"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.
After publishing my article entitled Evaluating Risks Using Qualitative Risk Analysis, I received questions on how to determine project budget reserves. Here are my answers.
After evaluating risks qualitatively, do you set aside some dollars for a contingency reserve?
The short answer is yes. Contingency reserves are for “known risks” identified in risk management. The contingency reserves cover residual risks in the project and account for cost uncertainty such as rework.
Imagine a project budget with no reserves. The project manager is basically saying there will be little to no problems. The project manager expects to deliver every task with no negative impacts to the budget. A wise project manager will identify risks, assess risks, and recognize the potential impacts by adding appropriate reserves to the budget.
How do we estimate a contingency reserve?
The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) says that contingency reserves may be a percentage of the estimated cost, such as 5% - 10% of the estimated cost.
For example, a project manager may estimate the project cost to be $100,000. Assuming a 10% contingency reserve, the project manager would estimate the contingency reserve to be $10,000 (i.e., $100,000 x 10%). The project manager would add the contingency reserve to the project estimate resulting in a cost baseline of $110,000.
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.
According to PMI, "47% of unsuccessful projects fail to meet goals due to poor requirements management." Wow! Requirements are a pretty big deal. Let's look at five things to start and five things to stop in requirements management.
How many times have you experienced scope creep? You know the drill—you elicit and document the requirements. You receive sign off. You continue to see changes to the requirements. Many projects experience 10, 20, 25-percent change in requirements over the life of the project. Let's explore how to manage project scope.
You cannot manage what you do not understand. Let's get our arms around the concept of scope. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines scope as the sum of the products, services, or results.
When we use the word "scope", it is helpful to specify the type of scope—product scope or project scope. The product scope are the features and functions of the product, service, or result. The project scope is the work to deliver the product, service, or result.
Imagine that you plan to have a painter paint your living room. Here are some product scope questions:
What are the tools and equipment that are needed? What work will be done to deliver the product? Here are some project scope questions:
Want more clarification on product and project scope? Read this article from Villanova University.
When it comes to requirements, I wish I could read my user's minds. Unfortunately, collecting requirements is challenging. Project managers should consider engaging an effective business analyst for large projects.
A critical part of projects is defining and managing the project requirements. Requirements are the capabilities or conditions needed in the product, service, or result. They are specifications of what should be developed or implemented.
Like the word scope, it is helpful to use an adjective when talking about requirements. There are different types of requirements. Check with your organization to see if there are standard definitions for different types of requirements.
I typically use the following terms. Notice the cascading levels of requirements. We begin with high-level requirements and progressively elaborate the requirements into greater detail.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at time. We all know the saying. Project managers can use this principle for any size project. Use the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) to break your projects into bite-sized pieces.
The WBS is a hierarchical decomposition of the work to be performed in order to meet the project goals and create the deliverables. The lowest levels of the WBS are the work products and deliverables used for scheduling, estimating, monitoring, and controlling the project. Learn how to build a WBS.
“Any goal can be achieved if you break it down into enough small parts.” -Brian Tracy
Do not make the mistake of waiting until the end of a project to unveil the product, service, or result to your stakeholders. Periodically show the prototypes or deliverables to the customer(s) and the sponsor. When the deliverables are mature, seek formal acceptance. These steps can greatly reduce the risk of rework.
Project managers should meet with their teams on a regular basis to compare the work completed to the project scope baseline (the defined deliverables, assumptions, and constraints). If there is variance, determine whether corrective or preventive action is required.
Many project managers think their job is ensure that no changes occur. Make no mistake about it—change happens. Expect it!
Our job as project managers is not to stop all the changes but to ensure the necessary changes occur in an organized and agreed-upon manner. Don't get me—project managers should not just add anything that is requested. Requested changes should support and align with the overall goals of the project.
Take changes through a change control process. Analyze and report the impact to the project sponsor. Seek approval when necessary before proceeding.
Project managers face a multitude of scope risks. Be diligent up front in your project to develop a scope management plan. Seek to understand your user's needs. Engage appropriate stakeholders on an ongoing basis. Regularly compare your work against your plan and make needed corrections.
This is a guest article by Dana Brownlee from professionalismmatters.com.
One of the most common questions I get when speaking to groups is “How do you deliver a difficult message to/push back on senior leaders – particularly the difficult ones?” I certainly understand the popularity of the question because that’s a sticky situation for sure. While project managers and others often find themselves in opposition to the boss’ ideas, recommendations, or preferred course of action, telling the boss they have an “ugly baby” is a different story.
One of my favorite suggestions for this unenviable predicament is using risk analysis. Indeed, I think risk analysis can be the secret weapon of managing up! Why? Because risk analysis provides an opportunity for you to focus the discussion on the objective (often quantifiable) facts and away from the more emotional opinions.
In my book The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches I discuss the importance of using risk analysis to make your case for a particular point of view. Consider the following example…
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.
Why is project quality often neglected? Well, it's hard to manage things we don't understand. And quality seems to be an esoteric concept to many people. Therefore, let's define quality and discuss some practical ways to manage project quality.
1. Make quality management pragmatic. Many people do not invest appropriate effort towards quality because they do not understand it. The Project Management Institute defines quality as “conformance to requirements and fitness of use.” According to this definition, quality comes through clearly defining and meeting the requirements of the users and stakeholders.
Have you ever endured a project meeting where you spent hours evaluating risks? Afterward, team members walked down the hall saying, “What a waste of time! Now I can get back to the real work.” Today, let’s discuss the use of qualitative risk analysis to get you back on track.
What causes this frustration? First, the evaluation process may not fit the project – too complex for simple projects or deficient for large, complex projects. Second, the process may not fit the maturity level of the project team. Third, team members view the process as burdensome with little value.
Risk evaluation is the process to determine the significance of each risk. There are two ways to evaluate risks:
Watch this YouTube Video: Qualitative and Quantitative Risk Analysis: What’s the Difference?
Watch this YouTube Video: Two Simple Methods to Analyze Project Risks Qualitatively
You cannot respond to all risks, neither should you. Prioritization is a way to deal with competing demands. This aids in determining where you will spend your limited time and effort.
We evaluate in order: