Managing Remote Teams for Projects

Over the last 10 years, technology has allowed team members to work at home in great numbers. That is in addition to the contractors and stakeholders from other locations. The technology for remote team members forces changes to the project manager’s leadership techniques.  The most frequent mistake we see (and we made it ourselves at first), is to think that technology will let you manage the team the same way you did when they were all in the same office.  Leading Teams Main Page

The truth is that your leadership style still has to accomplish 4 things with all your team members, no matter where they work. You must:

  1. Give them clear performance expectations and explain how you will measure their work.
  2. Gain their commitment to the team’s goal and understanding of how their assignment fits in.
  3. Ensure that they understand the status of the project and their assignment(s) each weekly.
  4. Practice giving praise publicly. That’s your most valued reward.
Live Video Conferences

PMs can use live video conferences to make their leadership effective for remote team members.  When you use the video conference as a substitute for face-to-face meetings,  you need to avoid falling into the video conference Tar Pit. Let me explain what I mean.

Video Conference Tar Pit

In the Tar Pit, managers start the video conference off by logging into the meeting, saying hello and then turning down the sound.  They proceed to catch up on emails and phone calls while occasionally glancing at the screen and listening to the muttering voices.  The Tar Pit spreads like the flu when these managers mistakenly call their subordinates who are in the same video conference. Oops! People quickly realize that faking their attendance and attention is the “cool” thing to do.  Soon no one is listening.

The project manager realizes that the absence of any questions from the attendees is a symptom of the Tar Pit.   So they start asking questions of random people or threatening the group with a test.  That works for a while until an attendee answers the question with, “I can’t hear you; there’s too much static” or “Excuse me, I need to use the restroom.”  The excuses and their entertainment value skyrocket until the PM stops asking questions. Here’s how you can avoid the Tar Pit:

  1. Limit the size of your video conferences to 1-4 people.
  2. Limit the video conference time to 30 minutes.
  3. Use the conferencing software feature to display everyone’s image, not just yours.
  4.  Keep the conversation moving. Schedule 1-on-1 sessions to discuss details that aren’t of interest to the entire group.
  5. Keep the meeting moving by asking people’s opinions.

You should also leave the video conference open to other team members. You can decide whether to admit them based on the topic being discussed. That gives the meeting a social boost which people working at home need.

Collaboration between remote team members

You need to give your team members tools to work with each other.  This collaboration is important for both efficiency and social bonding.  It’s where remote workers are made to feel they’re part of the team.

Most of the “remote team” software products provide several communication tools that can function between team members, working from home, in different offices, or another country.  In addition to video conferencing, they include: texting, email, Twitter, Facebook, live streaming of meetings and much more. These tools have enabled remote team members to collaborate effectively. But some programs have a few bad features. Among the worst are the “drop in” communication packages. They let you or a team member connect directly with another team member’s PC.  That team member is rudely interrupted (and possibly frightened) when someone’s face appears in a window on their screen.   Working remotely, however, can also create some challenges when working as a team.

Successfully managing remote teams requires keeping up with technology and producing the same, if not better, results than if you were working with your team locally.  Here are five suggestions for effectively managing your remote teams.

