Project Initiation: It’s Not Like a Fast Food Drive-through Window

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

The Project Initiation step is often crushed  by executives who hysterically shout, “Get started quickly! We’ll plan when we have more time..this project is critical.” This hysteria saves them from having to commit to exactly what they want. Avoiding a commitment about what they want the project to deliver makes it easy to blame other people when the project fails. To be fair, however, the executive may not know what the project should produce.  A person higher up the chain of command may have dumped the project in their lap.

Experienced project managers know the bitter consequences of skipping Project Initiation. They include scope creep, time wasted on pointless tasks and significant overruns.  So experienced PMs try to stop the freight train and say, “Sir, if the project is that critical, we can’t take short cuts. We have to initiate the project properly.  I certainly wouldn’t want to explain why we skipped the initial planning step if the project fails.”  That approach works some of the time. Project Phases Main Page

A professional project initiation process for small or large projects addresses the following important decisions:

  1. The sponsor tells the PM how he will measure the result of the project  at the end. That is the scope of the project. It’s how will the sponsor will measure the success of the project. In other words, he defines a good job on the project with metrics (costs are reduced 23%, sales are up 10%, turnaround time is reduced 1.5 days, error rates are reduced 4%).  The end result is the target the PM and team aim for.  You will waste a lot of person hours if you don’t know the project’s scope.
  2. With the scope defined you can talk about the path to reach it from  where you are now.  You define this path with measured deliverables. These are numbers that define success, just like the scope.  Each deliverable must be a metric.
  3. Next you breakdown each deliverable until you reach the level of a task that our team can deliver in less than two weeks.

The Project Initiation Drive-through

Failed projects are often initiated like the sponsor ordered at the drive-through window of a fast-food joint. In this situation, you, the project manager, can’t control the scope so the project finishes late and produces very little business value. Consistent project failure usually starts when PMs and sponsors initiate projects with fast food order-taking techniques. Let’s see how this order-taking process works.

The project manager stands at the drive-through window wearing a red and yellow cap that says “Projects Are Us.” The executive drives up in a shiny black car, stops at the drive-through window and says, “I want to clean up customer service by March 30th.”

The project manager nods eagerly, gives the executive the “thumbs up” signal and screams at the project team:
“You two, put some new software on the grill!”
“Dan, dump some training into the deep fry!”
“Monica, we need more service rep cubicles and new computers, now!”

The executive smiles, “Wow, you know how to manage a project; no needless meetings or endless paper work.”

The order-taker project manager gives the executive another toothy grin and says, “We are cranking and everything is in green light status. We’re already about half done.”

The executive leans back thinking, then says,”I’d like a network with 30 nano-second response time and 50 gigamondo disk drives. And…can we add mauve wall coverings in the computer room? How about multi-lingual training?”

The order-taker project manager grins and says, “No problem; we’re flexible. I can make any changes you want.”

The executive frowns, “I’m in a hurry, so speed it up.”

The order-taker project manager whirls and whispers to the project team, “Let’s go! Get something slapped together by the due date…we can tweak it later. Let’s get to it!” Then he smiles at the executive and gives the thumbs up sign.

The executive returns two weeks later and says, “Your crappy software doesn’t work. No one knows how to use it and the new computer room is a fire hazard. The customers are still howling about being on hold too long. That’s what I wanted fixed. This is another project disaster!”

Happy Executives at Project Initiation… or at the End of the Project

The sad thing about this order-taking technique for Project Initiation is that it makes some executives and users happy. When you initiate projects like this, you and the team start work quickly. Executives like that. They also like that they can avoid deciding exactly what they want the project to produce. That lets them off the hook for committing to the project scope. However, the odds are nearly zero of the PM delivering a successful project and having satisfied executives/users/customers when the project is complete. This order-taking approach begins a process that allows changes every week. Why is that? Because the order-taking process does not produce a scope definition that is objectively measured or controlled. Order-taking does not make the executives commit to what they want. Even worse, when the PM acts like an order-taker, that’s how the executives perceive them. So what is the best Project Initiation process?

