At some time in their career, everyone who manages projects has had a Project Team From Hell that failed miserably. The team not only failed to achieve the project’s goals, it also ruined several personal lives, careers and marriages. Let’s watch this one.
We’ll zoom in to Royster Industries and meet some of the characters that turned this group into the ultimate Project Team From Hell. First we have Gilbert, the project manager, who would like to be a geek but isn’t smart enough. Gilbert spends half of his time trying to suck up to upper management. He doesn’t realize they think he is the worst kind of lowlife. He spends the other half of his time assembling a micro-mini work breakdown structure (WBS) that is 5,739 lines long for a project with just two week’s duration. Every task is broken down into micro-tasks that may take minutes to complete. It is so complex that it takes Gilbert about 10 days to enter all of the prior week’s status reports. He falls further and further behind and convinces everyone that he is long past this point of incompetence.
Next we have Jasper, one of the stakeholders. He manages a department that is unimportant and has no impact on the company‘s revenues or profits excepted to decrease them. His great pleasure is to bait project managers into telling senior management outright lies about the status of their project. Then he delights in watching the water torture of executives questioning these deceitful project managers like prisoners of war.
Then we have Stephanie. On the basis of intelligence, initiative and common sense, she should be the organization’s CEO. Instead, she’s a lowly associate trapped in one losing project after another by Gilbert’s micromanagement. She dashes from team member to team member trying to prevent them from sinking further into the swamp of their finger-pointing, blame avoiding and personal attacks. Unfortunately, she fails miserably.
Watch this Project Team From Hell. Have you worked with any of these personalities or in these situations? If you have outrageous examples of how to screw up a project, send them to us in a comment. We’ll try to work them into the next episode of 537 Ways to Screw Up a Project.
You can learn the right way to manage a project team in our online Project Management Basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.
PERT Estimates (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) are sometimes called 3-point estimates. The reason this technique is a best practice is that it gives you three benefits:
Useful information on the risks of each task that you estimate
Better commitment from the project team members because the estimate considers the task’s risks.
How To Do PERT Estimates or 3-Point Estimates
1. You work with the team member assigned to the task and identify the positive and negative risks involved in that task. Positive risks are the things that could make it take less time and negative risks are the things that could make it take longer.
2. Then you ask the team member to make three estimates. The first estimate is a best guess (BG). It is the average amount of work the task might take if the team member performed it 100 times. The second estimate is the pessimistic (P) estimate. That is how much work the task would take if the identified negative factors occur. Last, you ask for an optimistic (O) estimate. That is how much work the task would take if the identified positive risks occur.
3. Next you do some simple mathematics with the three estimates. You calculate the mean and standard deviation applying the 3-point (PERT) estimating formulas to the estimates the team member gave you. (O + 4BG + P) ÷ 6 equals the weighted mean. P-O/6 is the standard deviation (used for calculating probabilities). The mean estimate is the one you use for the task. It reflects the amount of risk in the task and the severity of the impact of the optimistic and pessimistic risks.
Presenting the Results of 3-point Estimates to Stakeholders
This technique is new in many organizations and you need to explain it to the project’s sponsor and stakeholders. Watch the following video to see a project manager develop and present 3-point estimates to the sponsor and some difficult stakeholders.
You can learn these techniques for PERT or 3-point estimating in our online project management courses. You’ll work privately and individually with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.
It takes a lot of work to make a project disaster as bad as this one. Our 4PM.com cast members show you how in a Project disasters comedy video about how to screw up a project.
The PMs and team members are preparing their failed project for a big project status meeting. You’ll see micro-managing PMs frantically hiding problems and berating team members for finishing early. Other team members point fingers at each other while sleazy executives maneuver for their political advantage. Whacked-out IT staff members use a million phony excuses about why the system is late. While the Human Resources people back-stab the Sales people to avoid blame for a pointless employee survey. You’ll see all the things NOT to do on a project.
You’ll also see how the PM deals with the inept executive sponsor of the project, Mr. Lonegan. He starts more projects than the organization can possibly finish. His projects never have a clearly defined scope so the project managers and team members have to guess about what they think Mr. Morgan wants the project to deliver. Because the project managers are not sure what Mr. Lonegan wants, they make very vague assignments to their team members. That way they can’t be blamed but the team member can.
The final icing on Mr. Lonegans’s disastrous cake is the red hot anger he directs toward any project manager or team member who admits to being late. Mr. Lonigan probably convinces himself that he is a dynamic leader with very high standards. In truth, Mr. Lonegan is a complete failure as a project sponsor. And he drags down and rest of the organization with him.
These characters may remind you of some of the people on your projects and the interpersonal challenges they give you. If you remember characters or situations from your experience, share them with others in the blog.
If you have outrageous examples of how to screw up a project, send them to us in a comment and we’ll try to work them into the next episode of 537 Ways to Screw Up a Project.
