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Team Culture Components

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

When a project manager takes over a team from another leader, he or she must first learn the team’s culture.  That’s as important as discovering the project’s progress toward reaching their assigned goal.  You must examine the team culture and determine if it is contributing to the team’s success or failure. If the team is successful, it’s very likely the culture is the right one for the targets they’re trying to reach. It would be a big mistake to try and change the team culture to something you, the leader, are more comfortable with. You should leave well enough alone. A good leader adapts their leadership style to support an existing team culture that is working.  Leading Teams Main Page

Team Culture Foundation

The team culture results from a combination of several things:

  • the project manager’s leadership style and techniques
  • each team member’s personal experiences
  • the “baggage” each team member brings with them
  • each team member’s personality, standards and goals.

The team members’ experience on prior teams creates expectations for the current team culture. Those expectations cover everything from negatives like the need to avoid blame, to positives like the rewards they receive for delivering good results. If the existing team culture isn’t working well, you need to know the type of team culture you’ve inherited. That tells you what kind of problems you’ll have to solve. You need to understand the team members’ experiences and expectations to be able to build a successful team culture.    Team Building

Team Culture Components

Team culture is composed of four components. The proportions of each component determine the unique culture of each team.

  • Affiliation – this team culture component measures the amount of trust, feeling of partnership, and synergy between the members.  Some teams exist solely for the purpose of this togetherness.  Examples of teams with high scores on affiliation between the members might include social clubs, support groups and religious congregations.
  • Task control –  this component is an orientation toward predictability, stability and order. The team leader controls what’s happening to ensure the team follows the correct methods and procedures. They must follow all the rules to get the job done. Hierarchy, stability and proven methodologies are very important in these team cultures.  Examples of teams with high scores on task control orientation would be a group of workers on an assembly line working along side robots or a prison road gang cleaning trash from the side of a highway. (Do they still have those?)
  • Personal development – this component deals with the orientation toward the development and personal growth of the team members.  Creativity, dedication and commitment to the purpose of the team are very important. Examples of teams with high scores on personal development might be computer skill clubs or leadership clubs.
  • Professional competence – this component of the team culture deals with the orientation toward achieving excellence in their work and profession. Here there is pressure on team members to be “the best.” That means they are creative professionals who know their business and use the best practices when they do their work.  This ingredient is very strong in management consulting teams and winning sports franchises. These team cultures put peer pressure on all the members to be the best at what they do. Team Motivationteam culture

Team Culture Rules and Behavior

No team has only one of the four components. Every team culture has all four components in various strengths.  Teams blend these four components into a culture that defines the rules people must follow to be a member of the team.  The team members, not just the leader, enforce the team culture. A new team member joining an established team will make mistakes. There is a learning process to understand what rules and behavior are important in that team culture and which are not. A new team member finds this out by trial and error and by watching other team members as well as the team leader. They learn how to behave and how to talk to other team members in a way that fits this team’s culture. For example, a team member coming from a team with a strong affiliation component will have a steep learning curve when joining a team where professional competence is the strongest component.  They will behave in a way that is very nurturing and supportive of other team members. The existing team members will view this behavior as inappropriate. Their culture uses peer pressure to emphasize performance excellence and being “the best” in the profession.  Leadership & Team Performance 

You can learn how to build a successful team culture in our online project management courses.

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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

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Team Leader: How To Improve Team Performance

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

Improve team performance must start with reviewing the team leader’s performance.  Project managers are team leaders who are often unaware of how their own performance affects the team’s performance and attitudes. We’ll look at six ways project managers try to improve team performance that do NOT work. And we’ll analyze why they negatively impact the team. Then we’ll discuss four positive team leader techniques for improving team performance. Leading Teams Main Page

Poor Team Leader Technique #1: “Variances Are a Personal Betrayal”

Let’s look at some examples. It’s a few weeks into a project and Jill, a project team member, reports that her task is going to slip four days past the due date. She explains that all the managers who need to sign off on the design are at an out-of-town offsite meeting. She has no way to contact them until they return. The project manager slumps down head in hands, and moans, “How can you do this to me? I thought we were friends.  You’re gonna get me in big trouble with the VP.  You were the one team member I thought would never do this kind of thing to me.”