The Best Practice for Project Initiation

First, you must abandon the order-taking process of listing vague requirements and starting work quickly. Instead, you must ask questions to learn enough about the executive’s business problem so you can help them define the project scope.

Project InitiationExecutives who are not used to project managers asking questions may resent it. But a successful project manager responds to these objections with a reasonable statement like, “How can I deliver the business end result you want if I don’t know precisely what it is?”

Executives may not like that push back. But it’s worth some early executive dissatisfaction because it helps you define a measured business result for the project scope. It helps you avoid a list of ever-changing requirements. Let’s return to our story and see how to do this correctly.

How to Use the Best Practice for Project Initiation

The executive stops at the drive-through window and says, “I want to clean up customer service by March 30th.”

The project manager answers, “Exactly what result are you looking for?”

A flash of anger washes across the executive’s face, “Just get started. I’m in a hurry. When are you going to start work?”

The project manager says, “We’ll start immediately after I understand the results you’re looking for. What’s the result you want from the project?”

“I need better efficiency,” snaps the executive.

The PM says, “I understand. How much improvement in efficiency?”

The executive frowns in anger again, “Why are you asking all these questions instead of starting work?”

The PM politely responds, “Because you won’t be pleased with our work if it doesn’t help you achieve your objectives. So I need to know what they are. What amount of efficiency improvement do you need?”

“Enough to cut costs by 12% from the customer service department. We need training, new systems, new cubicles, etc,” the executive says.

“Well, if you want to have a 12% cost reduction by cutting staff, each customer service rep will have to be able to handle 12% more customer calls.”

The executive smiles, “Right. Then we could gradually let attrition reduce the staff. Now let’s get into the details of how to do that…”

Using this approach, the project manager avoided starting a project that was almost certain to fail. A results-focused approach to project initiation and planning produces benefits for the entire portfolio of projects. Learn more about how to initiate and plan projects.

You can learn all these skills in our project management courses. Take a look at the courses in your industry specialty.

Project Planning from the Top Down

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

In many organizations, managers and senior management view project planning as a waste of time. To them, the project plan is needless. They want to “start work immediately without wasting time in useless planning meetings and creating mounds of paperwork.” As a result, project managers have difficulty engaging management in the project-planning task. Why do they have this attitude? Why are they unwilling to invest their time in project planning? Here are a few of the reasons:

  • They have never seen a project properly planned so they have no understanding of how smoothly things can run.
  • Project planning requires that the sponsor and stakeholders know what business result they want the project to produce. Often executives start projects to fix a problem they have just heard about. They have no idea how to solve it.
  • The sponsor and stakeholders are unwilling to make commitments about the acceptance criteria for the project’s deliverables. They are unwilling to take the risk of specifying precisely what they want. Project Plan Template Main Page

Project Planning: A Waste of Time?

Why do many managers and executives have the attitude that project planning is a waste of time? The first and most common reason is that the organization doesn’t exercise control or justification for starting a new project. There is no reason to plan if they can start a project any time they want and the organization doesn’t require a return on investment (payback) from doing the project. On the other hand, executives must plan their projects if the organization requires the following:

  • a cost-benefit analysis for new projects
  • a clear specification for the business results the project will produce
  • its cost and duration.

A second and very common reason for these attitudes is that many executives have never sponsored, run or even worked on a properly planned project. As a result, they have no idea of the benefits a properly planned project can deliver. Their projects usually miss their planned completion dates and budgets. They rarely deliver the project scope or any business value. Project teams don’t know what they are accountable for delivering, what performance level the project manager expects or how the PM will evaluate their work. As a result, the project manager must tell the team members what to do each week. The executives also have no practical experience with change control. They don’t realize that a well-conceived project plan gives them and the project manager tools to manage changes to the scope, budget, quality and resources.

