"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 a few brief reasons why project managers struggle with small projects.
"Small things have a way of overmastering the great. This small press can destroy a kingdom." —Sonya Levien
1. You think these projects are simple. In general, smaller projects have less risk. However, small projects may have a complex set of variables.
Be sure to analyze the complexity of the project. For example, you may engage your team to draw a context diagram and/or data flow diagrams early in the project. This exercise allows the team to understand the context of the project.
2. You don't have a project charter. Project managers are assigned projects at the last minute with a tight deadline. Rather than discussing the project 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 in the project. For smaller projects, the project manager should be able to create a charter in short order.
3. You are applying the wrong level of rigor. I see two extremes: First, project managers do not follow any methodology.
Second, project managers undertake numerous tasks usually performed for large, complex projects.
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-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. These projects often get the leftover resources. Any warm body will do or will it?
For all projects, define the required knowledge and skills. Seek to staff the project team accordingly.
6. You are not performing project risk management. Yes, smaller projects 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 up front how you will manage, track, and report changes. When is a change order required? Who has to approve it?
"I can do small things in a great way." —James Freeman Clarke
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 project is a low priority and give it little attention.
This is a management issue. Management should create a Project Board that reviews project requests for strategic alignment.
9. Your project 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. Some project managers spend more time setting up their tools than managing the project.
Keep things simple. For example, rather than using complex scheduling tools, you may use Excel.
11. You are managing too many projects. Project managers may be assigned numerous projects. The project managers may have difficulty prioritizing and juggling the management activities resulting in wasted time.
The person or persons responsible for assigning project managers should be careful to assess each project, estimate the time required by the project manager, and maximize project management resources. Monitor success rates for small projects 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.
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.
Most of us have personal and career goals. Our ability to achieve those goals is dependent on our risk management skills, that is our ability to manage opportunities and threats. We seek to make good things happen and to eliminate or reduce the bad things.
Through the years, I have captured my favorite quotes related to the art and science of risk management. I hope you enjoy the insights as well as the humor.
1. "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall." —NELSON MANDELA, SOUTH AFRICAN STATESMAN
2. "Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude." —THOMAS JEFFERSON, U.S. PRESIDENT
3. “People with goals succeed because they know where they are going.” —EARL NIGHTINGALE, MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER AND AUTHOR
4. “A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses those skills to accomplish his goals.” —LARRY BIRD, NBA PLAYER AND COACH
5. "The world is getting to be such a dangerous place, a man is lucky to get out of it alive." —W.C. FIELDS, COMEDIAN AND MOVIE STAR
"They that are on their guard and appear ready to receive their adversaries are in much less danger of being attacked than the supine, secure and negligent." —BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, SCIENTIST, PUBLISHER, AND DIPLOMAT
6. “There is a myth that people hate change. Not true! What scares them isn’t change, it’s uncertainty. They worry about whether the changes are good or bad. People love change when it involves pleasant surprises. What they fear are the unpleasant ones.” —ALAN MULALLY, CEO OF FORD MOTOR COMPANY
7. “Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.” —WINSTON CHURCHILL, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM
8. “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.” —FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, U.S. PRESIDENT
9. "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." —GEORGE S. PATTON, GENERAL IN THE U.S. ARMY
10. “The man who comes up with a means for doing or producing almost anything better, faster, or more economically has his future and his fortune at his fingertips.” —J. PAUL GETTY, ANGLO-AMERICAN INDUSTRIALIST
11. "Not only do I not know what's going on, I wouldn't know what to do about it if I did." -GEORGE CARLIN, COMEDIAN
12. "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." —SUN-TZU, CHINESE GENERAL AND MILITARY STRATEGIST
13. “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.” —GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, IRISH PLAYWRIGHT RISK
14. “They that are on their guard and appear ready to receive their adversaries are in much less danger of being attacked than the supine, secure and negligent.” —BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, SCIENTIST, PUBLISHER, AND DIPLOMAT
15. “When you arrive at a fork in the road, take it.” —YOGI BERRA, BASEBALL PLAYER
16. “100 percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.” —WAYNE GRETZKY, PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY PLAYER
17. “You decide what it is you want to accomplish and then you lay out your plans to get there, and then you just do it. It’s pretty straightforward.” —NANCY DITZ, MARATHONER
18. “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.” —JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, GERMAN WRITER AND POLYMATH
19. “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” —GROUCHO MARX, COMEDIAN AND MOVIE STAR
20. “I could tell that my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio.” —RODNEY DANGERFIELD, COMEDIAN
This is a guest article by Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.
Much of the time, risk management at the beginning of a project looks like getting the team in a room to review the whole project and work out what might be coming that could affect how the project proceeds.
The project manager writes up the discussion in the risk register along with what the team is going to do to avoid or amplify (in the case of positive risk) the risks. As the project progresses, more risks are identified, dutifully added and managed.
What’s happening here is that we’re looking at the work and impacts on the work. This approach to risk management is very task driven. We ask questions like:
These are all valid questions. But they miss one crucial area that massively affects everything on the project every day. Us. The project team.
Our skills, ability to work together as a team, or lack thereof, present the biggest chance of success for the project and also the biggest risk.