Assessment: This ineffective technique makes the team member feel guilty and it doesn’t solve the problem.

Poor Team Leader Technique #2: “You’re The Problem, Not The Assignment”

Bill is a subject matter guru who sends an email to the PM and the team stating, “Unexpected technical difficulties may cause the completion of my task to slide a week or more.” That afternoon the PM spots Bill in the hall, calls to him and says, “What the heck’s the matter with you?  Do you think you can re-set the completion date without talking to me? I’m going to look into these “unexpected technical difficulties.”

Assessment: You should never give negative feedback in public.  And never suggest “something is wrong with a team member.  You should criticize specific behavior, not the individual; and always do it in private.

Poor Team Leader Technique #3: “Every Slippage is a Catastrophe”

One of the trainees, Miles, comes to the PM’s cubicle and says, “I’m going to finish later than I planned by one day; but just one day. My boss gave me a high priority assignment that will interrupt my project work.” The PM glares at the trainee and says, “Don’t give me this ‘just one day late’ stuff.  You have to fix it so you don’t have this kind of disaster.  This is what makes projects fail!”

Assessment: You should not blame a team member for being pulled off your project by their department manager. That is not their fault. It is your job, not theirs, to solve the work priority issue with their boss. Also, one day late is not a catastrophe.

Poor Team Leader Technique #4: “You Have to Fix This Today”

Mary calls to report an 8-day slippage on her task due to the new technical requirements she just received.  The PM says, “Well that means your overtime starts tonight. And I’ll need your entire team in here all weekend.”

Assessment: This slippage was probably beyond the team member’s control.  Trying to recapture the lost time, starting today, is often the least effective solution.  There are times when you have to ask for extra hours. But “all hands on overtime” is foolish and it punishes the whole team for something that is not their fault. This does more harm than good.

Poor Team Leader Technique #5: “I Have to Watch You Closely From Now On”

Jack tells the PM he’s figured out a way to cut the five-day variance he reported last week to only two days.  The PM says, “Just make up your mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s 5 days or 2 days. You shouldn’t have ANY variances. I’m going to have to watch you a lot more closely from now on.”

Assessment: This is a great technique for discouraging team members from creative problem solving.

Poor Team Leader Technique #6: “Guilt, The Great Motivator”

Jean reports a two-week variance. The PM reacts by saying, “You’ve let every member of this team down. We were all counting on you to come through and you didn’t. You have no idea how badly this will affect the whole project and many people’s careers.”

Assessment:  An experienced team member will shrug off this foolish reaction; and they should.  But a new employee may think you are speaking the truth and become very upset and feel guilty.

Your Poor Team Leader Behavior is Always Onstage

Handling performance problems with even one team member puts you, the team leader, on stage in front of the entire team. You should assume the team member who’s going to finish late will talk to others about your reaction. And don’t think their peers will treat them like an outcast because they won’t.  Team members usually assume their peer merely had some bad luck on their assignment. They judge your reaction when they hear about it (and they always do) based on your bad news behavior. They won’t share or support your opinion that the team member’s work was bad or that they’re a “bad person.” When you treat the team member reporting a variance as if they’ve spread the plague, you will get an adverse reaction from the entire team. You can count on the fact that your project team members regularly talk to each other about your behavior. And they will tell everyone how badly you react to a negative situation.

Effective Team Leader Performanceteam leader

The first effective team leader guideline is to handle each performance problem as if your words and actions will be broadcast on Twitter, Facebook and CNN. You can also be sure that this broadcast of your behavior will focus on the juiciest aspects of the story, not a balance of good and bad. Because team members will broadcast your handling of performance problems, you should have a script for each situation. This role is called “Bad News Behavior.” Each “appearance” always has four acts.

You’re probably asking, “Why must I play a role?” “Why can’t I just be myself?”

The answer is that your natural tendency is to express your emotions. These include disappointment, worry and even anger when a slippage or overrun occurs. Remember that dealing with a project team member’s overrun is not an opportunity for you to get your frustration “off your chest.” You must focus on engaging that team member in finding and implementing the best way to solve the problem. All the negative responses we saw above came from project managers without a script for an effective “Bad News Behavior” role. They were disastrous attempts to improve team performance. Here are the fours acts that define your role.

Effective Team Leader Technique #1: Use Data to Judge the Severity of the Problem

The first act for the “Bad News Behavior” role is to determine the severity of the problem. To do this, you must have a proper project plan, a dynamic model of all the tasks, predecessor relationships (the sequence and dependency of tasks) and work/duration estimates. With this information, you can quickly assess the severity of the problem. The actions you take should be based on sound analysis and judgment. If you react to every problem as if it was a catastrophe, you will quickly lose your ability to engage your team in problem-solving when a serious matter arises.

The data in your plan and schedule will tell you if you are dealing with a task that is not on the critical path and if it has enough slack to cover the variance without affecting the project completion date. You’ll handle that problem very differently from a variance on a critical path task. That’s where every day of delay affects the entire project’s completion date. The data lets you live with some variances and focus your attention on the significant problems. This assessment makes your “Bad News Behavior” reaction appropriate for the problem.

Effective Team Leader Technique #2: Determine the Extent of its “Ripple Effect”

You will also use the project schedule to analyze the “ripple effect” of a variance on the tasks that follow the slipped task. The severity of a variance may increase or decrease based on whether resources are available on the tasks that follow the slipped task. You may be able to assign some of those available resources to work on the task with the variance. This “ripple effect” analysis also sets up your next step.

Effective Team Leader Technique #3: Pick the Best “Action Point” for Recovery

There is a natural tendency to think that you need to solve any variance on the task where it occurred. Of course recovery to complete that problem task on time and within budget is nice. But often adding resources or taking other corrective action on the problem task is not the best way to recover. It’s not easy to get additional people to work on the problem task. And when you do, you must quickly bring them up to speed. The net result may be that the problem task is further behind than if you left the existing people alone to work on it. Sometimes it’s easier and more effective to take action on a later task. That will give you more time to organize the recovery and find resources to regain the lost time.

Effective Team Leader Technique #4: Discuss the Work Package With the Team Member

Your response to improving team performance should be finding the solution, not assigning blame to the team member. So you start the discussion with the team member by talking about the solution and getting their thoughts on a solution the you two will jointly implement. You need to review the work package that was the basis for the team member’s original work estimate and approach to the task. Take a look at the team member’s availability and the risk factors included in the estimate. By using the original work package as the basis for discussing the problem, you focus attention on your previous discussions. The flaws are in that document, not the team member. The big advantage of this last step is that it focuses attention on the work, the assumptions and the estimates, not the personal characteristics of the team member.

Now you are ready to talk about solutions to the problem and improving team performance.

Effective Team Leader Techniques Summary

These four team leader techniques will help you improve your team’s performance and avoid a “shoot from the hip” emotional reaction that leads to ineffective problem-solving behavior.

To learn more about using proven team leader techniques, building dynamic project plans, using effective estimating techniques, and improving team performance, consider taking one of our private, online courses. We offer courses in team leadership and project management techniques. We also offer on-site training for implementing these processes at the organizational level.

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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

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Team Building Techniques

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

Leaders use team building techniques to increase the team members’ motivation, work attitudes and performance.  These techniques are used for three Moments of Truth (MOT). If team leaders handle them properly, these Moments of Truth (MOT) produce team members who actually try to do the following:

  • finish assignments early
  • take responsibility for solving problems
  • try to find better, faster ways of producing their deliverables.

When these MOTs are handled badly, they produce a team that does the following:

  • let the work fill the available time
  • wait for someone else to solve their problems
  • focus their attention on avoiding blame for failure.  Leading Teams Main Page

Team Building Techniques: Moment of Truth #1 – Team Commitment to Their Assignments

The first Team Building Technique Moment of Truth comes early, during the project planning phase when you’re building the plan and schedule. You’ll work with your team to define their assignments. You are clear about the deliverable they will produce and how you will measure if it is acceptable. You will document all that in a one-page work package so there is no confusion or misunderstanding. Finally, you’ll speak to their boss and pin down the team member’s availability for the assignment.

Working with the team member, you’ll estimate the amount of workteam building techniques the deliverable will take.  The two of you will calculate the task’s duration (how long it will take) from that data. It is important that the team member is clear on the assignment and has input into the estimate. You create a work package that is like a contract. That’s because changes to the assignment also require changes to the estimate. That’s the best way to do an estimate because it helps build the team member’s commitment to their assignment.    Leadership and Team Assignments

Team Building Techniques: What Gets in the Way?

Lots of things can destroy the success of this team building technique. Trust between you and the team member is a key component.  Sponsors and lazy project managers who won’t do their work are one cause of problems.  These people need to take the risk of being wrong rather than hedge their bets with vague expectations.  Here’s an example. Let’s say that during your project initiation meeting with the sponsor, he was quite clear about the required completion date and repeated it often.  Successful project managers always respond with, “I understand when you want the project done.  But I won’t know if that date is possible until I understand exactly what you want. Then I must determine how much work that will take and how many people I will have to do it.” The sponsor won’t like that answer, but it is the truth.  A foolish project manager commits to the due date without having all of the necessary  information. Effective Feedback

As you get deeper into planning this example project, it becomes obvious that finishing all the tasks by the sponsor’s due date is impossible. It’s not just tough. Even with lots of overtime, it’s mathematically impossible. So you are waiting for exactly the right moment to tell the sponsor that their date is impossible. You are also hoping for a miracle breakthrough that will make the date feasible. You’re working with the team members on estimating their tasks and starting to squeeze them on their estimates.  Eventually you abandon their participation and just make the task durations hit the sponsor’s completion date. Team Types

Bad Team Building Techniques: Due Date Determines the Schedule

This is the dilemma of the first Team Building Technique Moment of Truth. You can confront the sponsor with the truth about the date and take the heat. Or you can yield to the temptation to continue postponing the confrontation. In the latter situation, you show the sponsor acceptable dates by backing into the schedule from his completion date. You do this silly process by starting from the sponsor’s desired completion date and working backward. You pluck task completion dates from the sky like this, “Jack has to be finished by June 23 so Mary has to be finished by June 5th and Pat has to be finished by May 19, etc.”

When you are done with this exercise, you will have met the sponsor’s required date. Then you tell each team member when their assignment has to be finished. If anyone protests, you blame the sponsor directly or shrug and point up to the executive floor. This lets the project finish precisely on the sponsor’s due date, at least on paper. That makes the sponsor happy, at least for awhile.  You may be thinking, “We’re smart and hard working; maybe we CAN finish by then.” Team Building

This technique is widely used. In fact in some organizations, plucking dates backward from a due date is their project management best practice. Of course these organizations have 70% project failure rates. More to the point, the imaginary finish dates that you plucked from the sky cause you to fail at Project Team Building Moment of Truth #1. The project team feels they have been plucked themselves. The younger and more innocent members of the team are discouraged, knowing that they will fail to finish on time. The more experienced team members also know they’ll finish late. But their experience tells them they will get to spend months after the project’s “finish” date cleaning up the mess that was frantically slapped together to finish “on-time.”

Worst of all, what kind of commitment do you get from your team with this kind of process? People who know they have no chance of hitting their “committed” dates have little dedication or enthusiasm for their tasks. Even if you and the team use every ounce of creativity, you must squeeze the plan and develop shortcuts to slash the duration. 99.9% of the time these efforts will still fall short of the sponsor’s completion date expectation.

