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Project Phases – Video

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Managing a project is a sequence of steps that are called the project phases. This is not to say that there aren’t surprises and it certainly doesn’t mean there’s only one thing happening at a time. But there are identifiable project phases that are planned and executed. The project manager and sponsor must reach agreement on which phases are going to be used on each project and how much time and money will be invested in each phase. One size of project management does not fit all projects. As we discuss the project phases, we’ll talk about what phases you can do for two types of projects: a small project done within a department and a larger project done for a customer or client.

 

Real-world Project Management: Assessment and Feasibility

Project Phases – Initiation Steps: SOW and Charter

When we initiate a project, we begin the planning process. That’s where we identify what the project should produce. The project sponsor usually initiates the project with a document called a statement of work or SOW. That document gives the project manager information about what end result the sponsor wants from the project. Then the project manager will meet with the sponsor and talk about the deliverables the project has to produce. The major deliverable is the project scope and that’s the business result the project sponsor wants. Even on a small project, during the initiation phase the sponsor and the project manager will identify the major deliverables that will lead them from where they are now to the major deliverable, the project scope.

Let’s start the discussion with a small project example. All the work may be done within one department where the project manager works for the department manager who is the project sponsor and the boss of all the project team members. The sponsor will create the SOW and then work with the project manager to define the major deliverables. Then they might go straight to developing the project charter which is the final step of the initiation phase. The charter lays out the scope and deliverables, the resources required and the risks that have to be managed. It also gives rough estimates of the project’s budget and duration. That might be all that’s needed to initiate a small project.

On a larger project, one done for a client for example, there may be many more steps in the initiation phase. The organization in which the project is being performed may require a feasibility study to document the likelihood of success and the costs and resources required. Before granting initial project approval, the organization may require a formal business case which documents the return on investment, the cost/benefit analysis and the payback of the proposed project. The project manager might begin the process of identifying stakeholders and their requirements during initiation. They will use that information to analyze the project’s scope as well as the high-level risks. As the scale and importance of the project increases, the initiation phase changes to an effort that may require weeks of effort by a team of people. Even on a large project the initiation phase ends with the charter, just like the small project. The charter is going to be longer and contain a lot more data but it is the document that, when approved, authorizes the sponsor and project manager to begin detailed planning of the project.

Project Phases – Planning Steps: Management Plans, Schedules, Budgets and Risks

After the charter is approved by the sponsor or by the organization, the project planning phase begins. It includes two kinds of plans. The project manager prepares project management plans. These plans tell the team and the sponsor how they will manage the project scope, schedule, cost and budgets, procurement, risk, human resources, quality, stakeholders and change control.

On small projects, some of these management plans may only state, “We are not going to track costs and budgets on this project because the costs are included in the department budget.” That is a totally adequate small project management plan for costs. The management plans specify what specific techniques we will use to manage each of the above areas, who will be accountable for the management and control process and how much resource we will use. The reason this approach is a best practice is because when we start executing the project plan, all the decisions have been made and we can focus on executing as efficiently as possible. The overall project management plan includes specific plans like the project schedule and also the project management plans for schedule which tells us how were going to manage the schedule. The project planning phase tells everyone what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do it and when we will begin to execute the plan.

Project Phases – Executing the Plan Steps

The executing phase of a project is where all the work gets done, all the money gets spent and all the tasks get completed to produce the deliverables. If the project manager has done his or her job correctly, it is a fairly straightforward process because people follow the plans and execute them.  The risks that the project faces have been mitigated or avoided and other problems have been corrected as they occurred.  The executing phase should be boring.

Project Phases – Monitoring, Controlling and Managing Change Request Steps

The monitoring phase of the project happens at the same time as the executing phase. Every week the project manager compares what the project team produced versus what was planned. Any differences between the plan and actual results are variances. The project manager reports the variances between plan and actual in a weekly status report to the project sponsor. In that report, the project manager details what is happening on the project and provides a sponsor with forecasts of when the project will be finished and what the actual costs will be. If things are not going according to plan, the project manager will also prepare plans to fix the problems and bring the project back into alignment with its plan. Hopefully the sponsor approves these corrective actions and the project manager implements them. The goal is to deliver what was planned; no more and no less.

Controlling the project is the second half of this phase or project step. The project manager is handling requests for changes to the promised deliverables and the project plan. The purpose of change control is not to prevent all changes. The project manager must carefully analyze every change request and its impact on the project budget, duration, risk, quality and resources. The project manager analyzes every requested change and quantifies the impact on the project budget and duration. They should make a specific recommendation for every change request and then forward it to the sponsor. The project manager wants to get the sponsor’s approval of the budget and time required to complete the project including the requested changes. When this process is not in place, the project suffers from scope creep. That’s where the deliverables expand and change over time without any adjustment in the project budget or duration. Scope creep causes significant variances to the plan because of changes to the scope and deliverables. It is a major source of project failure.