  1. Conduct the Remote Project Teams Kick-Off as You Would for Local Projects
    Managing a project remotely may not allow for a face-to-face initial kick-off meeting, but the same principles should apply during initiation, determining scope, etc.  Brainstorming sessions, although potentially easier in person, can still be conducted thoroughly via video conference.  This is opportunity to identify as many questions, concerns, ideas, timelines, constraints, etc., as possible to help ensure clarity toward the end goal throughout the project.
    Other Suggestions:  Kick-off with a clear agenda that includes project purpose, goals, and success factors. Ensure team member roles are established and explained and include appropriate people to positively support the project.
  2. If in Your Control, Form Strong Remote Project Teams
    If you have the opportunity to build your own remote project team, seek motivated, positive, self-sufficient and of course, knowledgeable people.  A self-sufficient and motivated team member will help offset the potential communication challenges a remote environment offers like time zone differences, meeting availability, or lack of face-to-face meetings.  An opportunity to work with the most qualified candidates increases with the pool of employees from across the country or even globe. This is a big advantage of managing a remote team.
    Other Suggestions:  Invest time in your project team.  Get to know your team members. You can use LinkedIn to learn something about them.  Also, it’s best to speak with your team members about more complicated items rather than using email.
  3. Conduct Regularly Scheduled Meetings (as needed – daily, weekly, etc.)
    Communication is key, especially when distance of any length exists among your team.  Project team members can easily get distracted and focus more on other tasks or projects when “out of sight, out of mind.”  Detailed status reports containing issues, items for attention, etc. should continue to be sent before each meeting and used as an agenda for the meeting. This helps keep meetings at an appropriate length. I have never heard anyone complain about a meeting being too short.  Please be mindful of time zone differences (if needed) to accommodate the entire team as much as possible.
    Other Suggestions:  Gain a reputation for being reliable and dependable.  These characteristics become even more important when working in a remote environment.  Respond to inquiries and issues in a timely manner.  This behavior typically is replicated and benefits the entire project.
  4. Set Expectations Throughout the Entire Project Lifecycle
    Similar to an exercise program, consistency is crucial.  In addition to regularly scheduled meetings, project statuses and updates should be communicated frequently. The team must be aware of exactly where the project is on the overall timeline, which tasks remain open, and the status of each task for each team member.  Consistent and appropriate communication should occur at both the individual and team level.
    Other Suggestions:  Customize for individual expectations.  Work with each member individually, as needed, to ensure expectations are clear.  While some members may prefer and even excel in multi-tasking various responsibilities, other members may be more effective with a shorter list of tasks.
  5. Recognize Team Members for Positive Performance
    Most people enjoy some type of positive recognition.  Recognition can be tailored to each individual team member depending on their preference.  For example, a team member might finish their task early, which could correlate to an earlier project finish time.  That person might appreciate even more responsibility and assisting with another task. Another person might appreciate getting the “extra time” to work on other projects. In addition, an email to their immediate superior recognizing their good work is always appreciated.
    Other Suggestions:  During each (weekly) meeting, do a “shout out” in praise of at least one team member and document the recognition  of their achievement in the meeting minutes.

Managing a unique project from start to finish, whether working with a local or remote project team, will always present challenges.  Working with a motivated team through appropriate and timely communication channels can help overcome at least some of these challenges.

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Risk Management Plan: Selling It To Executives

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

Regardless of its size,  you always have to sell the benefits of the risk management plan to the sponsor and stakeholders. But they’ll often be hostile.  That’s because they aren’t convinced that spending money on risk management improves the odds of finishing on time and within budget.  They may see risk management as a waste of time and money. Risk Management Main Page

You should never start your risk management presentation by boring your audience with the list of 63 negative risks that could adversely affect the project and 27 positive risks that could let you finish earlier and spend less money. You also shouldn’t present the results of your qualitative or quantitative risk analysis; no matter how proud you are of them.  That type of presentation will only convince your audience that you have wasted both time and money.

Risk Management Plan Presentation: How To Do It

In the first 60 seconds of your presentation, you should acquaint your audience with one or two significant risks and the impact those risks could have on the project. Let’s take a simple project and see how you might start the presentation.

“Good afternoon. I’m here to talk with you about our supply room project. The goal is to reduce the number of complaints from our employees. Last year, we averaged 53 complaints per month. Our goal is to reduce it to less than 3 per month. The major deliverables that will lead to achieving that goal are:

First, that 95% of the time employees can find the supplies they need in less than 60 seconds.

And second, that fewer than 3 items each month are out of stock.risk management plan presentation

We see two problems that could make it difficult or impossible for us to deliver that goal. The first problem is that the people who stock the supply room will not use the new, more efficient design which we will produce during the course of the project. We need an incentive so they don’t return to their old habits and recreate the same mess we have today. To avoid that problem, we would like to add a performance criteria to their job descriptions and annual performance reviews. It will require people to maintain the supply room design by restocking supplies in the specified locations.

