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Dick Billows, PMP, GCA

Dick Billows, PMP, GCA

Dick has over 25 years of experience as a project manager and regional partner with the fourth largest international professional firm and a VP of a Fortune 500 company managing a portfolio of project across 14 states. He has managed projects and programs in all 50 states and a dozen foreign countries. Since starting 4PM.com, he has assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project results and trained hundreds of project managers.

Dick began his career in project management with an international consulting firm starting as a technical consultant and move up to project and then program management. He successfully managed performance improvement, cost reduction and systems development projects for clients across the United States and overseas for 12 years. He directed projects in the following industries: computer chips, aluminum extrusion, insurance, local and state government, food manufacturing, restaurant chains, international reservation systems, K-12 education, oil refining, law firms, hospitals, medical practices and construction contracting and sub-contracting in commercial, industrial and residential construction.  Dick’s system development projects include accounting systems, ERP, financial reporting, inventory control, scheduling, personnel management and claims processing.

He made partner at Grant Thornton International (the world’s fifth largest accounting and consulting firm) and later assumed responsibility for the entire regional portfolio of client consulting projects in the western United States. Im that role he was responsible for training and developing dozens of project managers who managed thousands of projects each year.

 

A Fortune 100 client hired me to manage a 14 state region with responsibility for a portfolio of new products, including new locations, advertising, marketing, research and development. MY division achieved over 40% growth in five consecutive years.

A team of project managers and I formed 4PM.com to provide project management training and consulting for PMs and clients around the world.

My current duties are implementing project methodologies for clients, training project managers and consulting with project sponsors and executives.

Dick teaches in-person seminars for corporate clients and also directs the 4PM.com project consulting practice, helping organizations manage strategic projects and implement 4PM’s Achievement-driven Project Management™ methodology in their organizations.

I hold an undergraduate degree in economics and statistics from Johns Hopkins University, an MBA from the University of Colorado and has done doctoral work in organizational behavior at the University of Colorado.

Dick is the author of 14 books and over 225 articles on project management. He has also written and directed over 50 short project management videos. In 1986, Dick formed 4PM.com where he and his fellow project managers assist organizations in improving their project management processes. They include: Siemens, Intel, Baker-Robbins, Citicorp, TCI, Kaiser Permanente, Sentry Safe, Reader’s Digest, Jones Intercable, US WEST, Norwest Bank and First Data Corporation as well as smaller organizations like Candy’s Tortilla Factory and Colorado Mountain Development. Dick has a BA in Economics and Statistics from Johns Hopkins University, an MBA from the University of Colorado and did three years of doctoral work in Organizational Behavior at the University of Colorado.

I have been managing projects for over 25 years and have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project results. Along the way, I have written 14 books, over 325 articles and directed 36 short videos on project management. I’ve managed projects all over the world as well as managing portfolios of projects and trained 1000’s of project managers. I am president of 4PM.com and directs the firm’s consulting, in-person seminars and web-based individual training programs for professionals.

 

Dick’s books include:

  • Project Manager’s KnowledgeBase, 10th edition 2012
  • Managing Information Technology Projects, 6th edition, 2010
  • Advanced Project Management Techniques, 4th edition, 2011
  • Construction Project Management, 5th edition, 2012
  • Essentials of Project Management, 11th edition, 2011
  • Managing Healthcare Projects, 3rd edition, 2009
  • Program and Portfolio Management, 9th edition, 2011
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What is Project Management and How To Do It

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

What is project management? It’s a process for producing a predefined result, called a deliverable, on time and within budget. A deliverable can be a highway, an office building, computer software, medical records system, a book, a full-length movie and many other things. A project has a specific start and finish date. It is not an on-going effort like managing the organization’s accounting department.

What is Project Management: Using Special Techniques

There are special techniques for managing projects and they start with creating a plan. The project plan is a document that details what the project is going to deliver (the scope). It is created by the person who wants the project done (the sponsor) and the person who will manage the effort (the project manager). It also defines what resources the project manager needs and how he/she will manage the people working on the project. The project manager meets with people affected by the project, called stakeholders, and learns what they require the project to produce. As the project manager breaks down the scope and requirements into smaller deliverables, they are developing a pyramid of clearly defined deliverables that lead from the smallest tasks up to the largest deliverables. At the top of the pyramid is the project scope. Good project managers focus on deliverables that are defined by metrics.  Here’s an example of a deliverable defined by a metric, “Design a payroll data entry screen with 25 data fields that allow payroll clerks to enter 65 payroll transaction per hour.”  A deliverable that is based on metrics has a number of very important benefits. First, when the project manager assigns deliverables to the project team members, they know exactly what is expected of them before they start work. They don’t have to guess or worry about failing on their assignment because the PM has defined what a good job is in measurable terms.  With that type of assignment, a team member can break it down more accurately and use their experience to plan their approach to their deliverable.