Project Phases – Closing Steps

When the last deliverable is produced and accepted by the project sponsor and stakeholders, the final step is project closeout. The project manager makes sure all the vendors are paid and all deliverables are formally accepted by the appropriate stakeholders. But the primary purpose of closeout is to make future projects more successful. As part of the closing routine, the project manager conducts a lessons learned meeting with the sponsor, stakeholders and team members. They discuss what went well and what did not as well as how problems should be handled differently next time. The project manager archives those lessons learned meeting notes so that project managers who start a similar project have the benefit of the lessons that were learned from the current project. The archive for a completed project should include the management plans that were developed for the project as well as the schedule, budget, change requests, plus the estimated and the actual costs and hours worth of work. This latter data makes the estimating of a new project much much easier. With all that work completed, the project manager is ready for a new assignment.

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Project Management Tracking

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

Why Use Project Management Tracking?

Project management tracking is the way successful project managers update executives and stakeholders on the status and what’s happening on the project. This is also where they report on how the actual results compare to the original plan. Project management tracking is not a mechanical data dump where you just recite data. The project management tracking process often determines your credibility as a project manager. You must prepare well formulated corrective action plans to fix the variances to the project’s plan and schedule.  Presenting those options will reassure the executives and stakeholders that you are in control of the project.  Project Tracking Reports Main Page

You can easily erode your credibility with poor project management tracking. This is especially true if one project after another has a bad surprise when it is too late to recover. Project sponsors soon think your projects are out of control and question everything you tell them. The solution is to present hard-edged data, not guesses, in your status reports. This allows you to spot problems early when they are small and easier to fix.

Project Management Tracking: Metrics

Project managers and executives too often use tracking data that hides big problems. They eventually surface when it’s too late to fix the delays and overruns they have caused. Bad surprises late in a project make executives crazy and ruin your credibility.  Why does this happen? It’s a combination of the following:

  • Inability to precisely measure progress
  • Mushy project checkpoints
  • Team members not reporting bad news when they first see it
  • Too much status report optimism.

The first step to correct the situation is to use metrics to quantify the scope and major deliverables for every task in the work breakdown structure. Those metrics provide unambiguous check points against which to measure progress and show any slippage. The next thing you need to do is work with your team to develop estimates of the required hours of work. Do not use only finish dates in your schedule. Tracking actual work versus the estimated hours of work gives you another measure of how far along each task is. In combination, those two metrics will let you spot problems early. Solving them early is a real credibility builder with executives, stakeholders and team members.

Project Management Tracking: Mushy Check Points

Project managers and executives should build a firm foundation for project management tracking in the planning process. Unfortunately, the planning often doesn’t force stakeholders to decide exactly what they want.  So the project’s foundation is built on vague wishes that can’t be measured. Those wishes don’t give you tracking metrics to measure progress. They only give you due dates.  And it’s impossible to decide what is in the project and what it not.
Those mushy definitions of scope and deliverables let people avoid hard decisions and conflict. Plans and work breakdown structures that are merely “To Do lists” let everyone think they are getting everything they want from the project.

The lack of clearly defined deliverables makes it difficult to decompose them into their parts.  It’s impossible to decide what is in the project and what is not.  It also makes project management tracking a highly subjective and judgmental process.  You’re left to track the progress of vague tasks that everyone defines in their own way. People often have to work with mission statement mush like “Deliver world-class customer service” and “Improve system response time.” What are the components of “Deliver world-class customer service?” No one knows. This vague high-level deliverable saves the project manager from committing to exactly what they expect from each team member.  The due date is the only measure of the task’s performance. So the team members start work based on a guess of what is expected. Very predictably, they spend lots of time doing the wrong things and trying to avoid blame.

You can’t be successful managing projects that have scopes like this. Projects must have measurable deliverables like, “Less than 5% of customers are on hold for more than 30 seconds.” Then you can break down the scope into component parts, the deliverables, and tell the team members exactly what you expect from them. These deliverables, must be objectively defined. You won’t give them just a due date as the only performance measure.

Project Management Tracking: Gathering Status Data From the Team 

Project Management Tracking

Each week project managers must gather status information to give project management tracking updates to the sponsor. Some PMs conduct status meetings with the aim to report that NOTHING bad happened during the week.  If a team member expresses confusion on their assignment or says that finishing by the due date is impossible, the PM becomes angry. They blame the team member for not asking the right questions, for slacking off or letting down the team. Isn’t is funny how the PM doesn’t hear any bad news after that? Well, at least not until the finish date draws near. How to Write a Weekly Status Report

In this environment, the team members have to guess about what is expected or run to the PM daily to ask what they should do.  Most people do both. But because the PM doesn’t know exactly what the project should produce, their answers are vague.  Soon no one admits any problems and everyone says they’re on schedule. That’s because they quickly learned that to report anything else brings down the wrath of the gods.

The PM’s experience when reporting to the sponsor is similar.  Everything besides good news triggers a snarl. The PM soon resorts to saying, “Everything is going according to plan,” or “Every task is in ‘green light’ status.” No one is solving problems early. As the due date draws closer, the team members make a wild guess at what they should produce and they frantically slap some junk together.

This is a bad, but common, example of project management tracking. Everyone on the project is wearing blindfolds. No one actually knows what the project is supposed to deliver.  The project team members are trying to guess what’s expected of them. When they ask questions, they just hear the project due date repeated at louder and louder volume. And the project manager doesn’t know how the project is doing.