The second problem is that employees will not know where to look for the supplies they need. If that happens, the complaints about the new design may be higher than the current complaint rate. To avoid that problem, our design will place the most frequently needed supplies (those that account for 80% of the withdrawals) near the supply room entry. We will also print and distribute a supply room crib sheet and map to all employees. We will also have a large-scale copy of the crib sheet and map on the supply room door.

If you approve this risk management plan, I believe we can completely avoid both problems.”

Taking this simple and direct approach to presenting your risk management plan is almost always more successful than a presentation that drowns your audience in data or complex statistics. Instead of all the numbers, you discuss the problems, the consequences and your remedy. Plus you do it in just a few minutes.

If you want to enhance your presentation skills, consider our online Presentation and Negotiation Skills course.  You work individually with your instructor at your pace. They’ll coach you with techniques for improving the content and media of your presentations as well as your speech and body language.

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Project Tradeoffs: 4-Corners of a Project

Project trade-offs are the best technique to use when you’re dealing with executives who want to make changes to the plan. Knowledgeable project executives understand the concept of balances or trade-offs when they want to add or delete something.  They know that if they ask you to squeeze the duration by one month it will affect the scope, cost or risk. Those are the 4-corners of a project.

Unfortunately, some executives think they can shorten the duration of the project by a month without impacting the other three corners. In this project fantasyland, they believe they can increase the scope and the deliverables without affecting the duration (schedule), cost or risk. They think any changes they want to make to the project are “free.”

Project managers who allow project executives to live in this fantasy world are doomed to repeated project failures. Once you give the executive free changes to the project, he will keep requesting (or demanding) more changes.

Using the 4-Corners

Skilled project managers always talk to executives about trade-offs between the project’s 4-corners: scope, duration, cost and risk. They make the point that there are no “free lunch” changes. Every change to the project impacts the other corners and requires a trade-off. But tactically, the PMs never say “no” to a change. That never gets them anywhere. What they say is, “Yes, I can change the schedule to finish two weeks earlier. But that will increase the project cost by $14,000 to pay for overtime and hiring several consultants. Do you want to do that, sir? Do you want to trade off a two week earlier finish for a $14,000 increase in the budget?”

Project managers should talk trade-offs with executives during the initial planning and in the approval presentation. They should continue this discussion every week when change requests are submitted and as variances appear.

They also always have the data on the 4-corners and always carry an iPad or small PC so they can generate tradeoff data in a minute or two from their MS Project schedule. You need to quantify the scope, budget, rick and duration.

We teach this tradeoff technique in all our beginner and more advanced approach in our advanced classes.  You can also read more on quantifying the 4-corners in our articles of risk management, scope definition, budgeting and scheduling.

 

 

 

Team Leader: How To Improve Team Performance

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

The first step in improving team performance is 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 start by looking 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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Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder Management; Controlling Expectations

People’s expectations of the project results are the primary factor in their level of  support for your project and their final judgement as to the level of your success or failure. Stakeholder Management sounds pretty simple.  I want their expectations high enough to causstakeholder managemente them to cooperate but also to be low enough to be achieveable within the budget and duration.  Sounds reasonable.

But when you stand infront of  of the client executive or your executive stake holders seeking project plan approval its pretty easy for the audience to hear things your didn’t say so we need to be carful.  Like this:

  • Stakeholder, “I understand about the project reducing the error rate on our employee paychecks. But how about the security on the whole payroll system and  protection against hackers”
  • Bad PM answer, “We are going to ratchet up security at every level in the system including the people who take employee phone calls.
  • Better PM answer, “You are correct our focus is reducing errors to less than 1%. We are going to adhere to  all of the security standards the company has set and include every  control process presently in place.

Why is the first one bad? It creates expectations you are not going to meet.  That stakeholder will be wondering about and asking about all the new payroll security you promised and be disappointed when there is none.

The second answer is much better.  You start of by complementing the stakeholder on knowing the scope, which reemphasizes it.  Then you say no new security by telling the person that the new process will have all the controls the current one does. The answer may not thrill the stakeholder but you have restricted the expectations.

