.  

Document Ideas

Step 2: Obtain funding and develop an implementation plan.  Analyze internal and external project factors to clearly understand impacts.  Determine the cost or funding needs of the decision (in terms of budget, timeline, resource allocation, or scope changes).  Adjustments in the overall project may need to be made to accommodate the decision. 

Facilitate Analysis and Funding

Step 3: Document and communicate outcomes.  Decisions can be documented in the project's Issue/Risk/Action log.  Document all outcomes for ideas: ideas that are approved as decisions, not approved, or are placed on hold.  Work activities can be incorporated into the project schedule.  

Document Decisions

Start your day with 'homeroom'

Take 30 minutes to plan your day then execute accordingly
Start each day with 'homeroom' - a place where you can catch up on what is due for today, important events, and plan out your 'to do' list for the day.  Think of each day as its own project.

Initiate and Plan the Day

Take a 1/2 hour each morning, before checking email and voicemail, to prioritize the day.  Block your calendar to reduce overbooking for early meetings. 

What is important to do today? What must be done today?  What should be done but could possibly wait? What are today's stretch goals?

Keep a daily diary.  Indicate PRIORITY items with an A/B/C.  Indicate URGENT items with a 1/2/3.  You may need to save a few items for later in the week to keep your workload manageable.

Your 'to do' list should focus on the A1 items.  Are your meetings, conversations, work activities focused on your A1s?  What can get canceled, moved, or right-sized to make room for what is important.

Monitor and Close

Reflect at the end of the day.  Did you get all of your A1s complete within 8 hours?  Have you assessed your priority and urgent items in aligment with project priorities?  Have you created value?  Did you foster spirit and teamwork?

See how to use this "priority and urgent" method for stating project objectives and project decisions, staffing, and procurment.

Set a GOAL to plan the work and work the plan

What are Plan Goals?

What's more more difficult than developing the project plan?  Setting goals for planning the work and setting goals for executing the work defined by the plan.  Setting goals for planning and executing the work provides clarity and helps the project team members commit to executing work defined in the plan.

Setting a Goal to Plan the Work
How to define goals for creating and maintaining the plan

As a project initiates, or even prior to initiation, an agreement of how the plan will be created and maintained needs to be defined.  This is different than developing project goals.  It is also different than defining the project methodology.  Invest in setting, communicating, executing, and committing to goals for planning itself.

Some barriers for setting plan goals include:
-The people who contribute to the plan don't understand their role
-At the early stages of a project, there may not be a 'project' at all and therefore a lack of clarity that something needs to be planned
-A bridge between higher level strategy and the need for a plan may not be obvious
-Competing priorities prevent the right people from allocating time to plan
-Budgets do not account for the time and effort it takes to plan
-Urgency and eagerness to work quickly may cause proper planning to be skipped altogether

Most project methodologies provide guidelines for initiating and controlling the project.  Reinforce these methods with a Pledge to develop the plan.

Communicating Goals
How to build a team to define goals for a plan

Once plan goals are agreed, it is important to communicate the goals and ensure impacted people understand their roles.  This goes a long way to breaking through planning barriers.  As part of project initiation, you should have key stakeholders, contributors, and decision makers defined.  This is the team that needs to understand plan goals.  A face-to-face 'kick off' planning meeting is best.  Second best is a real-time video or web conference.  Plan goals should not be communicated in email exclusively.  Use email as a follow up reminder.

Setting a Goal to Work the Plan
How to define goals for executing work defined by the plan

Once goals are set for creating and maintaining the plan, set goals to define how to actually work the plan.  These goals should be agreed in advance of work commencing and may fall in line with the chosen project methodology.  Even if a methodology is available and agreed, goals for committing to exactly how the project will (or will not) follow the methodology is critical.

Committing Goals
How to agree to goals to work the plan

Finally, a commitment to how actual work against the plan will commence is needed.  This is the foundation of a project team's ability to determine progress against the plan and the Estimate to Complete (ETC).  This should fall in line with the project methodology, including a clear agreement on what part of the methodology is included / excluded.

How to Manage a Project Budget - FREE TEMPLATE!