Project Management Tracking: Doing It the Right Way

How should you and project executives build a plan that lets you do effective project management tracking and solve problems early? First, you and the executives must define the scope as a deliverable with acceptance criteria that are measurable. Then you must build a high-level framework of deliverables that lead to that end result. And you must define each of those deliverables with a metric.

Next you break  the high level deliverables down into smaller tasks. You stop at the level of deliverables that each team members will produce. These deliverables tell the team members what’s expected of them. So they know what a good job is before they even start work.

With these project management tracking metrics, you and executives can measure progress against unambiguous and measurable checkpoints. You can also spot problems early. That’s possible as long as your behavior when you receive bad news encourages team members to report problems as soon as they occur. They mustn’t hold back bad news out of fear of incurring your anger.

These steps allow the project management tracking to show things like this:

“Achievement #47 – “The customer history screen lets our service reps answer 85 percent of customer inquiries in less than 60 seconds without referring a question to another department.” 

Status: “As of last Friday, this task was 23% complete and not the planned 26% complete. That is due to a snowstorm which caused absenteeism among user personnel. Without corrective action, we will finish this task 5 days late. That will cause three successor tasks to start late and postpone the project completion by 4 days and exceed the budget by $10,000. I propose the following corrective action…”

This project management tracking status report has several good features. First, the PM is reporting status on an objectively measurable business achievement. They’re not going to need a meeting or long debate to decide whether they have reached the goal. Second, it quantitatively compares “where we are as of last Friday” to “where we should be as of last Friday.” Third, our progress assessment is based on the hours of work completed as of last Friday and it estimates the hours of work remaining. Fourth, the executive is receiving data on 3 quantified dimensions of status tracking (the level of achievement, the duration and the budget), not just the due date.

These project management tracking elements set up the second half of the status report. In it the PM presents data about alternatives for solving the problem. Having three quantified dimensions for each assignment lets the PM develop quantified options for executive decision-making. These alternatives might continue the status report as follows:

We have three options for recovery. First, we can hire an outside programmer to work on the coding. This option would allow us to recapture the lost days of duration but will increase the budget by $3,000.  Second,…”

The PM proposes alternatives that involve trade-offs between the level of achievement, duration and budget. The executive can make a decision from the options because the PM has seen this problem coming and has plotted corrective action. The most important feature is that all this is happening before the task is actually late.

Project Management Tracking Summary

The foundation for effective project management tracking and status reporting is laid during project planning. That’s where the project manager and executives define unambiguous deliverables and checkpoints for measuring progress. See also our Project Manager Skills Main Page

This process is the heart of the methodology we teach in our private, online instructor-led Project Management Basics course. We can also design a customized program for your organization and deliver it at your site or in online webinars.

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Project Management Profession

Work Breakdown Structure
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4PM.com

Let’s talk about the project management profession. What do landing people on the moon and cleaning up your department’s supply room have in common? They are both projects. Project management about  is producing deliverables like new payroll software, a bridge over I-25,  reorganizing the file room, hiring a new marketing director, producing a new personnel manual or taking a 20 minute moonwalk. Project Management Careers Main Page

Organizations need deliverables like these that cannot be produced by an individual as part of their regular job. In fact, many deliverables require work from a number of people working as a team. Larger projects may require the efforts of people from several different departments within the organization. Coordinating all the people, assigning them tasks and integrating their results is a challenging effort, requiring different tools and techniques than those used by a department manager. Organizations discovered this fact when they encountered difficulty producing the deliverables they needed and doing it on time and within budget. Modern project management gained many of its tools from the space program, specifically from the Apollo program to land men on the moon.

Today all kinds of organizations use the tools of project management for efforts that take as little as a few days. A project manager, who may have a regular job in addition to managing projects, leads a team of people in producing those deliverables. wbsProjects are a one-time effort. They are unique, which is why there is a special way of managing them. These tools and techniques are detailed in a project management encyclopedia called the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)® that is published by the Project Management Institute (PMI)®. It includes hundreds of tools and techniques that project managers and organizations have developed from years of experience. Project managers don’t use all of them on every project. Instead, they learn what each of the tools and techniques does and how to select the right ones for each project.

Let’s say you are managing a very small project. You will use simple techniques to define the scope which is the project’s objective or goal. You must get this information from the project sponsor. They are the manager or executive who wants the project to be done. The scope of a project should be defined as a deliverable, that is a statement of what the project will produce. The scope statement should also include a metric, a measurement that tells everyone how success will be measured.

The next step in the project management process is to gather requirements. That means you identify all the things that have to be done to produce the scope of the project. Then you would write the charter which is a summary of the project’s scope and requirements. You should also identify the risks the project faces, the resources that will be required to deliver the scope, and how changes can be made to the scope and requirements.

After the project charter is approved by the sponsor, you work with the project team, assigning them tasks, estimating the work and duration for those tasks and then developing the project schedule and budget. When the project sponsor approves the schedule and budget, you and team begin to execute the plan. The team members have their task assignments and report their progress to you on a regular basis, preferably each week. From that data, you prepare status reports and deliver them to the project sponsor. You also deal with changes that people request to the project plan and schedule. Your role as the project manager is to analyze each change and make a recommendation to the sponsor about whether or not the change should be implemented.