Team Building Techniques: Moment of Truth #2 – Handling Bad News

Whatever happens during planing, every project next faces the second Team Building Technique Moment of Truth. It starts at an early project team meeting and continues until the project is complete. Here’s how it goes. One of the members says to you, “I’m gonna finish a week, maybe two, later than planned.” Visions of the whole project collapsing flash through your mind. But you have choices on how you handle the situation.

This bad news may tie your stomach in knots because the slipping task is on the critical pathThat means it will delay the entire project completion date. It’s very easy to react emotionally. You might even treat this bad news as a personal betrayal by the project team member.  So you you get angry and act as if it’s something for which you can punish them. That action stops the team members from telling you about problems.  The team member who spoke up will not tell you next time and the rest of the team won’t either. Even if your anger is delivered to the team member in private, the rest of the team will hear about the incident within hours.

Some project managers (and executives) think refusing to listen to bad news is a sign they are dynamic and aggressive leaders. The truth is just the opposite; they are stupid. When project managers teach people not to give them bad news, they deny themselves the opportunity to solve slipping tasks when they are small problems. From then on, team members will wish and hope they can finish on time rather than tell the PM about the problem. They won’t lie. They’ll just use a bit of optimism when reporting the status of their assignments. The PM who doesn’t view bad news as an opportunity to fix a problem dooms himself to learning about big problems when it’s too late to fix them.

You need to learn to handle bad news positively and show appreciation for the opportunity to solve the problem. Keep in mind that the team member with a late task often is not to blame. Even if they are the culprit, it shouldn’t be obvious that you’ve reached that conclusion. You should handle the variance as a problem you and the team member have to jointly solve. You want your team members to continue to trust you. When they do, you get the valuable opportunity to solve problems early, when they’re small. If you discourage your team members from giving you bad news, you doom yourself to discovering problems when it’s too late to recover.  Leadership & Team Performance

Bad Team Building Techniques: Moment of Truth #3 – Micromanagement

Even if you are able to plan correctly and handle the bad news properly, you will still face Team Building Technique Moment of Truth #3. The temptation for many technically savvy PMs is to react to every problem by diving right in and making all the decisions. For many project managers, this is a very comfortable position. It’s much easier than trusting the team members and giving them room to make mistakes and own their results. These PMs even relish the sight of a line of team members outside their cubicle waiting for decisions. You know the micromanagement disease is raging when these PMs start complaining about how their team members, “lack initiative and the ability to work independently.” Of course, none of the team members feel ownership of any result or have a sense of achievement because the PM is making all the decisions.

Micromanagers want to “make things happen, now!” so they stick their fingers into everyone’s assignments. They may have built a commitment foundation where the team feels accountable for their achievements. But as soon as they make the decisions and treat the team members as drones, they’ve reverted to micromanaging. It’s difficult to keep your hands off people’s assignments when the sponsor is putting pressure on you about missed deadlines and budget overruns. But that is exactly the moment when you need the benefit of a project team that feels accountable for their achievements. Then they have some incentive to meet and, hopefully, exceed their assignments.

Team Building Techniques: Summary

When you succeed in each of these three Team Building Techniques Moments of Truth, you substantially increase the likelihood of project success. Each of the Team Building Techniques Moments of Truth involves both personal leadership techniques and sound project management processes.

You can learn these processes and our proven project management methodology in our online courses with individual coaching and mentoring. You will practice every tool and technique you are learning in assignments and role-playing exercises with your instructor. Whenever you have a question or want to discuss a technique, you can telephone or e-mail your instructor and always get a response within 24 hours. You have as many live online meetings with your instructor as you need.

