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3 Point Project Estimating: Padding, Accuracy, Commitment

Dick Billows, PMPEstimating is tricky for project managers who have to balance conflicting pressures from the sponsor, stakeholders and their team:

  • The customer or user wants the project done quickly and cheaply.
  • You, as PM, want to finish on time and within budget.
  • For commitment, the team needs to participate in a process their perceive as fair and not feel like they are sure to fail because their estimate is impossible.
  • The estimating technique should yield accurate numbers and some assessment of the accuracy.
  • Decision makers need information of the certainty of the project finishing on time

That list of requirements is a tough one for any project estimating process. The only process that meets all those requirements is 3-point estimating, which formerly called PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique).

Briefly, 3-point estimating has three-steps.  In each, the PM works closely with the people who will be doing the work. The first step is to discuss the deliverable the team member will be accountable for producing. This discussion includes the “good” risks that could cause this task to take less work and the “bad” risks that could cause it to take more work. Second, the PM notes these risks on the work package form that also contains the approach the team member will use. Third, the team member makes three estimates: an optimistic estimate, a pessimistic estimate and a best guess estimate. The PM applies the 3-point formulas (at the end of the article) to those three estimates to come up with the actual data that you will use in the project schedule.

Common Estimating & Risk Issues

Two mindsets often plague the estimating process:

  • Executives often believe that projects have no risks that affect duration or budget.
  • Team members think that padding their estimates will protect them from blame.

Both of these mindsets are false but they certainly get in the way of accurate estimating.

The 3-point estimating technique deals with both these mindsets. It gives PMs a data to communicate the risk of a work estimate. It also lets everyone stop pretending that task #135 is going to finish in precisely 15 days or that the project will absolutely finish by August 30.  Three-point estimating is a straightforward process for developing estimates using just a little bit of statistics. It gives you a tool to address the issue that most projects are launched with less than a 35 % chance of finishing by their promised due date.  Because no one talks about that issue, executives think the completion date is 100% guaranteed. It’s only missed when someone goofs off.

The best project managers have risk data for their sponsors.  They can document why a project has a 65% chance of finishing by August 30, as an example. These PMs also explain what they can do to increase those odds to 75% or 90% and what it will cost. Those same PMs manage the assignments of their project team members with an understanding that there is risk on each assignment. They use 3-point estimating techniques to get data on the risks.

Three Point Estimating in Detail

The 3-point estimating process starts with a discussion with the team member about the risks inherent in their assignment. You discuss the bad risks that will make their assignment take more work and duration (time). You also discuss the good risks that will cause it to take less work and duration (time). Why should you do this step? Because you need an estimating process that addresses the team member’s legitimate concern that bad things will happen on their assignment and they’ll be blamed for not meeting the completion date.  With agreement on the risks in the assignment and work package notes what you will do about them, you go on to the estimates work and duration.

As the name implies, 3-point estimating requires three estimates for each task. That sounds like it will take a lot of work but it takes a matter of minutes.  You and the team member develop an optimistic estimate, a pessimistic estimate and a best guess estimate for each task. By developing those three estimates, we get estimates that are more accurate from team members and assess the assignment’s degree of risk and the range of durations.

Padding Estimates

Before we go on, we need to talk a little bit about risk. When you ask me how long it will take to read this article, I might estimate five minutes. Am I guaranteeing you that no matter what happens I’ll be able to read the whole thing in five minutes? No, what I mean is that 5 minutes is my best guess. That means there is a 50% chance it will take me less than five minutes and a 50% chance it will take me more than five minutes.

However, if you were my project manager asking me for a task estimate, I would be a little hesitant about giving you an estimate in which there was a 50% chance of an overrun. What I would rather give you is an estimate where I’m 90% confident that I can finish in that amount of time or less. As the project manager, you would probably regard that estimate as padded. As the team member, I feel more comfortable with a 90% estimate. Unfortunately, there is no consistency in the amount of padding your team members will use.

Reducing Padding

You want your team members to leave the estimating process knowing that you considered the fact that things can go wrong on a task assignment. That’s why you identified risks at the beginning of the discussion and documented what you could do about the risks. With that recognition of the risks, we move on to gathering data on the impact those risks could have on the assignment. Using the three estimates enables you to do that. It’s better than having a team member give you a single estimate and play the padding game about how certain that estimate is. The three estimates tell you the variability in the task.

Best Guess, Optimistic and Pessimistic Estimates

Now let’s start the estimating process.  Your team member estimates that a task has a best guess estimate of 80 hours of work.  That means that 50% of the time it will take more work and 50% of the time it will take less.

Next, the optimistic work estimate is less work than the best guess.  The optimistic estimate is low enough that the team member thinks they can get the task done for less than the optimistic estimate only 20% of the time.  The task will require more work than the optimistic estimate 80% of the time.

The pessimistic estimate is more work than the best guess. It is not a “disaster” estimate but we want an estimate that’s based on the bad risks that we identified happening.  The pessimistic estimate is high enough that the team member thinks they can get the task done for less than the pessimistic estimate 80% of the time.  The task will require more work than the pessimistic estimate 20% of the time.

Now let’s dip our toe into the statistics and look at two tasks, Alpha and Beta, and the calculated work estimates we would use at three different level of confidence (* see formulas below).

What we did was take the three estimates and use some simple formulas to calculate the task’s work estimates and calculate the mean and standard deviation.  Using standard statistical tables (z-scores from a table of standardized normal deviates); we can take those means and standard deviations and use them to calculate levels of confidence of finishing within the estimate.  In other words, for task Alpha we could say that we have a 50% chance of completing the task with less than 54 hours of work.  For an 80% confidence level, we would calculate that 69 hours of work would be required.  This is the data to use with a client or project sponsor to quantify the cost of higher levels of certainty about a completion date. In the previous example with Alpha, we have to buy an additional 15 hours of work to move from 50% confidence to 80% confidence of getting the task done within the work estimate.  The beta is much less risky task than alpha. The mean work estimates are very close but the standard deviations are very different. To move from the 50% level of confidence that is 50 hours on task beta we would need to increase the work estimate to 51 hours. So for task beta higher levels of certainty a relatively inexpensive. Extending these calculations to the entire project is very easy with a spreadsheet such as the one we use in our classes. It gives project managers the ability to discuss the cost of higher levels of certainty. Sponsors always say they want to be 90% confident of finishing on time. When you present them with the cost of that level of certainty, it often is the case that lower levels of confidence would be acceptable.

Using 3-Point Estimates

All of the better project management software packages, such as Microsoft Project®, enable you to use 3-point (PERT) estimates and create a variety of reports that communicate the project’s risks. You can take estimates like those above and calculate the odds of finishing the entire project within various durations.  That information is a solid basis for a discussion with the sponsor about the tradeoffs between cost, scope, duration, risk and staffing levels.

To learn these 3-point estimating techniques and the entire estimating process, consider our private, online courses where you work individually with your instructor. They are available by phone, video conference or e-mail whenever you have a question or need help on an assignment. We can also deliver a customized training program at your site for up to 25 people. Call us at 303-596-0000 and speak to an instructor.

*Three point estimating Formulas

Mean= (4*bg)+OE+PE/6

SD= (PE-OE)/6

Probability level = work= Mean + (z-score for probability)*SD

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What is Project Leadership? – Video

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

What is project leadership? It consists of proven techniques that project managers use to:

  • set standards of behavior and performance
  • motivate the team members to high performance and
  • rally the team members when the project has problems to overcome.

These tasks are particularly challenging because most project managers are technically- oriented people with little experience or skill in motivating others. Another factor that makes project leadership difficult is that the project manager often has very little or no formal authority over the project team. The lack of formal organizational authority is the number one challenge to project leadership.

Project managers must tailor the interpersonal techniques they use to fit the personality of each team member and stakeholder with whom they work. That’s the only way project managers can make up for their lack of formal authority.  Once they have “typed” the person’s personality and selected the right techniques for dealing with them, they have won half the battle. Here is a video on Team Member Personality Types

Another technique of effective leadership is to apply the best practices in terms of how the project manager trains and treats their project team members. Watch this video of a PM dealing with a situation where a team member has been pulled off the project and assigned elsewhere. In the first video, you see the PM use a technique that does not fit the personality of the team member. The result is complete failure. Then watch an analysis and see the PM do it the right way, using the right technique for the team member. Leading Teams

Communicating with the team member who has a problem

You can learn all of these skills in our online project management basics course. We individually tailor this course for business, IT, construction, healthcare and consulting specialties.

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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, a computer software, a 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: It Involves 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: It’s 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 Dick Billows, PMP, an 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, 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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What Is a Project

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

Wondering about what is a project and what is not? Here is an example of a project.