Steps in Stakeholder Management

This kind of careful speech is something you will use continuously with your stakeholders. But there is a lot more to stakeholder management. Here are the steps:

  1. Identify your stakeholders, anyone who will be affected by your project. You are interested in all of them, but focus on stakeholders in management.
  2. Unearth their expectations for the project and correct those expectations immediately if they are different than your project scope.  Letting an incorrect expectation just hang in the air always come back to haunt you.
  3. Regularly monitor the management stakeholders feeling them out for issues they have with the project and any changes in expectations.

Follow those steps and keep good notes of each Stakeholder’s expectations so you can spot changes.

Scheduling Software

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

Using the right scheduling software is key to consistently finishing your projects on time and within budget. Project scheduling software lets you do the critical steps more efficiently than using ineffective options like scheduling in Excel or on a yellow notepad. Those waste too much of your time and don’t help you complete these critical steps:

  • Spotting problems early so you can fix them before it’s too late
  • Optimizing the use of resources so you can finish as early as possible
  • Updating the project schedule in a few minutes each week so you know where you are
  • Updating everyone’s schedule in mere minutes when things change.

There are many more benefits that scheduling software can provide when you’re building a project schedule. But those four items are the minimum tools that every project manager needs. Managing a schedule in Excel or on a yellow notepad give you none of those items. Let’s explore what a you need in a software tool. The best option depends on the scale of the projects you manage.     Shorten the Project Duration

Scheduling Software Capabilities

Small Project – Done within your organization for the manager or your boss
Medium Project – Affects multiple departments within your organization or done for customers/clients
Strategic Project – Organization-wide projects with long term effects

Scheduling Software Capability #1: Draw visual project charts like Gantt and PERT

Small Project – These visual charts are useful for communicating with the sponsor and your team.
Medium Project – As the scale of the project increases, you want visuals that compare actual performance to the baseline schedule and cost. You also want to display slack and delay for optimizing the schedule and resources. Earned value reporting is also a tool for this level of reporting.
Strategic Project – At this scale, you require sophisticated reporting by task, major deliverable, resources and the lending department. Earned value, cost and time variance reports are also required.         Buying Project Softwarescheduling software

Scheduling Software Capability #2: Calculate duration based on resource availability and work required

Small Project – Basing the schedule on work and availability, not just start/finish dates, is a best practice. Skip it if finishing on time is not critical.
Medium Project – Resource-driven schedules are a must at this level. So is automatic resource leveling which ensures that no resource is assigned more work than they can do.
Strategic Project – You need resource-driven schedules and software that can allocate people’s time based on the priority of the task or project to which they are assigned.       Project Portfolio Management

Scheduling Software Capability #3: Schedule using predecessor relationships

Small Project – This is not needed on small projects with 2-3 people.
Medium & Strategic Projects – This links tasks and establishes their sequence. When matched with resource-driven scheduling, it saves you substantial time. It also gives you tools to quickly quantify the impact of changes the project sponsor wants to make. This can be a life saver for guarding against silly ideas that don’t support the projects’ scope.

Scheduling Software Capability #4: Schedule people for a portfolio of projects based on project priorities

Small Project – Not needed
Medium & Strategic Projects – Helps the organization complete a large volume of projects by ensuring that people work on the most important projects.

Scheduling Software Concepts

Scheduling software will provide you with time-saving scheduling and analysis tools. It will also archive data for use on future projects. These tools include analysis of the critical path using slack and delay data. This lets you optimize the use of your resources to finish as early as possible. The critical path should also be used to identify problems early and quickly model alternative solutions. Critical Path Technique

The value of an archive is that it makes future project estimates easier and more accurate. With the appropriate project scheduling software, tracking actual performance in terms of hours of work and completion dates builds a database for estimating on the next projects. Even a small project can waste a lot of a project manager’s time if these tasks are done manually.