Finally, when the last of the project deliverables have been produced, you close the project and archive the data. Having archives of past projects provides valuable information that makes managing future projects easier.

You learn all of those skills in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the basics course in your specialty.

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Project Management Career – Video

There are five distinct project management career steps. The process starts with becoming a  project manager. This can be as simple as being in the right place at the right time. What I mean is that you’re an effective and valued individual contributor in your organization and someone in management taps you to run a project. When you do well, your project management career is launched. Project Management Careers Main Page

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

Other people carefully prepare themselves with training in the tools and techniques of project management. They use their credential to gain entry as an assistant or associate project manager. Once they have the job, good performance drives their career. They will be actively involved in planning projects, gathering requirements, developing schedules and tracking actual performance against the plan. On-the-job training can teach you a lot of that, but it’s also wise to take a course in the fundamentals of project management. You’ll learn techniques and a proven methodology that you can repeat on every project.

 

Steps in a Project Manager Career

The next project management career step is moving up to a full-fledged project manager position. A functional or specialty certification is very valuable during your first or second year in project management. That certification gives you proven techniques for doing the things you may have been doing by guess work. These functional or specialty certifications also teach you some of the unique project management techniques required in information technology, construction, healthcare, consulting and general business projects.

project management careerWith your industry specialty certification, you are positioned for the next career step which is getting a higher-paying position to manage larger projects. After three years working in your profession, you probably have
sufficient project manager hours to qualify for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. To earn that certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI), you need to document your project manager work experience and project management training classes and then pass a difficult 4-hour examination.

You can earn a certification in your project management specialty area: IT, construction, healthcare, business  consulting.  Then earn the PMP certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) as you move up to senior project manger and program manger.

 

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Project Red Light Status

When I started managing projects I believed that the red light status was something to be avoided. red light statusFor me having my project in red light status was like declaring surrender. It was synonymous with failure and embarrassment. Even when the status should have been red, I tried to mitigate, work long hours to put things on track without too much noise. As it came out on many occasions, this was not a good idea. Trust me, there is nothing worse than being accused of hiding information when you are working 17 hours a day and doing all you can to meet your deliverables and deliver the project scope.  Project Tracking Reports Main Page

Project Red Light Status Can be a A Good Thing

I was surprised when I worked with an experienced PM who had no issue with using the red light status. Not only when he knew the project was not going to make it, but whenever he there was a significant risk. I noticed another thing as well. When the red status was declared, the level of attention was increased immediately. The sponsor and steering committee got involved and it created a sense of emergency and drive. Guess what, it worked! It helped overcome obstacles by focusing the entire team on solving the issue rather than having only me with my “superhero” behavior. That was when it struck me. I realized that the red light is not failure but the right thing to do. It is an escalation and a delegation up to the sponsor and the heavy weight executives who can leverage things out of my reach. I stopped being afraid of it and started to put it to my use. It’s a bit like knowing that fever is a warning system in our body indicating that something is wrong. You don’t like it but you are forced to accept it and treat it. How to Write a Weekly Status Report

Project Red Light Status Summary

One piece of advice on this point. When you see the project heading downwards or maybe the project is still on track but you see a big iceberg on the horizon, use the red light status to get the attention and put the powerful people to your use. It is not a tool to get misused, however, because it involves the higher powers that are not always predictable and easy to manage.

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Project Trade-Offs – Scope, Time, Cost, Risk, Quality

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

Project managers use trade-offs during project planning and every week during the life of the project whenever they have a variance or a change request. Project Manager Skills Main Page

Here is an example of  a project trade-off. The sponsor demands an earlier finish date and the project manager says, “Yes I can shorten the duration of the project by two weeks. But to do that, I will need to have two additional engineers for the month of April.” A trade-off has two sides. First, there’s the positive side where the PM shortens the duration of the project. Second, there’s the negative side where the project manager says they need two additional engineers for the month of April. Trade-offs are part of the language good project managers use. You must build the project plan with quantified measurable outcomes. And the schedule must have work estimates and accurate precedence relationships. Then you can model every change with a compensating trade off. Risk Management

When project sponsors want to make a change, successful project managers never say, “Oh no, we can’t add that to the project.” What they say is, “Certainly I can add that to the project, but I will need three more people full time.” Or the negative side of the trade-off could be, “We will have to increase the budget by $10,000” or “We’ll have to reduce the savings in our scope by $6,000.” This is the language of trade-offs. The project manager is not saying no.  Instead, they are telling the sponsor or stakeholder what it will “cost” to bring about the change they want. Trade-offs maintain the feasibility of the project. Merely shortening the duration does not.

Project Trade-off Language

Successful project managers use trade-offs between the scope, schedule, cost, risk and quality when they assess problems and changes to the project plan. When anyone wants to add or change something in your existing project plan, you should always assess the impact on all of the project’s dimensions. If the change is significant enough to require a change order, you should document the project trade-offs. That trade-off information allows the sponsor or customer to decide if the change is worth making.  You should also use trade-offs when a status report shows variances to the plan and their proposed corrective action. Status Report Template

Here’s a detailed example of using project trade-offs. Let’s say the schedule has a task that was originally underestimated. Now the team member working on that task says it’s going to take 160 more hours of work and two weeks longer than originally planned. The PM agrees with the new estimate and quantifies and documents the impact of that increased time on the project budget.  The remaining 160 hours of work will take 4 weeks at the rate of 40 hours a week with the one team member.  That will take the task duration four weeks beyond the baseline plan. Because the task is on the critical path, it will cause a 4-week delay of the project completion date.

