Project Estimation Sponsor Games

Dick Billows, PMPProject Estimation Sponsor Games are played by ineffective sponsors who use intimidation and manipulation avoid being held responsible for project results. These sponsors don’t play the sponsor role effectively by clearly detailing the project scope and the deliverables they want.  Instead, the dodge all commitment and seek to set up the project manager and team to take the fall is the project fails.  So as you start a new project you need to know how to play the game to avoid being set up any and executive who plays project estimation sponsor games.

Project estimation sponsor games tactics

These sponsors add games and high-pressure tactics to the estimating process. These sponsors say things like,

  • “Any competent project manager should be able to give me a precise estimate at the beginning of a project.”
  • “I can’t make any decisions if you cannot give me a firm commitment to be done by December 15.  I mean I spent an hour with you telling you what I want. Why can’t you commit?”
  • “These numbers are padded with at least 25% fat.  What are you looking to take a vacation to the last month the project? Cut these numbers down to something that’s realistic, I don’t care how hard you and the team have to work.”

Games the Sponsor Plays

New project managers or PMs who haven’t encountered a sponsor who plays games can get sucked into this manipulation. Particularly naïve project managers may actually think they sponsor knows what he’s talking about.

From talking and working with dozens of these sponsors from hell, they have one operating principle. They think fear will drive the project manager and team to work themselves to death to finish the project early and under budget.  They think coercing a commitment to a completion date will motivate people to drop other things, including their personal lives, to meet that commitment.

What actually happens most often is that the project manager and the team quickly realize that the sponsor’s numbers are unachievable. Rather than working themselves to death, they put the sponsor from hell’s project on the back burner and work on projects that have a better chance of success. In fact, these intimidating sponsors from hell usually have the highest project failure rate in the organization. Project managers and team members go to great lengths to avoid assignment to the projects of the sponsors because failure is almost certain.

How to play the Project Estimation Sponsor Games

No matter how much effort you spend to get assigned to the right projects, you’ll get stuck working for a sponsor from hell some time in your career. You need to know how to play the game and remember you’re always polite and respectful when talking to senior management

  • First, you need to recognize that no organization has ever fired a project manager for refusing to commit to a completion date or budget for a project.
  • Second, you cannot count on the professional integrity of the sponsors from hell. Accordingly, every mention of completion dates or estimates should be in writing. Never communicate estimating data verbally or over the phone. It’s also wise to put a copy of all the estimating correspondence into the project work file.  Let the sponsor know you’re doing that with a cc to the project file.
  • Third, you never give an estimate that is just a point value you always give a range. In other words, you never say, we’ll be done by June 15.” What you say is I’m 80% certain will be done between June 12 in June 23. Budget estimates are likewise ask expressed as a range. ”I estimate that the project will cost between $15 and $18,000. “

If you follow the rules, you give yourself a defense against the sponsor from hell misrepresenting what you said or telling others that you made commitments when it’s not true.

Importance of Status Reports

As you are identifying stakeholders who are affected by your project for this sponsor, it’s always a good idea to get them to agree to receive your weekly status reports. You don’t want to take a lot of their time but you want people to see what’s happening on the project. Often sponsors from hell restrict the number of people who receive status data or they take over the status reporting job. When this sponsor starts talking about those things, the alarm bell should go off in your head. It’s very valuable to have a list of managers and executives who have asked for status data and you should give it to them every week.

While your status report should be short and concise they should also have a forecast every week of the completion date and estimated budget (both expressed as ranges). That way you have a reasonably good defense against accusations that variances have come as a surprise to the sponsor from hell. It’s great to have a series of status reports that identify variances and also have other people who have received them. That  can protect you from Project Estimation Sponsor Games.

Project Estimation Sponsor Games Summary

You may go through your entire project manager career and never encounter sponsor like the ones I’ve mentioned. Just tuck this article in the back of your project management toolkit and keep these defensive measures in mind if you do encounter a project sponsor who likes to play games and intimidate project managers. Courses in your specialty.

