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

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

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

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

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

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

Project Team Assignments: Bad Example

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

Project Team Assignments: Good Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can enhance your PM skills and master the art of making good project team assignments in our online project management courses. You work privately and individually with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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

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

 

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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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Work Breakdown Structure Size

Starting work on your project before deciding about work breakdown structure size is a mistake. It guarantees that you will waste resources, money and have a very small chance for project success. The WBS is central to everything a project manager does. It is also a prime determinant of the project success. We build this listing of tasks by decomposing the project scope and major deliverables. It contains everything that we must produce to deliver the project scope.

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

As a result, the work breakdown structure size is the basis for the project manager’s assignments to the project team. The tasks in the work breakdown are the units for which we develop our estimates of duration and time. It also is the basis for our status reporting to the sponsor about the progress on each of the tasks in the project. For the work breakdown is very central successful project management. Main WBS Work Breakdown Structure Page

People always have questions about how to build the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). They often ask us how big the WBS should be and how many tasks it should have in it. 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

As you can see from this list, we design the work breakdown structure to fit both the project manager’s style and the capabilities of the project team. First, let’s consider the team member’s capability. If you’re fortunate enough to have a project team made up of experienced professionals who know how to do their tasks because they’ve done them dozens of times, then your work breakdown structure will have a smaller number of very large tasks. The tasks will be of longer duration because these experienced professionals can handle assignment durations of 7 to 21 days. We should give experienced professionals larger, more challenging assignments and the independence and decision-making latitude 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 too much. It would be discouraging and perhaps even intimidate. Therefore, for these people we design assignments that are about 5 to 7 day’s worth of work.  We’re still giving them responsibility for a substantial deliverable and the project but we’ve broken up into smaller pieces so we can track their work more frequently. Remember that the frequency of deliverables is a prime determinant of how accurate our status reports are.  That’s because prior to a deliverable being finished and accepted, we’re still working with estimates of how much work remains.

Finally, you may have a team composed of new hires or people who have little experience with your company, little 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 with relatively small, short duration tasks. That kind of WBS works best with inexperienced people because you will be expecting several deliverables from them every week. This gives you the opportunity for frequent feedback and coaching to improve their performance. With these newer team members, it is a valuable motivational technique to give them larger and larger 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 allocate your time properly. You don’t want or need to spend a great deal of time frequently reviewing the work of one of your experienced project superstars. That kind of micromanagement will be an irritant and interfere with their feelings of independence and professionalism. Therefore, they get the biggest assignments. The people who need the most review of their deliverables will have the shorter assignments and that’s where you’ll spend most of your time.

The last consideration is the risk of the project as a whole and the individual tasks. If we have one or two of the high-level deliverables that have a very high risk of duration or cost overrun, we’ll adapt the work breakdown structure and deliverable definitions accordingly. Specifically if certain of the deliverables have a high risk of changes in technology or where the technology is so uncertain that cost overrun is likely, we break those major deliverables down into smaller pieces. Thus, we will get deliverables every day or two and big problems won’t surprise us. Making this adaptation for the risk does he into the project manager’s time and so we do it only when the risks that resource allocation.

At the beginning of yourncourse, 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 Status Reports

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

The biggest problem in Project Status Reports is getting good team status reports. It sounds easier than it is in practice. Project team members and vendors often report inaccurate data due to undo often about their ability to resolve problems like technical issues or lack of stakeholder cooperation. Another obstacle to getting good data comes from project managers and sponsors themselves and how they behave when they receive data about problems. If every report of a variance is greeted by anger, hostility or blame, project team members avoid that by basing their status report on hopes and even prayers of solving the problems before anyone notices. Many sponsors and project managers are their own worst enemy in this regard thinking that aggressive response will somehow magically stimulate a solution. What it does is cause people to hide problems until it’s too late to fix them.  How to Write a Weekly Status Report

Project Status Reports

Dick discusses Project Status Reports and how to gather good status data from your team members as he hikes the shore of a barrier island off the South Carolina coast. He’ll also describe techniques to avoid having the team hide problems until it’s too late for you to fix them. Consistently successful project managers get early warning on problems that will affect the project. They encourage the team members to discuss problems at the first hint that the project will be adversely affected. Getting that information is not as easy as it sounds. If the project manager explodes every time somebody reports a variance, the team will very quickly learn not to report problems until they are too big to hide. Project managers who behave that way are often doomed to find out about problems when it’s too late to fix them. On the other hand, getting problem information early lets them solve the issue quickly and cheaply. That makes good project status reports and results in projects that finish on time and within budget.

