Want Better Results in Software Projects? Try 3 Simple Questions

Project managers crave successful software projects. They dream of crossing the finish line with a win. Project managers want to help their company and advance their career. Let's look at three powerful questions to help you identify lessons learned.

Unfortunately, some project managers fall into a rut and fail to make progress. These individuals do the same things from one project to another project and expect a different result. They take the wrong actions, pursue the wrong things and operate under wrong assumptions.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." —Albert Einstein

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10 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers

Just because you've been a project manager since the days of "Gilligan's Island" is no guarantee that you are an effective project manager.

As a matter of fact, you may be still trying to get off your island. Even the Skipper and the Professor can't seem to help...encouraging...huh?

So, how can we produce intended or desired results in our projects? Here are 10 tips. Forming habits requires time and effort, but let's decide first which of these would be most helpful.

10 Habits of Effective Project Managers

1

Define what you mean by risk

The term "risk" means different things to different people. Some individuals think risks are negative events (i.e., threats); others include positive events (i.e., opportunities). Whether you are starting a project or a program, be clear about what you mean by the term risk.

2

Define and use a risk management plan

Many project managers and project teams approach their projects with no idea of how they plan to identify risks, assess risks, define risk response plans, implement response plans, or monitor risks. Don't make this mistake. Define a risk management plan and reach agreement with your team as to the approach and the amount of rigor you plan to use.

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How to Facilitate the Nominal Group Technique

How often have you elicited items such as problems, solutions, or implementation ideas from meeting participants? This sounds simple, but often, participants disagree. The meeting can turn into quicksand. Let's look at the Nominal Group Technique (NGT), a powerful technique for reaching consensus.

Imagine that you are planning to facilitate a session to identify the strengths of your organization. What technique would you use to capture their ideas? How would you prioritize the list?

Facilitator leading meeting

What is the Nominal Group Technique?

The nominal group technique is a structured method for group brainstorming that allows every participant to have an equal voice.  It is a particularly effective tool for larger groups.  The technique saves time, engages participants, and improves the probability of agreement.

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What are Project Assumptions?

There may be inherent risks when we make project assumptions. We assume certain things to be true when in fact, they may not be. Consequently, we fail to challenge assumptions and continue planning and executing based on false notions. This can be costly.

An Example of Wrong Assumptions

So, how does this happen? In her book—Thinking in Bets—author Annie Duke shares an illustration:

Suppose someone says, "I flipped a coin and it landed heads four times in a row. How likely is that to occur?" It feels like that should be a pretty easy question to answer. Once we do the math on the probability of heads on four consecutive 50-50 flips, we can determine that would happen 6.25% of the time (.50 x .50 x .50 x.50).

The problem is that we came to this answer without knowing anything about the coin or the person flipping it. Is it a two-sided coin or three-sided coin or four? If it is two-sided, is it a two-headed coin? Is the flipper a magician who is capable of influencing how the coin lands?

In our projects, we may be guilty of this type of thinking. We may assume the world is flat when indeed, it is not. Assumption analysis can help us discover the facts or supporting information when identifying project risks and later when evaluating risks.

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What Everybody Ought To Know About Project Risk Owners

So, what are project risk owners and how should project managers identify and assign them? Let's talk.

Imagine that you are the project manager of a two-year, multi-million dollar project. During the execution of your project, you take a beach vacation.

One of your team members calls upset that a major risk has occurred. You cooly reply, "No problem." You text the risk owner and discover that the risk response plan is being executed and everything is fine.

Is this scenario possible? One thing is for sure. If we don't identify and recruit risk owners, this will never happen. Your project will be at greater risk.

picture of a risk owner

Risk Owner

What is a Project Risk Owner?

The PMBOK 6th Edition says a risk owner is "the person responsible for monitoring the risks and for selecting and implementing an appropriate risk response strategy." Furthermore, these individuals may aid in evaluating their risks in performing qualitative risk analysis and the quantitative risk analysis

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10 Ways Project Sponsors Can Boost Project Success

I often ask project managers the reasons for project failure. One of the top responses is a lack of leadership and sustained engagement by the project sponsor. The sponsor paints a fuzzy picture of what they want, throws it over the fence to the project manager, and goes on their merry way. He or she essentially says, "Let me know when you're done. Failure is not an option." Really?

project sponsor with project team in background

Fortunately, some sponsors know how to hit home runs. These sponsors understand that their leadership is essential to a winning season. They stand out from other sponsors by owning their projects and maintaining a healthy relationship with their project managers from the beginning to end of their projects.

"PMI Pulse research shows actively engaged sponsors are by far the top driver of projects meeting their original goals and business intent." 

PMI Pulse

Sponsors are typically busy senior executives often coming from the C-suite. In addition to the projects they are sponsoring, the executives have many other responsibilities.

How is it possible for a sponsor to complete their project work and still have time to perform their other duties? Let's look at 10 ways sponsors can boost project success.

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Risk Management: When All Hell Breaks Loose

What would you do if all hell breaks loose in a critical company project that you are managing? You lose two of your best team members. Your budget is shot. A key stakeholder is breathing down your neck. Behind schedule by four weeks. You haven't slept well in two weeks. And you feel like throwing in the towel.   

Taking on Risky Projects

Some projects are more risky than others. A project sponsor sees an opportunity. It's a stretch and he knows it, but he wants to try anyway. So, the project charter is completed and the top risks are recognized.

The Project Board approves the project. Why? Because there will be tremendous gains if the project is implemented successfully.

And guess what? You've been asked to manage this project. Lucky you.

As you are engaged in the project, you begin to understand just how challenging the project is going to be. How will you approach the uncertainty that lies before you? What can you do to recognize and plan for the events and conditions that may have negative effects on your project objectives?

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Five Ways to Reduce Risk Exposure Early

When is risk exposure greatest in a project? In the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the project? It's actually highest in the beginning. Let's look at how to reduce risk exposure early in your projects.

Why Risk Exposure Is Greatest in the Beginning

So, why is your risk exposure greatest in the beginning? Project managers have the least amount of information. Uncertainty is the greatest. We know very little about the:

  • Goals of the project
  • Deliverables
  • Requirements
  • Budget
  • Constraints
  • Success criteria
  • Availability of resources

Here are five activities that you can undertake to reduce the risk exposure early.

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The What, Why, and How of Process Mapping

Operational risk includes people risk, technology risk, external event risk, and process risk. In this article, let's talk about process risk and how to reduce these risks through process mapping.

When employees leave organizations, these entities may loose daily operational knowledge. You know. The people that know how to get things done are now gone. And these organizations often lack process documentation. Furthermore, they fail to cross train other employees adequately.

So, who is impacted? Employees for sure. But most importantly, the customer is adversely impacted. 

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The Power of If-Then Risk Statements

IF. Have you thought about the use of this two-letter conjunction in risk management lately? Let's look at how to use the power of If-Then risk statements. IF is a simple word that can open up new doors to writing clear risk statements. 

If-Then Risk Statements

Once you've identified your project risks, you will need to write opportunity and threat statements.

Write Opportunity Statements

Opportunities are events and conditions, that if they occur, have a positive impact on your project objectives (e.g., schedule, scope, budget, quality). Here are examples of how you might start these risk statements:

  • If you purchase ten or more computers from the XYZ vendor, 
  • If you add an additional developer to task ABC,
  • If you use quick-drying cement,
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