Project Management Software

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Project Management Software comes in many degrees of sophistication and prices range from $50 to $20,000 or more. The Project Management Software itself doesn’t make you more effective; it just makes you more efficient. The software doesn’t teach you how to define the scope, communicate with the project sponsor or make clear assignments to your team members.  It just lets you do these and many other tasks more efficiently. Let’s talk about the types of Project Management Software available for the kind of projects you manage.  This will let you pick a Project Management Software tool that’s right for you and the organizational setting in which you work. Project Schedule & Software Main Page

Why Use Project Management Software?

Picking the correct Project Management Software product to build your schedule is a key to consistently finishing your projects on time and within budget.  The software lets you schedule the critical project management steps more efficiently than using a yellow notepad or an Excel spreadsheet. It allows you to quickly and efficiently complete these critical steps:

  • Spotting problems early, not after it’s too late to fix them
  • Optimizing the use of resources so you finish as early as possible
  • Updating the project schedule in a few minutes each week so you know where you are
  • Updating everyone’s schedule quickly when things change.

No matter what size your project is, you should use Project Management Software to save time and get the data you need. It is valuable on small projects and a necessity on larger projects. There are thousand of project management software packages on the web, in the cloud or that to you can install on your PC or Mac. Even the free Project Management Software products that are available are worth using. Software will save you hours making your plan and schedule and reporting actual progress to the boss. The time you save will allow you to manage the project team and anticipate/solve problems. That makes you a more effective and successful project manager. People who try to manage projects using a yellow note pad or spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel waste hundreds of hours, even on a small project.

How to Use Project Management Software

First, you will use Project Management Software to develop the schedule. You’ll enter data about the deliverables in the work breakdown structure (WBS) and the people who will be doing the work. This includes the hours of work each task requires and the availability of the team members assigned to teach task. With that data, the software can calculate the duration of the tasks and the entire project. It also produces a schedule for each team member. The schedules show the team members when they are supposed to start and finish each task.

project softwareYou’ll also use Project Management Software to track progress on the plan that the project sponsor approved. The software compares how the project is actually doing versus the plan. To do this, the software uses the data you enter every week from the project team members’ status reports. It will automatically compare what’s actually happened to what should have happened. This lets you spot variances to the plan and take corrective action to fix the negative variances.

Project Management Software Survey

As project management has become more important in organizations, the number of Project Management Software products has increased. In our latest survey of Project Management Software products, we found over 500 legitimate products. (By the way, we don’t sell any software.) There were hundreds more products that didn’t meet the following minimum criteria:

  1. Produce a Gantt chart that clearly communicates the start and finish date for each task and their sequence.
  2. Calculate the duration for each task and the entire project from work and availability data
  3. Generate graphics and data comparing actual performance to the baseline project schedule.

If those three criteria are all you need, there are plenty of Project Management Software packages costing $25 or less that will meet your needs. You could also spend thousands of dollars for packages that don’t do much more than those three features; they just do it fancier. Before buying any software, you need to decide what you want it to do for you. There are additional capabilities that even a new project manager starting out on a small project should get from their Project Management Software.

So let’s explore which of the following categories fits you best.

Project Management Software For Small Projects

Project managers in this category often plan and schedule with only durations, not estimates of work and resource capacity.  Many times they don’t need to develop or track a project budget and status reports only track completion dates. At this level, the organization usually does not consolidate or “roll-up” all the projects into a project portfolio. It also doesn’t manage the total use of all the people who work on projects.

The low-end Project Management Software products are fine for project managers who want to automate the process of building plans, preparing occasional status reports and producing simple Gantt and PERT charts . There are plenty of packages that will automate these basics for you. There is no need to invest the time to master the more advanced products. For under $125, there are products like: Gantter or Quickbase. Most computer and business supply stores carry these less expensive products. There are also a number of web-based products at this capability level.

Project Management Software for Medium-size Projects

As the scale of projects grows and their impact reaches beyond one functional unit, demands grow on the project manager’s techniques and the Project Management Software capabilities.  Software that is a static representation of start and finish dates won’t meet your needs. You need to use software tools that simulate the project and reschedule and optimize it every time there is a change. You can’t re-enter start and finish dates every time something changes in the schedule. You need Project Management Software that can control the sequence of tasks with predecessor relationships. Predecessor relationships connect tasks that must be done sequentially, concurrently or consecutively.  As an example, Task A must finish before Task B can start. Or Tasks A and B must finish at the same time (or begin at the same time). The software helps you build project plans based on estimated hours of work and predecessor relationships, not just start and finish dates. Those dates change frequently throughout the life of the project. Project Management Software that uses predecessor relationships lets you update the schedule in 10 minutes each week. No more hours spent crunching calculations and doing data entry.

Project Management Software at this level also gives you the ability to enter estimate-to-complete data. This allows you to gather data from your project team members about when they’re going to finish their task(s). Then you use the software to forecast when the entire project will finish. This makes your status reports more complete and lets you communicate to the boss that you are in control of what’s happening on the project.

Budget is now an important issue in planning and tracking. You require software that gives you the ability to budget and schedule internal employees was well as external consultants, vendors, equipment and travel expenses. These products include critical path and resource leveling tools. And because you are building more precise work-based plans, the Project Management Software will produce more advanced earned value reporting and slack and delay reports for fine-tuning the schedule and resolving variances.

The cost of this project software takes quite a jump in price to the $300-$500 level. The learning curve for these software tools is much steeper than the prior level. The big market shares belong to Microsoft Project and Primavera (Oracle) products.