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 of yourncourse, 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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Communication Techniques – Video

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

One of the most challenging parts of project management is choosing the communication techniques to use with all the different people who are involved with your project. Each of the team members, stakeholders and executives has a different personality and a different communication preference. You need to be able to “type” each of those personalities and then use the kind of communication that is most effective for them. What you can’t do is try and communicate in the same way with each of those different people. That may sound like it’s efficient but it’s certainly not effective. Project Management Skills Main Page

Let’s consider two of the personality temperaments or types that project managers encounter most frequently. People with the Guardian personality temperament (ISTJ in the Myers-Briggs terminology) make up the majority of executives in most organizations. These are very detail oriented decision-makers who want all of the data, usually in chronological order, before making a decision. If you push them for a quick decision, the answer will be NO.

Another frequently encountered personality type is the Executive (ENTJ in the Myers-Briggs terminology). This type makes up about 25% of the executives in most organizations. These are big picture thinkers who become quickly bored with the details and supporting information. They want to know the big picture and the end result, then they’re ready to make a decision.

Clearly the same communication techniques for these two executive types are not going to be effective. You need to tailor your entire communications process, including pre-meetings with individuals, to fit each temperament.

Now let’s watch a video of a project manager working with a team member. These two people have very different temperaments and the project manager is initially ineffective because he communicates with the team member in a way that suits his personality, not the personality of the team member. I’ll point out some of the key mistakes the project manager makes. Then we’ll look at the same meeting with the project manager tailoring his communications to fit the team member’s temperament. This yields a much better result.

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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What is WBS?

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

What is the WBS? The WBS or work breakdown structure  is a list of every task the team needs to complete in the project. After the project manager lists all the tasks, he or she links them with predecessor tasks that control the sequence of the tasks. Then the project manager assigns resources to each task in the WBS. The resources could be people,  contractors or materials. Next, the project manager calculates the duration of every task in the WBS. That completes the project schedule.

When the project sponsor approves the schedule, the project manager saves the approved version of the schedule in the software as the baseline. When work begins, the project manager keeps track of the progress of each task. That is the basis for status reporting and that’s how we use the WBS.  Main WBS – Work Breakdown Structure Page

What is WBS?: The Decomposed Project Scope

The WBS is not a list of the things people think must be done in project. That “to do” list approach to developing the work breakdown structure causes projects to cost more money and take longer than they should. You develop the WBS by working top-down from the scope. You start with the scope of the project that is defined by the project sponsor. Then you break it down into 4 to 7 high-level deliverables. Each deliverable must be measurable, like a metric or an approval/sign-off. Then you take each of the major deliverables and break it into its components. Those are the elements that are required to produce that deliverable. On a very large project, you may work down another level or two and subdivide large deliverables into smaller ones. You continue until you get down to the level of individual assignments for team members.

What is WBS?: How to Create the WBS

The WBS is central to the entire process of planning, scheduling and tracking a project. The best practices for developing a WBS involve these steps:

  1. The sponsor of the project defines the scope or overall objective
  2. The project manager (you) define each of the major deliverables by its end result. As an example, “Clean up the file room” is not a clear deliverable because you can’t measure the end result. On the other hand, a deliverable like, “98% of the files on the shelves in alphabetical order,” does define the end result in measured terms.
  3. You take each of the major deliverables and break them down into smaller deliverables. You stop when the task is the right size for an individual project team member contractor.

What is WBS?: An Example

Now let’s see how you would take an assignment called “Fix the XYZ program schedule” assignment and create a WBS. First, you go through the process of identifying what you want your team member to give you when he or she completes this assignment. wbsGoing back over your conversations with the project sponsor, you could identify a number of characteristics they want to see in the schedule. They want the project to be finished in less than 250 days. They want to avoid using outside contractors. And they want to spend less than $325,000 on the project.