Program Manager – Multiple Projects

program management
Dick Billows, PMP

Program managers are responsible for the performance of several projects, their project managers and the human and financial resources the program consumes. They are also accountable for the benefits, the business value, the projects produce. Program management is focused on allocating resources to the various projects in the program to maximize the overall business value.  As well, the program manager must meet the often conflicting needs and requirements of the stakeholders of those projects. Program management  uses the tools and techniques of project and portfolio management but must also deal with complex interpersonal relationships.  The program manager deals with senior management as well as lower management levels. Controlling the expectations of these manages and securing their support for projects is the heart of the job. The large number of stakeholders affected by the projects in the program consume much of the program managers time.

Becoming a program manager is the next step up for experienced senior project managers. Program management includes the skill to managing multiple projects with related outcomes that the organization bundles into a program. The program manager usually has project managers as subordinates, each of them managing one of the component projects in a larger program. Many program managers manage several programs at a time. They may even manage all of the projects and programs in an organization. Project Management Careers Main Page

Program Manager: Interpersonal Skills

The program manager must have very strong interpersonal skills because they interact with the organization’s executives. They must persuade and influence the executives in order to maximize the yield on each of the organization’s projects and programs. There are always executive conflicts about project and program priorities and the program manager must be able to address those issues and build consensus for a solution. Therprogram managemente are also weekly conflicts about the prioritization of projects as new projects are added to the organization’s portfolio. The program manager needs to build consensus on those priorities so that resources can be allocated based on the organization’s priorities.

Program Manager: Technical Skills

Second, the program manager needs to possess the technical skills to allocate resources across all of the organization’s projects and track the status for each of them. The program manager needs to be able to assemble status data and analyze variances with techniques like earned value management to be able to present executives with accurate and timely status data so they can make decisions.

Program Manager: Subordinate Development Skills

Third, the program manager must be able to teach the subordinate project managers a consistent methodology for doing their projects. This means all projects are managed with the same techniques and tools.

Program Manager: Summary

The highest level of certification in the project management area is the program manager certification. There are some important skill sets that you need to add to your project management toolkit to manage multiple projects, either in a large program or a portfolio. Those skills include software techniques to consolidate all the projects, track resource utilization, and ensure people are working on the right assignments at all times. Even more challenging for program managers is the skilled to deal with a group of executives, manage their expectations and persuade them to follow the best practices in project management. The interpersonal, communication and presentation skills at the program manager level require training and practice.

We offer a Program Manager Certification that teaches all of these skills. It’s a two course online program for experienced project managers that is approximately 120 hours of work with individual coaching from an expert program manager. One course is devoted to program management and methodology skills. The other course focuses on interpersonal, professional communication and presentation skills. You give live online presentations to your instructor and practice persuading and influencing executives. You help them reach agreement on issues like program priorities and resource allocations. Courses in your specialty

Project Plan in 5 Steps

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

You can produce an excellent project plan that can fit on one side of one piece of paper and take less than an hour to create. It will be suitable for 90% of the projects that most organization do. The key to making this work is for you and the project sponsor to play your roles properly. The project sponsor (that’s the boss, executive or customer who wants the project done) has to define the business result that the project must produce. That business result is the scope of the project and it has to be a metric. The scope must have acceptance criteria that define success in objective, measurable terms. If the sponsor prefers to “plan as we go,” and “stay flexible so we can adjust,” they are not fulfilling their role on the project. It would be foolish to start work on the project without knowing where you need to be at the end.   Main Project Planning Page

Your role as the project manager is to get the sponsor to tell you the acceptance criteria-type of scope definition. Then you and the sponsor break the scope down into the major deliverables the project has to produce. These deliverables the stepping stones for how the project will move from where it is now to the end result the sponsor defined. You are not doing your job if you start work before you have a clearly defined scope with major deliverables. Let’s look at the steps you need to follow.

Project Plan Step 1 – Defining the Scope

Defining the scope involves gaining agreement on the metric that the sponsor (the boss, executive or customer) will use to measure the end result of the project. Project planSponsor who have a successful track record for initiating projects know that you (the project manager) need a clear definition of the project scope that includes a success metric. If the sponsor doesn’t know how to play his or her role, anonymously send them a link to this article. You don’t want your project to fail because the sponsor has a failing record on their projects.

