Category Archives for 2=Planning

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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How to Actually Develop a Project Management Plan

Do you know the 5Ps? Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. If this is true, why is it that some project managers put so little time in developing a project management plan?

One of the reasons is that project managers may not know what to include. I’ve developed this checklist to help you develop your project management plan including baselines, subsidiary plans, and ancillary plans.

Every project is different. Select only the planning elements that are appropriate for the size and complexity of your projects. The project plan may be general or detailed depending on the needs of the project team.

Focus on keeping the plans simple and practical. Engage your team members in developing the plans. This will greatly improve the quality of the plans and the buy-in. Otherwise, people will ignore the plans.

First, let’s look at three baselines that you may wish to include: the scope, schedule, and cost baselines.

Project Baselines

So, what exactly is a baseline? A project baseline is a snapshot against which all future measurements will be compared. For example, a project manager can compare actual completion dates of activities to an approved schedule baseline.

Think about this. Without a baseline, how will you monitor and control your projects?

  1. Scope Baseline
    • Project Scope Statement – describe the products, project work, major deliverables, assumptions, and constraints
    • Work Breakdown Structure – create a hierarchical decomposition or outline of the scope of work to achieve the project objectives and to create the deliverables
    • Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary – provide the detailed information about the deliverables, activities, cost estimates, and scheduling information for each item in the WBS
  2. Schedule Baseline – approved version of the schedule
  3. Cost Baseline – approved version of the project budget
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5 Ways You May Unintentionally Create Schedule Risks

Do you feel uncertain about your project schedule? Does something see out of order but you just can’t put your finger on it. In this article, let’s look at five causes of schedule risks and ways to avoid or reduce these risks.

Many times, it starts with pressure from a sponsor to deliver the project early. For sure, project managers have a responsibility to work with their sponsors to understand the requirements and to complete the projects within the sponsor-imposed deadlines. Rather than wasting our time complaining about the deadlines, how can we work with our sponsors and team members to find solutions to schedule issues?

My friend Colin Gautrey has some wise advice on 8 Ways You Can Better Respond to Unrealistic Demands.

As we work to develop and compress our schedules, let’s be aware of the common causes of risk. We will be in a better position to manage the risks and deliver our projects on schedule.

5 Causes of Schedule Risk

  1. Crashing the schedule. It’s always been funny to me that the Project Management Body of We have too many cooks in the kitchenKnowledge uses the word “crashing” as a schedule compression technique. The term makes me think of an uninvited guest crashing a party, but with schedule management, the individuals are actually invited. Project managers use crashing to shorten the schedule for the least incremental cost by adding resources, typically to the critical path. It can be great. Just be aware that crashing may increase your risk. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth.
  2. Fast tracking. Here’s a technique to shorten the schedule by performing activities in parallel for at least a portion of their duration. For example, we might start work on a software design while the team is working on the requirements. Consequently, this technique may increase your risk and requires good communication and coordination; otherwise, it may be anything but fast.
  3. Assigning the wrong resources. You ask a manager for a resource for your project. In return, you get the person who is least busy, not the skilled resource you need. Rather, Susan, an experienced project manager describes specific skills needed and uses her influencing skills to persuade the manager, greatly improving her chance of securing the queen resource. What’s a project manager to do when resources are preassigned?
  4. Making sequence mistakes. John, an inexperienced project manager, failed to work with his team to sequence the project activities properly, resulting in issues which were discovered after the schedule was approved. As a result, John has learned to engage his team members when identifying and sequencing future project activities.
  5. Failure to baseline your schedules. The project manager and team did a great job in breaking down the project, identifying activities, and creating the project schedule. However, the project manager failed to get approval for the schedule. What happened? Yes, the schedule changed. The team did not have a baseline for comparison resulting in significant uncertainty about the health of the project. Like building a house without a plumb line, who knows if the walls are straight?

Question: What other ways have you seen project managers unintentionally create schedule risks?

How to Identify Scope Risks

Some project managers struggle to identify scope risks. Why?

How to Identify Scope Risks

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock

First, individuals may lack a concrete understanding of scope; scope seems to be a nebulous concept. WHAT exactly is scope?

Second, individuals may not know HOW to identify scope risks.

Either way, the failure to identify (and manage) scope risks can be costly. It’s like an overdrawn bank account. There are all kinds of penalties and fees if you know what I mean.