So you use those metrics to tell your team member exactly what you want. You tell them you want a schedule that completes the project in 250 days or less, doesn’t use outside contractors and has a budget of less than $325,000. Those are the success criteria for the assignment and that’s the deliverable you would define for the team member. A really awful assignment would have been to tell the team member you want the schedule revised to be shorter, cheaper and not use any outside contractors. If you do that, the odds of getting what you want are very poor. That’s because the team has to guess what you mean by faster, cheaper and no outside contractors.

At this point, you don’t know if this deliverable is actually achievable. You need to sit down with the team member and look at the current schedule. You need to give the team member a chance to think about whether the result is achievable. Then they need to think about how long it will take them to achieve the result. You would discuss the approach and the budget for doing the work. Then you would have a good entry for your work breakdown structure. Create WBS With Team Members

What is WBS?: Too Much Work?

You may be saying to yourself, “It is going to take me a lot of time to decide exactly what I want and how I’m going to measure it for every task in the WBS.” And you are right. It does take more time than compiling a “to do” list. However, remember how important the WBS is to your project success. It is the centerpiece of every project. You use the tasks in the WBS as the foundation for estimating the work, costs and duration. The WBS gives team members clear project assignments, allows everyone to track progress on their tasks and it allows you to identify problems. As the project team executes the plan, you compare their actual results to the estimates for each WBS task. That lets you quickly identify variances and design corrective action.

Unfortunately, too many project managers don’t recognize the importance of the WBS. They think they can just make a list of all the tasks in the project and then start work. That approach yields projects that take longer and cost more than they should. Those projects are late because the PM did not identify all deliverables during the initial planning. To develop a strong WBS, you begin planning by defining the scope and the major deliverables. Then you break them down into tasks that are team member assignments to create your WBS.  Work Breakdown Structure Size

What is WBS?: How Big is It?

Project managers often ask, “How many tasks should this project have?” or, “How much detail should I have in the WBS?” The mistake PMs often make is to list hundreds of tasks. work breakdownThey start by listing the first thing they can think of to do and stop when they can’t think of anything more. They may list tasks that will take as little as an hour to complete. The driving force behind this minutia is the fear of forgetting something. How Many Tasks in a WBS?

It’s easy for a PM to think that a project’s WBS should detail everything everyone should do on the project. PMs mistakenly think that will protect them from people forgetting or skipping an item because they are lazy, stupid or sloppy. The PM may also think it frees them from relying on the thinking or creativity of the team members. The team members can just put their heads down and follow the “To Do” list. The PM mistakenly thinks they have thought of everything. That’s an unrealistic expectation.

At the beginning of your 4pm.com course, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

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

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

Project estimation techniques are critical survival tools for predicting when a project will finish and how much it will cost. Estimating duration and cost accurately can make the difference between consistent success and frequent failure.  Project managers need to use different techniques during the project phases to provide good information to the decision-makers. Let’s look at some estimating situations and how to handle them properly.

Project Estimation: Questions and Answers

In the real world, estimation of project duration and cost is a high stakes game.  The client or executive quickly wants an accurate estimate of the project’s costs and duration with your commitment to hit those numbers. When an executive asks for those estimates during the initiation process, project managers may respond with any of the following comm20statements:

  1. I’m 60% confident that we can finish the project within a duration range of 3 – 8 months and a cost between $50,000 and $250,000.
  2. We’ll be done in 5 months or so and the cost will come in at about $110,000, But that’s just a rough guess!
  3. I will have no idea until we detail the deliverables, estimate the work and find out how many people are available to do that work.
  4. Tell me when you want us to finish and the amount of the budget.

Now let’s consider each of those responses:

  • Answer #1 – it’s truthful but enrages executives
  • Answer #2 – executives quickly forget the “rough guess” and are happy with the answer
  • Answer #3 – it’s the truth but executives find it useless
  • Answer #4 – is very ingratiating but a project deathtrap.

Which response do most project managers give? Choice #2 because it deals with the reality of the situation. Executives are under pressure to make cost/benefit and priority decisions about projects. So they don’t want to hear the “rough guess” part of that response. And as we all know, there are often strategic realities that force completion dates on everyone.