Once you have that success metric, you can create the project plans and schedules rather easily. The difficulty comes when people try to skip this first step or when the sponsor doesn’t know how (or is unwilling) to define the project’s success. Without that scope metric, the rest of the project pieces are useless. Here’s an example of a small project to illustrate how this is done.

A project manager gets a phone call from a project sponsor who says, “I’d like you to run a project for me to deal with our problems getting office supplies out of the warehouse.”

The project manager goes to the sponsor’s office and during the discussion, asks open-ended questions aimed at defining the scope. It’s very possible that the sponsor has started the conversation about the project without having a clear picture of the end result they want. The project manager has to ask questions which help the sponsor define the project’s end result. The project manager asks how performance of the warehouse will be different after the project is complete. The sponsor says, “We can’t run out of supplies so often; we have to reduce the number of these stock-outs. And it shouldn’t take people as long to find what they need.” The project manager should follow up with questions like, “How often do we run out of supplies now?  What’s an acceptable number of stock-outs each month?” The project manager might also ask, “How long does it currently take to find supply items and how long should it take?”

That’s a good example of the project manager asking polite and respectful questions in an attempt to get the sponsor to be specific about the project’s scope. Let’s say the sponsor says people should be able to find the supply they want in less than 120 seconds 90% of the time. That is a crystal clear metric or acceptance criteria for the project scope.

Project Plan Step 2 – Breaking Down the Scope into Major Deliverables

With the scope defined as a metric which the warehouse project must produce, the project manager will work with the sponsor to break that scope into 4 to 7 major, high-level deliverables. They will lead from where the warehouse performance is now to the end result the sponsor wants. The PM may talk to people in the warehouse to find out why it to take so long for people to find the supplies they need. The PM may also ask the warehouse staff for their ideas about how to reduce the time needed to get a supply. The project manager may come back to the sponsor with some suggestions based on this fact-finding process. They may suggest the following high-level deliverables:
1. Increase the lighting in the warehouse to an average of 65 lumens
2. Track the location of all supply items with 95% accuracy on a commercial PC inventory system. The system cost should not exceed $500.
3. Discard any supply items in the inventory that have not been used in the last four years.
4. Redesign the inventory layout so the most frequently utilized supplies can be retrieved in less than 30 seconds.
5. Distribute new procedures for using the supply warehouse to all employees.

Each of those high-level deliverables has an acceptance criteria that can be objectively measured. The project manager reviews the deliverables with the project sponsor. The sponsor may change or adjust any of the deliverable’s metrics to fit his/her assessment of the situation. When the sponsor signs off on the scope and the high-level deliverables that will lead to it, the project manager has a strong start on the project plan and can move on to the planning details. The key point here is that the sponsor and project manager worked top-down; starting from the end result down to the contributing deliverables that will help them get there.

Project Plan Step 3 – Breaking Down the Major Deliverables

The next step is for the project manager to continue to break down those major deliverables into smaller deliverables. The lowest level of deliverables should be suitable for assigning to an individual. These assignments should also be measured deliverables so the team members know what is expected of them (what they must produce) before they start work. These deliverables will become tasks in the work breakdown structure (WBS).  They are also the basis for estimating the amount of work, cost and duration of each deliverable.

Project Plan Step 4 – Estimating

Once this breakdown into smaller deliverables is complete, the project manager has an assignment for each team member. The next step is to meet with the people accountable for producing each of those deliverables. Each of the tasks (the lowest level deliverables in the work breakdown structure) will have an estimate of the amount of work and  the duration. The project manager engages the team members in this estimation process. Involving each team member in this part of the process produces more accurate estimates. The team members also become more committed to producing their deliverables in the estimated amount of time. The PM will enter this data into project management software to create the schedule and budget. Using project management software saves project managers a great deal of time. Software options include Microsoft Project and several low cost or free scheduling applications that are available on the web. Any of those are suitable, especially for a small project.The project manager  will track each task’s actual work and duration against the plan.

Project Plan Step 5 – Final Approval By the Sponsor

The last step in developing the project plan is to secure the sponsor’s final approval on the project scope, major deliverables, budget and the planned duration of the work. With that approval, the project plan is finished and the project manager can begin work.