Every project manager learns the Project Management Foundations on their first project. These foundations give them the skills they will use on every project they manage. Our video is about a brand-new project manager starting her first project with an executive who doesn’t know how to correctly sponsor the project. In fact this executive, Mr. Cordalon, has the worst project track record in the entire organization. Our novice project manager has no idea how to handle him. But fortunately she gets advice from two senior project managers in the project office. They have dealt with Mr. Cordalon on several projects and they know how to handle him.
Project Management Foundations – The Scope and Deliverables
Mr. Cordalon tries to wiggle out of providing the project scope. He gives the new project manager nothing but the project’s completion date and its acronym. Armed with the advice of the two experienced project managers, the new project manager goes back to him and asks the right questions to properly define the project scope. In the next step, the rookie leads Mr. Cordalon through the process of defining the project’s high level deliverables, constraints and risks.
Project Management Foundations – Identify Stakeholders and Requirements
The project moves on to more of the Project Management Foundations which include identifying the stakeholders and gathering their requirements. Mr. Cordalon wants to keep the project a secret so there’s no interference from other departments. Guided by her two behind-the-scenes advisers, the new project manager persuades process as a new project manager learns the Project Management Foundations of her professionhim that there is value in identifying and actively managing the project stakeholders. The new project manager successfully gathers requirements from the users and stakeholders. The project pros teach her how to evaluate requirements in terms of whether they are necessary to deliver the project scope.
Project Management Foundations – WBS and Estimates
In the rest of the movie, the new project manager assembles her project team. She has them participate in the formulation of the work breakdown structure (WBS) and leads them through the process of estimating the duration of their tasks.
In summary, the video takes you step-by-step through the
Project managers, especially those who manage medium and large size projects, must understand how their project fits into the business strategy of the sponsoring executive and the organization. To do a good job of planning and managing a new project, the project manager can’t focus on just the technical issues of plans, schedules, budgets and change orders.
What is the Business Strategy?
Many organizations don’t publicize their business strategy. Don’t be confused between a business strategy and a mission statement. The mission statement is what an organization prints on every envelope and box that leaves their premises. It is public relations babble. Also don’t assume that every organization has a business strategy. They may not have anything better than target rates of profitability and sales growth for the coming year. Those are certainly good goals that state a valuable financial market position but they are not a business strategy.
An organization’s business strategy is a position that takes advantage of their unique strengths. Let’s say they provide home cleaning services and have a unique competitive advantage with a low-cost labor force. Then a business strategy of becoming the low-cost provider of home cleaning services might fit. The business strategy results from an analysis of the market in which the organization operates or wants to operate. It includes an analysis of the competition they face and any opportunities that exist. After careful data-gathering and study, the organization may decide that the best competitive position is for them to be the low-cost home cleaning service in their market. With that competitive position selected, they would align their internal goals and projects to achieve that strategic goal. In other words, they concentrate their resources and energies on achieving their desired market position. That alignment and resource allocation might mean they terminate their high-priced luxury home cleaning services. They are inconsistent with being the low-cost provider.
Business Strategy Components
A business strategy has several components. First is establishing a targeted competitive position. Second is aligning the company’s resources and efforts to reach that position. Third is planning projects with specific goals for the coming year(s) that will help them reach the target competitive position. This strategy also includes deciding what projects or initiatives not to do.
Let’s go back to our example. Why did the organization pick being the low-cost producer? It may have been the fact that no one else was focused on that competitive position. All the other competitors were focusing on trying to offer high-end services. On the other hand, it may have been as simple as a preference by the senior executive. Whatever the reason and rationale, if the strategy is for the organization to be the low-cost home cleaning service in their market area, all of their project efforts and goals should be aligned with achieving it.
This information is often closely guarded because the executives may not want to alert the competition to their plan for future success. Some competitors might eventually find out but the information is not widely publicized in the initial stages of implementing a new strategy. The organization wants their competitors to discover their new position after they have successfully positioned themselves as the low-cost provider of home cleaning services.
Why Must a Project Manager Know the Organization’s Business Strategy?
The obvious answer to that question is that understanding the organization’s business strategy and the initiatives aimed at achieving that market position prevents us, as project managers, from making stupid mistakes. Actually, they are honest mistakes that result from not knowing the competitive market position goal. To achieve success, we must ensure that our projects are aligned with the organization’s business strategy. In our example, projects to design high-end home cleaning services would obviously not be aligned with the business strategy. How do we avoid being out of alignment? We ask questions about how our project(s) support the corporate strategy. Hopefully an executive will give us some insight into what the business strategy actually is and what competitive position the organization wants to occupy in the future.