Scheduling Software: The Reality

Too many project managers don’t have the tools or the training to track actual performance versus plan, optimize their schedule or make efficient use of their resources. They are regularly surprised by problems that a bit of data would have helped them anticipate. They are unable to provide decision-making data to executives on ways to finish the project early. They also can’t tell executives the cost of changes they want to make. As a result, the project is guided by guesses so the company’s financial and human resources are used inefficiently and project failure rates are high. Keys to Successful Project Scheduling

Scheduling Software: “Best Practices” In the Real World

Project managers routinely deal with sponsors who are several organizational levels above them or who sign their paychecks. In this situation, a project manager can’t really argue with the sponsor about the best way to do the project. What a project manager needs is data from scheduling software that quantifies the impact of changes and models alternative ways of solving problems. Having that data gives the project manager more credibility with the sponsor and executives. It also gives executives solid data on which to base their decisions. They can stop plucking project due dates and budgets out of the air.

scheduling softwareScheduling Software Overview

Scheduling software comes in many different levels of sophistication with prices ranging from $50 to $20,000 or more. The software itself doesn’t make you more effective; it just makes you more efficient. Scheduling software doesn’t teach you how to define the scope, communicate with the project sponsor or make clear assignments to your team members. It just lets you accomplish these and many other tasks more efficiently. So before we look at the different kinds of scheduling software, let’s talk about the kinds of projects to manage and the levels of PM skills. This will enable you to pick a scheduling software tool that’s appropriate for you and the organization in which you work. You can decide which of the following three categories of project manager fits you best.

Managing Smaller Projects

PMs in this category often plan and schedule with only durations rather than work estimates and resource capacity. Many times these PMs have no need to develop or track a project budget because status reports are limited to tracking the completion date. At this level, the organization usually does not consolidate or “roll-up” all of the projects into a portfolio. And it doesn’t manage the overall utilization of the people who work on projects.

In this situation, there is a very broad range of scheduling software choices and many packages will provide Gantt and PERT charts. For project managers who want to automate the process of building plans, preparing occasional status reports and producing some simple Gantt and PERT charts, the low end scheduling software tools are fine. There are plenty of packages that will automate the basics for you. There are also a host of web-based products that operate at this capability level. For under $100 there are products like: Gantter or ZOHO Projects and others.

Managing Larger Cross-functional Projects for Executives or Clients

As the scale of projects grows and their impact reaches beyond one functional unit, the demands on the project management techniques grow. So does the required capability of the scheduling software tool. Software that is a static representation of start and finish dates isn’t enough. You need software tools that simulate the project and optimize the schedule every time you make a change. The budget is an important issue in planning and tracking. So you must build project plans based on the estimated hours of work required and the sequence of tasks, not start and finish dates. You need scheduling software that gives you the capability to budget and schedule internal employees as well as external consultants, vendors, equipment and travel expenses. The scheduling software should provide more sophisticated earned value reporting, slack and delay reports for fine tuning as well as the critical path and resource leveling capability.

The software cost jumps in price to the $300-$700 level and the learning curve for these software tools is much steeper than the first level. The big market shares belong to Microsoft Project and Quickbase (Quicken).

Managing in a Multi-project Environment

At the high-end are PMs managing multiple projects or operating in a mature project organization where resource utilization is managed across all projects. Executives are accountable for portfolios of projects. In this environment, you need project management processes to bring consistency to project planning and tracking. While scheduling software never ensures a consistent project management process (despite all the people who think it can), this environment adds to the software requirements. You now need to consolidate (roll-up) multiple projects and provide consistent information. This allows decision-makers to prioritize projects, allocate resources and schedule and track a pool of people working on multiple projects.

This process is a lot more complicated than it sounds. It requires organization processes for portfolio management and scheduling software that can identify conflicting demands for the same resources. The data it provides will allow the executives to set priorities among projects that require the same resources. They usually want detailed project budgets and have the software come close to mimicking the company’s cost accounting system. But they want actual cost data a lot sooner than the accounting department provides it. Project managers often need sophisticated risk assessment tools and resource loading features as well as detailed performance tracking.

If you want a lot, you’ve got to spend a lot. Scheduling software for these multi-project users runs from $4,000-$20,000 with network versions to run on your LAN and lots of team communication capabilities. There are dozens of products in this range and some of the packages from the second level also provide the needed capabilities. They include: Microsoft Project, Primavera, and other products.

