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Are You Making These 8 Stakeholder Mistakes?

Have you ever had someone torpedo your project? Did this individual have a motive to undermine your efforts? Or, did you make some stakeholder mistakes that gave rise to this event?

Either way, it's hindering your progress. Things are not going as planned. What can we do to manage stakeholder risks better?

stakeholder mistakes

A Stakeholder Story

I once observed a  junior project manager who was knighted to manage a project with a fixed regulatory deadline. Software changes were needed. The project sponsor told the project manager that it was critical that the project be delivered on time. No exceptions!

sword

Knighted Project Manager 

The project manager formed a project team. Within days, the project team started making programming changes. The team worked evenings and weekends.

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How to Initiate a Project Steering Committee

Someone decided that it was a good idea to bring project management into your organization. Perhaps it was your CEO or operations manager or IT Director. But for some reason, it never took off. Project management has not been supported by your culture. Let's look at how to get things in flight with a project steering committee.

Project Steering Committee

What's the Current State?

Start with an evaluation. Here are some questions to aid you in discovering the deeper issues. Interview your stakeholders to get their feedback.

  • When your organization introduced to project management, what were the problems project management was to address? If the problems have not been addressed, what is it costing you right now?
  • What's working well?
  • What's not working?
  • How can we get more value from project management?

Initiate a Project Steering Committee

Sometimes, the person responsible for project management (e.g., PMO Director or Project Services Manager) fails to involve stakeholders in evaluating project management. This person makes changes in project management with little to no input from the people being impacted. A better approach is to get regular feedback through a Project Steering Committee.

The purpose of the committee is to improve process and results. The Steering Committee determines the required changes, how much change is needed, and how fast changes need to occur.

Who Should Comprise the Project Steering Committee?

It is best if an influential senior member of your organization sponsors the committee. The sponsor helps to establish the vision and ensures the commitment of resources. But this person doesn’t have to manage the committee.

The Steering Committee may be managed by the person responsible for project management, a person with the proper credentials and experience. The team should include representatives from different areas such as IT, project management, and business operations. Ideally, team members have had project management training and have project experience.

Team Size and Tenure

An optimal team size is six to eight people. Team members should serve no longer than a year. You may wish to implement a staggered rotation where you add a couple of new team members and drop a couple of team members periodically.

Meeting Frequency/Time

The Steering Committee may meet as often as desired—for example, monthly, quarterly, or twice per year.

Plan for Improvement

How should the team approach the evaluation and improvement? Determine the problems and define a plan for improvement.

  • Define the problem(s) to be addressed (e.g., requirements defects are being identified late in the projects or poor communication between projects).
  • Define the goals.
  • Describe how you will measure success (i.e., desired effects).
  • Define the scope of changes (e.g., risk management planning process).
  • Identify team members who will develop, implement, and test the changes.
  • Define the action plan and completion date.
  • Execute the plan.

Try executing the changes for one of your projects to test the improvements.

Reviewing the Results

Once the team has executed and tested the improvement plan, the team should report their findings to the Steering Committee. The team should recommend one of the following:

  • Make the change(s) for subsequent projects.
  • Do not make the change(s).
  • Test again with modifications.

Final Thoughts

Implementing project management in an organization is not an easy task. Why? Because people are resistant to change, particularly when individuals do not understand the reason for the changes. Be patient. Listen carefully. Evolve at a healthy pace, not too fast and not too slow. Your Steering Committee can provide the feedback necessary to guide your pace and maturation.  

 

How To Manage Fixed Date Projects

Fixed date projects occur often these days. The project sponsor picks a date and hands you the project. So, what's a project manager to do? How can we manage fixed date projects?

First of all, don’t freak out. Some things are unrealistic, but others are not. Be positive and ask for some time to do some analysis. Let your sponsor know that you will come back in a week or two with the results.

Second, seek to understand why. Why is the deadline so critical? Be careful in how you ask this. You’re not challenging the sponsor. Rather, you simply want to see things from the perspective of the sponsor. Listen carefully.

Third, start defining the scope. What are the deliverables and the priorities of each deliverable? Can some of the deliverables be implemented later? 

Fourth, engage your stakeholders early. Ask them to help you with the analysis. Seek their expertise.

What to Share with Your Project Sponsor

So, what do you share with your sponsor when your analysis is complete? Think of the situation like a puzzle. Consequently, you may offer different options.

  • Respond with a date range such as, "The desired deadline was March 31st. Our analysis shows that the project can be completed between May 1st and June 30th."
  • See if additional resources can be added. "If we can add these two resources at a cost of $50,000, we can complete the project between April 15th and May 15th."
  • Can the scope can be modified? "Furthermore, if we can remove or postpone the lower priority deliverables, we can complete the project between March 31st and April 15th.

So, what do you say to a project sponsor when you've completed the analysis and you know that the deadline is unrealistic? Tell them the truth. Explain the process you went through, who was involved, the constraints, and the results.