Despite the reasons why the executives have the attitude that project planning is a waste of time and resources, you (as the project manager) must persuade them of the benefits of doing a project plan. When executives want to start a project, you must describe the right steps and explain how that process benefits the organization. Finally, you must discuss the required top down project planning techniques, documents and meetings. Executives also need to understand that you cannot use the same project planning techniques for every project. You should not bury a small project in needless paperwork. But a large strategic project will suffer if there isn’t sufficient planning, control and risk management.

Project Planning: Top-Down Benefits

A well-planned project uses the top-down project planning technique. That means the sponsor identifies the overall scope of the project and the deliverable(s) the project has to produce. Then you and the sponsor identify the acceptance criteria that the executives will use to approve those deliverables. This lets you and every project team member know exactly what the executives want in a deliverable before you start work. On a well-run project, you and the team members don’t have to stop work to figure out what to do next. Each team member’s assignment or task is specifically defined so they know what a good job is before they begin work.project planning

Project teams that must stop and figure out what to do next are working on a project with a To Do list plan. The project manager planned the first thing they’re going to do, then the second and then the third. Things get a little vague after that so the team members must stop work and ask the PM what to do next. That process continues until the planned completion date is looming on the horizon. At that point, the PM and team members must stop work and plan what they can quickly finish before the completion date. This is a disaster for the project and the PM’s career.

When you use top-down project planning, you make as many of the decisions as possible during the planning process before you start work. This lets the team focus on executing, not re-planning the project. You save several hours of meetings, talks and arguments for every hour you spend planning before the work actually begins.

Top-down project planning also saves you from doing the wrong things on the project. That’s because you have done all the thinking on the deliverables before you start work. And that means you don’t incur the costs of having to produce “missing” deliverables at the last moment.
You are certain to have a failed project if you fall into the trap of starting work immediately without using the top-down project planning technique. The executives who forced you to start work quickly will be exceedingly dissatisfied with the results as well as the money and the time spent to produce them. The only way out of this situation is to explain to the project executives that success is a direct result of a solid planning effort.  You and the sponsor must define the scope of the work and the acceptance criteria that the project stakeholders will use to judge its success. That’s the key to top-down project planning. When you have a clear scope definition, you can break it down into high-level deliverables. Then you have the basis for a work breakdown structure (WBS) that minimizes the amount of work required to deliver the project scope.

Consider our online project management courses to learn how to use all the tools and techniques for project management plans. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager as your instructor and coach. You begin when you wish and control the pace and schedule. You can have as many phone calls and live video conferences with your instructor as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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Project Plan – Answer Tough Questions

Every project manager must get Project Plan Approval before they begin work. That includes getting the “go-ahead” for the plan, schedule and budget for a new project. Even if you have been working closely with the sponsor and stakeholders, there is still the need to persuasively present the information you have developed. Too many project managers approach these meetings as “data dumps.” They think all they have to do is recite the scope, budget and schedule highlights and the executives will automatically give their approval.

A better approach is to anticipate the questions the decision-makers will ask you about your data. There are two questions that have been asked in every project approval meeting since the dawn of time.

Project Plan Questions: Time and Cost

First, the executives want to know how the project can finish earlier. Second, they want to know how the projects’ cost can be reduced. You, as the project manager, must have answers to these questions in the form of alternative ways of doing the project. If you don’t, the executives will make arbitrary changes to the budget and schedule. Then tproject plan approvalhey’ll tell you to find ways to make it happen.

Project Plan Answers: Trade-offs

You must be prepared to answer these questions with “trade-off options” so your project has a chance of success. The trade-offs will give  the executives information about how the project can finish earlier and deliver the scope for less cost. Specifically, you need to have modeled options for finishing 10% and 20% earlier and delivering the scope for 10% and 20% less than the budget you submitted for their approval. You need to have these alternatives ready to present in the project approval meeting. If you don’t provide the data, the executives are likely to arbitrarily decide that you can finish the project 20% earlier without additional people or budget.