The manager of the department you work in tells you the people are wasting time getting supplies from the supply room. He wants you to do a project to fix the problem.

Most projects are small like this example and will have three or four people work on them. They have a specific objective and the goal is to achieve it; so we do the project only once. Things we repeat over and over is called operations.  If you keep doing the same project over and over, obviously you’re not achieving the results the manager wanted. Some projects are much bigger than that example but the characteristics of projects are the same; they have a special and specific objectives and we do them once. Examples of projects include:

  • opening a new business
  • developing a computer program to process payroll
  • resurfacing highway
  • opening a new healthcare clinic
  • What is a Projectbuilding a swimming pool

All of those efforts are projects and all follow the same general steps:

  1. Project initiation– in this first step, a manager or executive comes up with the idea for the project and gives a project manager and other people an overview of the idea. The initiation process often includes securing organizational approval for spending money on a project. When approval is given, we begin planning.
  2. Project planning– when we’re doing a project, we need to communicate what we’re trying to produce. That’s called the scope and that’s defined by the executive who initiated the project. The project plan may also include a budget, a schedule, and the people we need to work on delivering the scope. Larger projects have much more extensive plans and stakeholders, people who are affected by the project. The project manager presents the project plan and schedule to the organization and when it’sapproved, we begin to execute the plan.
  3. Executing the project– most of the time and money on a project is spent during the executing phase. This is where we actually perform all the tasks specified in the project plan. In those tasks, the team produces the deliverables. After they’re produced, the project executive or stakeholders review and accept the deliverables. They may also ask for changes. While all that’s going on, the project manager is monitoring everything.
  4. Monitoring and controlling– the project manager will monitor actual results and compare them to the plan and identified variances between the two. When there are differences between the plan and actual results, the project manager works to correct them.
  5. Closing– when the final deliverable has been produced and accepted, the project needs to be closed out. That involves holding a lessons learned meeting so we don’t the same mistakes on future projects. Archiving data from the project makes future projects easier and more successful.

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
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Project Manager Role Producing Deliverables

The project manager is responsible for producing a specified deliverable using organizational staff & materials.  The project manager role requires a wide variety of skills in planning, leading, scheduling, tracking progress and managing teams to produce that specific deliverable. This set of skills is very different from managing a department or a business.

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

Project Manager Role: Different Than Other Managers

Several things make a project manager’s job different. Working on the project is often not the team member’s full-time job. They may work on several different projects managed by different project managers or have a position in a functional area. Because of this, the project team often is not very committed to achieving the project’s goal. So the project manager must use their leadership and communication skills to motivate these team members.

Project managers must also build support for the project among the stakeholders. Stakeholders are the people who will be affected by the project. Very often the stakeholders are executives in the organization who have an interest in the project because it affects their area of responsibility. Project managers must be able to persuade stakeholders to loan their people to the project and possibly supply other kinds of support. What makes it more difficult is that the project manager is usually a relatively low ranking employee and has no formal authority over stakeholders.

The project manager role also requires technical skills and knowledge that are relevant to the project. The project manager does not have to be the most knowledgeable expert on technical issues. It’s not a problem if members of the project team have more technical expertise than the project manager. That’s why they’re needed on the team.

The project manager role requires the ability to use the special tools and techniques of project management. These include running the planning and status report meetings, scheduling people and tasks to finish the project as soon as possible, spotting variances to the plan and optimizing the schedule to finish as soon as possible. These tools and techniques can be quite complex, especially when managing a larger project. Becoming a project manager requires a lot of learning as well as mastering leadership and communication skills. These are the keys to a project manager’s success.

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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Dysfunctional Teams – Video

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
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
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Project Management Success

Project Management Success is not easy. There are several project manager skill sets or techniques that make a project manager successful. Successful project managers have both “hard” and “soft” skills in their project tool belt. They are able to select the appropriate tools and techniques to use on every project they manage. The ability to select the right tools prevents overloading small projects with too much paperwork and meetings. It also lets the  project manager decide which sophisticated tools to use on the big projects. Project Management Skills Main Page

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

In addition to the “hard” project management skills, there are a number of “soft” skills that consistently successful project managers possess. Project Management Success requires effective communicators. That’s important with project team members who must clearly understand what’s expected of them on their tasks. Project managers’ communications with stakeholders must also be effective so the project manager can persuade and influence these people to support the project. Project managers also have to be good motivators to build project team enthusiasm and morale. These “soft” skills and abilities are extensive and show how far project managers have come from the days when they were viewed solely as technical experts.