The Practical Project Manager knows one thing is sure:  your project sponsor wants to know when the project is going to be complete!  Your ability to accurately report the the project ETC (estimate to complete) and EAC (estimate at completion) is a critical part of the project manager's job.

We answer the ETC question most accurately through a Project Budget.  Maintaining an accurate budget provides ETC and EAC answers about schedule, costs, and scope.

Note:  Most companies have a set of tools and practices for managing budgets.  For purposes of demonstration, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Project are used here.

Before creating a budget, you should already have the following in place:

Solution Idea, including a project business case
Roles and Responsibilities, including accountability for decision makers and approvers
Definition of What Success Looks Like, including high level requirements

5 Project Budget Steps:

Step 1:  Create a Top-Down Estimate
A top-down estimate may have been completed as part of the business case.  If so, start with that.  The top-down estimate defines a) the major streams of work,  b) approximate cost, and c) approximate timeline.  Notice the task names are "nouns", describing WHAT needs to get done, not yet describing HOW to get the work done.  

click on chart to enlarge

Step 2:  Create a Bottom-Up Estimate
The bottom-up estimate describes HOW to get the work done.  It decomposes tasks into actionable work units and provides a cost for each.  In this example, we decomposed the "communication and change management plan" work stream by adding A) actionable tasks ("verbs") B) costs of the resource or material, and C) the adjusted timeline based on the resource's availability and size of the task.

Notice the impact on the project budget:  Our top-down plan assumed $5,000 for the cost of the "communication and change management plan" work stream.  However, after doing a bottoms-up estimate, just one task group is estimated to be nearly $9,000.  It does appears the work can get done within the estimated time frame.  The project manager works through the details of the schedule to arrive at a proposed budget.

click on chart to enlarge

Note:  Sometimes the bottom-up estimate calls for project cancellation of or re-work of scope if business objectives cannot be met.

Step 3:  Obtain Budget Approval
Final approval is usually a series of presentations and conversations with stakeholders and approvers.

Most organizations have procedures on who has authority to approve what level of funding.  It is important to follow these procedures and communicate with the responsible people to assure proper funding.

Obtaining full budget approval is cause for celebration!  Remember:  a decision is only an idea if it does not have a funded plan!

Step 4:  Agree the Budget Metrics and Reporting Procedures
Most organizations have procedures on how to report periodic budget performance. Start with a baseline budget that is approved prior to actually spending time or money.  Each period, report the Estimate to Complete (ETC) by updating actual costs and variances.  

Track resources and their assignments.  This can be accomplished using MS Project or MS Excel in addition to a plethora of project management tools available.

Step 5:  Provide a Periodic Performance Report including Estimate to Complete (ETC) 

Click here for a FREE Project Budget Template (MS Excel)

Earning Trust through Power You Own

The Practical Project Manager earns trust through power:  positional power (you are the boss), expertise power (you do what you do very well), and/or relationship power (people trust you will get the job done).

Because project managers are often "on loan" or allocated to projects, they often must lead teams without real positional power.  Starting with a new team, a track record is not evident which makes it difficult to demonstrate expertise.  

Earning trust through the power of relationships is often the best and quickest way to establish the power you own.  Build your relationship power today:

  • Do you validate and respect others' points of view?
  • Do you meet, greet, and seek out people you are depending on and people depending on you?
  • Are you setting the tone? There is no reason to be mean or angry even in the most difficult situations. Face difficulties with professionalism and dignity.
  • Are you building relationships and friendships, being careful about "mixing business with pleasure"?
  • Are you listening more, speaking less? Assume the speaker is right when listening; you will learn more and actually hear what they are saying
  • Follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

New Year, New Energy

With the new year upon us, now is a great time to get re-grounded in what every project manager should focus on every day.

Take a moment this week to check your focus:

#1 Earn the Trust of Others
Are your relationships solid, spirit positive, people engaged, communication clear?
What value are you creating?

#2 Balance the Three-Legged Stool
What tools do you have in place to balance time, cost, and quality?

#3 Know the Difference
How do you manage and communicate Risks, Issues, Actions?