Second, using deliverables as the basis for the project lets the project manager and team members develop much more accurate estimates of the duration anWhat is a Project Managementd cost of each task. It also lets the PM determine how long the entire project will take and what it will cost. Another effective tool is the work package. The project manager should give each team member a work package which describes their deliverables and details the risks and other factors that will affect their assignment. Then PM and team member use that same work package to develop an estimate of the amount of work in their deliverable(s). This gives the team member something very much like a contract; it explains the expectations the team member must meet.

Third, managing a project that is built with deliverables gives the PM unambiguous checkpoints to measure how the project is doing versus the approved plan. Each deliverable has a crystal-clear and measurable definition of success so the project manager, sponsor and stakeholders don’t have to guess about the project’s progress. After the project plan is approved, the PM executes it by assigning work to the team members to ensure all the project deliverables get produced. As the team is working on their deliverables, the PM is monitoring their progress, controlling the project schedule, budget and scope and solving any problems. As part of this monitoring and controlling process, the project manager makes periodic status reports to the sponsor who initiated the project. During the executing phase, deliverables are reviewed and accepted as they are produced. The project stakeholders and sponsor examine what the team produced, compare it to the specifications and accept or reject the deliverables. The PM doesn’t wait until the end of the project for the stakeholders to review the deliverables. He/she does it as they are produced so they can identify and fix problems early.

Fourth, with measured deliverables as a basis for the project plan and schedule, the project manager can do a better job quantifying the impact of change requests. Using the example above, if the user wants to increase the number of fields on the payroll data entry screen from 25 to 30, the PM can use the metric along with project software and revised work estimates to quickly assess the impact of this change on the project budget and completion date.

After the last of the deliverables has been produced, the project manager closes the project by verifying with the sponsor that the project delivered what they wanted. The project manager will also archive all the data generated by the project so it can be used by other project managers in the future. That information will make it easier to plan similar projects.

What is Project Management: Leading and Managing People

In addition to these planning and workflow management techniques, the project manager also has to lead, motivate and manage the project team. And they must build support from other executives in the organization for the project. Last but not least, the project manager has to “manage” the project sponsor who very often will outrank the project manager by several levels. Managing the sponsor requires a great deal of subtlety and tact if the project manager is to ensure that the sponsor plays their important role in defining the scope and controlling the project.

To learn more about how to use these tools and techniques, consider our online project management courses. You begin whenever you wish and 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.

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

 

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Order of Magnitude Estimates: How to Calculate & Present Them

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

Order of Magnitude (OOM) Estimates are rough guesses made at the very beginning of the project. At this time not much is known about the project and everything can change as planning progresses. Order of magnitude estimates use historical project data with analogous mathematics. The numbers are calculated for the whole project, not for individual tasks or major deliverables.  They are usually expressed as a range, like “$150,000 – $200,00 cost and 125 – 160 days of duration.”  Executives dislike those ranges and immediately use only the lower (most optimistic) numbers.  But project managers should stick with the ranges in all their order of magnitude estimates because the range communicates the project’s uncertainty. Then they narrow the ranges as planning progresses and uncertainty declines.

Order of Magnitude Estimates: When To Use Them

Project managers use order of magnitude (OOM) estimates at the beginning of a project to give executives some data. During the initiation phase, executives need information about how much the project will cost and how long it will take. They use this data to decide if the project should go forward. They may also need to decide to integrate this project with other projects the organization is considering. This data is vital for decision-making purposes and cost-benefit decisions. Unfortunately, this is the time when the project manager knows the least about what the project will entail. He/she doesn’t know what deliverables have to be produced, or how much work those deliverables will require. They also have no idea how many team members will be available to do the work. So the project manager is in no position to provide precise estimates.

Order of magnitude estimatesThe absence of data, however, does not prevent executives from demanding precise figures on a new project’s time and cost. If we look at the initial estimating situation from their perspective, we can understand why. They must approve and become accountable for the expenditure of many hours of work and other organizational resources, including cash. From their perspective, it’s reasonable to require data about the new project’s business benefit and the amount of resources it will consume.

Unfortunately, many project managers fall victim to the executives’ pressure and give estimates that aren’t based on facts. Executives may say things like, “Use your project management experience to tell us how long this will take and what it will cost.  If you’re worth your salt as a project manager you ought to be able to tell us the duration and budget you’ll need.” This inevitably leads to blaming the project manager for finishing late and over budget.

Project management experience does not give you the ability to pull accurate initial estimates out of the sky. The one exception might be when you’re repeating the same project, like building new fast food stores in the same city. But when you don’t have data from similar completed projects, there is no way you can provide accurate data during the initiation phase.

Order of Magnitude Estimates: Better Than Commitments You Can’t Keep

Order of magnitude (OOM) estimates are the best tool for a project manager during the initiation phase.  With OOM estimates, the project manager is not providing a precise budget and completion date. He/she will be able to do that later on. Now the project manager provides data along with information about the degree of uncertainty of the estimates. Order of magnitude estimates take the form of a project manager saying, “I’m 80% certain that the cost will be between $50,000 and $100,000. I’m 70% certain that we can be finished between 100 and 150 days.”

We know that numbers like this will drive executives crazy. But accurate estimates are not possible. The best we can do at this point is give them an estimate that reflects the lack of information.  We do not give estimates with no factual basis. The only time we have 100% certainty of the cost or duration estimate is on the last day of the project. Project managers need to explain that the certainty of the estimates will improve as we proceed through detailed planning and execution. The estimates get more accurate as we learn more about the deliverables we have to produce, the amount of work it will take to produce them and the size of the project team available to do the work. Our estimates at initiation may have a range of -25 to +75%. As we begin detailed project planning that range narrows and when the plan is approved, we may have a range of uncertainty that is plus or – 15%. As execution of the project proceeds, the range of the estimates narrows all the way through closeout.

Order of Magnitude Estimates: How To Calculate Them

We’re going to express the order of magnitude estimates as a range to reflect the uncertainty. We usually use analogous estimating techniques to provide the raw data and then alter this historical data in two ways. First, we’ll adjust the historical data to reflect the differences between the current project we’re estimating and the completed project. We might gather people with known expertise and ask them to assess the differences in complexity, intensity and difficulty of the current project versus the historic one. They might come up with a 15% adjustment factor. This means the current project is 15% more difficult and will require that much additional time.

The second adjustment we would make is to apply our uncertainty percentages. As an example the -25% to +75% range we discussed above. So the numbers for the new DEF project versus the ABC historical project look like this:

Hours of Work

From the archives: ABC project actually took 10,400 hours of work

Adjustment factor: DEF project is +15% harder than ABC project

Estimate: DEF project requires 11,960 hours of work

Adjustment to reflect uncertainty:  -25 to +75 for DEF project

OOM: 8,970 to 20,930 hours of work range for DEF project

The project manager would present this information by saying something like this. “We’ve assembled our best experts and used actual data from the ABC project done two years ago. We asked our experts to look at the hours ABC took and reach consensus on the differences between the new DEF project and the ABC project. They concluded that the DEF project is 15% more difficult and would require that many more hours. Then I applied the uncertainty factors to reflect how little we know about the DEF project this early in the effort. The combination of those two data sources gives us the range of hours that you see above.”

When the executives complain about the lack of precision the project manager can say, “This is the best available information we have as of today. As we learn more during the planning effort, I will be able to provide you with increasingly precise numbers. But we will always be dealing with some uncertainty.”

When pressed by the executives for better data, the project manager can say, “I understand you want credible numbers. But at the present time I know so little about this project that trying to be more precise would be deceitful.”

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

 

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Parametric Estimating

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

Parametric estimating is one of the most accurate techniques for determining a project’s  duration and cost. Luckily, parametric estimating is fairly easy to implement. First, you define the specifications of each unit of the deliverable. Next you research published information, if available, about how many hours of work are required for each unit and the cost. For example, the units could be linear feet of wall surface to paint or customer interviews about their satisfaction with your company’s service. You can use these rates for estimating the duration and cost for the individual tasks/deliverables and the entire project.  Project Estimating Main Page

Parametric Estimating – Use Published Rates

Parametric estimating requires published rates. Let’s say you need to estimate the cost of building a high-rise office building. You might consult an estimating publication and find that the cost of building a six-story, pre-stressed concrete building with a luxurious finish for the offices, plus  many other specifications, would be $175 per square foot. You would select the appropriate rate and multiply it by the number of square feet of your building. That would give you the estimated cost.

You could also use parametric estimating if published rates were available to estimate the hours of work required to paint one of the offices. You would look up the specifications for an office with 12-foot ceilings. You might paint it with a latex paint after first putting down a primer. You would look up the rate in a published estimating book and find that each linear foot of wall in this office would require .25 hours of labor. If you had 2,000 linear feet, you would estimate the work at 500 hours (2,000 x .25 = 500). Parametric estimating is successful for often-repeated tasks, like building a six-story office building or painting office walls. Because these tasks are common and frequent, there is a lot of data available.  It is worthwhile for industry sources to compile and publish parametric estimating data.

parametric estimatingWhen compared to other estimating techniques, parametric estimates are more credible to executives than estimating techniques based on people’s judgments. Because the parametric rates come from sources published by large reputable organizations, the rates are seen as very reliable. The other half of the equation, the number of units you will produce, is also credible. You base the units on a planned count that you can compare to the actual count as you execute the project. The combination of these two features make parametric estimating seem to be rock solid.

Here’s another example. Let’s say you have 400 customer surveys to conduct and you will ask 35 yes/no questions during the interview. You find a published source that says the rate for a 30-40 yes/no question survey is 15 minutes per survey. Using this rate, you calculate the total work: 15 minutes x 400 = 600 minutes or 10 hours of work.