There are eight critical skill sets you need for Project Management Success. You must be able to:

#1 – Work with the sponsor to identify the business result the project must produce

#2 – Create a schedule using project management software

#3 – Estimate work (duration and cost) with the team members

Project Management Success#4 – Make clear assignments so each team member knows what is expected
#5 – Track progress against the plan and solve problems early (before it’s too late)

#6 – Run meetings for planning and status reporting

#7 – Make presentations to sponsors and stakeholders

#8 – Archive data (planned and actual) for use on future projects.

You learn all of those skills in our project management basics courses. Begin whenever you wish and work individually with your instructor at your pace and schedule.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

 

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Project Variances, Solve Just the Real Problems

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

Project variance is what gives executives nightmares about project failure. They are the calculated difference between the approved project plan’s costs and duration and the actual project results. We can have project variance vs.  schedule where we identified that a task should have been finished by July 1 and it was actually finished by July 5. That’s a four day bad variance. We can also have project variance on the project budget. Let’s say a task was planned to cost $5,000 and it actually cost $4,500 when we were done. That’s a $500 good variance.  Project Tracking Reports Main Page

We can also have project variance on the characteristics of the deliverable and on the planned work versus the actual work. The most important thing about project variances is we do not have to wait until the task is completed to identify a variance. Project managers get information from their team members’ status reports. Using project management software, they take the information about the actual results versus the plan and they forecast variances when the task is done. That allows the project manager to start corrective action before the task is actually finished.

Another major use of project variance is in status reporting to the project sponsor. Having the variance data allows the project manager to show the sponsor how the project is going and what tasks are on schedule and what tasks are not. One of the techniques that separates consistently successful project managers from the rest of the pack is their ability to identify problems early, when they are small and easily solved. Unsuccessful project managers are routinely surprised by big problems that they find out about when it’s too late to fix the damage that’s been done.

The important thing to remember when your project sponsor becomes hysterical about a variance is that we do not have to take corrective action about every variance. If we have a 5 day variance on a task’s forecasted completion date, We do not have to order overtime for the whole team.  If you have used professional scheduling techniques, you will be able to quickly determine if the task is on the critical path and if not how much slack it has. I the task has 10 days of slack you should do nothing about the variance because the slack can absorb it and it will not affect the project completion date. You also need to check if the variance is a signal of a growing problem. But that is an example of when we can ignore a variance.

A few prudent steps during project planning can make all the difference. To spot problems early, you need unambiguous, measurable checkpoints in the project so you don’t have to guess whether you’re on track. With the deliverables defined by metrics, you will know exactly where you are. That’s what lets you take action at the first sign of a problem. Do you want to be regularly surprised by problems when it is too late to fix them or do you want to spot problems early and fix them before they mushroom? How to Write a Weekly Status Report

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 Launch – Sell the Project & Build Political Support

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

The project launch meeting is an opportunity for you, the project manager, and the sponsor to build enthusiasm for the project among the project team and the project stakeholders. The team members are the people who will be doing the project work. The stakeholders are the people affected by the project. Other attendees are managers affected by the deliverables the project produces. Vendors who do contract work on the project may be included as well. Keep in mind that some of the attendees might be people who are not in favor of your project because it is using resources they need elsewhere.  Instead of dreading this meeting, you should view it as an opportunity to convert people who are neutral or opposed to the project. It is also an opportunity to increase the level of enthusiasm of the people who now support the project.

Unfortunately, the launch meeting is often just a series of long speeches about teamwork, sharing and supporting each other. No one in the room believes that hype. These lofty speeches don’t build morale. They tend to undermine it because the opening discussion is full of phony sentiments and, sometimes, outright lies. Good project managers don’t give speeches about teamwork, honesty and supporting each other. They communicate those characteristics by their actions. This takes more time but it’s much more believable and valuable.

In the launch meeting, you communicate information about your carefully developed plan. You state the major deliverables of the project and the overall benefit to the organization. The project launch meeting is not the time to threaten team members with dire consequences if they are late on their assignments. Those threats convince the team that their number one goal is to avoid blame when the project fails. That sort of attitude is crippling for a project. Team members who think the project will fail do not give you their best efforts.