Scheduling Software Training

You can learn how to use scheduling software in our basic and advanced project management software courses. At the beginning of your course, you and Dick Billows, PMP, will have a video conference to design your program and what you want to learn. The two of you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage: 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 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

Critical Path Method for Shortening Duration

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

The critical path is the longest sequence of tasks in a project. It determines the project’s duration and completion date and it can change  minute to minute. It’s easy to use the project critical path method to cut the duration and optimize your project plans to finish as quickly as possible. Let’s see an example of how to correctly use the critical path method. Schedule & Software Main Page

Chris Pimbock, the Impudent Project Manager, took a vacant seat the crowded passenger boarding area at gate #63. The seat was near to two sullen business travelers waiting to fly home on a Friday evening. They were staring through the big plate glass windows of the terminal at a mechanic standing atop an aluminum ladder working on the jet’s port engine.

The blue-suited professional sitting to Chris’ left muttered, “The gate attendant better wake up. Those dopes have to get another mechanic working on that engine pronto!  That’s a critical path task. Without working engines, we won’t go anywhere!”

The thoroughly wrinkled passenger across the aisle growled, “Nah, that captain and his crew sitting near the gate keep looking at their watches. I bet they are about to go off duty. Without a crew, we won’t go anywhere. Getting a new crew is what that gate attendant should work on. That’s the critical path.”

Feigning ignorance, Chris Pimbock asked, “How do you know what’s on the critical path?

With an exasperated sigh, the guy in the blue suit said, “Experience. Hey, I do this stuff for a living and I know a critical path task when I see one.” The other passenger nodded agreement.

Chris casually looked over the boarding area at gate #63 and the tarmac. The fight crew was still sitting in the corner chatting. A food truck was sitting on the tarmac with the driver reading a magazine. A fuel truck waited and that driver was watching the mechanic. The gate attendant had left her station and gone to help at the next gate, #61. She was helping get the passengers for that flight checked-in and on board.

The rumpled guy mumbled to Chris, “Is that stupid gate attendant gonna get more mechanics? Wait, look the food truck just drove off. That gate attendant is an idiot; ignoring us and working at another gate! Now we’ll have to wait even longer for another food truck while she helps her buddy at the next gate.”

Chris said, “Ahh, give the woman some credit, she knows what she is doing.”project critical path

“That’s crazy. Look the fuel truck is leaving too!” the wrinkled PM snorted. “All she cares about are the passengers at gate #61!

Chris frowned and asked, “So the gate attendant should assign more mechanics to the critical path task and get another fuel truck. Is that critical too?”

The two PMs sneered at Chris. One muttered, “Duh.” The other nodded sadly and said, “Sure. You’ve got to really watch the project critical path tasks like a hawk. And when you add more people you get the tasks done faster.”

Just then the first PM said, “Look,” and pointed out the window at the mechanic who was waving frantically at the gate attendant and holding up a broken wrench and mouthing the words, “Need a new wrench!”

The gate attendant was too busy at the other gate to look out the window. Failing to catch the attendant’s eye, the mechanic picked up his broken wrench and tried to work with it, shaking his head in frustration.

Chris said, “What happened?”

“Thanks to that moron gate attendant,  the flight will be delayed even longer. The mechanic needs a new tool and she couldn’t see him because she has abandoned us and gone to gate #61. I’m gonna tell her what a dope she is!”

As the wrinkled PM rose to walk to the counter, Chris noted that the plane at gate #61 was leaving. He said, “I would give it a minute or two before you make a jerk of yourself.”

The wrinkled PM slumped back down and said. “That gate attendant has really botched this flight. We’re going to be here for hours.”

They settled back into their chairs and in a moment the gate attendant picked up a black microphone and cleared her throat.

The blue suit predicted, “Now, that dope is going to cancel the flight.”

The loud speakers in the waiting room hissed as a new food truck arrived and the attendant said, “Our new airplane will be pulling up to gate #61 momentarily. Please move to that gate now. We will board in 5 minutes, the plane has fuel, the food is on board and we’re ready to go.”

Chris said, “I guess that gate attendant did the calculations and decided that the sequence of tasks involved in fixing the plane, fueling it, loading the food and replacing the crew was longer than getting us a new plane that was ready to go. She used the duration data, not just guesses, about what task was critical. She kept her eye on the right critical path the whole time. Most importantly she focused on the correct scope; getting us home tonight, not just fixing the plane.”