While parametric rates are readily available in the commercial and residential construction industries, that is not true everywhere. Parametric estimating is less successful with tasks that don’t produce tangible outputs. You can count the number of square feet in a building or the number of customer interviews you’re going to conduct. They are tangible. It’s much less accurate when you try to develop parametric rates for judgmental tasks with intangible outputs. For example, there may be rates for writing and editing pages for a financial report but these rates are much less accurate. Parametric rates are not available for projects in manufacturing, information systems, healthcare, marketing, human resource management and general operations. That’s because these projects are too varied to establish reliable rates.

Parametric Estimating – Do It Yourself

There is an option for projects where published parametric rates are not available. That option is to develop your own parametric rates. This is particularly important for tasks that are part of many of your projects. You have the database you need if your organization is doing a good job of archiving your projects’ planned and actual hours of work and costs. You can identify tasks that appear frequently in your organization’s projects.  What you are looking for are deliverables where the amount of work for each unit is relatively consistent. Writing computer code is not consistent because each line of code may require vastly different amounts of thought and creativity. But it may be possible to develop your own parametric rates for deliverables with tangible outputs. Customer service reps answering the top ten questions your customers ask has a relatively consistent amount of work per question. The unit cost of generating employee W-2 forms in your payroll system is usually consistent in terms of the sources of information each W-2 accesses. Writing a software manual where the units you count are the number of screen displays is another example.

Obviously, these homegrown parametric estimating databases are not going to cover all of the tasks in your projects. But they will cover some which saves you time and gives the estimates greater credibility. Remember that the key to developing those estimates is having historical data from completed projects. You must archive the information about how many hours of work various activities took and how many units they produced in those hours. When you use these homegrown parametric rates, you can significantly improve the accuracy and credibility of your cost and duration estimates with a relatively small time investment.

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

 

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Why Projects Fail

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

Many too organizations, projects fail and enterprise project management is a significant competitive weakness. These organizations are unable to deliver projects for their products or services on time or within budget.  The project managers, executives, sponsors and team members don’t know how to play their roles in the company project management process.  Additionally, their projects lack priorities, resources and clear definitions of what they must produce. Most organizations’ projects of all sizes deliver little business value, are often over budget and are often late. Poor company project management processes waste a lot of time and money. The organizations’ worst performance, however, is on their strategic initiatives. These projects have significant impact on the organization and its customers but they often have an 80%+ failure rate. Enterprise Project Management Main PageCompany Project Management

But that isn’t the end of the project failure symptoms in many organizations. There are so many projects underway that many first-line managers spend most of their work day on project assignments. The most productive and dedicated project team members work 60-70 hour weeks without an end in sight. These problems make organizations very vulnerable to competitive moves like competitors’ new products and services.

Company Project Management: The Portfolio of Projects

Let’s take a 10,000-foot view of the typical portfolio of projects in an organization. In the lower left-hand corner are the “puppy” projects. There are hundreds of these small projects and no one outside of the initiating department (and possibly IT or facilities) knows they exist. But when an organization installs effective project initiation processes, two-thirds of these puppy projects go away. They simply can’t meet the required business value justification.

In the upper left-hand corner are the “porpoise” projects. These are the smartest projects in the organization and they have a tight focus and lean staffing. The porpoise projects don’t cost very much and they yield solid payback. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t have any of these because the project managers and sponsors aren’t able to work together to meet the tight focus required for these projects.

In the upper right-hand corner are the “pachyderm” projects that are the organization’s strategic initiatives. These projects cost a lot of time and money and can yield significant business value. However, they often fail for a number of reasons. One reason is that they’re starved for resources. Another is that the project managers, sponsors, senior executives and team members don’t know how to play their project roles. These issues can lead to the slow descent of a strategic initiative into a failed project.

“Pig” projects in the lower right-hand corner don’t start out as efforts that waste a lot of resources and produce nothing. They can start as pachyderm projects but lose their focus and become pig projects. Pigs can also start as puppy projects that balloon out of control because of poor planning and a lack of scope control.

The company project management process requires regular fine-tuning of the portfolio of projects.

Company Project Management: People Don’t Know Their Roles 

Here is the common thread among organizations with problems in their company project management portfolio; people don’t know how to play their roles. Specific roles and responsibilities are necessary for projects to deliver business value on time and within budget.

Executives don’t know how to control the initiation of projects or how to set priorities for projects. Calling everything priority number one is not setting priorities. The executives have to agree on a company project management protocol for the organization. In 2 pages, it can spell out the rules for initiating, planning and tracking projects as well as the various roles people will play. They don’t have to do all the work in this protocol. They just oversee the process and use their authority to enforce the protocol.

The first step is that all new projects must be submitted with the project charter and data to justify the project. Projects that do not meet the criteria in the project protocol don’t get approved and work doesn’t start on them. Next, all approved projects are given a priority and that controls their claim to resources. High priority projects get the “first call” on resources and lower priority projects have to wait. This is much better than starting every project as soon as someone thinks of one and then waging a battle for resources. Allocating resources by priority allows everyone working on projects to have a calendar of what they have to get done, by when, for which project. That does wonders to cut the chaos and confusion in the lower ranks. It is a key element for a company project management system.