#4 Get the Right Stuff
How do you define requirements and make decisions?
Do you have a good return on investment in equipment and staff procurement?
Do you have a good decision-making and action-taking team in place?

#5 Don’t Work in a Vacuum
What are you integration points? 
Who do you depend on? 
What scope of work is really needed? 
Do you know when to stop a project that is not creating value?

Refer to the Practical Project Manager's entire blog here.  Have a safe, prosperous, and healthy new year!

Practical Project Management for small business?

I have a blog in draft form and would like to get your thoughts on this before publishing:

What advice do you have to bring good project controls to a very small project or for a small business?  How do you reduce overhead costs while assuring quality and timely delivery?

Elements of a Communication Plan

The Practical Project Manager assures a solid communication plan is in place.  Check out the "Elements of a Communication Plan" details to assure you have a solid comm plan in place!

Innovative Process Change

Check out my new blog on Innovative Process Change.  This should provide valuable information for project managers to assure the "human side" of a project is not left behind!

Change Management Life Cycle

What is a Change Management Life Cycle?
Change Management is the practice of ensuring business discipline, communication, and training / education are initiated, executed, and delivered as part of a project.  Please see the introductory change management blog.

Once the change is defined through business discipline, a solid communication approach, and an agreement to provide thorough training and education, The Practical Project Manager executes a life cycle for change:  readiness, planning, execution, and long term sustainment.

Change Management Life Cycle
Steps for implementing change

Readiness:  Solicit feedback to determine root cause problems, ideation on potential solutions, and human factors.  Determine if the organization risk and opportunity tolerance can bear the proposed change.  

Plan:  Determine executive support, sponsors, and change agents.  Define clear roles and responsibilities.  A "Responsibility Assignment Matrix (aka RAM or RACI) can be used.  Agree the timeline and costs through a detailed work schedule.  A Gantt Chart can be used.

Execute Change:  Begin activities to implement the change.  This is done through a detailed communication plan which addresses who, what, when, where, why, how, and from whom the message is to be sent and received.  Write documentation to support a training and education track.  This can be in the form of presentations, gifts, posters, event material, online material, job aids, business process maps, etc.  Provide clear opportunities for impacted people to understand the change.  Conduct training sessions, classes, conference calls, webcasts, surveys, self-study courses, events, lunch and learn sessions, etc.

Long-Term Sustainment:  Implement tools and processes to measure effect of change over time through quantifiable metrics.  Ensure the metrics selected are easy to define, understand, collect, and are sustainable over time.  Determine the level of satisfaction qualitatively through interviews or surveys.  Be prepared for course correction if the change did not result in the desired result.

How to Buy and Get Stuff

Procurement of resources, including staffing and equipment, can be cumbersome at best. Here is a checklist used by the Practical Project Manager to avoid risk and delays to the project plan.

Work with the corporate procurement team
Often, the procurement team has relationships with vendors and/or standards in place to assure the best total cost of ownership. They may have access to negotiators, discounts, and expedited delivery channels. There may be standards and legal issues around dealing with certain vendors to assure fair competition while minimizing risk and safety hazards. There may be strategic alliances or other history with certain vendors that impact consideration. This may sound like a lot of red tape. However, failing to understand all of the risks and opportunities through procurement will delay things further!

Get the best money can buy
Your budget will likely restrict your purchases. The best way to determine the right purchase is to analyze criteria and alternatives.  Use a selection scorecard to compare alternatives. In a spreadsheet, list features down the left with the importance of each, alternatives across the top with a rating of how they satisfy each feature. Importance X Rating = Score. Make sure one of the alternatives is to "do nothing" or "stay with existing".  If the equipment needed is more than the budget allows, you may need to go back to the business case to get approval for additional funds.

click on chart to enlarge

Plan for training and testing time
This is generally the area project managers get caught:  once it is determined what to buy and orders are placed, time is often not baked in the plan to allow for installation, testing, and training!  People and equipment need time to ramp up.  Agree testing and installation time during negotiation with equipment vendors that includes a penalty for late installation and turnover.  Schedule and budget for training.  Allow team members ample time to ramp up on new equipment.