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3 Point Project Estimating: Padding, Accuracy, Commitment

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

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

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

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

Common Estimating & Risk Issues

Two mindsets often plague the estimating process:

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

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

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

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

Three Point Estimating in Detail

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

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

Padding Estimates

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

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

Reducing Padding

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

Best Guess, Optimistic and Pessimistic Estimates

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

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

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

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

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

Using 3-Point Estimates

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

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

*Three point estimating Formulas

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

SD= (PE-OE)/6

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

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Scheduling Software to Improve Control & Your Credibility

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

We use scheduling software for our projects, we teach project managers how to use it and we help our clients pick the scheduling software that’s right for them.  The number of choices in project scheduling software has exploded and there are now thousands of packages. Many are free (at least at the beginning), others are crap. They give you the later in exchange for your email and phone number so they can sell you more crap, so be forewarned.

Project Manager Role and Scheduling Software Tools

Our scheduling software review criteria are based on what we teach our clients about the role of project managers in organizations.  That role begins with providing management with decision-making data on the alternative costs and duration required to produce the project deliverables.  Once management approves the cost, duration and deliverables, the project manager and team begin work. Throughout the project, the project manager reviews progress and reports any changes to the project’s expected cost and duration. They use scheduling software to help them do the analysis and create status reports. It is also a helpful tool for suggesting corrective action to keep the project on track.  Management often wants to make additions or deletions to the plan. When that happens, the project manager uses scheduling software to quantify their impact on the planned cost and finish date.  Both weekly tracking and managing changes require the project manager to give solid decision-making data to management. And scheduling software provides that data.

Scheduling Software Main Page

Scheduling Software: Required Features

Scheduling software must also have the following capabilities at a minimum:

1. Produce a Gantt chart that clearly communicates the start and finish date for each task and the sequence of tasks
2. Display the name of the person accountable for each task and its duration
3. Allow you to generate graphics and data comparing actual performance to the baseline project schedule.
There are several packages that will give you these three capabilities for $25 or less. You could also spend thousands of dollars for packages that don’t do much more than these three capabilities; they just do it fancier.

To fulfill the project management role I described above, you need a scheduling software tool that allows you to calculate the cost and duration of each task and the project as a whole. This includes the following:

  1. Estimated hours of work for each task
  2. Availability of the team member(s) to do that work (# of hours per week devoted to the project)
  3. Hourly cost of the team member(s) doing the work and materials required to produce the deliverable
  4. Sequence of the tasks in the project
  5. Impact of changes to any of the above.scheduling software

In addition to the above criteria, even project managers on a small project need the following scheduling software capabilities:

  1.  Ability to control task sequencing with predecessor relationships. These relationships eliminate the need to reenter start and finish dates every time something changes in the schedule. An astounding number of the packages we reviewed did provide this. Predecessor relationships will allow you to update your schedule in 10 minutes, rather than hours, a week.
  2. Allow you to enter “estimate to complete” data into the software. This capability lets you gather data from your project team on when they’re going to finish their tasks. Then you can forecast when the project will finish. This makes your status reports and communications much more complete. It also demonstrates to management that you are in control of what’s happening on the project.

The two scheduling software packages we suggest to our students are:

Gantter – it’s free and works within your Gmail account.

Microsoft Project – this software has been the top ranked tool for project managers for years.  The standard edition costs $589.

You will learn how to use project management software in our online courses. We offer project management courses for business/marketing,  IT, construction, healthcare and consulting.  You will work individually with your instructor on case studies and practice making project plans, schedules, reports and presentations that fit your 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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Time Estimation Mistakes – Video

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

Project managers must make time estimates at the beginning of every project because the sponsor needs to know when the project will be done. The sponsor wants to be sure the project manager will meet their due date expectation. “When are you going to be done?” is probably the the question that’s asked most often in project management.  Time estimation includes the amount of work and the amount of time (duration) required for the team members’ assignments. They are probably the most important estimates and they have to be accurate. There is a tremendous advantage if the team members participate in the time estimation process. When the team members participate in making the estimate and they think the estimate is fair, they have a commitment to finishing their work within that time. Adding all the estimates from the individual team member assignments up to the final deliverable is called “Bottom up”  time estimation. The accuracy of the time estimates is a major determinant of a project manager’s credibility with upper management, stakeholders and the project team.

