Category Archives for 4=Control

How to Visualize Project Risks

Things in life can be difficult to see and understand. We have trouble making decisions due to the lack of clarity. The same is true in our projects. Let’s look at how to visualize project risks and do work that really matters.

Some of you may be old enough to remember the song I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash. Nash sings that he can see clearly now the rain has gone; he can see all the obstacles in his way. Let’s spend some time today looking at how to cut clutter from our personal and professional lives, identify the obstacles, and take the essential actions to reach our goals.

Binocular Viewer

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I recently read the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. McKeown says, “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. The Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage.” This is the essence of risk management.Continue reading

7 Proven Ways to Overcome False Expectations

People have expectations. Individuals, teams, or organizations have a strong belief that something is going to happen in the future.

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Photo courtesy of

Project sponsors expect projects to be completed in a timely fashion. Developers expect clear requirements. Testers expect the test region to be stable. Users expect that all of their needs will be met. Vendors expect a statement of work.

Sometimes the expectations are valid; other times the expectations are false. The individual’s expectations are unrealistic or invalid. What causes false expectations and how can we set and maintain the proper expectations?

The Muck and Mire of Expectations

Let’s look at seven common causes of false expectations and what we can do about each. Take note that all of these problems are related to communications.

  1. Things are not discussed adequately. For example: Why do the users of software expect one thing and get something different in projects? One of the top reasons that projects fail is due to a lack of user input. Be sure to involve appropriate stakeholders in your discussions (whether it’s software requirements or anything else). Summarize and document decisions.  
  2. Things are miscommunicated or not communicated at all. Another reason people have false expectations is due to information not being communicated properly. Check your sources and verify information before communicating.
  3. Things are misunderstood. Sometimes the information is correct but is misunderstood. The receiver’s environment, experience, language, and culture may affect the way the receiver interprets the message. Create the message with the audience in mind. You may wish to test the message with a small group before distributing to a larger audience.
  4. Things are over promised. Sometimes, well-meaning people make promises that can’t be kept. The promise maker thinks things can be accomplished but the individual doesn’t understand the requirements, constraints, and required resources and budget. Validate requirements. Get estimates from experienced personnel. Make sure you have adequate budget and resources. Stay focused on delivering the promises.
  5. Things change. In the course of developing new products or services, things may change. It’s easy for a small group to make decisions and fail to communicate the changes to the other affected stakeholders. Define a method for capturing and communicating changes to stakeholders.
  6. Things get lost. One group specifies the requirements. Another group creates a design. Another group may perform the build process…and yet a different group may test and accept something being created. It’s no wonder that things get lost in the process. Consider tracking things/requirements from one process to the next to check off and make sure the things specified early in an endeavor end up in the final product.
  7. Things are constrained. Someone may share a need in a strategic planning session or a requirements session. There seems to be agreement in the room. Later the idea is cut due to resource or budget constraints, but the person who shared the need does not know about the cut. Communicate the final plans to stakeholders. Communicate through different channels – don’t assume everyone will read an email.

12 Sure-Fire Ways to Improve Project Risk Management

If you survey people involved in projects on the importance of risk management for achieving project objectives, a high percentage of the participants will say risk management is important or very important. I’ve seen survey results where 90% of the people thought risk management was important. So…why do few people employ and support risk management?

Photo courtesy of (edited in Canva)

Photo courtesy of (edited in Canva)

Many people have had a bad experience. Project managers have performed risk management poorly. Let’s look at several reasons why project risk management can become useless and what we can do to gain better project results through risk management.

  1. Failure to lead by example. In order for organizations to mature and benefit from risk management, leaders including sponsors and project managers must walk the talk. People resist change. Without a consistent example by those in authority, people will likely seize opportunities to revert to their former behaviors. What must we do? Lead by example.
  2. Failure to focus on the risks that matter. Some project managers start their programs and projects with gusto. They facilitate risk identification exercises that result in a boatload of risks. However, no one knows which risks matter…there is no evaluation and prioritization of risks. People become overwhelmed and take no action. Be sure to evaluate and prioritize risks.Continue reading

7 Things Project Managers Can Learn From the Weatherman

Weathermen have an allotted time to forecast the weather. How do they deliver the most important information in a brief amount of time? How do weathermen determine what to say? Let’s explore seven ways to communicate more effectively.

Photo courtesy of (edited in Canva)

Photo courtesy of (edited in Canva)