All of these rules apply whether you are acquiring equipment or human resources for the project.  When staffing a project, make sure the following is considered:

-location and office space
-fit with rest of the team
-project phasing:  is the person being brought in at the right time in the project life cycle?
-expertise, education, and experience

What Are Stated Objectives?

Requirements: No different than purchasing equipment, make sure the objectives of a project are acquired by collecting and documenting requirements.

"What Do You Want?"
When I was about 8, I sat on Santa's lap and asked for a "Barbie Dream House." I imagined how wonderful that would be. Instead I got a knock-off Barbie Doll. So I used shoe boxes and washcloths for her house. The "house" was easy to build, flexible, economical, environmentally friendly, and most importantly met her (and Ken's!) needs.  Project requirements often describe the Dream House, so it will be important to categorize requirements, as it is unlikely the Dream House will be built to complete satisfaction or will even be needed.

Gathering and Organizing Requirements
There is plenty of debate on the best way to manage and deliver against requirements. The Practical Project Manager focuses on selecting tools and methodologies depending on the size and complexity of the project. 

Check out this concise summary on requirements analysis. 

When gathering requirements, make sure to rate each requirement for its importance and urgency in achieving the stated objective. Create a measurable way to determine what "finished" looks like. 

A simple spreadsheet that states  the category, requirement description, who requested it, what function it satisfies, its priority, urgency, and dependency may be all that is needed. 

For complex, large-scale projects, more sophisticated methods and tools may be required.  Look for tools that tie requirements, product development, testing, defects and changes, and user acceptance. 

Establish a traceability process, so a requirement can be traced through product development, testing, defects and changes, to user acceptance:

Ensure the right people are engaged. The people defining requirements and approving them may be two different teams.

Ensure requirements and decisions tie to overall project objectives, funding, and timeline.

Prioritize requirements: A) must have B) meets objectives C) rounds out delivery

Determine urgency: 1) must do now 2) can wait

Requirements have a priority/urgency rating: e.g. "A1" is a must have/urgent rating.

Always refer to your company's methodology or the Project Management Institute for specific how-to.

How To Actually Get Work Done, Action Items

What Is An Action Item?
A generally accepted definition is this:  "An action item is a documented activity, event, or task. Action items are discrete entities that can be dealt with by a single person."   While this is true, the Practical Project Manager knows action items are an important part of actually getting work done.  Successful projects have solid practices and controls around definining, managing and actually completing work associated with action items.

Action items are:  
  • Unplanned work associated with issue and risk management
  • Often discovered during a meeting or formal discussion regarding an issue or risk
  • Prioritized, assigned, managed for completion
Action items can sometimes be confused with unplanned work, that is, work that should have been documented as a task in the Project Schedule.  If there is significant unplanned work, the project may require a Scope Change.  

It is important to monitor action items to make sure there is not "Scope Creep".  Sometimes action items take on a life of their own, resulting in a significant work effort just to manage actions.  This can be an indicator that scope was not sufficiently managed or that additional scope is creeping into the project under the guise of action items.

How to Manage Action Items
The best way to manage action items is to record them in an ACTION ITEM LOG using a collaborative tool such as SharePoint or Google Apps.

Build a collaborative ACTION ITEM LOG that has the following features and includes email alerts to the responsible person, attachments, and a historical archive:
  • Description - Short explanation of activity to be performed
  • Work Stream - your project is probably organized into various work streams such as business requirements, technical design, user interface, etc. 
  • Issue or Risk - is this action item associated with a project issue or risk
  • Status - Open, In Progress, Resolved, Canceled, Transfered to Training Log
  • Urgency - how quickly does this action need to be performed?  1) must do now 2) can wait 
  • Priority - what is the impact to your project's critical path? 1) High 2) Medium 3) Low
  • Comments - A description of what is now being done to solve the issue
  • Responsibility - Who is responsible for actively working the issue?
  • Created Date - Date issue was opened
  • Next Step - What is the next activity for working the issue?
  • Next Step Due Date - When is this person's next action due?
  • Planned Completion Date - When will this issue be solved?
  • Actual Completion Date - Date issue was closed
The Practical Project Manager maintains the ACTION ITEM LOG and builds an interactive tool so actions can be maintained by those responsible for resolution.  Managing the team's work against completing the action items is the project manager's responsibility. 
Always refer to your company's methodology or the Project Management Institute for specific how-to.