At the beginning of your course, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

Project Management Methodology: Repeat Successes Not Failures

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

It’s important for project managers to understand the Project Management Methodology in their organizations. Here are the five stages organizations go through as their project methodology evolves and reaches project management maturity:

1. Ad-hoc projects
2. Increasing density
3. Resource overload
4. Initiation control
5. Consistent success  Project Methodology Main Page

Knowing how the project methodology stages evolve in an organization can help you be consistently successful with your projects. You can adjust your work efforts (or job hunting) to make the best of the situation.

Project Methodology Stage 1 – Ad hoc Projects

In this stage, there are only a few projects and project management is a relatively new way to get things done. Everyone on the project team reports to the same boss, who’s also the project sponsor. Projects aim at producing benefits within the unit or department. Successes are frequent because good weekly meetings that foster nurturing and commitment in the team are all that’s needed. Sure there are deadlines to meet and other work to do but the boss decides what’s most important for everyone on the team to work

The Weekly Team Meetings Go Like This

Project Manager: “We’ll go around the room so I can find out what everyone decided to do last week. I also want to get your ideas about things we should do on the ‘Paper-less Project’ this week.”

Team Member A: “I think we should add a training class about going paperless!”

Project Manager: “Great idea! Everyone will enjoy that and I think it will really help.”

Team Member B: “Can we also print up big colored posters that tell everyone to “Save a tree, do it on the PC?”

Project Manager: “Excellent! I’ll show the boss these ideas then we can go ahead. We’re a great team with good ideas. No wonder they want us to do another project after this one.”

The sheer enthusiasm people have for the rare opportunity to work on a project makes up for any project management sins. The scope of the project lets the PM work without many project management tools or techniques. People managing projects in this stage can’t understand why PM’s in other organizations have any problems at all. They don’t see any need to learn project management best practices. Organizations may stay in this first stage forever and enjoy high success rates as long as their projects don’t go beyond installing simHow project methodology evolvesple or “canned” solutions. But early successes and competitive pressures usually trigger more projects.  And some of the new projects span functional boundaries and aim for more significant business results. That’s when the organization’s methodology moves to the next stage.

Project Methodology Stage 2 – Increasing Density

As the organization moves into this stage, more managers and executives are initiating projects. The projects are reaching for more significant business results and they involve multiple decision-makers and stakeholders. Defining and controlling project scope becomes a challenge. Projects now include people from across functional or organizational lines. Many people are on several projects simultaneously. This creates conflict for people working on multiple projects. They must balance their project work and their “real” jobs.  Contention for resources also increases. The first line managers in particular are in demand on multiple projects. But they still have departments to manage.  Project managers face the challenge of leading larger teams whose members represent different organizations.  Cross-functional authority problems occur since the project managers don’t have skills in managing matrixed people. The ad-hoc project methodology is inadequate for projects with larger teams and scopes. Consequently, project failure rates rise.
The response to the increased project failure rate is micromanagement by executives and the PM’s. That style makes the projects much less rewarding for team members than in Stage 1.

The Weekly Team Meetings Go Like This

Project Manager: “Did the user sign off on the specifications yet?”

Team Member A: “Yeah, I’ve got 46 pages of them and I’ll be getting more specifications for the next two weeks. This has gotta stop – the requirements keep growing! I have no idea what this project is about and neither does the user.”

Project Manager: “What this project is about is finishing 90 days from now. We’ll figure out the rest as we go. I’ll give everyone new “to do” lists each week.”

Team Member B: “Bill and Marcy got pulled off to work on their boss’s #1 priority project . So I won’t be able to start my stuff until they come back. Can you revise the schedule to give us more time? I’m on six different projects.”

Project Manager: “Oh sure, that’s real likely. The VP ripped my head off last time I even mentioned being late. I’m sorry but you’ll just have to do the best you can. Remember this is a #1 priority project.”

Team Member B: “Yeah, everything’s a #1 priority.”