All of this assumes the organization has invested in the thought process required to identify an optimal market position and then aligned it’s projects and resources to reach that position. If this did not happen and there is no corporate business strategy for gaining a competitive market position, the project manager is stuck trying to convince stakeholders of the value of the project based on its own merits. This position is much less effective than aligning a new project with the organization’s business strategy.
Passing the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) exam the first time and earning the CAPM® credential, requires you to pass a rigorous 3-hour exam from the Project Management Institute (PMI)®. You have to answer questions about the project management processes, definitions of the inputs, outputs, tools and techniques and the basic mathematical formulas used in project management. You must also know how to correctly answer the tricky multiple-choice exam questions. Earning the CAPM credential is a great way to launch your project management career. CAPM Certification
Busy professionals want to pass the CAPM exam with as few hours of study as possible. No one wants to go through the rigorous preparation for a second time. So how does a young professional pass the CAPM exam the first time?
CAPM Exam – Pass The First Time: Step 1
First, don’t sign up for a class where you have to study with 15 to 30 other people. That a waste of your time because there’s a low probability of passing the first time. These courses are one-size-fits-all but not everyone comes to the class with the same level of education or experience. Unfortunately the class has to move with the pace of the least qualified person or the instructor who has X weeks to finish the class.
CAPM Exam – Pass The First Time: Step 2
The key to success is individual training with a certified project manager as your coach and mentor. (Yes, it is more expensive than sitting in a class with 30 people.) When you take our CAPM Exam Prep course, you prepare for the CAPM exam with your personal mentor. you will cover all the CAPM material at your pace and as your schedule permits. The two of you will focus on those areas where your knowledge is weak and move quickly through the areas where your knowledge is strong.
95% of our CAPM Exam Prep students pass the first time. That’s because our materials are tailored to their individual learning style. If you’re a visual learner, we will provide written materials for you. If you learn best from flowcharts and dot point lists, that’s what we will provide. If you remember stories or videos about the right way to manage a project, we have those for you too. You learn much more efficiently and will be able to answer the CAPM exam questions accurately when you study with a personal instructor who tailors the course to your learning style.
The sample lecture is from our Certified Associate Project Manager (CAPM) Exam Prep course. It focuses on estimating the resources you need for a task. It covers the tools and techniques project managers use to develop accurate estimates and how they use the estimates to develop an accurate project schedule.
Project Stakeholders are anyone who is impacted by the project. That includes managers and executives, users, contractors, vendors and team members. Watch this “project manager in action” video about influencing project stakeholders. It’s followed by a discussion of the best techniques for influencing the stakeholders and gaining their support for your project. Project Stakeholders Main Page
Too many project managers think they don’t have to be persuasive. They think all they have to do is talk about the technical details and impress people with their knowledge. Unfortunately that never works. Those project managers are forced to manage projects without active support from the management or executive ranks.
Influencing Project Stakeholders: Active Listening
What good project managers do is actively listen to the managers and executives who are stakeholders in their project. Executives like to talk and successful project managers encourage them to do so. You need to pay close attention to what the executives are saying and ask questions. In these conversations you hear about the performance pressures the executives face. Once you find out about those pressures, you can try to address them in the project and you’ll gain an active supporter.
Project managers who have trouble listening must learn to keep their mouth shut as the executives describe what they want. That’s far more effective than discussing technology details which the executives don’t understand and have no interest in learning. Use the techniques discussed in the video and document them in your stakeholder register so you can easily recall each executive’s issues. Then you’ll know what to talk about the next time you’re in a meeting with them.
Influencing Project Stakeholders: Why You Need Them
You need the stakeholders’ participation to define the project’s requirements and deliverables. From the very first project stages, you need to gain the support of the managers who will lend people from their departments as project team members. They will not commit their resources to a project if they don’t think it will benefit their department. You’ll also need to influence project stakeholders when you need them to approve your plans for managing the project’s risks and change requests.
You can learn proven techniques for managing and influencing project stakeholders in our online project management courses. You’ll work privately and individually with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.
Knowing how to create a Project Management Plan is tricky. The size of the project is not important. People mistakenly think that longer project plans are better than shorter ones. They think the plan’s word count reflects the amount of thinking that’s gone into the document. The opposite is usually true. In our 25+ years of managing projects, we’ve found that the more words in the project plan the less thinking has gone into it.
Here we’ll discuss what a good Project Management Plan should have in it and we’ll provide you with the tools to create one. If you have project managers reporting to you, we’ll give you information to let the PMs know what you want from their Project Management Plans. All the plans should follow the same general structure. Each project manager can make adjustments to their plan based on the scale and scope of their project(s). Project Planning Main Page
Here is a video that shows you how NOT to start a Project Management Plan.
The Project Management Plan doesn’t have to be a long document but it must cover some very important elements. The vital elements are the deliverables the project will produce and how they will be measured. The first step is the hard part. Easier elements of the project plan are the schedule, budget, risk analysis, quality control, resource requirements and product metrics and specifications.