How To Actually Get Work Done, Introduction

The Heartbeat of a Project is in Actually Getting Work Done

Actually "getting work done" can be extremely difficult if a project is bogged down by politics, bureaucracy, poor planning, a shortage of resources, or other external factors.

The Practical Project Manager actually gets work done by ensuring execution of day-to-day work activities, both Planned and Unplanned Work, with clear communication, deliberation, and enthusiasm.
  • Planned Work is documented in a Project Schedule (for example using Microsoft Project).  When work is planned, it is then "baselined", and provides the initial Estimate At Completion (EAC).  
  • Unplanned Work comes in two forms:

  1. action items associated with issue and risk management
  2. tasks that probably should be in the Project Schedule, that is, work that is required, but not previously planned.  

If Unplanned Work is significant, it may require a Plan Change, which would require an Updated Baseline and will provide a new Estimate at Completion (EAC).

Planned Tasks:  Project Scope is broken down into discrete work streams and work elements using a work breakdown structure (WBS) method.  These planned tasks include no more and no less than the work effort required to meet Project Scope.
Project Schedule:  a collection of tasks that include resources, start and end dates, dependencies, level of effort, and percentage of work completed for each activity.  There are many methodologies and software packages to create and maintain the schedule.  Typically the graphical representation of the schedule is a GANTT CHART.
Plan Baseline: once a project schedule is completed and approved it is said to be "baselined":  an agreed-upon plan for completing work.  With this original plan, performance of actual work can be compared to baseline as data points for  Earned Value Management and to provide better estimates for future projects.
Estimate at Completion (EAC):  If you plan the work, work the plan, and maintain status of work completed in the project schedule, you will always know total project cost and timeline.  EAC is a critical project metric and is determined by adding the actual cost of work performed (ACWP) plus the estimate to complete (ETC) for remaining work. 
Unplanned Tasks:  some work cannot be foreseen, however the Practical Project Manager knows work will arise from Action Items and Additional Tasks and provides enough "head room" in the plan for this inevitable work.
Plan Change:  the plan may need to change if work required is greater than expected, if there is a resource constraint, or there is an external force that causes and impact to the project.  A governance process should be in place to control changes to the plan.
Updated Baseline: upon approval of plan changes, the project schedule is updated and re-baselined.  

Updated Estimate at Completion (EAC): The new EAC is communicated and work commences against this new plan.

Always refer to your company's methodology or the Project Management Institute for specific how-to.

Risk and Issue Management

Managing Project Risks and Issues
I was on a project once where the sponsor said "we don't have any risks, but we have a lot of issues".   Hmmmm.....before those issues became issues, there must have been a RISK that they could occur.

The Practical Project Manager establishes tools, communication, and responsibilities for managing risks and issues.  Start by determining if the company has a project risk and issue management process in place.  If so, follow that process and be sure the following features are in place at the project level.

All projects automatically come with several risks and issues even before they start!

You may want to consider the major areas a project covers.  For example its requirements, timeline, budget all have inherent risks.  How this project interacts with other areas and initiatives, your resources and team, quality assurance, how teams and people communicate with one another, and how you are going to acquire resources to get the work done all come with inherent risks.  Even managing risks and issues has its risk!

If you follow the PMBOK® Knowledge Areas, you may want to consider aligning your risks and issues with their knowledge areas.  Please note: PMBOK® is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute and is referenced here in the spirit of education and open content.
  • Integration
  • Scope
  • Time
  • Cost
  • Quality
  • Human Resources
  • Communication
  • Risks and Issues
  • Procurement

What is a Risk? "Could my project fail?"
Something that will impact overall success of the project.

Risks need to be weighted for their impact and probability, managed at the steering committee level, and have a clear escalation plan for resolution.

Each risk is documented as follows.  A simple spreadsheet is all that is needed to document risks.  List each risk in the left margin, add the following column headings, and sort the log by SCORE as described below.  Work on the largest risks first.