Project sponsors often don’t know how to define measurable acceptance criteria for the new projects they want to start. The company project management process requires clarity on how the company will measure the project’s success and what business value it will produce. Sponsors must learn how to define those criteria and create a statement of work  (SOW) to initiate a project. The statement of work is part of the project charter which the sponsor must submit for project approval. Next, project sponsors must learn how to review a project plan and make sure the plan meets the criteria laid out by the company project management protocol. And finally, sponsors play a lead role in approving any changes to the approved project plan.

Project managers often don’t know how to accurately estimate the work and duration of tasks. They also don’t know how to model different ways to deliver the scope. Sponsors need to be given those options so they can juggle trade-offs between the scope, cost and duration. Finally, project managers must be able to spot problems early. This requires accurate status data from the team. The project managers must be able to forecast completion dates and costs and propose solutions to problems.

Project team members often don’t know how to take part in the estimating process for their tasks. They must know how to report status accurately and provide “estimates to complete.” This data is the key to allowing the project manager to spot problems early so they can solve them when they are small. Team members also don’t know how to juggle multiple assignments because the project priorities are not clear.

When everyone knows how to play their role properly, according to the rules laid out in the company project management protocol, the organization has the foundation for fixing their project problems. Now let’s talk about the five steps to improving your organization’s project performance and developing your protocol.

Company Project Management: What Doesn’t Work 

Fixing the project performance mess is tricky and it can be painful. We have worked with over 300 small and medium-size organizations to address these company project management issues. And we have learned that senior management will make the required sacrifices to straighten out project failure only when they can’t tolerate the pain of those failures. However, there are no easy fixes.

You can’t fix the problem with expensive project software and servers, despite what the IT department recommends. Small and medium-size organizations can control up to 250 in-process projects on a PC with software that costs a couple hundred dollars. To do this, you need a high level of compliance with a new, leaner way of planning, scheduling and tracking projects.

You can’t fix this problem by sending a few project managers to training, despite what the trainers tell you. Everyone, including sponsors, project managers and team members, must be trained on how to play their company project management role.

You can’t fix this problem by tightly controlling only the big projects, despite what the consultants tell you. If you only make your company project management process changes for big projects, the puppy projects will run amok, leaving a mess on the corporate carpet.

Finally, you can’t fix this problem by having a few certified project managers or consultants create a paperwork jungle. Endless paperwork and needless meetings are the curse of project management.

The solution is installing a simple, straightforward company project management process that everyone follows. These processes save people time so they willingly follow them. Achieving a high level of compliance is the key to making these processes work better, not adding a lot of paperwork.

Company Project Management: A Five-Step Program That Fixes the Problem 

It is challenging to achieve consistent company project management success because you need to overcome a number of problems simultaneously. Successful programs to improve company project management performance in organizations include these five elements:

1. Executives exercise control over initiating new projects. That means all new projects, not just the big ones, must justify their business value. This will make sure that the resource investment is repaid by the benefits the project delivers.

2. The executives agree on and approve a company project management protocol that details the process and defines everyone’s role. Every organization needs its unique company project management protocol but this document should not exceed two pages. Once again, high compliance by executives and project managers is the key, not fancy processes and excessive paperwork.

3. Everyone gets trained on their role as it’s designed for your particular organization. In the training program, they also learn the data they’ll be getting from decision-making and the inputs they must give. The training must be focused on managing the kind of projects your organization does, not generic academic case studies. The curriculum and case studies must be tailored to the kind of projects you do and your organization’s unique culture. Otherwise, the program isn’t relevant.

4. We’re talking about making significant changes to people’s work habits, so ongoing support is a critical requirement. People need to have someone they can ask about what to do in unique situations. This is particularly true in the first few months of implementing the new protocol.

5. Finally, everyone needs to agree to the implementation plan. It will substantially reduce the number of puppy projects and require the re-planning of some ongoing projects as you clean out the pipeline of poorly conceived projects.

These steps work because they make everyone’s job on projects easier and because they free up a lot of resources from the poor payback projects that are cancelled. This allows people to work on the important projects.

Company Project Management Summary 

To improve your company project management success, people must learn how to play their project roles properly. The project managers, executives, project sponsors and team members often do not know what their role is. And they don’t have the tools and techniques to play it properly. The consequences are devastating. Executives don’t set priorities for projects or allocate resources based on those priorities. The priorities change every day, depending on who a team member talked to last. That causes chaos among the people working on projects.

Additionally, project sponsors don’t know how to define the scope of a project nor exercise the necessary control over changes to the scope. Many project managers don’t know how to use their project software tools to create options and alternatives for project sponsors to consider. They must be able to create those options during planning and every week when there is a problem and corrective action is needed. The project manager must produce a couple of options for sponsors to consider.