When the pain of project failures gets too bad, executives respond by training their project managers how to use better techniques. This has some limited benefit but the project managers face an executive group that still operates in the Stage 1 world. They start as many projects as they want whenever they wish. As failures continue, the response is to scale back the large cross-functional and strategic efforts. Decision makers try to dodge the inability to work across functional lines by appointing co-project managers from each functional unit to run projects. Their attempts to avoid authority, priority and resource allocation problems are unsuccessful and failure rates continue to rise. The newly learned project management techniques have little impact on success rates. Executives focus on due dates because they have no other objective control points in the project plans. The unaddressed issues of resource allocation and lack of prioritization cause team member workloads to rise beyond reasonable levels. Executives launch new projects of all sizes without any assessment of their business value or resource demands. The need for strategic, cross-functional results and the scale and density of projects continue to grow, leading us to Stage 3.

Project Methodology Stage 3 – Resource Overload

Here project failure rates climb. Often 70% fail to deliver the scope, on time and within budget. The Stage 3 organization launches so many projects that staffing requirements are three times the actual available resources. Blame avoidance is rampant. The organization begins to lose their best staff members who are tired of the failures, confusing assignments and 70-hour work weeks.

Organizations respond to the crisis by assembling “best practices” groups to try to bring some consistency to the project management process. The usual result is a paperwork nightmare of project and developmental controls with countless forms and reports. Compliance is low and cursory at best. They install subjective tracking and reporting systems, like the red, green and amber light systems. These are certain to fail since they provide very little information and encourage ridiculous optimism in reporting as people try to avoid blame.

The Weekly Team Meetings Go Like This

project methodologyProject Manager: “Is anyone in red light status?”

The project team members look at one another as they all deny being behind schedule. They remember the angry tirades from the project manager and executives the last time someone reported an overrun.

Project Manager: “I haven’t seen the documentation for task #167’s work.”

Team Member B: “Do you want me to write the code as well as the documentation? There’s no time in the schedule for me to do both.”

Project Manager: “Just put something down on paper. That’ll keep the standards committee off my back.”

Team Member B: “What a stupid waste of time! I’ve already got five other projects to work on and I’d like to get home before 10:00 p.m. at least once this week! ”

Project Manager: “Hey, I spend my nights doing variance reports and project narratives that some 9 to 5 pencil-pusher designed to show off his or her project management expertise. Just copy and paste from other projects. No one reads this stuff anyway.”

Organizations move out of Stage 3 only when the pain from recurring project failure becomes excruciating enough for senior management to give up their privilege of initiating unlimited projects.

Project Methodology Stage 4 – Initiation Control

This stage starts when executives realize that they must:

  • Control project initiation
  • Set priorities
  • Control people’s workloads and allocate their project hours based on project priority
  • Actively manage the project portfolio
  • Regularly rate each project in terms of its cost versus the business value produced.

Executives learn to manage within the resource limitations and accept the fact that everything can’t be a #1 priority. They implement a project methodology across the organization that minimizes paperwork and produces hard-edged data for quantified decision-making.

Micromanagement begins to fade as project managers hold team members accountable for clear and measured end results, not To Do activities. The PM’s think more about quantifying the end results they must produce. They also have the tools and techniques to anticipate problems and manage “out in front” of their teams. They don’t just focus on last week’s problems. Additionally, they can quantify the time, cost, risk and quality dimensions of their projects and present trade-off options to the decision-makers.

The Weekly Team Meetings Go Like This

Project Manager: “Well, our project has been dropped down one priority level to free resources for a new project. You’ve all gotten your new schedules and you’ll see that our project is now scheduled to finish 6 weeks later than the original baseline completion date. I’ll keep this meeting short. I just need to meet with Bill to work out a problem. The rest of you are in good shape so you can go.”

Bill: “You want to talk about the variance on task #224?”

Project Manager: “Yes, where did we go wrong on the estimate?

Bill “We got a little too optimistic on the time it would take to interface with that legacy system.”

Project Manager: “Okay, that happens. Can you give me 10 hours of overtime over the next two weeks? That will cut the overrun in half and I’ll add some other resources to the successor tasks to recover the rest of the slippage.”

Moving out of the crisis of Stage #3 is not easy. Organizations need high levels of compliance with a consistent protocol and controls. These give executives the data for assessing each project’s business value, setting priorities and managing resource allocations against those priorities.