Time Estimation Mistakes Video

The video shows a technique for time estimation that 60% of project managers use. But it is the wrong way. It creates time estimates that no one believes so no one is committed to them. After you watch the project manager work with the team, you’ll go behind-the-scenes and hear what the team members say about their time estimation session. You’ll also hear from the project sponsor about the completion date he set. Then I will give you my assessment of what happened, the impact on the team members, the level of commitment they have to their dates and how the project manager should have done things. I hope you enjoy it.

Bad Estimating Process

You can learn to use several time estimation techniques in our online project management courses. You’ll 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 course in your specialty.

 

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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

 

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How To Do 3 Point Estimating

It is worth learning how to do 3 point estimating because it is the best technique for developing estimates with your project team members. It is called 3 point estimating because the team member provides their pessimistic, optimistic and best guess estimates for their deliverable. It is also called PERT which stands for Program Evaluation and Review Technique. This estimating technique is a best practice because it gives project managers three benefits:

  1. Increased accuracy over one-point estimates

    Dick Billows, PMP
    Dick Billows, PMP
    CEO 4pm.com
    Dick’s Books on Amazon
  2. Better commitment from the project team members because the estimate considers the risk in the assignment
  3. Useful information on the risks of each task.

3 Point Estimating is a 3-Step Process

1. First, you work with the team member assigned to each task and identify both the positive and negative risks involved in their task. Negative risks are the things that could make it take more time and positive risks are the things that could make it take less time.

2. Next you ask the team member to make three estimates. The first is a best guess (BG) which is the average amount of work the task might take if the team member performed it 100 times. The second estimate is the pessimistic (P) estimate which is the amount of work the task might take if the negative factors they identified do occur. The third estimate is the optimistic (O) estimate which is the amount of work the task might take if the positive risks they identified do occur.

3. Then you do some simple mathematics with the three estimates. You calculate the mean and standard deviation using the 3-point estimation formulas: (O + 4BG + P) ÷ 6= the weighted mean and P-O/6 = the standard deviation (used for calculating probabilities). The weighted mean estimate from the three estimates the team member gave you is the one you use for their task. It reflects the amount of risk in the task and the severity of the impact of the optimistic and pessimistic risks.

Teaching Your Team 3 Point Estimating

By having this discussion about the risks in the task, you give the team member an opportunity for input into the estimating process. You also go way beyond the game-playing that typically surrounds making an estimate using a single number. Typically, team members are thinking about that single number and padding it as much as they possibly can. They know from experience that the project manager will probably cut it arbitrarily. That’s clearly not the way to get good estimates.

When you use the 3 point estimating technique, you record all three estimates in the team member’s work3-point estimating package as well as the positive and negative risks that were identified. This clearly communicates to our team members and the project sponsor that the estimates are not 100% certain. There are risks you have considered that could affect the amount of time the task will take. This approach removes some of the team members’ uncertainty (and often fear) that is associated with the estimating process.

3 Point Estimating Accuracy

The 3 point estimating technique gives you better data because you’re explicitly considering risks. You learn about the risks of a task early in the process from the person who will be doing the work. That knowledge gives you the opportunity to take corrective actions before you start work on the project. That increases the likelihood of the good risks and decreases the likelihood of the bad risks.

As an example, if a team member says that on previous assignments involving a certain department in the company, the amount of work in the task increased substantially. That was because supervisors and managers from that department repeatedly failed to come to project planning meetings. Knowing that, you would take steps to encourage that department to attend the planning meetings. You might even involve the project sponsor to gain the department supervisors’ and managers’ commitment to attend the meetings. If you can reduce the likelihood of negative risks, you take a big step toward accurately estimating the work and improving our project’s duration.

To learn more estimating skills,  consider our online project management courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty at 4pm.com