Finally, project team members very often don’t know how to estimate the work and duration in their tasks. They also don’t know how to report their progress and make estimates of the remaining work. Without that data on the estimate to complete, project managers and sponsors have difficulty identifying problems early, when they are small and easily solved.

The five step program we discussed addresses each of these issues and will improve your company project management.

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
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Project Plan for Small Projects: Fast Food Approach

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

Creating the Project Plan for a small project is difficult for many reasons.  One of them is that the boss wants you to start as soon as possible without “wasting” a lot of time with meetings and paperwork.  Also the boss usually doesn’t give small projects much thought before dumping them in your lap. You clearly see that this is a recipe for failure.

Good project managers know that for every minute you spend on your project plan you save 10 minutes during the execution of the actual project. The reason for that 10 to 1 payback is that a plan allows the team to focus on executing rather than deciding what they’re going to do next.  A project plan also communicates to everyone what you’re going to do and how you’re not going to do it.  So how do you deal with the boss and still get even a basic plan?

Project Plan: Drive-thru Window at “Projects Are Us” Fast Food

You can do your project plan like the order-taker at a fast food drive-thru window. The fast food approach to planning is focused on getting started quickly by finding out what you. Here’s an example of how to apply that approach to a new Supply Room Project the boss emailed you about. You’d go to his office and the conversation would go like this:

Project Manager: “Exactly what do you want me to deliver on the last day of the project?”

Boss: “I want you to clean up the file room!”

Project Manager: “That’s what you want me to do but what is the end result you want me to deliver?  What should I be able to show you at the end of the project?”

Boss: “I am too busy for games.  I want you to show me a clean file room!”

Project Manager: “What is your standard for a clean file room?”

Boss, irked: “Nothing on the floor and everything stacked neatly in part number order”

Project Manager: “I can deliver that.” But then you remember how the fast food folks at the drive-thru window always ask if they can supersize it. So you add, “Do you also want to make it easier to find supplies? Not everyone knows the numbers of the parts.”

Boss, smiling for the first time: “Good thinking. I get a lot of complaints about things being hard to find.  Let’s kill two birds with one stone.”

Project Manager: “Great. Give them to me and I will suggest some additional deliverables before I leave today!”

What did the project manager accomplish here?  First, he/she improved the chance of project success.  They would have been near zero if the project manager had just started work with a scope of “clean up the file room.” Second, the project manager enhanced their credibility by asking some good questions that earned the boss’s praise. The approach used here appeals to a lot of bosses who sponsor projects. Particularly the ones who often complain about the planning meetings and paperwork that are necessary to start a project. In the fast food approach, you’ll forget all that PMBOK® stuff and reach agreement with the boss on the project’s scope. The project manager’s “supersize” question got a great reaction from the boss and they could continue talking about what business value the project has to deliver. The the project manager can get to work.

You can learn these skills for small projects in our project management basics courses.

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

 

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Project Manager Credibility- Sell Yourself and the Project

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

If you want credibilty and support from users and executives you must “sell” yourself and your project.  If you ignore selling or you try to impress them with technical jargon they will see you as irrelevant to their issues.  Let’s look at a PM’s fantasy of how they are perceived by the user and then see the harsh reality.

PM’s Dream Credibility…(That Never Happens)

An expectant buzz of conversation fills the meeting room as the assembled “suits,” await the project manager.  Each executive knows that he or she will leave the project presentation enriched with new knowledge and a PURPOSE. Suddenly there is silence.  Then they hear a faint swishing noise as the PM’s belt-mounted cell phones, three pagers and two Palm PCs jostle against one another. The crowd parts and the project manager swoops into the room with a stack of Gantt charts in one hand and a pile of PERTS charts in the other.  The PM glides to the head chair, nods to the hushed throng and says, Selling projects“Here is the Project Scope:. The AFR443 project will have a gooey interface and 354 nano-gigabytes of ROM, RAM, TAM and PAM. We will not impact the bandwidth on advertisements for customers and will not inflict trauma on the techno-workers who morph customer service.”

The executives shriek their approval of the project plan.

One executive slams a hand on the oak table and shouts, “If anyone fails to cooperate instantly, you may flog them.”

Another flaps a sheet of paper at the PM and yells, “Here’s the title to my BMW.  If I ever suggest a change in the scope you have so clearly enunciated, you may have the car.”

A third screams, “You can take as long as you want and spend as much money as you need.”

Additionally, the support continued that same way for the life of the project.  People who said, “You have my full support,” actually meant it. There weren’t new #1 priorities daily that changed the scope.  Team members treated project assignments as if they really mattered and not as work for times when there was nothing more important to do.  No one vanished into the underbrush just when their critical path task was about to start.

Selling Projects – PM’s Real World

You can count on this fantasy or recognize the need to sell your projects.  This need is most clear before project approval. But it is required through the entire project and the lesions learned at the end. The twin concepts of selling the project and having people “buy” it are most obvious when you do a project for a client. But the are also necessary when the “buyer” is your boss or a user department.