Project Management Software for Larger Projects 

On larger projects, you will need the ability to schedule and track progress using work estimates. You also need to track actual work completed versus the baseline plan. You shouldn’t use estimates of start and finish dates. You should be scheduling and tracking with estimates of the amount of work and the duration, not finish dates. This allows you to avoid surprises, especially those surprises that come just before the scheduled finish date. Then t’s too late for you to fix them. You have an early warning system if you estimate both the amount of work required to do the task and the amount of work remaining on a task. The latter is reported by your team members in their weekly status reports. It’s important to have the software track resource utilization and the workload for each team member. This gives you the facts needed to shift resources between tasks as problems arise and more resources are needed.  You need the ability to display critical path, slack (also called float) and delay for each task. This allows you to quickly shorten the duration and decide what tasks you should assign to people when changes occur. You need to make weekly adjustments to resource assignments as new projects start and old ones finish or slip. All professional project managers use Project Management Software with these capabilities. Microsoft Project has all these capabilities in the desktop version and it is an excellent Project Management Software program for larger projects.

Project Management Software for Multiple Projects

The requirements for sophisticated Project Management Software products grow when you start managing multiple projects. In this situation, you are probably operating in a mature project organization that manages resources across all projects. There are executives who are accountable for portfolios of projects. You need a set of Project Management Software tools to consistently plan projects, set priorities, allocate resources to projects based on those priorities and track their progress through completion. You now need to consolidate (roll-up) multiple projects and provide consistent information so executive decision-makers can prioritize projects. You must also allocate resources and schedule and track a pool of people working on multiple projects. This process is a lot more complicated than it sounds. It requires organization processes for portfolio management and Project Management Software that can identify conflicting demands for the same resources. It must allow the executives to set priorities among projects that require the same resources. Here are other requirements the Project Management Software must provide:

  1. Visuals that compare the actual to the baseline schedule and budget. Display slack and delay for schedule and resource optimization.
  2. Report by task, major deliverable, resource and the department the resources came from. Earned value, cost and time variances are also required reports.
  3. Base the schedule on work estimates, not just start/finish dates. (You can skip it if finishing on time is not critical in your organization.)
  4. Calculate duration based on resource availability and work required (resource-driven scheduling).
  5. Schedule people for a portfolio of projects based on project priorities.
  6. Automatic resource leveling to ensure no resource is assigned more work than they can do.
  7. Archived database for future project estimates.

At the strategic project level, you need Project Management Software that can allocate people’s time based on the priority of the task or project to which they’re assigned. Resource-driven scheduling uses predecessor relationships, not start and finish dates. This combination of features saves you lots of time. It also gives you the tools to quickly quantify the impact of changes the project sponsor wants to make. Project managers routinely deal with sponsors who are several organizational levels above them or who sign their paycheck.  In these situations, you can’t argue with the sponsor about the best way to do the project.  What you need is data to quantify the impact of changes and model alternative ways of solving problems.  Having that data gives you more credibility with the sponsor.  It also gives the executives solid date on which to make their decisions. They don’t have to pluck due dates and budgets out of the air.

In addition to time-saving scheduling and analysis tools, Project Management Software should also archive data for use on future projects. Incredible value comes from archiving data on every project. The right Project Management Software tracks actual performance in terms of hours of work and completion dates and builds a database for estimating on the next project. The archived data makes future estimates easier and more accurate.  Microsoft Project also has all these capabilities in the desktop version.

Project Management Software Summary

Project Management Software products come in many levels of sophistication with prices ranging from free to $20,000 or more. No matter what size your project is, you should use Project Management Software to save time and get the data you and the project sponsor need. It is valuable on small projects and a necessity on larger projects.

You can learn how to use project management software in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with an expert project manager who is your instructor and coach. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences with them as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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Fast Track Project Planning

Fast Track Project Planning is a technique project managers can use when the sponsor pressures them to start work quickly.  Sponsors often voice these complaints about planning:

  • “I don’t want you to waste a lot of time on meetings and paperwork. Let’s start work!
  • “We can plan this project as we go.  So start work now!”
  • “We need to be flexible and able to change the plan at a moment’s notice. So start working on it!”

    Dick Billows, PMP
    Dick Billows, PMP
    Dick’s Books on Amazon

Project Planning Main Page

Obviously, you need a way to respond to these demands because many hyperactive sponsors won’t listen to arguments about the value of thorough planning.  There are two possible responses.

Fast Track Project Planning Situation #1: “Fast-food Drive-Thru”

First, you can adopt a “Fast-food Drive-thru” project planning approach. Here’s how it goes: the PM is working at the drive-thru window of a burger joint. The sponsor pulls up to the window and says, “I’m hungry.” Instantly, the PM and team slap burgers, chicken and fish on the grill and toss fries and chicken nuggets into the frying vat. They certainly do start work fast! However, we will waste a lot of that food because it isn’t what the sponsor wants. The same is true on a project we start this way. There is a lot of wasted time and resources. It will also take longer to deliver the project’s scope because the PM doesn’t find out what that is until the work almost done.  PMs use this fast food approach all the time because it allows them to satisfy the sponsor’s demand to start work quickly. That creates a happy sponsor…in the beginning.

The main benefit of the Fast-food Drive-thru project planning is that the project manager and team can start work quickly. They sometimes can begin within just hours of the executive having the idea for the project. The project manager may think this technique makes them responsive to the needs of senior management. Nevertheless, the time to judge the level of sponsor satisfaction is at the end of the project, not the beginning.

Some executives also feel that project planning is a waste of time and that starting work quickly is admirable. In truth, projects started this way waste money and usually finish late. They also produce deliverables of questionable quality. Executives who favor this “start fast” approach also usually have abysmal records of accomplishment in terms of the success of the projects they sponsor.

Fast Track Project Planning Situation #2: (Design/Build)

This Fast Track Project Planning approach is a better way to deal with impatient sponsor demands or to handle projects that you must launch in the midst of a crisis. You develop a partial project plan and then begin work on the first of the major deliverables. You plan the remaining major deliverables as you work on the first. The key to this technique is having hard-edged definitions of the acceptance criteria for the all of the major deliverables. Working from the top down, you tightly define the project scope and 4 – 7 major deliverables. You have to know with great precision the path that you’re going to take from where you are now to the end result the sponsor wants.  Having crystal-clear, quantified acceptance criteria is the key to avoiding work that you must scrap. This technique lets you compress the time for the project planning process and start work more quickly because you aren’t waiting to complete the detailed planning on the major deliverables that you’ll will work on later.  This approach is very different from not doing planning at all. The sponsor has to commit significant time to doing the high level planning.

