If you are looking for a great way to engage your key stakeholders and identify project risks, perform a SWOT Analysis. Project managers or other facilitators can use this powerful tool to identify strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, strengths may give rise to opportunities and weaknesses may lead to threats. Let's look at how to perform a SWOT Analysis.
Strengths. Something that an entity, department, or team is good at doing or that gives it an important capability. A strength may be a skill, expertise, a valuable resource, a competitive capability, or an attribute that provides competitive advantage.
Weaknesses. Something an entity, department, or team lacks or does poorly or a condition that puts it at a disadvantage.
Opportunity. Up-side risks that may cause positive effects to our project objectives. An example would be to exploit a discount savings by purchasing in bulk quantities.
Threats. These down-side risks may cause negative effects to our project objectives. What are your obstacles? What may hinder your ability to achieve your project objectives?
“Why am I still having problems with small projects?
This plaintive question is one I’m asked from time to time. I’d like to give some reasons why project managers struggle to manage small projects.
1. You think these endeavors are simple. In general, smaller endeavors have less risk. However, these may have a complex set of variables.
Be sure to analyze the complexity. For example, you may engage your team to develop a context diagram and/or data flow diagrams early. This exercise allows the team to understand the context of the project.
2. You don’t have a charter. Individuals are assigned projects at the last minute with a tight deadline. Rather than discussing the undertaking with stakeholders and documenting the business case, problems, goals, and deliverables, the project manager hits the ground running. Later, stakeholders demand costly changes.
Make it a priority to engage your key stakeholders and develop a project charter. This exercise will provide a good foundation and reduce the changes later. For smaller endeavors, one should be able to create a charter in short order.
3. You are applying the wrong level of rigor. I see two extremes: First, managers do not follow any methodology. Second, managers perform unneeded tasks.
Keep it simple. Determine the steps you plan to take and develop the planning documents that will provide real value. Execute and stay with the plan.
4. The Project Sponsor is invisible. Many pint-sized-projects have no sponsor at all. The organization may assign a sponsor, but the sponsor has abdicated his or her role to the project manager or someone on the team.
If you don’t have a sponsor, solicit a fitting sponsor. Discuss with the sponsor their role and ask for their commitment.
5. Your team has been poorly staffed. Often, these undertakings are assigned leftover resources. Any warm body will do or will it?
For all endeavors, define the required knowledge and skills. Seek to staff the team accordingly.
6. Poor risk management. Yes, smaller ventures typically have less risk. This does not mean there are zero risks.
Risk management should not take much time, but be sure to integrate risk management in your project activities. Simple qualitative analysis should be sufficient for evaluating the risks.
7. You are not performing change management. A stakeholder asks for a change in the scope. It’s not a big change. You say okay.
Users request additional changes over time. The cumulative effect becomes significant.
Decide upfront how you will manage, track, and report changes. When is a change order required? Who has to approve it?
8. You are managing a project no one cares about. Projects may be selected arbitrarily. In some cases, the project does not align with the company’s strategy. The team knows the venture is a low priority and give it little attention.
This is a management issue. Management should create a Project Board that reviews requests for strategic alignment.
9. Your team is too large. Your project may be small, but it impacts several areas of the company. Everyone feels like they need someone on the team. You have fifteen people on the team when a handful will do.
Create a small core team. Make sure the team represents the primary stakeholder groups. You may wish to create a supplemental team of individuals who may be engaged as needed.
10. You are using the wrong tools. One may spend more time setting up their tools than managing the effort.
Keep things simple. For example, rather than using complex scheduling tools, you may use Excel.
11. You are managing too many projects. An individual may have a heavier load than they can manage. These managers may have difficulty prioritizing and juggling all the activities resulting in wasted time.
The resource manager should be careful to assess each project, estimate the time required for each project manager. Monitor success rates for these endeavors and make adjustments as needed.
12. You have not identified the important stakeholders. Surely we know who the stakeholders are or do we? We are tempted to skip the stakeholder identification.
Don’t make the common stakeholder mistakes. Small projects can touch a complex set of variables. Neglect in identifying and managing the stakeholders can be costly later in the project.
Take a few minutes to review your small projects. Do you need to let go of some misconceptions and make some changes? Create some new habits. Don’t allow yourself to slip back into unproductive behaviors.
What is the role of the project manager? The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) says, "The project manager is the person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives (my italics)." Defining clear objectives and goals is the foundation of the project. Let's look at how to write SMART goals.
"People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine." —Brian Tracy
Many organizations have a Project Board that approves programs and projects resulting in a project portfolio. The Board chooses projects and programs that align and support the organization's mission, values, goals, and strategies. Today, let's look at five ways to improve your project approval process.
Create a Project Board or Project Steering Team to approve projects. Project sponsors submit their projects to the board for approval. Better yet, have the project sponsors make brief presentations to the board and respond to questions.
The Project Board should define the project selection criteria. Defining and communicating the criteria saves time. Project sponsors will not waste time on projects that will not make the cut. For example, selection criteria might include: 1) strategic importance, 2) regulatory compliance, 3) financial viability, and 4) business and technical flexibility to accommodate future changes, to name a few.
After publishing my article entitled Evaluating Risks Using Qualitative Risk Analysis, I received questions on how to determine project budget reserves. Here are my answers.
After evaluating risks qualitatively, do you set aside some dollars for a contingency reserve?
The short answer is yes. Contingency reserves are for “known risks” identified in risk management. The contingency reserves cover residual risks in the project and account for cost uncertainty such as rework.
