Category Archives for 1=Initiation

How to Manage a Project Like No Other

Life is filled with new adventures and experiences. Remember the first time you rode a bike, climbed a tree, or took a job. New adventures are exciting, but they can be filled with great uncertainty.

Project managers may be asked to manage a project, unlike anything they’ve ever faced. Consider Sue, an event planner, who was asked to manage a project to implement a new accounting system for her organization. Sue had no accounting background or experience in implementing software.

Photo courtesy of (edited via Canva)

Photo courtesy of (edited via Canva)

To varying degrees, every project is different from our prior projects — that’s what makes them unique, and for me, this is what makes project management fun. It’s different every day.

But, some projects are completely alien to us; the endeavors are foreign to our experience. How should we approach these projects? What steps can we take to improve our chance for success?

Taking Control of Your Aliens

I recently decided to write my first book — The Intentional Project Manager (10 Things Successful Project Managers Never Tolerate). I’d like to share some transferable concepts that you can apply to your alien projects, Here are some tips: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.

Photo courtesy of

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.

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

Project Initiation: How to Develop Project Charters

Having problems getting everyone on the same page in the beginning of your projects? In this article, we will look at how to engage stakeholders, develop project charters, and what to include.

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

I've been there and'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.

Develop 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.

The charter provides a picture of where you are going, why you are going there, who will be impacted, top risks, and who is going to help you.

The sponsor submits the charter to a body such as a project management office (PMO) or project selection committee for approval.

Is the Charter Process a Time Vortex?

Some project managers spend too little time on the charter; others spend too much time. Keep in mind; the charter is a broad, high-level initiation document, usually not more than two pages. It is not a requirements document or a detailed project plan.

The required time should be commensurate with the size and complexity of the project. For small projects, the charter may be completed in thirty minutes or less. For a multi-year program, the charter process may take several weeks.

The Charter Resistance

People resist charters for various reasons. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Don't see the value (thinks the charter process is an administrative exercise)
  • Don't want to deal with the known conflicts
  • Don't know how to write a charter
  • Busy with more urgent matters (such as putting out fires from existing projects with poorly defined charters)
  • This is an agile project

Under the Hood

Project charters provide many benefits, some not so obvious:

  • Allows an organization to formally recognize the need for a project
  • Establishes the authority of the project manager and project sponsor
  • Helps to ensure projects are approved based on the business case rather than subjective opinions
  • Helps to ensure a better return on investment
  • Allows the project selection committee to consider whether the project aligns with the company's strategic plan
  • Provides information needed to orient team members in the project kick-off meeting
  • Provides a constitution when team members are confused about the purpose of the project
  • Provides the project manager with a way to bring new team members up to speed when members are added initially as well as later in the project
  • Helps nonprofits with grant proposals

Putting a Stake in the Ground

Involving important stakeholders in the charter process is not only helpful but critical, particularly for large, complex projects.

Before the project kick-off meeting, I schedule a meeting (sometimes a series of meetings) with stakeholders, including the sponsor, to discuss the project. I update the project charter for the sponsor review and then distribute to the stakeholders for their review.


Tired of confusion and rework due to a lack of early stakeholder engagement and agreement? Join me in my online course—What, Why, & How of Powerful Project Charters. Just want the RiskNotes? Grab a copy of my eBook—Start Writing Your Project Charter Today.

How to Write a Project Charter

The project sponsor should be the primary author. The project manager to be involved in the charter development. However, the ultimate voice should be the sponsor.

The project manager may meet with the project sponsor, discuss the content, create the charter, and submit the charter to the sponsor for review. Writing a project charter is an iterative process and typically requires a few versions before getting it right.

Not Once ‘n Done

Writing is an iterative process: Draft the charter. Come back to the charter later and tweak it. After meeting with the stakeholders, update the charter again. This process continues until the charter is mature and ready for approval.

If appropriate stakeholders are engaged in the process, the project manager will not likely need to change the charter during the project.

What to Include in the Project Charter

Project Leadership

  • Sponsor name and authority
  • Project manager name and authority level

Business Case

In the business case, you are answering one primary question: Why should we do this project now? There are always competing projects. Why should this project take priority?

You may wish to include some combination of the following information:

  • Background information or history
  • Trends
  • How the project connects and supports the company’s strategy
  • Market demand
  • Consequences of not doing the project now
  • Financial, operational, and customer benefits
  • Cost savings and avoidance
  • Legal requirements or government regulation

Business Problem Definition

Too often, people take action without first defining the problems. Therefore, project members may misunderstand the problems and waste time and money focusing on the wrong things.

Make the problems crystal clear. What is wrong? Where are the problems occurring? What are the magnitudes of the problems? Make the problems as specific and measurable as possible.


What do you wish to accomplish by when? Write SMART goals. Make sure the goals are specific and measurable and don’t make these goal mistakes.


What product, service, or result do you expect from this project? Provide a high-level description of the deliverables.


The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines a constraint as “a limiting factor that affects the execution of a project, program, or process.” For example, list budget and schedule constraints.


The PMBOK defines an assumption as “a factor in the planning process that is considered to be true, real, or certain, without proof or demonstration.” What are stakeholders assuming to be true?

High-Level Risks

Risk management starts day one of the project. As you walk through the charter process, ask the stakeholders about risks (i.e., threats and opportunities). Capture the most significant things that may hinder or advance the cause of the project.


Stakeholders include an individual, group, or organization who may be affected by the project. If you do not know an individual’s name, list the title of the stakeholder, their title, and organization.

Team Members

If you know who will serve as team members, capture each team member’s name and department. If you do not know, list the title of the required position and department.

Video lesson from my online course:The What, Why, & How of Powerful Project Charters

Online Course: The What, Why, & How of Powerful Project Charters

One of the best ways to reduce communication risks early in your projects is by writing project charters. This is not a documentation exercise! The aim is to ensure that the project sponsor, project manager, and the key stakeholders are on the same page. In this course, you will discover the 16 powerful elements of a project charter, how to use a project charter after initiation, the four project charter checkpoints, the secret sauce of writing clear goals, and how to right-size your project charters.

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.

Photo courtesy of

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.