If you aren’t prepared to respond to the inevitable questions about finishing earlier and spending less money, you will leave the project approval meeting with a project that is doomed to fail.

Here is a video about how to answer difficult questions from executives.

How to Answer Executives' Questions

You can learn all of those skills in our project management courses. Take a look at the courses in your industry specialty.

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Launch Meeting For A Project

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

The launch meeting has several purposes. They include the following:

  • Expectations for performance and behavior
  • Links between tasks and the overall objective (scope) of the project
  • How the project success will benefit the team members
  • Generating enthusiasm and commitment to the project.

But too often the launch meeting does none of these things. Here are some of the common causes:

  • The sponsor makes vague threats about the consequences of failure
  • The stakeholders are not supportive of the scope and discuss changes to it
  • Department managers discuss pulling their people off the project for higher priorities. Launch Meeting Main Page

To achieve the benefits and avoid the problems, the project sponsor and project manager need to carefully plan and control the project launch meeting. Very often there are issues or concerns that are affecting the team members’ and stakeholders’ attitudes about the project. The project sponsor and project manager should understand these concerns and have a plan for addressing them. The project launch meeting is not the time to “downplay” or try and minimize the concerns. Instead, the project sponsor and project manager should use the launch meeting to directly address people’s concerns about the impact of the project on their departments and their daily work.
Unfortunately, launch meetings often leave team members wondering how they can avoid being blamed if the project fails. They may be concerned about finger-pointing when things don’t go right.

Watch this video as a project sponsor and project manager conduct the worst launch meeting in the history of project management. I’ll point out some of the mistakes the project manager and sponsor make. Then you can listen to the project team members privately describe their reaction to the meeting. Finally, I will analyze what went wrong and suggest how to do it better.

 

Procurement Management Planning

In Procurement Management Planning, we plan how we will go about procuring every resource, human or material, that we’ll need to contract for in order to complete the project. We also specify the kinds contract we will use and may even draft them before we select the Vendor. If we’re asking contractors and suppliers to submit bids we identify the selection criteria we will use before the request for proposal or even sent out. This kind of detail planting protects the procurement process from the unethical and even illegal things that can happen during the procurement process. If the criteria for selecting the winning vendor is established early, it’s very difficult for people of the organization to try and change those criteria to the benefit of a friend or acquaintance.  Similarly we didn’t five the skill sets in the people we’ll be on the project team.  With all of these decisions made before we begin to execute the project plan we are much more efficient and have better making decisions on the fly as we purchase things.

This is a lecture video on Procurement Management planning by Dick Billows, PMP. The is also a Project Manager in Action Video written and produced by Dick that shows you have Project manager project sponsor and team working to develop their procurement management planning. You’ll see them negotiate with vendors and acquire people for the team from other departments in the organization.

Lecture Video

Project Manager in Action Video

Project Charter Development

Project Charter Development happens during initiation.  The project charter is presented at the end of the initiation and reviewed and hopefully approval by management. That approval authorizes the sponsoring project manager to begin detailed planning and to make use of corporate resources in that process.  That’s not a go-ahead started project would rather to start the planning.  The project charter includes at least the high-level scope, high-level risks and it appoints the project manager.  The charter also can include estimates of the amount of resources and time which the project will take as well as explanation of the assumptions that are behind the scope of the project and the constraints that it faces.  A good charter triggers a lot of discussion and occasionally conflict. But it’s much better to find out during initiation that some departments won’t lend you resources than after your 30% finished.  Charter is a very useful device for avoiding surprises by surfacing potential conflicts at the beginning of the effort.

This is a lecture video on Develop Project Charter by Dick Billows, PMP, from the Initiation Process Group and the first process in the Integration Knowledge Area.