Knowing that the sponsor will not accept that slippage, the project manager then develops alternative trade-offs for dealing with the situation.  First, the PM looks at the trade-off that comes from adding one contractor to the task. Then the existing team member would do 80 hours of work and the contractor would do the other 80.  If each worked 40 hours a week, they could finish the task in two weeks rather than four weeks. The cost for hiring the contractor is $100 an hour so the project budget would increase by $8,000. The project manager would present this trade-off as reducing the duration by two weeks for a cost of $8,000.

The project manager decided to also model the trade-off of hiring two contractors. Then the PM could divide the 160 hours’ worth of work among three people.  Each person would have to complete 53 hours of work, which would take each of them 1.3 weeks. That duration is a material reduction from the first trade-off. Now we come to the matter of the cost and this is the part people usually get wrong. Adding the second contractor would not double the $8,000. The contractors together would do approximately 160 hours’ worth of work at $100 an hour. So the fees for the contractors in this example would be $16,000. That gives the PM a second trade-off to present to the sponsor.

There are many other types of trade-offs the project manager could use. They might reduce the scope of the project, which usually reduces the amount of work and the duration. There are also trade-offs for quality and risk that could be considered. With this explanation of how trade-offs work, let’s talk about how we use the idea of trade-offs in managing the project.

4-Corners™ Tradeoffs

We can think of a project as having four corners:

  • project scope (including deliverable quality),
  • duration
  • risk
  • cost (human resources and materials).

Think of a project like a tube of toothpaste. When an executive squeezes on a project’s duration corner by cutting the due date by a month, the toothpaste compensates by oozing out from one of the other corners. When the sponsor squeezes the duration, it will deliver less scope, cost more, or have a higher risk of failure. Changes in one corner always impact at least one other corner.  We have those effects whether people recognize or not. It is not realistic to assume that making arbitrary changes to one corner of the project, like the duration, can happen without any compensating effects through the rest of the project.

Why don’t sponsors recognize the impact? Because in most projects only one, or at most two, of these corners is measurable.  The completion date is always measurable and is often rock solid. In some situations, we have a project budget that is also measurable. But most internal projects have no other measurable dimensions.  Even with the two measured dimensions of duration and budget, the business value of the project (the scope) and the risk of not delivering that scope on time are usually unmeasurable.  So executives continue to make arbitrary changes to the duration and the budget and think that it will have no impact on the scope of the project. Just think about what happens when a project manager goes back to his team and says, “We have to finish two weeks earlier.” What will the team members do? They will look for shortcuts. The quality may go down and the level of deliverables produced may suffer as a result. They also take shortcuts that increase the risk of the project failing. But no one knows.

Therefore, project sponsors assume there’s no risk from their arbitrary reductions in duration or budget. They are 100 percent confident in delivering the scope within the duration and/or budget.  Now every project manager knows100 percent confidence is ridiculous. Particularly because most organizations have a project failure rate above 50 percent.  Yet few project managers give their sponsors the opportunity to make decisions about the level of confidence they want.

There is a better approach. If you have a quantified measure of the project’s scope (the business value) and you follow best practices when building the project schedule and budget, you can present your sponsor with quantified trade-offs between the “4-Corners” ™ of the project plan.  This data-based decision making and “fine-tuning” is a good platform for approval. It is far better than arbitrary changes to one or more of the “4-Corners”™ without any offsetting changes to the others. You will also use these quantified trade-offs every time there is a variance to the plan.  Your status reports should include trade-off analyses between the “4-Corners.”™ That gives executives data to evaluate the alternatives for taking advantage of opportunities and recovering from problems.

This project trade-offs approach is inconvenient for executives who want to make a change to just one corner. If they do that, you will have projects that aren’t feasible, are late, over budget and achieve less than planned. Arguing with the project sponsor doesn’t work, particularly when they are your superior or your customer. What does work is using decision-making data. That’s the benefit of using project trade-offs.

Foundation for Project Trade-Offs For Scope, Budget & Duration

  1. The foundation for developing alternative combinations of scope, budget and duration is building a project plan and schedule using best practices. The requirements are that you define every deliverable and every task in the work breakdown structure (WBS) with acceptance criteria. That way there’s no ambiguity about the progress or the completion. You base the project plan and schedule on work estimates, not just start and finish dates. With those components in place, you can offer the sponsor and decision-makers alternatives and trade-offs between scope, budget and duration.
  2. During the initial presentation of the project plan, you should model at least three project trade-offs or alternative ways of doing the project. Starting from the base design, you construct three project trade-offs to finish at least 20% earlier than the base design. You also construct three alternatives that collectively lower the cost of the project by 20%. Having these options available during the project presentation gives you the ability to answer the question that executives often ask, “How can we do this cheaper and faster?”
  3. When your weekly status report shows variances from the plan, you should use project trade-offs to model alternative corrective actions to address the variances.
  4. When you have change requests, you should assess the impact of the change on the project scope, budget and duration and then present trade-offs between those constraints.