This technique is widely used in the construction industry and it substantially reduces the duration of projects. It also carries some risks for the project manager and sponsor. As you detail the plan for the first of the major deliverables, you are depending on the accuracy of the deliverable descriptions for the remaining major deliverables and the project as a whole. If those change or are inaccurate, we will waste a lot of the work on the first major deliverable.

The sponsor and stakeholders need to understand the risk inherent in this FastTrack planning. You will start work on the first major deliverable earlier than with a classic planning approach. However, the risk of major cost and duration overruns is very real if the definitions of the later major deliverables are not reliable. Executives are always interested in starting work fast but they need to sign off on the risks inherent in this FastTrack approach. They also need to understand that it is their job to define those major deliverables.

Fast Track Project Planning: Details 

When you start describing this approach to the project sponsor and stakeholders, you need to make a couple of points clear. The project duration reduction is not free. It comes at the cost of less precise data in the beginning and a higher risk of cost and duration overruns. Because you aren’t developing a detailed plan for the entire project, your duration and budget data will be less precise when you start work. You shouldn’t use this Fast Track approach if you need great precision on either of those metrics.

The Fast Track Project Planning approach also requires an accurate definition of the deliverables. Stakeholders who are accustomed to a shoddy project planning process and many change orders will be surprised at the commitments they must make about what they want. It is much more expensive to change in midstream with the FastTrack approach than with a traditional project planning approach where you have completed plan for the whole project before you start work.

The way to reduce the risk inherent in the Fast Track Project Planning approach is to complete the detailed planning on the remaining deliverables immediately after you start work on the first major deliverable. Stakeholders often want to walk away from the project planning effort after they plan that first major deliverable and work has started. You need to be very clear that this is not the time to delay the planning or delegate it to subordinates. The further work progresses on the first major deliverable the more expensive changes become. That’s because you have more work you may have to scrap if there are major changes in the remainder of the project.

In summary, Fast Track Project Planning approach is a valuable technique for project managers to master because it often meets the needs of the organization and executives for rapid project planning.

Large Project Planning Techniques

When your success as a project manager leads to larger assignments, you should learn and be ready to use these Large Project Planning Techniques.  Planning larger projects requires different techniques than those that are successful fro small projects . When you started your career in project management, the projects were small and planning was relatively easy. So even poor techniques worked. Often the project sponsor was your immediate supervisor and you had frequent conversations about the project’s business result and deliverables. There was only one person to satisfy and the whole team worked for the same boss. All of you received your priorities from the same person. There were no conflicting goals or priorities. These factors contribute to the high success rate on small projects, even if the planning process is weak. Project Planning Main Page

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

When you move up in the project management ranks, however, planning large project gets more difficult and the consequences are more serious.  Now you must know how to use Large Project Planning Techniques. If you try to use your old small project planning techniques on larger more complex projects, management will quickly send you back to the minor leagues.

Large Project Planning Techniques are Different

On larger projects, the sponsor may not be your immediate supervisor. You may be doing the project for an executive with whom you haven’t worked before. In addition, there may be other executives involved whose career success depends on your project.  These stakeholders will have goals that differ from the sponsor and the other executives. In fact, your project planning effort may even take place in the midst of turf wars between functional areas or divisions of the company. People may try to use the project and its deliverables as part of their political battle.  Worst of all, there may be strong pressure to begin planning and even start work without the decisions about scope and deliverables locked down.  That approach is easier for the executives than trying to reach agreement on priorities. It also allows them to get the project started without making any commitments about exactly what they want it to deliver.

However, the project team is the biggest difference between large projects and the small ones you’ve been managing. On small projects, all or most of the team worked for the same boss. On larger projects, you will be borrowing people from other functional departments. Their priorities and your priorities are often starkly different. Additionally, many functional departments loaning people to your project team are really putting an observer on your team to “represent” their department’s interests. These borrowed resources can be a real management challenge. Their managers often pull them off your project whenever they need them for something in their home department. All of those threats may be new to you.  Learning how to handle them is required for your continued project management success.

Large Project Planning Technique #1 – Define the Scope and Deliverables

There is a strict rule on larger projects that most PMs learn by suffering the consequences of ignoring it. That is Never skip defining the scope and major deliverables.” That’s true even if the sponsor or stakeholders spout these phrases:

  • “We’ll plan as we go”
  • “Let’s make an exception on this project and start work without a plan”
  • “You know what you’re doing.  We trust you to do it right.”

Ignore all that stuff!  You are committing professional suicide if you proceed with setting a completion date and/or budget without objective measures of success. Those measures are the agreed upon acceptance criteria in the project scope. All those greasy executive promises will go up in smoke if you don’t deliver what they want.  Remember, without a scope they’ve sign off on, it will be impossible to give them what they want because you don’t know what they.

Large Project Planning Technique #2 – Define the Acceptance Criteria

Next you must secure the sponsor’s and major stakeholders’ written approval of a measurable scope with acceptance criteria. The acceptance criteria define success for the project as a whole and all the major deliverables. Here’s an example. You can’t just start work on the “World-class Customer Service” project. That doesn’t define success criteria for the project. The sponsor and executives must approve (in writing) the success/acceptance criteria for the project scope.  What you want is an acceptance criterion like, “Resolve 90% of customers’ issues on their first phone call.” That is objectively measurable. It also tells you what end result is good enough.