Upping Your Communications Game

  1. Know your audience. Weathermen (men and women) know their audience. If the audience has an interest in NASCAR and football, guess what – the weatherman will give weather forecasts for those events. Other people want to know about travel conditions. Good communicators provide the right information at the right time to the right people.
  2. Keep the communications brief and to the point. Have you ever noticed? Weathermen don’t talk about wind currents at 30,000 feet or the temperature on Mars. Why? It doesn’t matter to most people. Find out what your audience needs and deliver it succinctly, particularly to individuals in senior positions.
  3. Share your confidence level. Weathermen have the daunting task of analyzing lots of variables they don’t control and making a forecast. Sometimes the forecast is a piece of cake; others times, the task is seemingly impossible with multiple weather fronts converging. Seasoned weathermen give the forecast, but they also share the factors that may impact the accuracy of the forecast. To do otherwise is to leave people thinking the weatherman knows exactly what’s coming. When providing project estimates, be sure to share the factors that may impact the actual results and when you will provide revised forecasts.
  4. Use different communication methods.  There are several communication methods that are used to share information. Weathermen use “push communication” to send information through television broadcasts. They use “pull communication” such as a website to allow individuals to access information as needed. Good communicators also use “interactive communication” which allows individuals to have a dialogue one-on-one, in meetings, or by phone.
  5. Use visuals. Weathermen are great at sharing maps and models to help their audience understand the changing weather conditions. When possible, share graphics, pictures, and other visuals to help improve your communications.
  6. Communicate through multiple channels. Wherever we go, we can get the weather forecast – on TV, on the radio, and through social media. Good communicators aren’t lazy – they disseminate information through different channels and in different formats. Everyone has a chance to get the message.
  7. Ask for feedback. Weather stations conduct surveys to find out how they can improve their services and if they are communicating appropriately. Ask your sponsor, your team members, and other project managers for feedback on how to improve your communications. Listen. Take action to make the necessary changes.

Related article: 
What I Learned About Communications From a Multi-Million Dollar Software Program

How to Think Ahead With a Project Plan

Do you see the project planning process as a hoop you have to jump through to get to the real work? Yes, I know…we all want to bypass the planning and get on with the execution.

We are ready to develop the deliverables and solve the world’s problems. The project team wants to get their hands dirty and show the sponsor and stakeholders that they are in the thick of things.

woman thinking

Let’s skip the planning stuff and get on with it! Not so quick my dear friend. Danger lies ahead.

Every white-water rafter will tell you the same thing – scout a rapid when you are a safe distance away. You see the Danger! Rapids Ahead signs. The prudent rafter exits the river to check out what’s ahead and to determine their approach to the rapids.

Experienced project managers understand this principle too. Before entering the uncertain waters of a project, we bring the future into the present. We develop a plan that allows us to make our journey safely. Who knows, we may even have a little fun along the way.Continue reading

10 Surprising Ways to Make Your Project Customers Happy

Have you ever had a customer accept your project work although they were not happy with the project?

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, customer is “the person(s) or organization that will pay for the project’s products, service, or result. Customers can be internal or external to the performing organization.”

Group of People Standing Holding Customer

Internal customers have many problems. The problems may include:

  • A product that lacks certain features or functionality
  • Too many defects in a manufacturing process
  • A regulatory requirement
  • Insufficient sales
  • Lack of a building or infrastructure
  • Unhappy external customers due to poor response times
  • Vulnerabilities to a cyber attack
  • Not enough coffee (just kidding)Continue reading

What I Learned About Risk Management from a Christmas Tree

My family has a tradition of going to a Christmas tree farm, selecting a tree, bringing it home, setting it up and decorating. This year was a disaster…here’s my story (please don’t tell anyone) and the risk mitigation strategies I learned.

Hobson wanted a selfie at the Christmas tree farm.

Hobson wanted a selfie at the Christmas tree farm.

Normally, we get our tree the day after Thanksgiving. Not this year. We waited until the second weekend of December to make our tree trek. My wife Sherri and I took our dog Hobson with us (our son and daughter now live out of town). There were very few trees left.

We finally found one that didn’t look like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. The trunk looked straight, and the tree looked fine (no gaping holes if you looked from the right side). I cut the tree. The tree farm owner shook the needles out, wrapped the tree in a net, and helped me tie the tree on top of our car.Continue reading

How to Cash In on Project Opportunities

Some project managers have a defensive mindset…they primarily focus on threats. It’s time to achieve more by thinking differently.

Opportunities abound. They are all around us.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Consider these day-to-day opportunities in our personal lives.

Your favorite clothing retailer is advertising a 30% discount on a new suit you been eyeing.

Starbucks is offering Pumpkin Spice Latte for a brief season. “Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove. Creamy milk and pumpkin pie spices. Your PSL is waiting for you.”

Your company is offering free flu shots for the next two weeks…I’ll take the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

What project opportunities are within your reach? What unique set of variables provide you with a chance for improving your schedule, budget, and quality? How can you convert uncertain opportunities into a realized benefits?

Fuzzy Opportunity

Many individuals have fuzzy notions about opportunities. We cannot leverage its power until we understand it. Let’s look closer with a magnifying glass.

The PMBOK defines risk as “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives such as scope, schedule, cost, and quality.”

Furthermore, the PMBOK defines an opportunity as “a risk that would have a positive effect on one or more project objectives.” Therefore, negative risks are considered to be threats and positive risks are opportunities.

The Family Feud

I am a member of some project management LinkedIn Groups that have had heated debates concerning whether an opportunity is a risk ad nauseam. Some people define risks as strictly a negative event or condition. I understand their perspective.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines risk as “the possibility that something bad or unpleasant (such as injury or a loss) will happen.”

Once a project manager says they do not consider opportunities as risks, and then many of these individuals excuse themselves from the hunt for opportunities.

Don’t fall into this trap. Define [risk] and determine how you will identify and manage both threats and opportunities. Include your definitions and processes in your risk management plan.Continue reading

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