Project Trade Offs Summary

It is a project management best practice to assess the impact of a change or variance on the project’s scope, cost, duration and risk.  Then you model project trade-offs between those “4-Corners” ™ and give the decision-makers alternative ways to deal with the opportunities and problems.

To learn the specific techniques for framing your projects and developing these “4-Corners”™ trade-offs, look at our project management bookstore or consider taking one of our project management training courses. We offer them in-person at your site or as online courses where you work privately with your instructor according to your schedule.

To master these techniques and the way to present them to the project sponsor, take a look at our advanced techniques courses in your specialty.

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Work Breakdown Schedule

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.co

The work breakdown schedule (WBS) is the spine of your project plan. The most important function is to communicate clear performance expectations about the project. For executives, the work breakdown schedule communicates exactly what they’re going to get from the project. That is what the business result will be. The WBS entries, from the scope down to the smallest team member’s task, are measurable deliverables.  Each clearly communicates a performance expectation with numbers so it is measurable.  As an example, the scope of a customer service project might be, “Less than 5% of customers have to contact customer service a second time about the same problem.”  That number is a measurable deliverable, it’s acceptance criterion. Specifically the project is successful if 5% or fewer customers have to call back about the same problem.  When you communicate that expectation to the executives, they know what they’re going to get from the project. As importantly, they know what they’re not going to get. It clearly tells them that the result will not be perfection. They will still have 5% of the customers calling back about the same problem.  Main Work Breakdown Structure Page

Work Breakdown Schedule: Trade-offs

The work breakdown schedule is how project managers control expectations. It communicates to executives that they cannot change the project’s scope without compensating adjustments, called trade-offs, to the project’s duration and/or cost. Dealing with those trade-offs is a key to managing the expectations of sponsors and other executives. Consistently successful project managers use those trade-offs during the initial planning of the project to communicate expectations about scope, time, cost and risk. However, the scope and major deliverables must be defined in measurable terms so that those trade-offs can be quantified. If the scope isn’t defined in this manner, the project will have overruns and dissatisfied sponsors and executives.

Work Breakdown Schedule: Deliverables

The work breakdown schedule also shows the executives how the project team is going to deliver that result. The project manager and sponsor decompose the overall scope deliverable into 4 to 7 high-level deliverables. They also define each of those with measured acceptance criteria. Those deliverables are the best way to communicate how the project team will deliver the results defined by the scope. It also gives executives unambiguous checkpoints to measure the progress of the project after work begins. The project manager will also decompose work breakdown schedule down to the level of individual assignmecomm21nts for the project team members.

Those lower level measured deliverables are the foundation for assigning work to the team members and tracking progress. You should define each task in the work breakdown schedule with a metric and link it to the scope through a network of deliverables. As I said above, you create that network by decomposing the scope into 4 – 7 high-level deliverables.  You continue to decompose the high-level deliverables into smaller deliverables, down to the level of deliverables that an individual will be accountable for producing. A work breakdown schedule developed this way gives the project sponsor, stakeholders and the project manager objectively defined checkpoints against which to measure progress. That is a powerful tool for keeping the project on track and for communicating to everyone that you, the project manager, know what’s going on. Using this technique, you can avoid difficulties with defining and tracking team member assignments when the work breakdown schedule is merely a “to do” list.

Work Breakdown Schedule: Team Member Assignments and Estimates

If you do the work breakdown schedule correctly, every team member can look at it and know what a good job on their assignment is before they start work. The work breakdown schedule will also tell them how you will evaluate their deliverable when they finish producing it. Because your expectations are clear, a good work breakdown schedule is an excellent tool for developing accurate estimates with the project team members. That’s because they have less need to pad their estimates since the assignment is very clear. Team members pad their estimates because they are accustomed to receiving vague project assignments that change frequently. The usual process of making changes to their vague assignments doesn’t allow the team member to accurately estimate the required work and duration. So the team member prudently protects themselves by inflating the estimates they provide the project manager.

When the project manager develops a work breakdown schedule with measured deliverables, the problem of padding estimates largely goes away. That is particularly true if the project manager uses work packages and makes an agreement with the team members that when their assignment changes, the PM will reexamine their time and duration estimates. That sounds very simple but operating that way gives team members lots of confidence in the commitment process so the project manager gets better estimates from the team members.  Additionally,the work breakdown schedule is the tool the project manager uses to identify the skill set of the people they should assign to each of the entries in the WBS.

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PMP® Certification Training

How to Qualify for the PMP Exam

After you have 3 to 4 years of experience managing projects, you should consider adding the PMP® (Project Management Professional) to your previous certifications. It is awarded by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is an internationally recognized credential in project management. It is a door-opener when you hunt for a new job anywhere in the world. It’s also a very good credibility builder within your organization. PMP certification requires you to document, with references, 4,500 hours (3 years total experience) of project management experience if you have a college degree and 7,500 hours (5 years total experience) if you don’t have a degree. You also need to complete 35 hours of PMP® training to be eligible. Project Manager Certification Main Page

The PMP certification exam is a 4 hour, 200 question multiple-choice exam. The test is exceedingly difficult and PMI reports that approximately half the people who take it worldwide fail. Taking a formal PMP exam preparation course where you learn all of the best practices in project management is not only useful for your career but the best way to pass the exam.