Project Methodology Stage 5 – Consistent Success

The last tier of the project evolution comes when all levels of the organization use a consistent methodology and everyone knows their role. This includes a consistent and integrated method of processes and controls that are scaled so they’re appropriate for the size of each project. They measure and track quantified dimensions of each project and manage resources to maximize the business value each project produces. first meeting team

The Weekly Team Meetings Go Like This

Project Manager: “Marcy, thanks for stopping by. I want to discuss modifying your achievement and the work estimate on task #56. I need to develop some trade-off alternatives that will let us finish 30 days earlier. If we cut your response time achievement from “90% of inquiries handled in 60 seconds” to “60% of inquiries handled in 60 seconds,” how much can we lower the work estimate and duration?”

Marcy: “I’ll need to think about it but that would let me cut out 6 inquiry types so we might get a 30% reduction in the hours and duration.”

Project Manager: “Great. Can you give me a final commitment by the end of the day? One of my bosses wants to review the options tomorrow.”

Moving to Stage #5 is difficult. Organizations need to shed the restrictions of the rigid management hierarchy. They also need to initiate techniques that require project decisions and problem-solving to be based on hard data and measured business value for the organization. For IT departments and consulting firms, this methodology is the foundation for strategic partnerships with users and clients that are based on business value.

Learn more about our project management methodology.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

Project Team Assignments – Deliverables Not "To Do’s"

The best project team assignments tell each team member exactly what end result you expect and how you will measure their performance against it. Too many project managers do a poor job of making project team assignments because they don’t define clear performance expectations. As a result, the project management team members don’t work as effectively as they could. And they often don’t deliver the results you want. The fault may be yours, not theirs. Project Teams Main Page

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

In my years of working with project managers to improve their results, my most common comment is, “The assignments you give your team members are not clear.”

The response I always get is, “I’m telling them exactly what to do.”

“And that’s the problem,” I reply. “You’re telling them what to do, often in great detail. But you’re not telling them what you want them to produce. Specifically, you’re not telling them what your acceptance criteria are for their assignment.”

Project Team Assignments: Bad Example

Here is an example of what I mean. Let’s say there is a project to straighten up the supply room. The project manager says to a team member, “Clean up the supply room. It’s a stinking mess with things that should be thrown away and things that should be stored somewhere else. I need that done by 5 o’clock today.” Now that’s an awful assignment. The project manager mentioned some things “to do” and the time when the work was to be done. But they did not state the deliverable’s acceptance criteria, the assignment’s measure of success.

Project Team Assignments: Good Example

Here is an example of a much better assignment. “The supply room is a mess. I would like to see all the supplies on the shelves, organized by part number. Nothing should be on the floor.  And anything that is not on the office supply list should be sent to Purchasing for them to do with it as they see fit.” That assignment makes the deliverable’s acceptance criteria, the measure of success, very clear. The person doing the work knows exactly what result they have to produce. As importantly, they’ll know if they have succeeded or failed before the project manager inspects the supply room.

The team member assignments from successful project managers are deliverables with acceptance criteria. They aren’t a list of “to do’s.” This is particularly true of PMs who are managing large project teams or multiple projects. Vague project team assignments cause more damage as the size of the project increases.

Project Team Assignments: Harm Caused by “To Do’s”

When project team members have to guess about what a “good job” is, their work is going to be less focused than it should be. When your team members are uncertain about your expectations, they naturally try to protect themselves by padding their estimates. They expect your unclear expectations to change and they need protection from blame. Successful project managers avoid this problem by making project team assignments with clear performance expectations.

project team assignmentsYou need to set the performance expectation for every assignment you give to team members. As work progresses and the team produces their deliverables, you compare what was actually produced to the original assignment. Your team members’ behavior and performance are always affected by what you “count” in making assignments and evaluating performance. If the only thing you count is how long the team member takes to complete their task, they will focus only on finishing on time. They’ll pay less attention to the quality and business value of their deliverable.

You should define each task by its business value, the quality metric and the hours of work for the task. That is what matters on every assignment and it’s what you want the team members to focus on. You need to count what matters.

You can enhance your PM skills and master the art of making good project team assignments in our online project management courses. You 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 courses in your specialty.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management


Project Sponsor Video – Getting a Bad Sponsor to Do His Job

In project management, the project sponsor’s role is critical. The most of the project sponsor’s work happens at the beginning of the project. Many failed projects are blamed on project managers and teams when in reality the failure was caused by the project sponsor’s shabby work at the beginning of the project.