How do you get the executives to tell you the acceptance criteria? You have to ask them questions about the end result the project should produce. Often executives have not talked about that end result. In this example, they are reacting to the need to do something about the customer service problem. Therefore, you need to ask leading questions about what they want to see from the project. You don’t want to discuss how to get there. You want to ask questions like, “Six months after this project is done, how will our customers’ experience be different?” If you have some of the data you might say, “Now our customers have to wait on hold for 30 seconds and 60% of them have to call back a second time about the same problem. How will that be different six months after this project is over?” This last question is a particularly good one because when the executives answer it, they will answer with data. If they say that 30 seconds is too long on hold, asked them what the hold time should be.large project planning techniques

That Large Project Planning Technique is the way you get objectively measurable acceptance criteria. Once you get those acceptance criteria, they become the foundation for your planning and change control. The executives can certainly change those criteria whenever they wish. However, changes to higher results like “resolving 98% of the customers’ issues on their first phone call” will increase both the cost and duration of the project. This method of defining the scope will be your life preserver as you navigate the tricky political currents of larger projects. This measurable scope definition will also allow you to avoid change control battles. If you can’t clearly identify what is and what is not a change to the original scope of the project, you will have new features added every week without any increases in the project’s budget or duration. Moreover, you’ll be blamed when the project is late and over budget.

That’s why a Large Project Planning best practice is to have objectively measurable acceptance criteria for the scope, the project’s major deliverables and every task you will assign to a team member. Then everybody knows what to expect. Accomplishing this is exceedingly difficult. Executives have to commit to exactly what they want. Moreover, you need to stick to your guns on the definition of these deliverables. When they insist that you start work before they define the scope, you give reasonable answers like, “How can I possibly start work when I don’t know what you want from the project? That would be like you sending me to the grocery store with money bit not telling me what you want me to bring back.” You might also say, “If this customer service project is important to the company, we really need to define what we mean by good customer service. Otherwise we’re going to waste a lot of money and time and probably produce nothing of value for the organization.” You can move on only when you have objectively measurable acceptance criteria for the scope of the project.

Large Project Planning Technique #3 – Define the High-level Deliverables

Next you must subdivide the objectively measurable scope into 4 to 7 high-level deliverables. These deliverables will lead you from where you are now to the end result, the project scope. This is also a critical step. From the first moment on the project, you will be under pressure to commit to a completion date and budget. As you work on defining the scope and high-level deliverables, you must refuse to make any kind of commitment or even discuss the cost and completion date. Instead, you should say, “I can’t possibly tell you how long it will take or how much it will cost until I know precisely and exactly what you want. Then I can estimate how much work it will take to produce it. Next, I will need to know what resources I have to do that work. When I have that information I can give you a reasonable commitment on completion date and budget.” When you have a network or hierarchy of deliverables with defined acceptance criteria, you can move onto the next step.

Large Project Planning Technique #4 – Develop Two Sets of Commitments

First, you need commitments from department and division heads about the team members who will work on your project and how much of their time the project will “own.” The second set of commitments is from the team members themselves. They must estimate how much work is required to produce the deliverables you assigned to them. Only after you have these two sets of commitments can you create a project schedule and calculate the budget based on the hourly rates of your project team members.

Large Project Planning Technique #4 – Develop a Change Management Process

The final Large Project Planning Technique is to enforce the principle that all changes to the project deliverables, schedule or budget, have a cost. There are no “free” changes. Every change has a trade-off. It isn’t possible to cut the project duration without any consequence to the project deliverables, schedule or costs. For example, the trade-off for finishing a week early might be an increase in the budget of $5,000 to pay for the required overtime.

Large Project Planning Techniques are Unique

These Large Project Planning Techniques are certainly different from techniques for managing small projects.  However, when you leave the warm cozy world of managing small projects in your home department, you need to follow a very specific sequence of steps to handle the challenges of larger projects. You need to operate like a consultant who is managing a project for a client. You must adopt a different way of dealing with the sponsor and stakeholders. You have to become comfortable with “pushing back” and insisting on doing projects the correct way. You also need to avoid giving the executives any commitments about the project cost and duration before you complete the planning steps correctly. You can’t allow executives to get away with a vague project scope just because it’s politically easier for them. It will lead to project failure and they will blame you.

More information on the lean project methodology

You can learn how to use these Project Planning Technique in our online advanced project management courses.

Risk Strategy – Video

Here is how to plan a Risk Strategy for your project. You have gone through the risk identification process and you have done qualitative analysis of those risks. You may have also done quantitative analysis on a few major risks. Now you have your data on the probability of each risk occurring and the magnitude of the impact (on duration and/or cost) if it does happen. Risk Management Main Page

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Let’s look at some examples. Say that each project has two risks:

  • Risk A is that turnover among the project engineers will exceed 15% year.
  • Risk B is that serious flooding during the spring will require the project team to relocate.

If you’re planning your Risk Strategy based on qualitative data, you have asked your team to subjectively evaluate the probability and magnitude of each risk. It will be in the form of:

  • Risk #A has a high probability of occurring and a high impact on the project if it does occur.
  • Risk #B has a low probability of occurring and a medium impact on the project if it does occur.

If you’re quantifying the probability and impact, you will have gathered data from historical records or experiments and will be able to summarize it like this:

  • Risk #A has a 14% probability of occurring and a $20,000 impact if it does The expected value of the risk is $2,800 (.14 x $20,000).
  • Risk #B has a 5% probability of occurring and a $1,000 impact if it does. The expected value of the risk is $50 (.05 x $1,000).

The quantitative risk analysis in your Risk Strategy is more usable than the qualitative analysis.  It also costs a great deal more to develop. The numbers are particularly useful because they allow you to calculate the expected value of the risk. That expected value, which you get by multiplying the probability times the magnitude of the impact, puts a ceiling on what you can spend to completely avoid the risk. You don’t have this information when you limit yourself to qualitative analysis. But you need to plan your Risk Strategy regardless of the limitations of your information.  Small Project Risk Management

Risk Strategy: What Risk(s) to Focus On

Risk Management: Risk Response Plan

You, the sponsor and stakeholders might decide to focus your Risk Strategy on risk #A – engineer turnover. You would accept risk #B – relocation due to flooding – because its probability and magnitude are small, based on both the qualitative and quantitative data. That means you will not plan any specific risk mitigation, avoidance or transfer to avoid the risk’s effect. You won’t spend any money trying to avoid or mitigate the risk. However, your Risk Strategy will include a contingency plan for this accepted risk. That plan will detail how to respond to the flooding risk if it occurs. The contingency plan might focus on identifying two available office locations that are nearby.