Imagine a project budget with no reserves. The project manager is basically saying there will be little to no problems. The project manager expects to deliver every task with no negative impacts to the budget. A wise project manager will identify risks, assess risks, and recognize the potential impacts by adding appropriate reserves to the budget.
How do we estimate a contingency reserve?
The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) says that contingency reserves may be a percentage of the estimated cost, such as 5% - 10% of the estimated cost.
For example, a project manager may estimate the project cost to be $100,000. Assuming a 10% contingency reserve, the project manager would estimate the contingency reserve to be $10,000 (i.e., $100,000 x 10%). The project manager would add the contingency reserve to the project estimate resulting in a cost baseline of $110,000.
The success of a project manager largely lies in the individual’s ability to communicate. Some project managers have great oratory skills but don’t ask the right questions at the right time.
Here are some key questions for each of the project management process groups. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list; just some questions to get you thinking. Neither will you need to ask all of these questions for every project.
Keep in mind, the project process groups are seldom sequential, one-time events; they are overlapping activities that occur throughout the project.
The Project Charter
Unfortunately, many people think of the project charter as an administrative hoop they must jump through to get their project approved. Therefore, many charters are written hastily with little thought.
The value of the charter process is engaging stakeholders, discussing the issues, resolving conflicts, and getting agreement as you initiate the project. The stakeholder interest is considered and aligned, resulting in less likelihood of costly changes later in the project.
According to PMI, "47% of unsuccessful projects fail to meet goals due to poor requirements management." Wow! Requirements are a pretty big deal. Let's look at five things to start and five things to stop in requirements management.
How many times have you experienced scope creep? You know the drill—you elicit and document the requirements. You receive sign off. You continue to see changes to the requirements. Many projects experience 10, 20, 25-percent change in requirements over the life of the project. Let's explore how to manage project scope.
You cannot manage what you do not understand. Let's get our arms around the concept of scope. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines scope as the sum of the products, services, or results.
When we use the word "scope", it is helpful to specify the type of scope—product scope or project scope. The product scope are the features and functions of the product, service, or result. The project scope is the work to deliver the product, service, or result.
Imagine that you plan to have a painter paint your living room. Here are some product scope questions:
What are the tools and equipment that are needed? What work will be done to deliver the product? Here are some project scope questions:
Want more clarification on product and project scope? Read this article from Villanova University.
When it comes to requirements, I wish I could read my user's minds. Unfortunately, collecting requirements is challenging. Project managers should consider engaging an effective business analyst for large projects.
A critical part of projects is defining and managing the project requirements. Requirements are the capabilities or conditions needed in the product, service, or result. They are specifications of what should be developed or implemented.
Like the word scope, it is helpful to use an adjective when talking about requirements. There are different types of requirements. Check with your organization to see if there are standard definitions for different types of requirements.
I typically use the following terms. Notice the cascading levels of requirements. We begin with high-level requirements and progressively elaborate the requirements into greater detail.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at time. We all know the saying. Project managers can use this principle for any size project. Use the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) to break your projects into bite-sized pieces.
The WBS is a hierarchical decomposition of the work to be performed in order to meet the project goals and create the deliverables. The lowest levels of the WBS are the work products and deliverables used for scheduling, estimating, monitoring, and controlling the project. Learn how to build a WBS.
“Any goal can be achieved if you break it down into enough small parts.” -Brian Tracy
Do not make the mistake of waiting until the end of a project to unveil the product, service, or result to your stakeholders. Periodically show the prototypes or deliverables to the customer(s) and the sponsor. When the deliverables are mature, seek formal acceptance. These steps can greatly reduce the risk of rework.
Project managers should meet with their teams on a regular basis to compare the work completed to the project scope baseline (the defined deliverables, assumptions, and constraints). If there is variance, determine whether corrective or preventive action is required.
Many project managers think their job is ensure that no changes occur. Make no mistake about it—change happens. Expect it!
Our job as project managers is not to stop all the changes but to ensure the necessary changes occur in an organized and agreed-upon manner. Don't get me—project managers should not just add anything that is requested. Requested changes should support and align with the overall goals of the project.
Take changes through a change control process. Analyze and report the impact to the project sponsor. Seek approval when necessary before proceeding.
Project managers face a multitude of scope risks. Be diligent up front in your project to develop a scope management plan. Seek to understand your user's needs. Engage appropriate stakeholders on an ongoing basis. Regularly compare your work against your plan and make needed corrections.
People use the term "project" loosely. Someone may say, "I need to finish my filing project today." But what is a project and what's the difference between creating products, services, and results?
A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a product, service, or result. —PMBOK
Projects are temporary. Projects have a beginning and an end. In contrast, teams perform operational tasks on a daily basis. Team members scan documents, handle customer calls, and pay invoices.
This is a guest article by Dana Brownlee from professionalismmatters.com.
One of the most common questions I get when speaking to groups is “How do you deliver a difficult message to/push back on senior leaders – particularly the difficult ones?” I certainly understand the popularity of the question because that’s a sticky situation for sure. While project managers and others often find themselves in opposition to the boss’ ideas, recommendations, or preferred course of action, telling the boss they have an “ugly baby” is a different story.
One of my favorite suggestions for this unenviable predicament is using risk analysis. Indeed, I think risk analysis can be the secret weapon of managing up! Why? Because risk analysis provides an opportunity for you to focus the discussion on the objective (often quantifiable) facts and away from the more emotional opinions.
In my book The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches I discuss the importance of using risk analysis to make your case for a particular point of view. Consider the following example…