Project managers are caught in a narrow vise when we’re asked to give estimates and it is easy to make estimating mistakes. This is especially true when the scope of the project is vague and the resource availability is unknown. You can make this situation a little better for everyone, however, by using a four-step estimation process. You announce this during the project initiation process. Then you explain the estimates the executives will receive in each of the four phases in the project lifecycle.

Project Estimation: A Four-Stage Process

  1. Initiation: Analogous estimates are used at this phase. They are big picture estimates based on similar projects that have been documented in the corporation’s project archives. These estimates are stated as order of magnitude estimates.
  2. Early Planning: Project-level and major deliverable-level estimates are often analogous or 3-point estimates. During this phase, you may also use parametric estimating techniques.
  3. Final project plan: You use information from the team members and include them in bottom-up estimating of their deliverables.
  4. Weekly status: You use rolling estimates every week until the project is complete.

Project Estimation: Process Example

Let’s look at this four-stage estimation process on a simple project.  That will clarify what it is and how you use it. An executive invites you into the conference room and says, “All these weekly reports from the branches come in with different data in different formats.  I want you to quickly develop a consistent template.  This is a high priority for me and you’ll get everyone’s cooperation.  Listen, I have to run to a meeting now. Come back at 3:00 this afternoon. I want to know when you and your team can get it done.” Does this sound familiar?

You think through your experiences with similar projects and review the project archives for similar projects.  You meet with the executive at 3:00 and say, “During the course of the project I will give you 4 different estimates. The accuracy will get better as we know more about the project and the work involved. The best I can do now is give you a project-level, order of magnitude estimate. It’s based on prior experience with similar projects.  I’m 60% confident we can have this project done in 18 to 35 working days.”

The executive gives you a poisonous look and says, “Okay, come back when you can give me a better estimate.”

You reply, “I can give you a better estimate when we have finalized the scope and major deliverables and you have signed off on what you want.”

The executive frowns and replies, “I was planning to delegate that.”

You smile and say, “I still need a sponsor’s signature on the scope and deliverables.”

The executive nods glumly, “OK, let’s do it tomorrow at 8:00.”

The next day at the end of the 8:00 o’clock project estimating session, the executive frowns at you and asks, “Now, how long will the project take?”

You look over your meeting notes and say, “At this point in our project estimating process, I can give you a better project-level estimate.  We’re still working top-down from the project scope down through the deliverables required to achieve that scope. Based on similar projects, I can give you a somewhat tighter estimate and apply some ratios to that. I can give you estimates on each phase. I’m 75% confident we can finish the project in 23 – 30 working days.  Using my project experience and the ratios between phases on previous projects, I can also say that I’m 75% confident in the following phase estimates:

  • Branch office managers signoff on requirements: 4 – 7 days
  • Development – people in the test group can complete the template in < 60 minutes: 5 – 8 days
  • Training- users can complete the template in 45 minutes: 4 – 5 days
  • Rollout and enforcement – 95% user compliance: 10 – 15 days.”

The executive scowls again and says, “When will I get better numbers?”

You answer, “As soon as I detail the work estimates and get commitments on the team members here at headquarters and in all the branches.  Then I can give you a bottom-up estimate, which will be more precise than the top-down estimates I’ve been using. Bottom-up is more accurate because I’ll be using estimates from the people who will be doing the work. Then I’ll aggregate them into the overall numbers. Best of all I will give you 3-point estimates with risk data.”

A few days later, you return to the executive’s office and say, “Here’s the bottom-up estimate I mentioned. With the work breakdown structure done and the resource commitments I’ve noted, I’m 60% certain we can finish within 24 – 28 working days.”

The executive gives a slightly less venomous sigh and says, “This is getting better but I’d still like a really tight estimate.”

You nod and say, “The fourth type of estimate I’ll be giving you is a weekly rolling estimate. As our work on the project progresses, the uncertainty will decrease and I’ll give you new estimates regularly.  These are called rolling estimates.  As an example, once the stakeholders approve the requirements, the uncertainty in the development work will go down and that estimate will get much tighter.”