Project Launch: Meeting Agenda

Here is the information to cover in the project launch meeting:

  • Project overview
  • Projet scope
  • Major deliverables
  • Project milestones

Project Launch: Meeting Attendees

These people should attend the launch meeting:project launch meeting

  • Project sponsor
  • Project manager
  • Project team members
  • Major project stakeholders

The project launch meeting signifies the end of the project planning phase and the beginning of the executing and monitoring/controlling phases.  You must make sure that by the end of this meeting, the team members understand how the tasks they will work on fit into the big picture, the project scope. You also want to build enthusiasm and commitment to the project among the team members and stakeholders.

Learn how to run a project launch meeting in our training seminars for clients  or our instructor-led online courses for individuals.

 

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Project Team Ground Rules

Project team ground rules are a necessity. Almost all project teams have frequent meetings and even more frequent communication in various forms. If the project manager doesn’t set ground rules for these meetings and communications, a significant amount of time is lost. Together, the project manager and team identify and formulate the ground rules that members of the team should follow when they interact. These rules cover video conferences, in person-meetings and telephone conferences. The ground rules can cover a wide range of team member and project manager behavior.ground rules

Project Team Ground Rules: Examples

The ground rules may include the “completed staff work” concept. That approach to meetings aims at substantially reducing the amount of time the team members waste when people at the meeting are not ready to discuss the topics. The completed staff work concept is based on an agenda. Anybody can add an item to the agenda. The only requirement is that they distribute materials to all the team members before the meeting. That allows everyone to come ready to discuss the issue. Another rule is that you cannot raise an issue at the meeting that was not on the agenda with preparatory materials distributed. These rules help avoid bad decisions being made when people have not had time to thoroughly consider the issues.

Other ground rules may deal with interpersonal conflict. As an example, a ground rule may prohibit discussing work issues on previous projects. Other rules may bar personal criticisms, (“you’re very stubborn”) versus criticizing behavior (“you would not listen to my side of the problem”).

It is very easy to get carried away with too many ground rules. You don’t want people to have to consult a lengthy document to decide how to handle an interpersonal situation. The ground rules should fit on one side of one piece of paper. Remember, the goal is to avoid wasting time in meetings or making bad decisions because people are  unprepared or rushed to make a decision.

Project Team Ground Rules: Project Meeting Scenario

A status report meeting I participated in some months ago lasted 2 hours. Approximately 20 people attended, including the project team, test leaders, team leaders, PMO staff, etc. The meeting had many elements that are considered best practices. They included the following:

  • all attendees sent the PM their issues before the meeting
  • the agenda was distributed before the meeting
  • no other issues were brought up in the meeting

Long story short, it went something like this. Each person went through the status report covering their work stream, what they did, what they were going to do, issues, risks, decisions to be made, etc. I noticed that after the first 30 minutes, some of the attendees lost interest. After one hour, most were either checking their phone or chatting about something with the person next to them. You can imagine how the situation was after 2 hours.

I share this example to make the point that following what are considered best practices does not mean you are efficient or effective. In the above example, if you calculate 20 people * 2 Hrs = 40 Hrs (40/8 =5PD) of effort for a single status meeting.  One meeting a week adds up to 260PD a year, which is a significant effort.

Project Team Ground Rules: The 30 Minute Meeting

Below is an approach that has worked for me. I call it the 30 minute meeting.

  1. Schedule important meetings early in the day. A meeting is a pit-stop (as in Formula One racing) where all the team members must get the overall picture. It must be kept short and to the point.
  2. The core of a status meeting is the status report. Prepare it beforehand. I like to prepare a presentation vs. a written document.
  3. A picture (or better a chart) shows no more than 1,000 words. The PM must give the bigger picture, showing all relevant charts in perspective. That includes the actual, planned, and forecast.
  4. All topics that are on track don’t need to be discussed one by one. They are only referenced in the status report (preferably in a chart). Include all the details in the appendix for the people who want to read it on their own time.
  5. Deal with topics that need bilateral attention outside the meeting. Time is precious so nobody is allowed to waste it. The PM must ensure the status meeting is not a place for everyone to dump their issues and problems.
  6. Keep it short and keep it clean. Be brave to exclude from the meeting all less relevant content. A short and to the point meeting is too important to be sacrificed for side topics.

Finally, a PM needs to keep the right balance of management overhead and actual work product in their meeting ground rules. My rule of thumb for overhead is not to exceed 10% of the total efforts. This approach to status report meetings works for me. It leaves the team energized, their attention sharp through the entire meeting and minimizes the management overhead.

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