How do you communicate risks? Some project managers rarely mention risks; others bore people to tears with too much information.
Ninety percent of a project manager’s job is communication. And one of the most important things to communicate is your risks. Where is the uncertainty greatest and what are you and the team doing about it?
The communication process can be challenging. Stakeholders expect one thing and get something completely different. How can we communicate risks more effectively?
Are you feeling stuck? If so, let’s talk about getting unstuck and moving again.
With all that we have to do, we can’t afford to stay in one place too long. Somehow, we must keep things moving forward. Otherwise, there will be consequences—missed deadlines, unhappy stakeholders, demoralized team members, and ultimately adverse impacts to the company’s bottom line.
So, why do project managers get stuck in the first place? There are several reasons. First, it’s analysis paralysis. We get stuck in over-analyzing (or over-thinking) things such as requirements. Second, it’s fear. We are afraid that we will make a mistake. Third, it’s perfectionism—the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. We mean well, but this mindset is a toxic trap that hinders our progress as we seek the approval of others. Fourth, it’s poor decision making. The project team has identified multiple options for solving the problem, but can’t seem to pick one.
Are you looking for ways to improve your project communication? You’re not alone. Most project managers know that 90% of their time is spent in communicating – hearing, speaking, and seeking to understand.
Project managers constantly communicate — coaching, summarizing action items, influencing stakeholders, educating team members, listening, facilitating decisions, creating a contract with a third party, escalating an issue, and meeting with a project sponsor, to name a few. Great project managers are first great communicators. How can we get better?
Is there a way to improve both project requirements and quality at the same time? Allow me to begin this discussion with an illustration.
I recently needed a television mounted on the wall of my office. A fairly simple requirement, right?
I told the handyman that I wanted the television to be head high. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the room and saw that the television had been installed a foot higher than I expected. The handyman did what I asked him to do but he used his head height, not mine. He was like the Jolly Green Giant – 6 foot 7 inches tall; I was 5 foot 6 inches tall.
Improve Project Requirements and Quality
Quality management is highly dependent on the clarity of the project requirements. Why?
Quality is the degree to which a project meets the requirements. This definition assumes that the requirements are defined and that there are varying degrees to which the requirements may be met.
If the truth were told, many projects lack SMART requirements: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound. They’re vague, and there are little to no standards by which to judge whether the requirement has been implemented properly. Furthermore, stakeholders may not be engaged adequately in the requirements process.
Ill-defined requirements — like “install the TV head high” — make it difficult, if not impossible, for designers, developers, and testers to do their jobs. When defining requirements, define the fit criteria: “a quantification of the requirement that demonstrates the standard the product must reach.” For example, I could have specified the precise vertical and horizontal location for the television. With this, we would have had a way to measure whether the requirement was met (and avoid the rework, time, and extra expense).
Additional Requirements and Quality Management Articles
Want to know more about project requirements and quality management? Check out these additional articles:
Last week, I talked about How to Develop a Quality Management Plan. Today, I’d like to share common quality management mistakes. Being aware of these failure points can help you and your project teams to identify and manage quality risks.
Quality Management Mistakes
1. Failure to Define Quality
Quality means different things to different people. One person may say that they own a high-quality diamond ring. A builder describes his quality homes.
What does quality mean to a project manager and the project team? Quality is the degree to which a project meets the requirements. This implies that the requirements are known and that the needs may be met partially or fully.
Improve buy-in and support for your project budgets
Do you ever feel like the Lone Ranger when trying to improve cost estimates? You’re not alone. Actually, you have a team.
Many project managers are left to their own devices when estimating projects. This can be rather challenging. So, how can we improve our cost estimates?
I’d like to suggest something different — engage your project team and key stakeholders. Not only will you improve your cost estimates, but you’ll also get better buy-in and support in keeping the project within budget.
What kinds of projects would benefit from this approach? Large complex projects. And alien projects that are different projects than previously undertaken.
Think about it for a minute – what have you done in the last six months to improve your cost management?
Review the projects you’ve completed in the last year. How many of those projects came in over budget?
Consider John, a savvy project manager, who was asked to manage a project to replace a dated network system. The project sponsor told him that he had $100,000 for the project. When John asked the project sponsor how the $100,000 was estimated, but he never got a clear answer.
As John started the project, he checked the historical records of similar projects as well as some other companies. His early estimate — an analogous estimate — was $125,000 with a range of accuracy between -25 percent to +50 percent. John shared the estimate with the sponsor and said that he would provide a more detailed estimate after completing a work breakdown structure (WBS) with the project team.
The team used the WBS to complete a bottom-up estimate, estimating each project activity and rolling the individual estimates up to higher levels and ultimately to a project total. John reported the revised estimate of $120,000 with a range of accuracy of -5 percent to +10 percent. The sponsor increased the budget to $110,000.
John worked with the sponsor and the team to find ways to further decrease cost. What could be excluded? How could the team get discounts when purchasing the equipment, software, and wiring?
Cost management is rarely a straight shot. We zigzag, don’t we? We give and we take, and we attempt to find ways to deal with the budget constraints we face each day. (If you have a spouse and children, you probably already understand these principles, huh?) Let’s look at some ways to improve your cost management.
The Problems with Crashing, Fast Tracking, and other Schedule Compression Techniques
How do project managers unintentionally create schedule risks? As a result, perhaps you feel a cloud of uncertainty about your schedule.
Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Many times, it starts with pressure from a sponsor to deliver the goods early. For sure, project managers have a responsibility to work with their sponsors to understand the requirements and to complete the projects within the sponsor-imposed deadlines. Rather than wasting our time complaining about the deadlines, how can we work with our sponsors and team members to find solutions to schedule issues?
As we work to develop and compress our schedules, let’s be aware of the common causes of risk. We will be in a better position to manage the risk and deliver our projects on schedule.
5 Causes of Schedule Risk
Crashing the schedule. It’s always been funny to me that the Project Management Body of Knowledge uses the word “crashing” as a schedule compression technique. The term makes me think of an uninvited guest crashing a party, but with schedule management, the individuals are actually invited to the party. Project managers use crashing to shorten the schedule for the least incremental cost by adding resources, typically to the critical path. It can be a great technique — just be aware — crashing may increase your risk. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth.
Fast tracking. Here’s a technique to shorten the schedule by performing activities in parallel for at least a portion of their duration. For example, we might start work on a software design while the team is working on the requirements. Consequently, this technique may increase your risk and requires good communication and coordination; otherwise, it may be anything but fast.
Assigning the wrong resources. You ask a manager for a resource for your project. In return, you get the person who is least busy, not the skilled resource you need. Rather, Susan, an experienced project manager describes specific skills needed and uses her influencing skills to persuade the manager, greatly improving her chance for securing the queen resource. What’s a project manager to do when resources are preassigned?
Making sequence mistakes. John, an inexperienced project manager, failed to work with his team to sequence the project activities properly, resulting in issues which were discovered after the schedule was approved. As a result, John has learned to engage his team members when identifying and sequencing future project activities.
Failure to baseline your schedules. The project manager and team did a great job in breaking down the project, identifying activities, and creating the project schedule. However, the project manager failed to get approval for the schedule. What happened? Yes, the schedule changed. The team did not have a baseline for comparison resulting in significant uncertainty about the health of the project. Like building a house without a plumb line, who knows if the walls are straight?
Question: What other ways have you seen project managers unintentionally create schedule risks?