Then you would focus your attention on the more significant risk. Because risk #A – engineer turnover – is a negative risk you can use three Risk Strategies, individually or in combination.

  1. Avoid the risk. This Risk Strategy requires you to alter the project plan to completely eliminate the source of risks. In this example, you might purchase the deliverable “off-the-shelf” so you don’t have to develop it yourself. So engineer turnover would not harm the project.
  2. Transfer the risk. This Risk Strategy is similar to buying insurance for the risk. If you were concerned about a tornado, you might buy tornado insurance. For the engineer turnover risk, you might contract with an engineering consulting firm to provide the hours of engineer work you require.
  3. Mitigate the risk. This Risk Strategy requires you to reduce the probability of the risk occurring and/or the magnitude of the risk if it does occur. These mitigation actions usually require you to spend money and the limitation is the expected value of the risk you calculated above. One mitigation might be to raise the salaries of your engineers to reduce the probability of their being hired by another firm. You might also hire two additional engineers which would lower the impact of turnover because you would have the extra staff immediately available. You often can’t completely eliminate the risk with mitigation. You merely reduce the probability and/or the magnitude of its impact. You have a remaining part of the risk that you have to accept and for which you would develop a contingency plan.

Risk Strategy: Involve the Teamrisk strategy

Remember that the expected value of that risk of turnover among the project engineers is $2,800. That means you can’t spend more than that amount, even if you eliminate the risk entirely. That is the spending ceiling on the risk response. You would gather the risk management team together and ask for ideas that would reduce the project engineer turnover to 15% or less.

One team member might suggest that all the engineers working on the project receive a $200 bonus if they stay until the project is completed. With 14 engineers, there would be sufficient money to pay that bonus amount but then you would need to completely eliminate turnover above 15%. A number of members of the team might raise an objection. They say that engineers who are offered a substantial pay increase by another firm would not stay on the project for as little as $200. They also suggest that if other members of the project team didn’t receive a similar bonus it might create even larger morale problems. You would for other ideas for holding down turnover. A team member could suggest hiring additional engineers for the project team. This would give you the capacity to absorb turnover above 15%.

A few minutes of Risk Strategy, even on a small project, delivers a good return in proportion to the cost.

Risk Strategy: A 3-Tier Response Approach 

Project managers often skip the Risk Strategy process because the sponsor wants them to start quickly without wasting time on “useless paperwork” like risk management. This dooms you to non-stop fire fighting for the life of the project. We use a 3-tier Risk Strategy approach for projects of different scale and importance. On even a small project, you can do a simple risk assessment, investing as little as an hour and possibly saving days of lost time. That’s why we recommend using a 3 tiered Risk Strategy so you can match them to the scale and significance of the project. Here are definitions of the tiers:

  • Tier 1 – A project done within a department or small company where the PM and team all report to the project sponsor.
  • Tier 2 – A cross-functional project which affects multiple departments in the same organization.
  • Tier 3 – A strategic initiative or consulting engagement that includes both technical expertise and project management services for an outside client or customer.

Risk Strategy: Risk Management Template

Here are 5 risk management steps that lead to your Risk Strategy planning:

  • Identify the risks that threaten delivering the scope on time
  • Qualitatively assess the probability of the risk occurring
  • Qualitatively assess the magnitude of the impact if the risk occurs
  • Select the most significant risks
  • Plan how to avoid them or minimize the damage if we can’t avoid them.

In risk identification, you are simply harvesting as many risks as you can without making judgments about their significance. When you have the list of risks, you’re ready to begin qualitative risk analysis. That’s where you focus on evaluating the significance of each risk using relatively quick and inexpensive techniques. Specifically, you are assessing the likelihood a risk will occur and the impact (cost and time) if it does occur. You use these assessments to prioritize our risks in terms of their significance.

Risk Strategy: Three Situations

Tier 1 – In-department Project Risk Situation

  • The PM and two team members spend 30 minutes on risk identification with a limit of 7 risks in two risk categories that threaten project success.
  • The PM and two team members spend 30 minutes on qualitative/subjective risk analysis. This is the only support for the risk response plan because the project’s scale does not support the cost or time for quantitative analysis. The two members of the team and the project sponsor will subjectively set the impact and likelihood values for risk and impact analysis.
  • The PM and sponsor will agree on the risk response plan in 30 minutes.

Let’s look in on how the process would work. For an in-department project, risk identification and qualitative analysis is all we’ll do before planning our risk responses.

The PM and the two team members take a short lunch and talk about the risk events that could cause them to fail to deliver the project scope. Then they discuss events that would affect finishing the project on time. They return with a list of 7 risks to consider. Six are negative risk events. The last is a positive risk event that would let them finish a week early.

After they’ve completed the risk identification, the PM and the two members of the team go to the PM’s cubicle. The PM smiles at them and says, “We’re 1/3 done. Now let’s spend about 30 minutes analyzing the risks we identified.

risk strategy1

Here’s a form we’ll use to get everyone’s assessment of the risks we face on the project. We want to describe each risk in terms of two separate dimensions; 1.) the probability or likelihood of the risk event occurring and 2.) the impact it will have on the project if it occurs. We’ll use a simple scale with three choices for probability and for impact:

  • low – meaning very unlikely to occur or a small impact
  • high – meaning very likely to occur or a large impact and
  • medium – between those two extremes.”

Following the risk assessment, the project manager charts the results, asks the boss to join them, and displays the simple grid for the group.