  • Description - a risk area may have more than one risk, for example there may be three integration risks
  • Probability - the chance this risk will actually occur (on a scale of 1-5, where 1 is not likely, and 5 is imminent)
  • Impact - the effect on your project (on a scale of 1-5, where 1 is very low, and 5 is catastrophic)
  • Score - determines the size of the risk and which risks require the most attention.  Multiply Probability X Impact.  An imminent, catastrophic risk has a score of 25.
  • Mitigation Plan - A description of what is now being done to avoid this risk from impacting your project
  • Contingency Plan - A description of what will be done if this risk actually causes an issue or potential project failure
  • Responsibility - Who is responsible for actively working the mitigation of this risk?
  • Next Step - What is the next activity for mitigating this risk?
  • Next Step Due Date - When is this person's next mitigation action due?

The Practical Project Manager maintains the PROJECT RISK LOG, reviews it with the Project Steering Team at least monthly, and gets status updates on next steps from responsible team members on a weekly basis.

What is an Issue?  "Do I need a course correction?"

Something that could slip a critical path in the project, but not yet likely to impact its overall success.
Issues are managed by the project manager at the team level and are prioritized with accountability and due dates.
All projects have issues, the larger the project, the larger the issues.  Issues tend to take on a life-form of their own, so keep a historical record of activity associated with an issue, especially decisions made along the way to resolve the issue.  As a reminder an issue is only an issue if it could slip a critical path in the project.  A difficult action or work activity is not necessarily an issue.
If you have access to a tool such as SharePoint or Google Apps, build collaborative ISSUE LOG that has the following features and includes email alerts to the responsible person, attachments, and a historical archive:

  • Description - a issue area may have more than one issue, for example there may be three quality issues
  • Work Stream - your project is probably organized into various work streams such as business requirements, technical design, user interface, etc. 
  • Status - Open, In Progress, Resolved, Canceled, Transfered to Training Log
  • Urgency - how quickly does this issue need to be resolved?  1) must do now 2) can wait 
  • Priority - what is the impact to your project's critical path? 1) High 2) Medium 3) Low
  • Resolution Plan - A description of what is now being done to solve the issue
  • Responsibility - Who is responsible for actively working the issue?
  • Created Date - Date issue was opened
  • Next Step - What is the next activity for working the issue?
  • Next Step Due Date - When is this person's next action due?
  • Expected Resolution Date - When will this issue be solved?
  • Resolution - A description of what was done to actually resolve the issue once it is closed
  • Resolution Date - Date issue was closed

The Practical Project Manager maintains the ISSUE LOG and builds an interactive tool so issue status can be maintained by those responsible for resolution.  However creation and setting the urgency and priority of an issue is the project manager's responsibility. 

Summarize issues with the Project Steering Team at least monthly and review issues with team leads on a weekly basis.  Build a summary report that includes the following:

  • Number of issues by work stream, urgency, and priority
  • Number of issues by person responsible
  • Average number of days to close an issue
  • Trend or graph issue management over time.  This is an excellent metric to tell a story such as "We had 25 issues last month with an average days open of 10.  However this month we have 35 issues and our average days open has increased to 15."

Remember that an Action is not an Issue or Risk, but rather a task that needs to be worked. Actions have resources, due dates, durations, and dependencies.

Always refer to your company's methodology or the Project Management Institute for specific how-to.

The Three-Legged Stool

Time, Cost, Quality: The Project Manager's Three-Legged Stool 

There are many analogies for "the three-legged stool", ours is all about balancing the budget with the timeline and the quality (which is usually measured by scope and thoroughness of products or services provided by the project).

"Absolutely Nothing Works!"

Yep, that was the primary complaint by one of my business owner on a large scale ERP project.  Hmmm.  Do we need to get more money to make sure we fix everything?  Do we need to push out our deadline?  Is our test plan so bad that we let a lousy solution move forward?  The impulse is to increase quality/scope, ask for more money, ask to extend the deadline to satisfy the business owner's complaint.    