How Do I Pass The PMP Exam?

The challenge in the PMP exam comes in two areas. First, you need forget how you manage projects in the real world and learn to answer the questions according to PMI’s way.  Second, you must understand all the best practices in project management and when to use them. You can’t pass the exam just by memorizing that information. You need to know when to apply a certain technique based on the situation you are given. A very large proportion of the questions on the exam are situational questions.  They are lengthy questions that detail the situation of a project.  That situation is defined by;

  • what sort of organization you’re working in
  • what kind of project
  • what sort of project team you have
  • What project process for output you have just  completed.
  • There are many other variables

Then you have to choose from four multiple choice answers.  Each of those answers may be correct to some degree.  So you have to decide which is the most correct answer in the particular context of the question. This is enormously challenging because you have a very large body of knowledge you have to learn in a very complicated set of situations in which you have to be able to decide what to do.

Multi-media Learning

You need to select the correct learning methodology to master all of the information you need to learn to pass the PMP exam. You need to learn about the various contexts including organizational types and the impact each organization type has on the challenges a project manager faces. That includes the techniques to use in the project situation, the environment  in which it is taking place, and where in the project management process the project managers and stakeholders are.  You can’t learn the correct interplay between those elements just by memorizing.

The best way to learn all this information and how to apply it in situations is our PMP Exam Prep course. You’ll have study materials that actually give you scenarios of project  managers executing various projects. As you read these scenarios, you see the logic the project manager uses to pick the appropriate technique. You’ll also read about the explanations the project manager gives to project sponsors and stakeholders about the risk management or estimating techniques the PM decided to use. By reading about how project managers operate in these different situations you will learn to interpret a situation and pick the right techniques when you answer a question on the exam.

Our PMP prep course gives you a multimedia learning experience. You aren’t just reading and rereading the same dictionary over and over again instead you are learning the material in a multimedia sequence:

  • first you read about a process and its inputs and outputs.
  •  Then you hear a lecture about the correct way  to execute that process
  •  you have an opportunity to talk with your instructor about the process and its techniques
  •  then you watch a video of a project manager actually doing the particular process with the sponsor and project team

We find that this multimedia learning helps you gain the knowledge much more effectively and is also a much more pleasant learning experience. You also add to your personal tools and understanding of which techniques to use and when. That is invaluable for succeeding and advancing your project management career.  Our PMP exam prep gives you the best passing guarantee available.  Your instructor will  continue to work with you  if you fail the exam  after completing your course in its entirety. We also give you  the maximum flexibility in scheduling the course because you’re not tied to a rigid schedule set by the instructor. You set your own schedule and your instructor adapts to it.  You may wish to take advantage of our free instructor assessment which will help you decide if the PMP training and certification are right for you.

 

PMP® Certification Training Summary

The PMP exam is exceedingly difficult to pass. The experience and education requirements are enforced with random audits of candidates’ application forms. The combination of those requirements and passing the 4 hour exam is what makes the PMP credential so valuable as a job-hunting tool. It’s also the reason that many organizations use the PMP credential as a screening tool when they are recruiting for project managers. People without the PMP are simply not considered for those positions.

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Work Breakdown Structure Size – Video

People wonder about the best size for the project work breakdown structure (WBS). The answer depends on the capabilities of the project team and the complexity of the project. The WBS for a very inexperienced project team will lean toward relatively small assignments and, thus, a larger work breakdown structure. The other extreme is a project team of experienced professionals who are expert in their tasks. To avoid micromanaging these experts, you would make relatively large assignments and, therefore, have a much smaller work breakdown structure. Main WBS Work Breakdown Structure Page

WBS Work Breakdown Structure

In most projects, you have a mix of the two and you will be designing assignments that range from a day or two for a rookie team member to several weeks for an experienced team member. You’ll also change the size of assignments based on the team member’s performance. For example, a person whom you initially assessed as a rookie does very well and consistently produces high-quality deliverables on time. Therefore, you may expand the size of that person’s assignments to give them more decision-making latitude. You will spend less time evaluating their work because with bigger assignments they are producing deliverables less frequently.  Many people working on project teams value the expansion of their decision-making freedom with larger assignments. That is a great performance reward.

Now if you’re following the best practices, you’re going to be getting status reports from each of your team members on a weekly basis, no matter the size of their assignment.  When you give someone a large assignment, they’re still reporting on it every week. So you aren’t “in the dark” about the status of their assignment for weeks at a time.

The WBS size doesn’t affect the production of project deliverables. You may choose to alter an assignment if the project stakeholders are particularly interested in inspecting one or more of an assignment’s deliverables. However, there are some very important things to avoid in terms of outside influences on the size of your work breakdown structure. Some project sponsors are wrongly convinced that a big work breakdown structure will give them tight control over the project. This is incorrect on many levels. First, an enormous work breakdown structure takes many hours to update every week. It’s harder to get your team members to give you good status data when they have to report on 10 or 12 micro-tasks. It also takes you longer to do the data entry and update the schedule. The typical consequence of a monster work breakdown structure is that the project manager can’t keep up and eventually the schedule is not updated every week. That is the same as not having a schedule.