Risk Strategy Template

The PM says, “We all seem to agree that while we have several risks, only one risk has both a high probability and a high magnitude and that’s the risk of customers not using the new procedure.”
The boss says, “I thought this risk stuff was going to be a waste of time, but I’m already thinking of things we can do to educate the customers about the new procedures. That is one problem I would not want to hear about at the end of the project.”
Following the boss’ comments, the group begins to assemble a strategy. First, they discuss possibilities for changing the project plan in a way that allows them to completely avoid this risk. But it doesn’t take long before they realize there’s no way to avoid the customers having to learn the new trouble ticket procedures. They also briefly discuss being able to transfer this risk to another party and “buy insurance” to avoid the consequences. The boss brings that discussion to an end by telling them no training firm would undertake responsibility without charging them tens of thousands of dollars.

With limited strategies for avoiding and transferring the risk, the group focuses on mitigation. One mitigation that everyone likes is distributing professionally designed instruction manuals for the customer. That includes a laminated one page crib sheet to help them easily follow the new procedure. The boss agrees that wouldn’t cost very much and welcomes the idea of adding that mitigation to the project plan. They spend a few more minutes discussing other options including writing profiles of customers who did well with the new procedure and including it in the company magazine. No one likes that idea so they stick with the customer instruction manual mitigation idea. That brings their risk response planning to an end.

Tier 2 – Cross-functional Project Risk Situation

  • The risk management plan calls for using qualitative risk assessment as a screening tool for quantitative analysis.
  • The PM anticipates that they will analyze 12 or more risks in an intensive quantitative analysis.
  • Three committees will perform qualitative analysis. Each one is focusing on a particular category of risk within the categories supplied by the organization.
  • The sponsor will decide which risks go to quantitative analysis.

The cross-functional project manager distributes the qualitative risk assessment form to each of the three risk committees to use in assessing the project’s risks. The team members are quite familiar with estimating probabilities and magnitudes so the project manager uses a 1-10 scale for the estimates. The first page of one committee’s form looks like this:

risk strategy2

Then the project manager gives the committee leaders their instructions, “Each person will make an independent judgment about the probability of each risk event occurring and the impact on the project if it does. We’ll use a 1 to 10 scale for each assessment. So if a risk event is very likely to occur you should give it a 9 or even a 10. For a risk event that is very unlikely, give it a score of 1 or 2. We will do the same thing on the impact. When you come to that decision, forget the probability of the risk event occurring. Simply assess how big an impact it will have if it occurs. If its impact will bury the project and do us irreparable harm, you should score it a 10. If a risk event has minimal impact on the project, give it a 1 or 2.”

One of the team members says, “Aren’t we going to discuss each risk first?”

The project manager answers, “No. I think it’s best if each person gives their assessment without being influenced by the others. Remember that we have people whose immediate superior is on the same committee. If people reveal their opinions before we each score the risks, the manager’s opinion may count for too much. Let’s have everyone make a judgment without knowing what the managers think. We may get better information with independent judgments and avoid some of the politics. For that same reason, we’ll keep the ballots anonymous; you’ll notice there is no place to fill in a name.”

A few days later, the project manager gathers the completed forms from the committees and tabulates the data into a spreadsheet designed for this purpose. The result is a table of data values and a graph for each of the committees.

The cross-functional project manager takes the committees’ data and recommendations to the risk management committee which is made up of the sponsor and an executive vice president. The project manager selects one or two risks from each committee’s qualitative analysis and recommends quantitative analysis.

Three of the risks have probabilities and impacts above eight so the committee decides that all three warrant quantitative analysis. They are particularly concerned about the risk of customers not using the new trouble ticket procedure. They ask the project manager exactly what they will get from this quantitative analysis.

The project manager says, “We will start with an influence diagram that we developed during risk identification. Then we’ll gather some opinions from industry experts and build a decision network to analyze where we can have our biggest influence in avoiding that risk.” On this larger and more significant tier #2, cross-functional project, the decision-making about risk response strategies can be much more extensive. It can also involve substantially larger costs than the tier #1, in-department project.

Tier 3 – Strategic/Consulting Project Risk Situation

  • A committee of executives will make final risk decisions based on detail work developed by risk committees focusing on special categories of risks.
  • The size of the project budget and its strategic significance for the client warrant elaborate quantitative analysis, which has been included in the risk-management plan.
  • The budget for quantitative risk analysis includes funds to pay experts’ fees and for research and data gathering. Presenting Your Risk Plan

The project manager presents the qualitative risk analysis information to the client’s management. Because these executives are familiar with making decisions based on data, the PM consultant includes qualitative measures of probability and impact and as well as data precision value. One of the executives asks, “What is the significance of that data precision score? Didn’t our people do a good job in the risk assessment?”

risk strategy3

The consulting project manager answers, “No, that’s not the case at all. That data precision score is reflective of the accuracy and validity of the data we have about each of the risks. It reflects our understanding of the risk, the amount of information we have available about it and the reliability and integrity of that data. The score is based on my firm’s collective experience with projects of this type. As you can see, there are a number of risks about which we know a great deal. As an example, the quality of the data we have about the third risk on the list is quite good. We have very reliable data from the company’s own quality control and quality assurance processes and I have given that risk a data precision score of 80 to reflect the quality of that data. On the other hand, the risk we are most concerned about is that the customers will not utilize the new trouble ticket procedure. I’ve given that a low data precision score because your organization has very little information. What we have is about other segments and is of questionable reliability. We are concerned about the risk because of its high probability and high magnitude. But frankly, the absence of good data is equally important. For that reason, I’m going to suggest we do a Monte Carlo simulation so we can more accurately assess the impact of that risk on the project’s overall duration and budget.”

The client executives accept the consulting PM’s recommendations and the list of prioritized risks. They authorize the project team to move on to quantitative risk analysis. For this very large strategic initiative level project, the quantitative analysis process can easily take months and include substantial and expensive data-gathering efforts. They will provide a better assessment of customer behavior and how it could be changed. From that data-gathering phase, the decision-makers will have sophisticated simulation information which would trigger the brainstorming process of the Risk Strategy.