10 Things to Do in Fixed Date Projects

When challenged with a fixed date project, think of it as an opportunity. Often times, you can deliver the project on time with the right approach. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Be positive. Establish a positive working relationship with your sponsor and stakeholders.
  2. Negotiate for the best resources. People, more than anything, will win the day.
  3. Select your project lifecycle. Will you use a traditional waterfall approach or an agile method? The answer to this question has significant implications in aiding or hindering your goals.
  4. Define the project charter. Include a problem statement, goals, deliverables, assumptions, constraints, exclusions, high-level risks, stakeholders, and team members.
  5. Define and prioritize requirements. In agile projects, work with your product owner to define and prioritize your user stories in the requirements backlog.
  6. Define the scope. Clarify what will be included in the product scope and determine your project scope—the work to be done to create and deliver the products, service, and results.
  7. Create the work breakdown structure (WBS). One of the best ways to engage your team members and define the scope is through the facilitation of a WBS exercise
  8. Develop your schedule. If your critical path extends beyond the fixed date, work with your sponsor and team to reduce the scope or postpone features for future stages or iterations (part of managing the triple threat constraint).
  9. Complete the initial risk identification and assessment. 
  10. Build a contingency reserve. This reserve is not an artificial buffer. The contingency reserve is based on known residual risks.

Keep in mind - good risk management often shortens the project. Risks are eliminated or decreased. However, there are always residual risks that should be recognized in your contingency reserve. For example, you may specify that the project requires an additional six weeks to accommodate risks on the project.

Two Ways to Deliver Faster

  • Add resources to critical path tasks. Be careful. Adding resources or stretching existing resources may cause more harm than help. Crashing also results in increased costs.
  • Fast track tasks. Look for ways to execute critical path tasks in parallel. Be careful—​fast-tracking tasks can result in rework and greater risks.

Your approach to a fixed date project will determine your success. The project manager must have the right attitude, ensure appropriate commitments by the sponsor and the team, and select the right processes, tools, and techniques.

How To Improve Schedule Estimates

Have you ever had an executive ask how long a project will take before the project started? Yeah, I've been there too. 

When asked, PAUSE. Be careful about how you respond.

Why? Because your credibility is at hand. Let's talk about the challenges of schedule estimates and three estimating techniques that can help us do a better job with our estimates. Lastly, we'll look at how to respond to future requests for estimates.

Challenges With Schedule Estimates

What happens if someone estimates a task to take 10 days when it should only take 5 days? Work expands to fill the time alloted.

Conversely, what happens when someone estimates a task to take 5 days when it should take 10? People rush their work. The results are poor quality, rework, higher costs, and adverse impacts on the schedule.

During and after each project, compare your actuals to your estimates. Do you see a pattern where certain team members estimate too high or too low? Consider how you can work with these individuals to improve estimates for future projects.

3 Estimating Techniques

Each estimating technique has its strengths and weaknesses. Project managers should understand and apply each estimating technique appropriately.

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9 Simple Ways to Quickly Start a Project

I wish I had a dime for every time that I have been handed a project with a deadline of yesterday. You've been there too? Well, let's talk about some practical steps that we can take to quickly start a project.

Jumpstarting a new project requires time and focus. Clear your calendar as much as possible. Secure a project administrator to help you with your administrative tasks. Delegate activities on existing projects. I also work during hours where I know that I will be least distracted, for example, early hours of the morning.

What Happens When You Get Behind

“No project recovers from a variance at the 15% completion point. If you underestimated in the near, you are generally off on the long term too.” – Gregory M. Horine

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10 Ways to Keep Your Project Stakeholders Happy

Every project has stakeholders—individuals, groups, and organizations that may be impacted by the project or may impact the project in a negative or positive manner. Your stakeholders have different views. Some are resistant. Some are neutral. Others are supportive or leading.

Do you have a stakeholder engagement plan? Have you stopped to think about the diverse needs of your stakeholders? Which stakeholders have the most power and influence? When and how will you engage with these stakeholders?

Let’s look at some practical ways that you can better engage and influence your project stakeholders at the right times in your project lifecycle.

10 Ways to Engage Project Stakeholders

  1. Identify stakeholders early. You can’t engage stakeholders until you know who they are. As you are initiating your projects, start identifying your stakeholders. Create a project stakeholder register.
  2. Get stakeholders talking to one another. I invite key stakeholders to my initial project meetings as we are developing the project charter. I want to surface and resolve conflicts as soon as possible.
  3. Seek to understand before being understood. Steven Covey shared this principle years ago. It still holds true. People want to know that you really want to hear their perspective first.
  4. Listen, really listen. Part of understanding is making time to sit face-to-face, when possible, and truly listen. Ask probing questions.
  5. Lead with integrity. Meaningful engagement requires trust. Say what you mean; mean what you say. Then do what you said you would do.
  6. Engage your stakeholders in the estimates. Ask the people that will do the work for estimates. And help stakeholders to understand that there is greater uncertainty in the early estimates. Commit to providing refined estimates as your projects progress.
  7. Work WITH your team. The best project managers work with their stakeholders to break down their projects into deliverables and tasks. This helps everyone to have a better understanding of the project. Stakeholders will more likely support a plan that they helped create.
  8. Manage expectations. Each of your stakeholders has expectations, sometimes false expectations. Working with your team will clarify many of these aspects of the project.
  9. Say thank you. The project managers I enjoy most know two simple words—thank you. When team members and other stakeholders complete activities, respond to emails and voicemails, make you aware of things you didn’t know, respond with thanks.
  10. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Ninety percent of a project manager’s job is communication. Develop and maintain a communications plan. Creative project managers minimize a potential communications breakdown by communicating through a variety of channels, not one or two.

Are You Influencing Your Project Stakeholders?

I recently spoke with a project manager who works in a Project Management Office (PMO). Susan told me how people resist project management in her organization, a story that I’ve heard countless times. When I asked, “What are you doing to get support and buy-in?” With a puzzled look, Susan said, “It’s always been that way and I doubt it will ever change.”

Whether you are leading a PMO, a program, or a challenging project, you may have resigned yourself and feel there’s nothing you can do. I encourage you to press on. Identify and assess your stakeholders. Work with others to develop a plan to engage and influence the key stakeholders. As Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.”

The What, Why, and How of Projects

woman making presentationIn this article, let’s look at three simple and powerful questions that project managers should ask in every project, the what, why, and how of projects. Getting answers to these questions will greatly reduce risks to your projects and position you and your teams for success.

3 Key Project Questions

1. The What Question

The center point of every project is the goal or goals. The key question is: What is the project team trying to achieve? Are we creating a new product or service? Are we modifying existing products or services? When we implement the project, how will the organization be in a better position to meet the strategic objectives?Continue reading

How to Develop a Stakeholder Register

Last week, we looked at 15 awesome ways to manage your project stakeholders. Today, let’s explore the development and use of the stakeholder register.

Stakeholder Register Benefits

Projects are dynamic and stakeholders make things interesting. At any given time, an individual may exert their influence and cause disruption to your project. Or perhaps a group may be struggling in terms of their attitude towards the project. And let’s not forget outside organizations who may be impacted by our project.

How do we keep up with all these moving parts? The stakeholder register. A little time spent identifying, evaluating, and capturing stakeholder interest and concerns can pay big dividends. The register is particularly helpful when managing large projects and projects that are moving at a fast pace.

There is something about putting our pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. As we see all the stakeholders in once place, we can determine how to best use our limited time. How and when should we use our interpersonal skills to engage and influence stakeholders?Continue reading

Are You Tired of Missing Big Project Risks? 3 Ways to Stop It

I have had the privilege of managing two PMOs, both composed of several project managers. It was always interesting to watch—the best project managers were the ones who had a habit of identifying risks, both threats and opportunities. And these individuals did not perform the risk identification just once at the beginning of their projects. Rather, they had a habit of reevaluating their projects with an eye toward new risks.

picture of frustrated man

Wise project managers know that there are unknown risks lurking in every corner. Each new phase of a project brings uncertainty, some significant, some not. Furthermore, as new stakeholders enter the scene, new interests and concerns can cause our projects to get off track.

If you’ve been burned by risks recently, let’s talk about what you can do to improve your chance for future success.Continue reading

How to Facilitate a Successful Project Launch

What does it take to facilitate a successful project launch? Let’s look at two scenarios, one that results in potential failure and one destined for success.

The Wonder Wheels Company assigned Tom Dooley to manage a high-profile project, a project critical to the achievement of the company’s annual goals. Jane Johnson, a senior leader and the project sponsor, called Tom to her office, handed him a few memos and described the project deliverables. Coldly staring at Tom, Mrs. Johnson gave him the deadline—six months; this was a do-or-die situation.

Tom immediately called a team meeting to discuss a quick development of the requirements backlog. He urged the designers to start the first-sprint design work as soon as possible. Tom planned to use every trick in the book—crashing, fast-tracking, sprinting, and late nights (even though he knew it would put stress on his family life).

Fast forward two months. Droopy-eyed Tom facilitated a stand-up meeting with his project team and discovered that the team would be unable to complete the second sprint on schedule. The team members were fuming about the lack of clarity in the project resulting in scope creep, rework, missed deadlines, and budget issues. To make things worse, the top developer resigned the previous week.

All Tom Dooley could do was hang his head and cry. He knew his career was about to die (okay, humor me).

Elements of a Successful Project Launch

Most project managers have endured challenging situations like this. What’s a project manager to do? How can we start a project successfully, even when there is immense pressure to execute immediately?Continue reading