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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.

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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

Project Initiation: How to Develop Project Charters

So, your projects are running like an old dilapidated jalopy, eh?

I’ve been there and well…it’s no fun!

a picture of an old jalopy

And what’s worse, we don’t always know why it’s happening.

It’s not like you plan for things to go wrong. You genuinely care about the project and your project team.

You’re probably working long hours. You feel an increasing sense of anxiety.

What are you doing wrong?

Nobody has the power to correct all the issues we face in our projects, but I can at least offer a tool that will help you build a better foundation for your projects.
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How to Write SMART Project Goals

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 goals is the foundation of the project. Project managers and teams who start with SMART goals are positioned for success.

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Photo courtesy of

People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.” -Brian Tracy

What are SMART goals? SMART is an acronym that stands for:Continue reading

Do You Make These 3 Goal Mistakes?

In his book What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack shared a Harvard study concerning MBA students who set goals. Harvard asked the graduating students, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”

It turned out that only 3 percent had written goals.

Ten years later, the researchers interviewed the students with written goals. These students were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent altogether.

If you want to make greater strides in life, write your goals and make them clear. Goals can help in every facet of life including financial, spiritual, physical, and relationships, to name a few. Let’s look at three goal mistakes that dilute the potency and potential results.

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Photo courtesy of

1. Fuzzy goals. Great leaders and achievers are absolutely clear about what they wish to accomplish. Underachievers lack clarity about where they want to go and how they will get there. Fuzzy goals are safe but vague and ambiguous.

Here are some fuzzy goals:

  • Improve our customer service.

  • Become a better project manager.

  • Increase sales by end of 4th quarter.

  • Increase our membership.

These goals need specificity. When writing goals, consider these 4 questions:

  1. What action (e.g., increase, decrease, or maintain) will you take?

  2. What is the focal point (e.g., membership growth)?

  3. What is the target (e.g., 10,000 new members)?

  4. What is the deadline?

Using these questions, let’s refine the goals mentioned previously. The revised goals below are clear, engaging, and motivating.

  • Increase customer service rating from 85% to 92% by 6/30/x5.

  • Pass the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam by 9/30/x5.

  • Increase private passenger auto insurance sales by 5% by 12/31/X6.

  • Add 10,000 new members between 1/1/x5 and 12/31/x5.

2. Competing goals. Another problem is conflicts between goals. A family may have a goal to save money for their next vehicle and a goal to send two children to an expensive college.

An executive may require two different projects be completed at the same time with the same resources and a limited budget.

How can we address competing goals? Analyze and recognize the conflicts. Prioritize the deliverables and associated tasks. Break the goals into manageable tasks. See if the lower priority items may be delivered at a later date.

3. Stretch goals. Stretch goals challenge people to reach beyond their normal capacity. If done properly, stretch goals can be helpful. However, when management sets unreasonable expectations, people feel manipulated, used, and abused.

Team members burn the candle at both ends. Some individuals may take unethical actions. Others take excessive risk.

How can we set goals in a manner that challenges team members but makes the goal achievable? First, engage the team members in the goal process. Ask for their input. Second, find ways to enhance the team’s efficiency with appropriate tools and resources. Third, recognize and reward results. Say thank you.

Questions: What other mistakes do people make with goals? Please provide your insights in the comments section below.


7 Ways to Further Reduce Project Uncertainty

Stay on course

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How can we reduce project uncertainty?

Previously, we have covered risk management topics directly for the Planning Process and the Monitoring and Control Process:

What about the other Process Groups? Let’s consider 7 other places to integrate risk management in the pursuit of achieving project objectives.

Initiation Process Group

1. Complete the Stakeholder Analysis. Identify individuals and groups impacted by the project. What are their interest and concerns? Which stakeholders have the greatest influence and interest? Understanding your stakeholders is foundational to managing risks.

2. Develop Project Charter.  Clearly defined goals are foundational to risk management. Fuzzy goals fuel fuzzy risk management. Work with your Project Sponsor, project team, and stakeholders to clarify goals. Identify threats and opportunities for each goal. Capture the highest risks in the Project Charter.

Planning Process Group

3. Collect Requirements. The Standish Group says the three biggest factors that lead to failed or challenged projects are:

  • Lack of user input
  • Incomplete requirements and specifications
  • Changing requirements and specifications

Invest in the elicitation, analysis, documentation, and validation of requirements and reap the benefits. Get appropriate stakeholders involved. Clarify and manage your requirements.

4. Complete a Work Breakdown Structure. Work with your project team to decompose the project into the work required for the project. The WBS allows your team and stakeholders to see all the work required. Use the WBS to drive risk discussions for the chunks of work.

5. Develop Project Schedule. As you develop the project schedule, determine risks for your detailed tasks, particularly for tasks on the critical path (i.e. the longest path through your schedule). Where appropriate, add schedule contingency reserves (i.e. additional hours) to address the uncertainties.

6. Develop Project Budget. As you develop the project budget, determine the budget contingency reserves for known risks and the management reserves for unknown risks.

Monitoring & Controlling Process Group | Closing Process Group

7. Conduct Lessons Learned. Lessons learned evaluations are typically performed in the Closing Process. Try conducting them throughout the project, particularly for large, complex projects. Learn as you go.

If your organization has a lessons learned repository, access the lessons for insights from other projects. Discover, discuss, and document lessons learned for your projects.

In the early part of your next project, define your Risk Management Plan. Use this blog post as a checklist for risk management activities. Apply what is fitting to your project.

Question: What other risk-related processes would you suggest PMs consider?