What are Scope Risks?

Risks are uncertain events or conditions, that if they occur, will have a positive or negative effect on the project objectives. What are some examples of scope-related risks?

  • Individuals may add features to the product that were not approved.
  • The project team may not identify all the deliverables, requiring changes later.
  • Scope changes may not be processed through the change control process.
  • Requirements may not be properly analyzed and understood.
  • Requirements may not be properly prioritized.
  • Traceability structure may not be developed resulting in requirements not being managed through the design, development, and testing processes.
  • The project team may fail to identify all the activities required to create the deliverables.

Keep in mind that scope is the sum of the products, services, and results to be delivered through the project. Product scope includes the features and functions of the products, services, and results. Project scope is the work required to create the deliverables.Continue reading

How to Overcome 12 Common Requirement Mistakes

How often have you neared a project implementation date, only to find new requirements? Or perhaps your team said they had gathered the requirements, but in reality, the team had hastily rushed through the requirement process resulting in rework, missed deadlines, and another blown budget.

If you want to improve your chance for project success, focus on improving your requirement processes. You can’t overcome all the issues overnight, but here are a few things to consider.Continue reading

Why Project Managers Need Business Analysts for Project Success

project managers need business analystsThe Standish Group says three of the biggest factors that lead to failed and challenged projects are:

  1. Lack of user input
  2. Incomplete requirements
  3. Changing requirements

We should attack these threats with a vengeance. How can we do this? We add skilled requirements analysts to our teams.

When Do Project Managers Need a Business Analyst?

The role of the project manager is to achieve the project’s goals or objectives. Who performs the business analysis tasks for the projects? That depends.

For small projects, the project manager may assume many roles including but not be limited to:

  • Project manager
  • Requirements analyst
  • Tester
  • Facilitator and scribe
  • Trainer
  • Chief bottle washer (just kidding)

For larger projects, project managers must find ways to complete project tasks through others. They must not fall into the trap of doing everything themselves. Wise project managers recruit team members with the necessary skills and talents.Continue reading

The What, Why, and How of Project Requirements

How big of a deal are project requirements?

The Project Management Institute says, “47% of unsuccessful projects fail to meet goals due to poor requirements management.” –Requirements Management, A Core Competency for Project and Program Success

In his book — Just Enough Requirements Management — Alan Davis shares, “Various studies suggest that errors introduced during requirements activities account for 40 to 50 percent of all defects found in a software product.”

What are Project Requirements?

Stakeholders hear the term “requirements” but interpret the meaning in different ways. Before we can manage anything, it’s critical that we have a working definition.

3D Question Word What on white backgroundRequirement: something that is needed or that must be done. –Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The Project Management Body of Knowledge defines requirement as “a condition or capability that is required to be present in a product, service, or result to satisfy a contract or other formally imposed specification.”

Karl Wiegers — author of Software Requirements — shared this definition: “Requirements are a specification of what should be implemented. They are descriptions of how the system should behave, or of a system property or attribute.”Continue reading

To Improve Project Quality, Start Early, Stay With It

Poor project quality can have profound effects on projects resulting in rework, schedule delays, higher cost, frustration, morale problems, and lack of customer satisfaction. Project managers cannot afford to miss the mark here. Quality matters.

When buying eyeglasses, what do people look for? One person may focus on features such as the frame style. Another person may want anti-scratch coating or UV-blocking treatment. 

Others also look for a great customer experience—how they are greeted, how easy it is to find their frames, and the fast, accurate checkout process.

Projects are similar–project customers, whether internal or external, want great products and service. How do your customers describe your service? Are they getting the product features they want?

Here are some common quality management mistakes. Overcoming these seven mistakes can greatly improve your chance of success. Continue reading

Why Risk Avoidance Should Be 1 of Your 8 Risk Responses

Earlier I wrote about eights ways to treat risks. One of the risk responses is avoidance. The focus of this strategy is to ensure the risk does not occur by eliminating the cause of the risk.

Call the Fire Department

It was Fall, and I had raked the leaves in my backyard into three piles. I was trying to decide what to do with them. I knew there was a ban on burning in my area since we had been extremely dry for months.

What were my options? I could bag the leaves. I could haul the leaves into the woods. Or I could burn the leaves.

I decided to take a chance and burn the leaves. Later, I soaked the areas with water to fully extinguish the remaining embers.Continue reading