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Ask the Right Questions at the Right Time

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 (PMBOK). 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.

Photo courtesy of iStock.com.

Photo courtesy of iStock.com.

Initiating Process Group

  1. Why are we doing this project?
  2. Is your project sponsor fully engaged and on board?
  3. What is the authority level of the project manager?
  4. What do we wish to accomplish?
  5. What are the products and services we wish to deliver?
  6. What are the budget constraints?
  7. What are the schedule constraints?
  8. What assumptions are being made?
  9. Who will be impacted? Which stakeholders have the greatest interest and power?
  10. Who will comprise the project team?
  11. What are the most significant risks?

Planning Process Group

  1. Who do we need to communicate with? When? How? Why?
  2. What needs to be done? When?
  3. Will we take a traditional approach or an agile approach?
  4. Who will do each task? Is each person’s supervisor/manager in agreement (matrix environment)?
  5. What is the skill level of the project resources?
  6. How long will each task take (i.e., effort and duration)?
  7. What are the requirements?
  8. How will we ensure the quality will be managed properly?
  9. How will we identify, evaluate, respond, and monitor risks?
  10. What procurement documents are needed?

Executing Process Group

  1. Are team members focused?
  2. Are we managing the stakeholder’s expectations?
  3. Do team members have the resources required to complete their tasks?
  4. What are the roadblocks?
  5. Is the team maturing in working with one another (forming, norming, storming, performing)?
  6. Are we tracking risks, action items, issues, and decisions?

Monitoring and Controlling Process Group

  1. Are we on track? If not, what can we do to get back on track?
  2. Are we managing changes appropriately? If not, how can we improve the change management process?
  3. What are the new risks? What has changed for risks previously identified? Do we need additional risk response plans?
  4. Are we planning and executing in an efficient and effective manner?
  5. Have we provided appropriate support to the team members? If problems persist, have we dealt with the problems appropriately including removal of team members.

Closing Process Group

  1. Have all the requirements been met?
  2. What went well in the project?
  3. What did not go well?
  4. If we had to do the project again, what would we do differently?
  5. Have we made the final payments and recorded final accounting transactions?
  6. Have we recorded the lessons learned?
  7. Have we delivered everything promised in the contract(s)?
  8. Have we closed out all risks in the risk register with final notations of what occurred for each risk?
  9. Have we archived the project documentation?
  10. How will we celebrate?

Question: What other key questions would you ask?

12 Good Reasons You Are Struggling With Small Projects

“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.

Photo courtesy of iStock.com.

Photo courtesy of iStock.com.

1. You think small projects are simple. In general, smaller projects have less risk. However, some small projects touch 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 a data flow diagrams early in the project. This exercise allows the team to understand the context of the project.Continue reading

What I Learned About Communications From A Multi-Million Dollar Software Program

Communications can be daunting for large, complex programs and projects. Project managers live or die with communications.

How can we ensure stakeholders get the right information, at the right time, and in the right manner?

Grab a cup of coffee or tea. Allow me to share a story and the lessons learned.

It Takes A Village To Deliver A Program

Once upon a time, I helped managed a program to implement several new software applications and build interfaces to third parties. The program was comprised of 45 project teams with more than 150 people. Many individuals worked on two to four projects concurrently.

Company and vendor resources included program managers, project managers, business analysts, developers, testers, mainframe resources, network resources, and many department resources. The vendor resources rotated on site a week and off site a week.

Why Communicating Is More Challenging With Larger Teams

For every person added to a program or project, the complexity of communications increases exponentially. For 125 people, there are 7,750 communication channels. For 150 people, there are 11,175 communication channels.

The number of communication channels can be calculated as: [N (N–1)] / 2 where N equals the number of people. (Tweet This!)

For this reason, wise program and project managers keep their teams small and ramp up communications when larger teams are necessary. Let’s look at some ways to improve communications and our chance for success.

What Did I Learn From The Software Program?

  • Knight a Communications Manager. We assigned a Communications Manager early in the program. This was not a full time position, but there was one person who consistently focused on communications.
  • Develop and Maintain a Communication Plan. The Program Manager worked with the Communications Manager to define and maintain a Communication Plan.
  • Communicate Through Multiple Channels. In our program, we needed to communicate to more than 1,000 people in our home office and remote offices. We delivered the message through multiple channels: meetings, newsletters, emails, internal blog, and recorded video – you get the idea.
  • Focus on Interdependent Relationships. Project Managers and their teams tend to live in silos. We must be intentional to ask how our work will impact others. During our enterprise program, we had a weekly meeting for this purpose. The Program Manager asked the Project Managers to help identify dependencies, discuss related risks, and develop plans.
  • Maintain Risks and Issues Registers. The Program Manager and the Project Managers should maintain their Issues and Risks Registers. When possible, make these registers available to all Project Managers. The transparency aids with communication.
  • Enhance Virtual Communications. Program and Project Managers should utilize appropriate tools such as web conferencing, teleconferencing, and project management information systems to facilitate virtual communications.

Question: What are the top two to three things you have seen work when it comes to improving communications for large projects or programs? Share your constructive comments below!