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

Sponsor Video: Synopsis

This video is about a new project manager who is working for a project sponsor, Mr. Calderone, who is known for not doing the sponsor job correctly. Watch the new project manager go through all the steps of initiating the new project and battling with Mr. Calderone to get him to do his job correctly.

Project Foundations

Obviously Mr. Calderone outranks the new project manager so she must tread carefully. She seeks guidance from two experienced project managers regarding subtle ways to “guide” Mr. Calderone to do his job correctly. They start with the statement of work or SOW. Mr. Calderone tries to get away with a vague, mushy definition of the project scope. The project manager slowly convinces him that he has to make a commitment to exactly what he wants from the project. So the scope must be defined by measurable acceptance criteria. That lets the project manager tell every team member what’s expected from them and the project as a whole.

Next the project manager works with Mr. Calderone to define the major deliverables of the project. They sub-divide those into a second level of deliverables. With the guidance of the two experienced PMs, she creates a network of deliverables that is crystal-clear and measurable. After that, she gets Mr. Calderone to define and approve the charter for the project. Then she moves on to the project planning phase.

Sponsor Duties: Summary

The sponsor duties include setting the goal for the project, providing the funds to “pay” for it, and appointing the project manager. In addition, the sponsor approves the project management plan (how the PM will manage the project) and the project plan itself (the schedule, budget, risk management plan, quality plan, procurement plan, stakeholder management plan, etc.). So it is the sponsor’s job to approve every detail of how the project will be executed to reach the goal they set at the beginning of the project. The project manager is certainly involved in the development of every step, but the sponsor reviews and approves it before launch. During the project execution phase, the sponsor approves any changes to the original plans the sponsor approved during initiation. He or she also accepts every deliverable the project produces. At the end of the project, the sponsor accepts the final deliverable and the project is complete. Project Methodology Main Page

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

My First Project and The Lessons I Learned

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

I’d like to forget my first project and my blunders. Like most people I got started managing projects by having one dumped in my lap like a dead flounder. My boss said, “Pat really screwed up the supply room project! I want you to take over and fix it. Do whatever you have to and get this thing done by the end of June!” Although I made many blunders, as you’ll see below, the worst one was saying, “Okay, boss you got it!”

My First Project and Lesson #1: I Assumed the Boss Gave Me Some Authority

The boss did say “Do whatever you have to and get the project done by June 30.”  So It went to the next cubicle where Jack, a buddy of mine, worked. I knew he was on the supply room project because he’d been complaining about it for months.

I greeted him with, “Hey, Jack . The boss just dumped the supply room project in my lap. How you are doing on it?”

Jack put his hands up covering his face like a boxer doing the rope-a-dope and said, “I have nothing to do with the supply room project. I don’t know what’s going on with it but if I were you, I’d run as far from it as I could. Now please get out of my cubicle before someone sees me talking to you. Don’t forget what happened to Ralph, your predecessor on that project. He’s been demoted to the loading dock where he’s checking in shipments now.”

“You’re only kidding, right?” I asked.

Jack replied, “That project is the black plague. I’d call in sick for the next month if I were you.”

“Come on, Jack,” I chuckled nervously. “The two of us can straighten out that mess. Then we’ll be real heroes.”

Jack looked at me like I was insane and scurried out of his cubicle like a rodent.

Stunned, I left Jack’s cubicle and noticed I was already a marked man. Everyone in the department was looking at me, then turning away and whispering to their neighbors in frightened tones.  My first project wasn’t winning me any allies.

I was wrong to assume I had any authority. How was I supposed to get things done? Who was I supposed to assign work to? I decided to go to the boss’s office and find out who was on my project team and how I was to get them to do some of the work. At the moment, no one would speak to me.

I entered the boss’s office and he waved me in and pointed to a chair while finishing his phone conversation. When he hung up, I said “I’m a little unclear about the supply room project you assigned me. Who is working on it? Who is on my project team and what are we supposed to do?