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Risk Management Plan – Video

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Successful project managers always have a Risk Management Plan to avoid fires on their projects. That’s much better than putting out the flames after they have ignited.  These PMs don’t need “all-hands” emergency meetings when something unexpected happens. They don’t need to bring all project work to a halt and give people new tasks to respond to a crisis.  Instead, at the beginning of a project they design a Risk Management Plan that includes risk identification, risk analysis, risk strategy and risk response planning. They identify the most likely risks that will significantly impact the project and they plan for dealing with them. Then there is no emergency. There is no frantic reassignment of duties. The project team simply executes the Risk Management Plan they developed months before. Risk Management Main Page

Project managers who skip the Risk Management Plan do so because the sponsor wants them to start work quickly without “wasting time” on things like risk management. This will probably doom the PM to fighting fires for the rest of the project. Even on a small project, you can undertake a simple risk assessment process. By investing as little as an hour at the beginning of the project, you’ll possibly save dozens of hours later. You can use the project risk management steps below with your team and/or stakeholders.

Risk Management Plan in Theory

The Risk Management Plan is a concept with a very sound foundation. It’s proven that the cost of responding to unanticipated problems is always much higher and more disruptive than the cost of implementing risk strategies that you planned in advance. Further, if you keep the scale and cost of your risk management efforts in proportion to the scale of the project and the risks you are avoiding, a risk management more than pays for itself.

Risk Management Plan in Practice

Project managers routinely feel a great deal of pressure to start work on a project quickly since many executives think a Risk Management Plan is simply bureaucratic paper shuffling processes with no real-world pay off. There is some truth to that assumption, particularly in bureaucratic organizations where any activity like risk management is an opportunity for more papers, more procedures and endless meetings. In addition, there is the fantasy that good project managers are good firefighters so spending time and money on risk management is a waste of both. When bad risks flare up; you just fight the fires.  Project Risk Management

Risk Management: Risk Identification

Risk Management Plan for Three Different Sized Projects

Small Project Plans- Done within your organization for one manager or your boss.
Medium Project Plans- Affects multiple departments within your organization or done for customers/clients.
Strategic Project Plans- Affects the entire organization or its customers and has long term effects.

Risk Management Plan #1: Risk Assessment

Small Project Plans- You may limit the entire risk management effort to 30-60 minutes. The tasks are to identify risks and plan risk responses for 2-3 major risks.
Medium Project Plans- You would add qualitative risk analysis on 10 to 20 significant risks. Perhaps you would do quantitative risk analysis on the 2 to 3 biggest risks. The aim of the risk analyses is to develop cost data as justification for your risk responses.
Strategic Project Plans- The scale of the project and the consequences of failure justify an extensive Risk Management Plan. Spending several weeks and over $10,000 on risk analysis is routine. It is normal to hire outside experts to assess the risks quantitatively.

Risk Management Plan #2: Identify Risks

Small Project Plans- Risk identification could be done over coffee with the sponsor and a few key stakeholders identifying key threats and opportunities. Remember that not all risks are bad.
Medium Project Plans- Risk identification is usually broken up by major project deliverables with separate groups working through the identification process for each. The project manager provides each group with the risk categories they should address.
Strategic Project Plans- The project scale justifies the use of multiple teams with each assigned one or more categories of risk. These are grouped by risk type (regulatory, competitive, technological, etc.) or the risks associated with a specific deliverable (facility construction, systems development, personnel etc.).

Risk Management Plan #3: Qualitative Risk Analysis

Small Project Plans- None
Medium Project Plans- Use qualitative analysis for all risks.
Strategic Project Plans- Use qualitative analysis as a screening and prioritizing tool to identify risks with large expected value and to justify more expensive quantitative analysis.

Risk Management Plan #4: Quantitative Risk Analysis

Small Project Plans- None
Medium Project Plans- Only for very significant risks or opportunities.
Strategic Project Plans- Used to justify risk responses that cost a great deal of time or money.

Risk Management Plan #5: Risk Response Plan

Small Project Plans- Short statement of how you will respond to each risk if it occurs.
Medium Project Plans & Strategic Project Plans- More detailed set of risk responses using one or more of the following strategies: avoidance, mitigation, transference or acceptance with a contingency plan. You may combine all four of these risk reduction strategies in sophisticated responses. You will implement careful monitoring of the project using risk triggers for early warning.  Risk Strategy

Risk Management Plan & “Best Practices” In the Real World

A slow education process regarding the Risk Management Plan works best with executives. Savvy project managers make a case for doing a limited amount of risk management by using examples from previous projects where they could have avoided delays and cost overruns with some risk management. Wise executives respond well to those examples, particularly seeing data from previous projects. Even the most skeptical sponsor will usually listen to arguments about the risks’ damage to project completion dates and budgets.

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Project Management Certifications

Project Management Certifications: Functional and Specialty

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

You can earn Project Management Certifications in functional and specialty areas in addition to the certifications offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI)® and PRINCE2®. Project managers should include those options in planning their career skills and credentials for advancement.

Project Management Certifications: What Functional and Specialty Certifications are Available?

Project managers can add practical hands-on skills in planning, scheduling, estimating and risk management tailored to their specialty area such as IT, construction, healthcare, business/marketing, and consulting. These programs allow you to add those skills within the framework of your industry specialty so the learning is relevant to the kind of projects you manage. Employers value the practical, real world, hands-on knowledge these certifications provide because your capabilities deliver significant payback on their projects.

These functional and specialty Project Management Certifications also add soft skills in leadership, communications, making presentations and influencing decision-makers. These are not skills that you gain by learning definitions for a multiple-choice exam. The soft skills are best learned in environments where you actually apply the skills in live simulations with your instructor and get feedback on what you do well and what you need to do better. What is particularly effective is video feedback in a simulated meeting with a team member who is not performing well. You’re able to interact with that employee live and in real time. This is accomplished with role-playing instructors who play the role of the poor performing employee. They give you a video of your simulation and feedback on how you handled the interaction. This experiential learning with hands-on coaching is the way to gain expertise and confidence in these communication and presentation techniques.