So what are you selling? How do you sell it? And what are they buying? Do you sell a lot of technical lingo, a 40-page scope narrative and an endlessly long Gantt chart? Too often that’s all you have to sell.  It’s no wonder that few people “buy” it and whatever support exists on “approval day” fades quickly. With it go the odds of your project success.

Some PMs try to make up for the lack of value in what they are selling with a “silver tongued-devil” approach, like a used car salesman.  They may not wear a plaid outfit or mousse their hair but they say things like “I’m your strategic partner”, “we’re user-oriented”, and “I’m here for you.”  However, no sales tactic can make up for the fact that you have not created project value in the user’s, client’s or boss’s mind. So while you may be charismatic and cute, support based on “golden words,” strong personal relationships or charisma doesn’t give your projects the kind of support they need. This becomes painfully clear when you need more resources, need to cope with a problem team member or must exercise scope control.

Selling Projects – Project Positioning & Hidden Performance Pressures

In selling projects, you need to present your projects so the boss, user or client “buys” the value of the project’s business result.  The business result has value when it relieves a performance pressure that your decision-maker feels. What are performance pressures? They are the operating shortfall that the decision maker’s boss made a big point of at the last quarterly review.  They can also be what the newspapers wrote about last week that made all the executives frown.  The problem is that most of the time decision makers tell us what to do; not what performance pressure they want to resolve. And, whether or not they have told us about their performance pressures, they will judge the project’s success based on whether it relieves those performance pressures.

This sounds simple but there are a couple of problems when you are selling projects.  First, you must identify the decision-makers who have a stake in the project.  Often times, performance pressures ripple through an organization and the person who assigns the project may not know where the performance pressure came from.  Second, with the decision makers identified, you need to quantify the performance pressures they want the project to relieve. As projects get larger, your “map” of decision makers and performance pressures can become complex.  But keeping this mapping updated is a great tool for account management and positioning.

Let’s say you get a project assignment to change a billing system report by adding several data elements and altering others.  The billing supervisor who described the project may have no idea where the changes came from or what the higher up wanted to achieve.  As you probe for the performance pressures, you find out that things started with the CFO wanting to identify the biggest customers.  A marketing director complained about how hard it was to track the sales that resulted from special promotions to these big customers. When you convert these performance pressures into measured achievements (See AdPM™ Achievement-driven Project Methodology) you have value to sell these decision makers. That leads to higher odds of project success.

This sounds simple but there are some barriers to unearthing the decision makers and then quantifying their performance pressures.

Selling Projects  -“Buying Perception” Barriers

Why don’t many clients/users/bosses share this information?  First, sometimes it reflects badly on them and there are many who won’t talk about their problems or pressures.  Second, they may not know what upper-level performance pressures rolled down-hill to them.  But the dominant reason decision makers don’t tell you about their performance pressures is their buying perception of project managers.  That means what they think they are buying ,or can “buy,” from a project manager.  The worst project buying perception is when the user/client/boss sees you, the PM, as an order-taker.  With that perception, they share the same amount of information with you as with the person at the drive-through window at McDonald’s®. Here’s an example of a PM selling projects and probing for performance pressures with a decision maker who has an order-taker buying perception of the PM:

Decision maker says,”Here are the changes I want in the report layouts.”

PM says, “Great! Exactly why do you need these changes? What are you trying to achieve?”

Decision maker answers, “I need the changes by next week.”

PM says, “If I understand your business purpose then I can do a better job of …”

Decision maker says, “That’s not your concern. Just make the changes in these report layouts by next week!”

PM says, “You’re making me fly blind here.  If I don’t understand what you…”

Decision maker says, “Make the changes in these report layouts, you little geek.”

This PM made a strong effort to unearth the performance pressures that triggered the project request. But they pressed so hard that they angered the decision maker.  The PM failed to unearth the performance pressure(s) or the cast of decision makers involved. They don’t have much to sell and the decision maker doesn’t have much value to buy.  They PM only knows the decision maker wants them to start quickly and hit the due date.  This brick wall the PM hit was low-level buying perceptions.  It reflects poor positioning with the decision maker.  It might result from the decision-maker’s previous experience with PMs who operated in the order-taker mode and never even asked about the performance pressures.

But if you focus on selling projects, you know there are performance pressures behind the decision maker’s request.  You can just start work on the assignment and hope that the decision maker has correctly aimed the project so it relieves their “hidden” performance pressures.  This hoping happens too often. Hoping perpetuates the order-taker buying perception. And puts you in a position where you’ll need luck to have the project be a success.

Selling Projects – Building Bad Perceptions with Techno-babble

You can start to change poor buying perceptions when you work with the user/client or the boss by selling projects. However, what often happens when you get a chance to meet with a decision maker to discuss the project?  Out of nervousness, inability to discuss anything else or a desire to impress the decision-maker with your expertise, you drag the conversation into the project and technical details. You never focus on their performance pressures.  Is the decision maker impressed?  No, they’re thinking, “This person is really scary. They have absolutely no perspective on what we want to achieve for the business.” That’s another example of a PM’s bad efforts selling projects.