Project Management Plan: Elements
The sections of the Project Management Plan must detail how much project management the PM is going to do in each of the major areas. In the first section, the project manager must detail how he/she is going to manage the scope definition and scope change processes. The project manager lays out the process of defining the scope. That includes who will be involved, what techniques they will use and how long the process should take. They also define the procedure for making changes to the scope. This is one or two sentences about who will have the authority to approve changes and what documentation is required.
The project manager should also have plans for the project schedule, budget, risks, quality control, rsources and procurement management. In each of those areas, he/she should identify who is going to do these activities and what techniques they will use. The Project Management Plan may specify that the PM is not going to do any quality control or risk management because of the unique requirements or limitations of this particular project. That’s okay. There’s no sense in overburdening small projects with too many project management processes. A key element of the Project Management Plan is deciding what you’re not going to do.
The project sponsor should review these elements of the Project Management Plan to ensure that adequate controls are in place. They should include information on the frequency and level of detail in project status reports. They may decide that different groups of stakeholders need different kinds of information about the project. The sponsor may also want weekly data rather than monthly and the Project Management Plan will list all of these decisions.
Project Management Plan: Project Sponsor and Project Manager Time Investment
Project management planning begins during the initiation process. This is where the project plan is developed and approved. In general, the project management planning effort should consume 90% of the time the project sponsor invests in the project.
Project management planning should also consume about 60% of the time the project manager is going to invest in the project. That way, they can invest sufficient thought about the entire project, anticipate problems, and think through alternative ways of doing the project. Project Management Plan best practices call for a very detailed planning effort followed by execution. The project execution process should require a small amount of adjustment and adaptation. A thorough project planning process allows the PM to efficiently produce the project deliverables.
The Project Management Plan document itself can be as brief as one side of one piece of paper for a small project as long as it identifies the major deliverables, the most significant risks and provides rough estimates of the required resources’ cost and hours. In larger projects, the plan could be quite large. The most common mistake in project management planning comes when the project sponsor sees the plan as a waste of time and wants to start work as quickly as possible. The sponsor brushes off objections from the project manager with the novel idea of “planning as we go.” Starting project work without a plan is not the way to produce the needed project deliverables as quickly as possible. This approach causes a great deal of wasted time and effort. People produce the wrong deliverables and waste considerable amounts of time. They’re trying to figure out what they should be doing and how all the pieces should come together. Even in emergencies, starting work without a plan is a dumb thing to do. You will always finish earlier and produce better results with a thoroughly thought out Project Management Plan.
Project Management Plan: Steps
Follow these six steps to project management success:
Project manager and sponsor define the project scope. It is a clear, objectively measurable deliverable.
Project manager and sponsor decompose (break down) the scope into 4 to 7 major deliverables that are required to deliver the scope.
Project manager and stakeholders further subdivide the major deliverables down to the level of individual assignments for team members. Each of these is also a deliverable, not an activity. The lowest level of deliverables is the work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS is the basis for scheduling and other project management activities.
Project manager and team members estimate the amount of work and duration that each task in the WBS will require. The team members should participate in these estimates so they have some “skin in the game” and commitment to their assignments.
Project manager tracks actual results versus the plan. He/she reports variances and corrective action options to the project sponsor.
As the project team produces each deliverable, the sponsor and stakeholders formally accept it. The project is over when the sponsor accepts the team’s last deliverable.
Learn how to create a Project Management Plan in our online Project Management Basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.
A Project From Hell always begins with bad project planning tools. Watch as a project manager uses fairly typical, but poor, planning tools and estimating techniques to develop the hours and due dates for the project team. Then you’ll see private interviews with each of the team members and hear their reaction to the project manager’s planning techniques. They clearly reveal their lack of commitment to their tasks and the entire project.
The project sponsor is demanding an “on time finish” for the project and really tight control. The project manager thinks tight control means an extremely detailed plan broken down into small tasks for each team member. So he launches into the planning process with this mind set. The plan and schedule list hundreds of small tasks and he thinks that gives him tight control.
Listen to the project team talk about the planning process and the kind of assignments they’ve been given. We soon understand that the project manager is not going to have tight control. Instead, he’ll be working with demoralized team members who fully expect the project to fail. And they’re right because the project manager is unable to make a proper plan aimed at producing the project’s scope. All this project manager can do is list hundreds of micro-tasks for the team complete.
The project manager should have used a very different tactic. Instead of micromanaging the project team, the project manager should have planned crystal clear assignments. That means that each of the team members understood what they had to deliver and what the project manager expected of them. The project manager also needed to tap into each team member’s creativity by making assignments that are as large as they could handle. With this approach, the team members would be challenged and committed to completing their assignment. And they would use all their creativity and experience to deliver their assignments on time.