Project Management Certifications: When Should I Gain Functional and Specialty Certifications?

Planning your career properly requires you to include:

  • Earning the multiple-choice based credentials from (PMI)® or PRINCE2® project manager certifications
  • Adding hands-on skills in scheduling, estimating, risk management, etc.
  • Improving your leadership, presentation skills and ability to influence and persuade people.

It’s helpful to divide your career into a number of stages and pursue the appropriate Project Management Certifications for each stage.

Project Management Certifications: Getting a Job in Project Management

Entering the project management profession is difficult when you have no experience. One credential that can enliven an otherwise dull resume is functional training in areas like scheduling, project management software, budgeting and status reporting. Those are time-consuming tasks for project managers. People with training in those skills, but no actual PM work experience, may be able to join a project management team. Beginner project management certifications give you both the practical skills in the above areas and a credential to add to your resume. They may open the door into project management. There are number of certifications that open the door into an assistant project manager or project coordinator position.

Project Management Certifications: Your First Project Management Job

Once you’ve opened the door into project management with a position on the project management team, your next career step is managing projects on your own. To prepare you for that and give you a credential to secure that opportunity there are number of basic Project Management Certifications in specialty areas like IT, construction, healthcare, business/marketing, and consulting. These certifications do not have the substantial experience requirements of PMI and PRINCE2 certifications. You can earn these certifications in your first year or two working in the project management profession. This first certification is a credibility builder because it is relevant to a particular specialty. If your skills and this credential lead to managing small projects, your PM career is on its way.

Project Management Certifications: Moving Up to Larger and More Complex Projects

When your successes on smaller projects create the opportunity to move up to larger more complex projects (and more compensation,) you may need to add an advanced Project Management Certification. These are particularly relevant in specialty areas like IT, construction, healthcare, business/ marketing etc. These advanced certifications give you sophisticated tools for estimating costs and duration, analyzing risks, managing stakeholders, leading large teams, and making presentations to executives with advanced tracking and status reporting.

Project Management Certifications: The Multiple-Choice Certification

The next step is probably earning a certification from the Project Management Institute (the PMP)® or PRINCE2®. They require 3 to 5 years of experience managing projects. These certifications may not add practical skills but they are certainly credibility builders within your organization and when you’re searching for a new job. At this point in your career, you have a substantial amount of experience, but to earn these certifications, you need to forget most of it. The multiple-choice exams are academic and focused on knowing the detailed steps in a formal project management process. However, the investment of time and effort in gaining these certifications is worthwhile for many people.

Project Management Certifications: Managing Multiple Projects and Portfolios

The final project management career step before you move into an executive management position is to manage multiple projects, programs and portfolios. This requires many new skills beyond those you acquired in managing large projects. You’ll need training for allocating resources across multiple projects based on priorities that you’ve helped the executives establish. The political, communication and presentation requirements for effective multi-project management are substantial. There are Project Management Certifications that give you the practical skills for transition into this highest level of project management.

Why Is a Change Control Process Needed?

Let’s talk about why you need a Change Control Process. Have you ever had one of those days, when you have reviewed the schedule and the project is running tight?  Then a manager walks into your cube and tells you to “squeeze in” a change to the scope and maintain the current completion date.  You explain that the schedule and scope have already been approved. So you will have to assess the effect of the change on the schedule and present it to the project sponsor for approval. The manager says that you have always done a great job delivering your projects on schedule. So they are confident you can make this simple change and still meet your schedule.  Change Control Main Page

No Change Control Process

Let’s consider what can happened if you don’t have a Change Control Process.  Your boss asks you to squeeze in a requirement.  On the surface, the requirement looks simple and should not take much time.  You do not want to disappoint your boss, so you agree.  You decide to have Janet work on this since she has time before her next task starts.  Janet explains that she is working on another project during her slack time between tasks on your project.  She could not possibly work on this new requirement.  Gosh, that is right. The project team is only being loaned to you. You don’t “own” all their time.

Well maybe Bob could slip this into his schedule. Bob is amenable.  He can start work on the change and try to complete it in the time that will allow you to stay on schedule.  One week later, the day before the due date, Bob comes to you and says he’s sorry but he cannot finish the task.  His manager is pulling him back because Bob has used all the hours his boss agreed to for this project.  

Now you must find someone to finish Bob’s task by tomorrow.  What are you going to do?  The schedule is slipping since Bob is not available to work on the task.  Your brain starts rushing, thinking about who could fill-in for Bob.  Then your thoughts turn to dread.  How are you going to explain the slip to the sponsor?  You accepted the change from your boss without going through the Change Control Process.  Where are you going to get the additional resource to finish Bob’s work without disrupting something else?  What following work is affected by slipping Bob’s task? 

Change Control Process

You know that any change comes with a cost or an effect on the project baseline. To support an additional requirement, a Change Control Processcompany manager or stakeholder must follow the Change Control Process or they must create another project.  Changes and additional requirements add to some aspect of a project; the time, cost, quality, resources, scope, or risks.  If the additional requirement can be handled on a non-critical path task, it may be possible to support the manager’s or stakeholder’s request. Nevertheless, you should follow your Change Control Process and ask the manager to help you complete the appropriate change request form.  You will review the change with the team to assess the effect on the current schedule and other aspects of the project.  The change request and the estimated impact will be presented to the project sponsor for their consideration.  The project sponsor will make the determination if the change is important enough to modify the current, approved project plan and baseline.

Having and following an established project plan and Change Control Process coordinates everyone’s work to achieve successful project completion.  Changes are often necessary and change requires the stakeholders, project manager and the team to follow the Change Control Process to successfully continue the project work and meet the objective.