The boss leaned back in his chair and said, “You’re supposed to clean up the supply room by June 30. What’s so hard about that?”  “Take anybody you want for the project team. Tell them I said you’re the boss of the supply room project and can pick your team. If they don’t like it, send them to see me!”

I gave the boss the thumbs-up signal and left his office. I saw Gloria, a colleague I had coffee with three times a week. Walking into her cubicle I said, “I’m managing this supply room project…”

Gloria interrupted, “You poor sap, and you have a wife and kids. There’s no way I’m getting on that Titanic of a project. I’ve got six weeks of work to do in the next month. If the boss wants to give all of it to somebody else, I’d be happy to join you. What is the point of that project anyway?”

I answered, “It’s real simple – we’re to clean up the supply room.”

“Really? Do you know how this project got started?” Gloria asked.

“No idea.”

The boss got blasted at the last executives’ retreat about the supply room always running out of stuff and wasting people’s time. It’s also wasting too much money by ordering the wrong stuff. His butt is on the line. So don’t think for a minute that you can go in there with your little whisk broom and clean up the supply room. You’ve got to put an inventory and ordering system in place and find out what office supplies people need to have in there. You’re never going to satisfy everybody. You’ll be down there with Ralph on the loading dock checking in shipments. The only difference will be everybody will hate you, where everyone thinks Ralph is just a loser.”

I went back to my cubicle realizing that I’d made another blunder.

My First Project and Lesson #2: I Didn’t Know the Project’s Goal

What a dope I had been to walk out of the boss’s office after he told me to clean up the supply room by June 30. I didn’t ask a single question about  what he meant by that but I had agreed to do it.

My thoughts were interrupted by an angry middle-aged man in a beautifully cut pinstripe suit barging into my cubicle. I vaguely recognized him from the last company meeting. He had been sitting up front on the dais. I smiled pleasantly and asked, “How may I help you?”

“First of all,” he said, “wipe that silly grin off your face. This is a damn disaster. I have got 50 people on the 12th floor out of work because the supply room can give them the PCs, computer cables, printers and software they need. Those people are the cutting edge of my marketing department’s big product launch for this year and you are killing us.”

I had trouble swallowing and then said, “Sir, I was assigned as project manager of the supply room project 30 minutes ago. I am not the manager of the supply room.”

The executive slouched down into my office chair and put his face in his hands. He said, “We are both screwed. The supply room supervisor and his whole staff quit this morning. I may been a little harsh with them. ”

I knew I’d regret saying anything but the words just came out of my mouth, “Sir, I prefer to get fired for doing something rather than just sitting here.  So let’s fix the problem. First, who in your marketing division can I talk to about what equipment they need? Second, I will order that stuff and have it delivered today, even though we’ll have to pay more for that kind of service. Will you authorize the expense? Third, can you light a fire under Human Resources to hire replacements for the supply room manager and staff?”

The executive thought for just a nano-second and said, “Yes. Linda Wellington on the 11th floor can tell you what equipment they need. On the supply room manager position, I’ve got a really sharp assistant who deserves an opportunity. Let’s let her be the manager.”

I nodded and he said, “Why are you still sitting here?

The saga of my first project will continue with more blunders and catastrophes.

I wish I had gotten some help from experienced project managers, like the woman in the following video. She was wise enough to ask for help as she started her first project.


You can learn the right way to begin a project in our project management basics courses. You’ll work individually with your instructor at your schedule and pace. Take a look at the course in your specialty.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

Dysfunctional Teams – Video

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

During the course of their career, every project manager has to deal with dysfunctional teams. The people on the team may be in that state as a result of bad experiences on previous projects. You may have inherited them when you took over a failing project. The dysfunctional team is unlikely to produce satisfactory project results. Leading Teams Main Page

Time is often wasted in turf battles between team members from different functional units. People also spend inordinate amounts of time trying to avoid blame for the project failure that they see coming down the road. Finger-pointing will also be rampant. All these behaviors destroy morale. Dysfunctional project teams can cause major overruns on a project’s duration and budget.

But there are techniques that project managers can use to salvage a dysfunctional project team and turn it into a high performing team.

Watch this video on how to deal with a dysfunctional project team.

How To Manage a Dysfunctional Team - Video

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

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management