Lecture Video

Project Manager in Action Video

Work Breakdown Structure Tasks

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

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) tasks are the basis for the project manager’s assignments to the team members. They are used to estimate costs and the schedule (duration). It is also the framework for reporting the project’s status to the sponsor. The WBS is central to everything a project manager does and plays a major role in determining the project’s success. You build this network of tasks by breaking down the project scope and major deliverables. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) contains everything that the team must produce to deliver the project scope.  Main WBS Work Breakdown Structure Page

Work Breakdown Structure Tasks – Questions

People always have questions about how to build the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). They often ask how big the WBS should be and how many tasks it should have. There is no magic number of tasks in a project. The number in your work breakdown structure depends on the capability of your team members. You need to consider a number of factors.

  • What is the correct duration for the assignments I’m going to make to my team?
  • How frequently do I want to receive status data and estimates to complete from my project team and vendors?
  • How often do I want to update the project schedule with current data?
  • How risky are the tasks in this project?

Work Breakdown Structure Tasks and Team Capabilities

As you can see from this list, you design the tasks in the Work Breakdown Structure to fit your management style and the capabilities of the project team members. In this article, we’ll consider the team member’s capabilities. If you have a project team made up of experienced professionals who have performed their tasks dozens of times, your work breakdown structure will have a small number of large tasks. The tasks will have longer durations because these experienced professionals can handle assignment durations of 7 to 21 days. you should give experienced professionals larger, more challenging assignments and the independence and decision-making freedom that go with it.

WBS Work Breakdown Structure

However, not every team is composed of project superstars. You’re going to have some people on your team who have some experience with projects and know their jobs but for whom a two-week assignment would be discouraging and maybe even intimidating. So for these people you’ll design task assignments that are about 5 to 7 day’s worth of work.  You’re still giving them responsibility for an important deliverable but you’ve broken it up into smaller pieces. That lets you track their work more frequently.  Frequent deliverables are a major factor in the accuracy of your status reports.  That’s because even before a deliverable is finished and accepted, your team members report how much work they’ve completed and how much work remains to be done.

Finally, you may have a team with new hires or people who have little experience with your company. Or they may have limited expertise in the technology of their task or no experience working on projects. With these people, you want to break the assignments into small pieces where they have a deliverable to produce every day or two. You would have a large work breakdown structure containing smaller tasks with short durations. That kind of Work Breakdown Structure works best with inexperienced people because you will be expecting several deliverables from them every week. This gives you the opportunity for frequent feedback on their work and coaching to improve their performance. With these newer team members, it is a valuable motivational technique to increase the size of their assignments as they demonstrate their ability to produce deliverables on time and within budget.

Designing your Work Breakdown Structure with these team member considerations also allocates your time properly. You don’t want or need to spend a much time reviewing the work of one of your experienced project superstars. That kind of micromanagement will irritate them and interfere with their feelings of independence and professionalism. That’s why you give them the biggest assignments with the longest duration. The people who need the most review of their deliverables will have the smaller assignments and shorter duration. That’s where you’ll spend most of your time.

Work Breakdown Structure Task Risks

The last consideration in the Work Breakdown Structure is the risk of each individual task. They can affect the risk of the project as a whole. If one or two of the high-level deliverables have a high risk of duration or cost overrun, you’ll break down those major deliverables into smaller pieces. Some examples are deliverables that have a high risk of changes in technology or the technology is uncertain and cost overruns are likely. When you break down those major deliverables into smaller pieces, you’ll get reports on them every day or two. That prevents big problems from surprising you when it’s too late to fix them.

You can learn how to create the Work Breakdown Structure in our online project management courses. We offer online project management courses in business, IT, construction, healthcare, and consulting. At the beginning of your course, you and your instructor will have a phone or video conference to design your program and what you want to learn. We make certain that your case studies, project plans, schedules and presentations fit your specialty. You can study whenever it fits your schedule and work at your own pace.

  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

 

Why Projects Fail

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

In too many organizations, projects fail often 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

Project Plan for Small Projects: Fast Food Approach

5-5

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

 

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