Project Estimation: Increasing Certainty

This simple four-step process illustrates how you can give estimates and use different estimation techniques as the project uncertainty declines.  In the example, you initially used analogous estimates based on information about prior projects.  Next, working top-down from the scope, you estimated by major deliverables using ratios from earlier projects.  This information could have come from an organizational project databank (analogous estimating), from commercial estimating methodologies (parametric estimating) or from elaborate statistical analysis of earlier projects. Whatever the source of the data, the top-down estimation technique provided overall estimates with relatively broad ranges.

 In the third and fourth project estimation techniques, you used the work breakdown structure and duration/work estimating techniques at the level of individual assignments.  Using work packages improved the estimate accuracy and team member commitment. So the numbers got a lot more accurate. In the bottom-up approach, you totaled the project team members’ estimates to develop the overall project estimate.  You based your estimate on each team member’s pessimistic, optimistic and best guess estimates (3-point estimates) for their individual assignments. Three-point estimating is a widely used and effective technique.

The fourth estimation type was rolling estimates. These were also based on the bottom-up approach with the team members making regular weekly re-estimates of their task’s remaining work/duration.  As the team completes tasks each week, the uncertainty decreases and the estimates become more accurate.

A consistent requirement in these project estimating techniques is a clear and unambiguous scope definition. You also need measurable outcomes for all the deliverables and task assignments in the project. Estimating is difficult enough without the burden of a vague project scope or vague team member assignments.

Project Estimation: Organization-wide Process 

A major step to consistent estimation accuracy and success involves a modest investment in archiving data from earlier projects. This whole estimation process becomes more effective when the organization stops playing fantasy games with project estimates. They must adopt a consistent methodology for developing the kind of better and more accurate estimates we’ve been discussing.

Having an organization-wide process that details what estimating technique should be used at each project lifecycle phase is also a valuable component.  So is requiring the use of work packages to document what data supports each estimate.

Here is a related article:  How to Estimate Cost and Duration

To learn more about these project estimation techniques, consider our private, online Project Management Tools course. You have reading, video lectures and work on a project case study to practice using these project estimation techniques. Your personal coach is an expert project manager. You have unlimited video conferences with them as you master these project estimation techniques.

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 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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Leading Teams: Six Techniques For Success

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

Highly motivated, problem-solving teams are a key reason for project success. These teams are committed to the goal and to completing their assignments on time and within estimates. Teams like that are rare, however. That’s because the correct steps for successfully leading teams are challenging and often missed.

The proven techniques you’ll learn here include selecting the right team members, crafting the right size assignment for each person, accurately estimating hours of work and duration and gaining team member commitment. Then we discuss techniques for receiving status reports and giving constructive feedback.

Leading Teams: Techniques for Three Sizes:

The techniques are different for each project depending on the size and scope.

Tier 1: Small – they’re done within one department
Tier 2: Cross-functional – they affect multiple departments and cross organizational boundaries
Tier 3: Strategic  – they’re organization-wide programs or projects for client with strategic impact.

Leadership & Team Performance Main Page

Leading Teams Technique #1: Selecting Team Members

In the selection process, you’re trying to get the best people for your project team. But you’re also gathering information about their work habits and personality so you can craft the right assignment for them. Leadership and Team Assignments
Tier 1: Small projects: You are usually familiar with the potential team members’ work performance and quality standards when you all work in the same department. You need to ask the boss for the people you want on your team during the project planning phase. That’s when the boss is focused on the project and can give you hints about the correct assignment for each of them.
Tier 2: Cross-functional projects: When you have to borrow your team members froLead Teamsm other departments or organizations, it is more difficult to make sure you get productive team members. If possible, you should interview potential team members to assess their work ethic, problem solving style and quality standards.
Tier 3: Strategic projects: On large projects for your organization or your clients, you may not be able to select the team members. If personal interviews are possible, you can gather information about potential team members’ experience and work standards. You will use that information to design the right assignments for each person.  If interviews aren’t possible, you will have to make an on-the-spot judgement about the right assignment for each team member. Leading Remote Project Teams