The other consequence of a very large and very detailed work breakdown structure is it makes your project team members feel they are being micromanaged. They think you and the sponsor don’t trust them to make decisions and are constantly looking over their shoulders. If you’ve ever been micromanaged by someone who knows less about your task than you do, you realize how destructive micromanagement is. You wind up with a project team that takes no responsibility for the results they produce. They simply follow the micro-details in the work breakdown structure. You need to explain this to a project sponsor who wants a very detailed work breakdown structure because the consequences, as noted above, are serious.

 

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WBS Project Management

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

Our 25 years of experience helping organizations improve their project performance has taught us that the work breakdown structure or WBS is the best predictor of the success of a new project. By reviewing the work breakdown structure before a project starts it is relatively easy to determine five key project success factors:

  • Will the project team members clearly understand what the PM expects of them?
  • Will the project manager be able to identify problems early when they are small rather than after it is too late to fix them?
  • Will executives and the project sponsor be able to assess progress versus the plan?
  • Will the estimates of work, cost and duration be reasonably accurate?
  • Will the project manager be able to exercise tight control and spot problems early without micromanaging the team?

It is very efficient to assess the entire project planning process by reviewing the work breakdown structure before work starts. At that point, the PM can still make corrections and avoid dozens or hundreds of hours of wasted time. In fact, this is such an efficient insurance policy on new projects that we recommend to our clients that it be part of the organizations pre-launch project review.  This pre-launch review of the WBS does not take a great deal of time even if the work breakdown structure is large. Main WBS Work Breakdown Structure Page

WBS Project Management: Pre-launch Pressure

Right before the project launch is a stressful time for project managers and project sponsors. There is tremendous pressure to start work. But of a few hours of delay for a WBS review can save many days of wasted time and head off project failure. Because of the pressure-filled environment, we recommend that this pre-launch WBS review be a mandatory part of the organization’s project management protocol. The review takes place at the end of the project planning process. No matter how big or small the project is, the project manager is always suffering from near-sightedness at that point. It’s very hard for the project manager who created the WBS to see its flaws as well as its strengths. Because errors in the work breakdown structure are so costly and so difficult to correct later on, it is advantageous to have another project manager who was not involved in the planning evaluate the WBS.

WBS Project Management: Review Process Steps

You begin the review of the work breakdown structure for another PM’s new project by looking at the structure of the WBS. Look to see if the entries are organized into subheadings for each of the major deliverables of the project. If so, ask a couple of questions of the project manager who developed this WBS. Did the project sponsor and major stakeholders of the project sign off on the project scope and 4 to 7 major deliverables? If the project manager says no, they must go back to the drawing board. Clearly they can’t launch a project that has not been approved by the sponsor and stakeholders.comm23

If the PM’s answered yes, the next item to examine is the entries in the WBS including the high-level deliverables and the scope. Are they deliverables that describe an end result and the acceptance criteria that the sponsor will use to judge the work? You should see deliverables like, “Customer history database is 99% accurate,” or “Average response time on the network is less than three seconds” or “Quality control has signed off on the product prototypes.” The PM should define each of those deliverables with the acceptance criteria that are either metrics or a yes/no. In other words, they are objectively measurable. If every entry in the work breakdown structure does not meet this measurability criterion, the project should not be launched. The reason this is so critical is that properly defined deliverables tell the team members what’s expected and let the sponsor and executives track progress unambiguously.

The third item to examine is the size or average duration of each of the deliverables. What you’re looking for is micromanagement where the project manager has defined a very large number of WBS entries that have a duration of an a few hours. If you see that kind of excessive detail, you know several problems will occur. First, the project manager will not be able to keep the project plan current because there is far too much detail. Second, with that micro level of detail it is likely that every one of these entries will change over the course of the project and the project manager will not be able to keep it up to date. And a project plan that is three weeks out of date is the same as having no plan at all. What you are looking for on most projects is an average task size that is about a week’s worth of work. Some tasks will not require that much time and others will require several weeks of time. But on the average, you are looking for about a seven-day duration for each of the WBS entries.

The next item to check is the adequacy of the deliverable definitions for making duration and work estimates. This is a subjective area but you want deliverables that are defined with sufficient precision that the team member and project manager can make an accurate estimate of the work involved. If there is inadequate precision, the project manager will develop work packages for the assignments with weak definitions.

Finally, you need to examine the WBS to determine whether the project manager will be able to exercise tight control and spot problems early without micromanaging the team. Here you have to look a bit beyond the WBS and determine the requirements for the status report and the frequency of the project manager’s reports. The most important requirement is that the team members provide the PM with an estimate to completion each week. That is the key to project managers being able to identify problems early on any component of the WBS.

When you are evaluating a work breakdown structure for another project manager, it’s always best to look at it from the perspective of all the different audiences who will use that work breakdown structure. That will let you give the PM helpful, well-rounded feedback.