The Practical Project Manager balances the three-legged stool by making course corrections.  This is done by maintaining great relationships and keeping communication flowing to ensure the best quality product or service is being produced.  Here is how:

  • What resources (time/cost/quality) are MOST available?  
  • Is your timeline more negotiable than your budget?  
  • Do you have a resource constraint or are there available resources who can help out?
  • Does your solution fit in with appropriate innovation or technology trends?  Is it off-point?
  • Does your solution meet the stated objectives, realizing there may be some kinks to work out?
  • Review which requirements are working / not working and how important they are to meeting your stated objective
Knowing what resources you can leverage is key, but first a little reality check on how things really work:

Constraints are set by external forces, specifically timeline and budget.  External forces also determine the value your project brings to the overall enterprise.  However, this may not be as apparent or important as the forces on  your timeline and budget.  Your Subject Matter Experts (or SMEs, pronounced "smeez") provide detailed requirements which guide your quality and scope.  

Here is the reality:  you will have a downward force to reduce the timeline and or budget, but will have upward force to increase the quality of your product or service to meet the stated objectives.  So most of your time will be spent ensuring the best quality work product is being produced within these constraints.

  • Talk to people one on one.  How are things actually going?  Are there actions, issues, risks that require attention or course correction?
  • Plan the work, work the plan.  Are you executing against plan?
  • What is your ETC (Estimate To Complete)?  Do you know at all times what percent of work is complete and what percent is remaining to meet stated objectives?
  • Conduct a DAILY STAND UP with your team (or request your team leads do this with their respective teams)
  • Conduct a PROJECT REVIEW with team leads every week
  • Update your plan and calculate your ETC (ESTIMATE TO COMPLETE) once a week
  • Report written status to the PROJECT SPONSOR at least every two weeks
  • When writing status reports, make sure to get feedback and approval for course correction; your status includes where you are at COMPARED TO WHERE YOU PLANNED TO BE AT.
  • Document COURSE CORRECTION decisions
  • BALANCE THE BUDGET once a month

Always refer to your company's methodology or the Project Management Institute for specific how-to.

Announcing my new blog on Solution Leadership, "The Solutionist"

Follow me at  If you are an aspiring solution architect or IT manager, take a look at this digest on how to design and lead solutions. 

As many of you know I am organizing and posting my professional notes in three topics.  Two down, one to go!

The Practical Project Manager
New!  The Solutionist
Coming Soon!  The 360.CIO

Enjoy!  Your feedback is appreciated.

Earning Trust

Reliability + Integrity = Trust
A former client of mine remembers me as "the person who actually got something done."  As small a compliment as that was, I knew I had earned that person's trust.  There are two components to earning trust:  1) you actually have to get good quality work finished and 2)  you must do it with integrity.  

The Practical Project Manager gets the job done and leads the project with fairness, truthfulness, and respectfulness.

Start With The Basics
Paraphrasing Robert Fulghum, author of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" , several basic points are key

  • Share everything
  • Play fair
  • Clean up your own mess
  • Don't take things that aren't yours
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody
  • Balance your work/home/play life
If you are good at what you do and actually get work done, you will begin to earn trust.

  • Set realistic goals for you and your team
  • Plan your work, work your plan
  • Do what you said you would do or course correct
  • Communicate results (both good and bad)
  • Be a better time manager
It's not enough to be a good project manager and get work done.  You must also do it with integrity.

  • Validate and respect others' points of view
  • Meet, greet, and seek out people you are depending on and people depending on you
  • Your tone sets the tone for the project.  There is no reason to be mean or angry even in the most difficult situations.  Face difficulties with professionalism and dignity.
  • Build relationships and friendships, but be careful with "mixing business with pleasure"
  • Speak less, listen more:  assume the speaker is right when listening; you will learn more and actually hear what they are saying
  • Follow the Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
People, People, People
Much of your work as a project manager is to make sure other people are doing their work!  Projects are people, people developing new products and services, and people executing business processes.  Communicating with people is the most important part of your job.

Start Your Day This Way
Do you spend 90% of your time communicating with people?
Are you creating value?
Are you fostering spirit, teamwork, and a zeal for delighting the stakeholders?