To get at a decision-maker’s performance pressures, you have to stop talking about the delicious technical details of the project and start selling projects. You must probe and listen for their performance pressures.  Even better, you will meet with the decision maker after you have gathered information about their likely performance pressures. You use these sessions to find out what they want to buy as an end result. That is very different from what they want us to do.

Selling projects is a process of positioning.  You work to elevate the user/client/boss’s perceptions of what they can “buy” from you.  Then you use those improved perceptions to position our project(s) to relieve their performance pressures.  Each time a project relieves a performance pressure, their buying perception of you improves, making it easier to get and hold support for this project. Additionally, it will be easier to sell the next one.

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
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Project Tracking Software – Video

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

This video shows you the entire process for using project tracking software (Microsoft Project®) from start to finish. Reporting project progress is an important part of every project manager’s weekly routine and using software makes your job much easier and efficient. You’ll see how to enter the status reports from your team members, spot variances and plan corrective action.  How to Write a Weekly Status Report

Project Tracking Software Video 

You’ll see how the software uses the data about the actual work completed and the team’s estimates of the remaining work (work-to-complete). If there are overruns on any tasks, the software adjusts the schedule to show the  start and finish dates of the remaining tasks in the plan. It also updates the project budget and the earned value data. You’ll also see click-by-click instructions for analyzing the variances and modeling corrective action to bring the schedule back into line with the approved project plan.

Tracking & Status Reports in MS Project

After the project schedule  had been updated with the team members’ status reports, the project manager will analyze the variances and identify those that require corrective action and those variances that do not. Then the project manager will model corrective action for each of the variances and test the impact of that corrective action on the schedule and budget. Finally the project manager will prepare the reports he will distribute to the project sponsor and stakeholders. These reports show what has happened, the consequences if nothing is done about the variances, and the corrective action the project manager proposes. The corrective actions will help bring the project schedule and budget back in line with the baseline of the original project management plan. As you can see, project tracking software is a powerful tool. Project Tracking Reports Main Page

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

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

 

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Project Sponsor – How to Train a Bad One

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

Project sponsors should play a critical role in projects. They should set the goals for the project, use their authority & influence to help the PM get resources and solve problems. When there are conflicts the sponsor should protect the project. While many executives understand their role and play it well, there are many who do not. The bad ones won’t commit to exactly what they want from their project.  They  play it safe politically by never committing to a scope. These sponsors usually want to drive the project to a completion date they often pluck from the sky.  Talk to other PM about a new sponsor.  If the have many failed projects and often blame the project manager and team. You have a bad. Because sponsors outrank the project manager, often by many levels, you have to use a great deal of tact in using these techniques to guide an ineffective project sponsors toward fulfilling their project role. As a project manager, you will routinely face high-pressure situations with sponsors trying to do things that will harm the project. If you let the intimidation get to you, the project will fail. Here’s what to say, and what not to say, in each situation.

Project Sponsor Situation #1 Defining a Project Scope

Number one among the project sponsor’s responsibilities is defining the scope of the project.  Its the reason the sponsor initiated the project in the first place. Project sponsors need to give the you and your team a crystal-clear definition of what the project should deliver. The definition should include the acceptance criteria they will use to accept or reject the project.  If they’re playing political games with the scope, doing friends favors, or won’t committ themselves to exactly what they want, the project manager and the team members are almost certain to fail. When the sponsor demands the project team to start work without knowing what’s expected of them they are headed for delivering an unacceptable product, late and over budget.  There are other project sponsor obligations that project managers have to subtly guide them to fulfill. Let’s discuss them.

This occurs during the initiation of the project. In that first session you need to take a very strong position that the scope of the project must be defined in measurable terms, that is with a measurable metric. Often times you have to “sell” the sponsor on the benefits of a scope that defines what he or she wants with numbers rather than vague, subjective definitions.

Project Sponsor Situation #2

Another make or break situation occurs when you discuss your authority to direct the project team. If you are borrowing team members from another department, you want to be able to give them assignments directly rather than going through their supervisor.  You also want to be able to evaluate their performance and have input into their annual performance review.

Project Sponsor Situation #3

Other critical situations are change orders affecting the project scope, duration or cost. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Every scope change affects the project’s duration and cost.  Similarly, the project sponsor can’t cut the project’s duration without affecting the scope and cost or cut the budget without affecting the scope and duration. Project sponsors don’t want to hear this so you must be able to show them options for managing changes to the scope, duration and cost.

Project Sponsor Situation #4

Finally, status reports with a bad variance are a critical situation. You must present viable solutions to fix the problems of schedule or cost overruns.

Effectively handling each of these situations is critical to your relationship with the sponsor and to the success of the project.

You 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