Here are some examples of how the people on your team make your project inherently more risky.
Do you have problems? Projects running behind schedule? Cycle time for a business process increasing? Sales down? People continuing to live in silos? Let's discuss a simple but powerful tool for solving problems - the Cause and Effect Diagram (alias Fishbone Diagram).
“A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.” -Anonymous
Are you behind schedule on one of your projects? Develop a cause and effect diagram to identify the causes. And then determine which of the causes had the greatest impact. Don't stop there. Determine how you will minimize the probability and impact of those causes going forward.
Some Project Management Offices (PMOs) never get off the ground. I've seen others that are started and a year or so later die a slow painful death. So, how can you build a PMO you can be proud of, one that thrives?
No one intends to build an impotent PMO, but it happens. The PMO lacks power and effectiveness. Therefore, people see the PMO as a hindrance, not an enabler.
Let's look at five ways we can improve vitality and provide value to our organization.
"There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." –Aristotle
1. PMO Sponsorship. Without a strong, influential sponsor, the PMO is doomed. Don’t have a sponsor? Then don’t create a PMO. Because you will be fighting an uphill battle, one that you will likely lose.
2. Clarity. Define specific, measurable goals. How will you measure the success of the PMO? What are the Key Performance Indicators?
The PMO leader should also be clear about the type of PMO being implemented. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) describes three types of PMOs:
Since clarity is essential to success, you must continuously cast the vision of where you are going, how you get there, and why you are going there.
3. Alignment. Define a process to ensure projects align with the organization’s mission and goals. What criteria will be used to select projects?
For example, the project selection criterion might include:
Kill non-value added projects. Transfer resources to value-added projects. Certainly, resource management across the project portfolio is a critical success factor.
Some organizations also use a gate review process. At certain stages of each project, the project is reviewed to ensure continuous alignment.
4. Execution. Teach project managers to use a scalable project management framework or methodology. Provide templates to aid project managers in their execution. Another tip, offer to mentor and support project managers during the execution of their projects.
5. Continuous Improvement. Evaluate the framework, tools, techniques, templates, as well as the projects. Develop and maintain lessons learned.
Thinking about starting a PMO? I recommend that you develop a project charter with your project sponsor and key stakeholders. Define the problems you wish to overcome, goals, deliverables, assumptions, constraints, and top risks to a successful implementation. You can build a PMO that you are proud of through early collaboration with your stakeholders, persistent leadership, and staying focused on delivering value to your organization. Best wishes!
The Standish Group says three of the biggest factors that lead to failed and challenged projects are:
We should attack these threats with a vengeance. How can we do this? We add skilled requirements analysts to our teams.
The role of the project manager is to achieve the project’s goals or objectives. Who performs the business analysis tasks for the projects? That depends.
For small projects, the project manager may assume many roles including but not be limited to:
For larger projects, project managers must find ways to complete project tasks through others. They must not fall into the trap of doing everything themselves. Wise project managers recruit team members with the necessary skills and talents.Continue reading
How big of a deal are project requirements?
The Project Management Institute says, “47% of unsuccessful projects fail to meet goals due to poor requirements management.” –Requirements Management, A Core Competency for Project and Program Success
In his book — Just Enough Requirements Management — Alan Davis shares, “Various studies suggest that errors introduced during requirements activities account for 40 to 50 percent of all defects found in a software product.”
Stakeholders hear the term “requirements” but interpret the meaning in different ways. Before we can manage anything, it’s critical that we have a working definition.
The Project Management Body of Knowledge defines requirement as “a condition or capability that is required to be present in a product, service, or result to satisfy a contract or other formally imposed specification.”
Karl Wiegers — author of Software Requirements — shared this definition: “Requirements are a specification of what should be implemented. They are descriptions of how the system should behave, or of a system property or attribute.”Continue reading
Poor project quality can have profound effects on projects resulting in rework, schedule delays, higher cost, frustration, morale problems, and lack of customer satisfaction. Project managers cannot afford to miss the mark here. Quality matters.
When buying eyeglasses, what do people look for? One person may focus on features such as the frame style. Another person may want anti-scratch coating or UV-blocking treatment.
Others also look for a great customer experience—how they are greeted, how easy it is to find their frames, and the fast, accurate checkout process.
Projects are similar–project customers, whether internal or external, want great products and service. How do your customers describe your service? Are they getting the product features they want?
Here are some common quality management mistakes. Overcoming these seven mistakes can greatly improve your chance of success. Continue reading
Project managers, team members, and other stakeholders have disagreements, some heated, some not. What’s important is how you respond to project conflicts? Conflicts can be beneficial if handled in an open, transparent manner.
Successful project managers do not run away from conflict; they run toward it. They call it out by name in a neutral and unoffending manner. And they quickly engage the appropriate stakeholders in order to discuss and resolve the issues.
Furthermore, the best project managers are risk managers constantly mitigating conflicts. How? First, these leaders communicate well—they tell the team where they are going, how they will get there, and when things will occur. Second, they clarify goals, priorities, and requirements. Third, these project managers work with their teams to break down the project and make activity assignments clear.Continue reading