Refer to: #1 Earn the Trust of Others

Always refer to your company's methodology or the Project Management Institute for specific how-to.

Start by Imagining Project Success

"What's The Point?"
I worked on a project where "what's the point" was actually the (cynical) tag line!  Team members, sponsors, and stakeholders all ran around asking the question "What's The Point?"  

The Practical Project Manager knows the impact of external forces on a project's timeline and chance for successful completion.  This goes beyond project communication: we must delve into our surroundings and understand the environment we are working in.  

A successful project delivers against stated objectives and provides clear value to the enterprise.

External Forces
External forces are also moving and changing and are as important as internal project activity

  • What else is your team working on?
  • What is the resource allocation process to ensure your resources are adequately available?
  • What does the overall portfolio look like and how does your project fit into the priority scheme?
  • How are you able to communicate project status externally?
  • Have you read the company's Annual Plan and Quarterly Reports?  
  • What is happening with the company overall, with the industry it operates in and is impacted by, with the economy?
  • What are the innovation and technology trends?  How is your project enabled or constrained by these trends?
Create an EXTERNAL FORCES CHECKLIST.  From this checklist, ask questions!  You will discover and be able to manage RISKS, DEPENDENCIES, and INTEGRATION POINTS that impact your project.

Project Duration
The longer the project duration, the more likely you will need to monitor activities outside your scope and make adjustments accordingly

A project with a short duration, let's say 3-6 months is less likely to be impacted by or impact external activities.  If a project is planned to last longer than 6 months, several complexities enter the picture:
  • Does your project need to be broken down into smaller deliverables?  Is this really a program (a collection of projects)?
  • What have you assumed to be constant or changing over the life of the project?  
  • What if these assumptions are no longer valid over time?
  • Look at the timeline of competing, dependent, and complementary projects.  How do they impact your timeline?
  • Are there external mandates (such as legal requirements) that force your project to a fixed timeline?
  • Will your project need to provide intermediate results given the changing landscape?
  • Have your requirements changed over time due to new innovation, technology, or changing business needs?
Before building a complex GANTT chart, create a high level DEPENDENCY CHART which shows the timeline of external forces relative to your project.  These forces may dictate a specific timeline.

Finishing a project
A project is over when it is finished, canceled, you run out of time or money, or it has failed.  A project is rarely over when it is ‘finished’, so always work on the core, critical items first

Most will say a project is over when it is finished to the project sponsor's satisfaction.  The reality is a project is over when one of the following is achieved:

Finished - in the zeal to finish a project, we often strive to complete every requirement approved by the project sponsor.  However, a successful project is measured on how well it meets the stated objective.  When gathering requirements, make sure to rate each requirement for it importance and urgency in achieving the stated objective.  Create a measurable way to determine what "finished" looks like.

Canceled - projects are often canceled due to funding cutbacks, lack of resources, or lack of project sponsorship. If your project is canceled, make sure to leave clear project close-out documentation since canceled projects may be restarted at a later date.

Out of Time - if a timeline mandate is in place, for example a tax law changes at the end of the year, the project is finished at that moment.  Again, make sure the most important and urgent requirements are completed first.

Out of Money - most often, projects are finished when they are out of money.  Typically a project is awarded a certain budget based on a mandate, return on investment, or the financial tolerance for that business unit.  When the money runs out, the project is finished.  I cannot stress the importances of ensuring important and urgent requirements are completed first.

Failed - Sadly, many projects do not meet the stated objectives and ultimately fail.  Some studies suggest 60-75% of technology projects fail!  Even projects that meet stated objectives fail because the objectives do not create value to the enterprise.  I believe most projects fail because they fall short of expectations SET BY EXTERNAL FORCES, that is, the stated objectives of a project do no create clear value to the enterprise.

In Summary
The Practical Project Manager:
  • builds a high level DEPENDENCY CHART which shows the timeline of external forces
  • ensures important and urgent requirements are completed first
  • delivers Project Success by delivering an improved product or service that has clear value to the enterprise.
Refer to: #5 Don’t Work in a Vacuum
Always refer to your company's methodology or the Project Management Institute for specific how-to.