Leading Teams Technique #2: Designing Appropriate Assignments

You must design the assignments so they fit the capabilities and personality type of each team member. You want to give larger/longer assignments to people who have solid technical experience and are skilled problem solvers. This will give them a challenge. You should give shorter assignments to people who are experienced and/or less capable. This will let you easily track their progress and help them when it’s necessary. What is Project Leadership? – video
Tier 1: Small projects: You usually have flexibility about the duration of assignments. For trainee-level team members or less capable people, you want assignments that are 1 to 3 days long. For the average team member, 5-day assignments are usually the right size. For experienced professionals, you should design assignments that are 2 weeks or longer to give them a challenge and independence.
Tier 2: Cross-functional projects: With people borrowed from other departments, it is often acceptable to talk with their boss about the right size assignment and the level of challenge you should give them.  If that’s not possible, then you will adjust the complexity and length of the assignment as they work on the task and you learn their capabilities.
Tier 3: Strategic projects: On larger projects with people who are accountable for major deliverables, you need to engage them in the design of their assignments. You must avoid micromanagement of these experienced people who are very capable.  On the other hand, you should give “rookies” assignments that are within their capabilities in terms of time and complexity. Team Micromanagement

Leading Teams Technique #3: Work Packages

You must clearly describe, in measurable terms, the deliverable(s) the team member should produce. And you must document their availability, as approved by their boss.
Tier 1: Small projects: This level of documentation is often skipped on small projects with three or four team members working on project within a department. But having a simple work pack for each team member avoids confusion about your expectations for their deliverable.
Tier 2: Cross-functional projects & Tier 3: Strategic projects: For larger projects, you should document a work package for each assignment. It will make the assignment clear and document the deliverable you expect the borrowed person to produce. The work package also provides a standard format and information base for estimating the hours of work for the tasks and identifying their risks. It is best to document the work estimate and give a copy to borrowed team member’s superior. Team Motivation

Leading Teams Technique #4: Estimating Task Work and Duration

A project management best practice is to estimate the required hours of work so you can measure progress during the assignment. Team Types
All projects: Regardless of the size of the project, you should engage the team members in the process of estimating the amount of work their assignment will take. The work package is the basis for the estimating effort. You are estimating the amount of work (50 hours, for example), not the duration (Oct. 21 through Nov. 7, for example). You should always estimate the amount of work, such as 50 hours. You never estimate just the duration, such as Oct. 21 through Nov. 7. The amount of work required for the task provides you with the ability to more accurately track progress and spot problems. Their availability to do the work (halftime, 2 days a week, for example) is also documented. Team Building

You should also discuss the assignment’s potential risks with the team member and what can be done about them. This helps you avoid, eliminate or mitigate those risks. Finally, the work package should list the required deliverable, the approach to take and the inputs the team member requires to finish their task. Team Building video

Leading Teams Technique #5: Status Reporting

Team members should report status on their tasks every week. This allows you to find problems early so you have an opportunity to fix them before the task or project is late or over budget.
All Projects: Data can come to you by phone, e-mails, a form, template or on “sticky notes.” The important thing is that each week you get the hours of work competed (as of that date) and the estimated hours required to complete the task. No narrative is necessary. You should make status reporting easy so people will do it.  It is a best practice to then give all team members updated status data on the entire project. Effective Feedback

Leading Teams Technique #6: Giving Feedback

All projects: You must give feedback to team members on a timely basis. People want to be praised for a job well done. Remember that public praise is the most effective. People also need to be told when their performance does not meet your expectations. This should be done in private and include what they can do to improve. You must deliver feedback in a way that encourages people to tell you about problems early, when you and the team can define a solution or a “work around.” Constructive Feedback

It is extremely ineffective for you to get angry with team members who report bad news. This action (or reaction) dooms you to find out about problems when it’s too late to fix them. Dysfunctional Project Team video

Leading Teams Summary

Use these proven techniques to successfully lead project teams:

  • select the right team member for each task
  • assign the right size task for their capabilities
  • create a work package to define their deliverable
  • involve the team member in estimating the amount of work required and the duration of their task
  • receive weekly status reports from the team members. Team Member Personality Types video
  • give team members constructive feedback and praise

Matrix Teams

Project Team Culture

You can learn these techniques and enhance your skills for leading teams in our online project management courses. You begin whenever you wish and control the schedule and pace. You work privately with an expert project manager and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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