You can learn to identify and optimize the project critical path by taking one of our online, instructor-led courses. You’ll get personal coaching from an expert project manager as you practice applying the best practice techniques to realistic project case studies. You can work at your own pace and fit your schedule.

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Leading Teams: Six Techniques For Success

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

A highly motivated, problem-solving team is a key reason for every project success. These teams are committed to completing their assignments on time and within budget so the project goal is met. The proven techniques for leading teams to success include:

  • selecting the right team members
  • crafting the right-size assignment for each person
  • accurately estimating hours of work and duration
  • gaining team member commitment
  • receiving status reports
  • giving constructive feedback.

Leading Teams: Techniques for Three Sizes of Projects

The techniques are different for each project, depending on the size and scope. Here are the project size definitions:

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 clients with strategic impact.

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.
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. During the project planning phase, you need to ask the boss for the people you want on your team. That’s when the boss is focused on the project and can give you hints about the correct assignment for each person.
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 ability 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. They will appreciate the assignment’s challenge. You should give shorter assignments to people who are inexperienced and/or less capable. This will let you easily track their progress and help them when it’s necessary.
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 a project within a department. On the other hand, giving a simple work pack to 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 information base for estimating the tasks’ hours of work and identifying their risks. It is best to document the work estimate and give a copy to the borrowed team member’s superior. Team Building Techniques

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.
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 should always estimate the amount of work (50 hours, for example).  You should never estimate just the duration (Oct. 21 through Nov. 7, for example). Estimating the amount of work required for the task provides you with the ability to more accurately track progress and spot problems. Their team member’s availability to do the work (halftime or 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 task’s required deliverable, the approach to take on the task 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 and the team 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 give all team members updated status data on the entire project.

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) causes team members to hide problems. Then you are doomed 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
  • 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 and certifications. 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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What is Project Leadership? – Video

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

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

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

The number one challenge to project leadership is the fact that the project manager has no formal organizational authority over the project team. Another factor that makes project leadership difficult is that project managers are usually technically-oriented people with little experience or skill in motivating others.

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

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

Communicating with the team member who has a problem

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

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Project Planning Template

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

You can use this project planning template to define the project scope and identify major deliverables. You can also use it to manage the project risks and constraints as well as the resources it requires. On every new project, you need to decide what Project Planning Template elements to include, what to exclude and how to develop them on each particular project.   For 90% of the projects done in most organizations, your project plan should be 1–2 pages long. Managers are more likely to read a short, concise document.

Project Planning Template 1st Step – Define the Scope

You need to define the project scope as a deliverable with measurable acceptance criteria. To do that, you talk with the project sponsor, ask questions and then develop the scope statement. Next you define 4 to 7 high-level deliverables and their associated acceptance criteria. Those criteria tell everyone exactly what the project must deliver. They also help you control expectations by making it clear what the project will and won’t deliver. Fast Track Project Plans

When you ask the sponsor what he or she wants, they might say something like, “We really need to have this project cut costs for us.” You immediately try to get to quantified acceptance criteria by asking, “How much cost reduction would make this project a success?”

When the sponsor says, “$15,000 of cost reductions,” you have the scope definition with an acceptance criterion that tells you how much cost reduction the project has to deliver. This is the key to the project plan template. You can then drive the rest of the project from that number. (On larger projects consider the scope reach) How to evaluate a project plan

This is a simple example of top-down planning but most project managers don’t ask the right questions. They are satisfied with a To Do list of the first dozen things the project sponsor wants them to do. That is a terrible basis for your a project plan and it’s disastrous if you start work with no more information than a To Do list. To successfully plan a project and have high odds of project success, you need to know what the boss wants in measurable terms.  How to Plan Top Down

Project Planning Template 2nd Step – Define Major Deliverables

You then break down the measurable project scope into its major supporting deliverables.  There are several different ways to do this. The simplest is where the high-level deliverables literally add up to the scope and its acceptance criteria. Therefore, in a conversation with the sponsor, you might talk about how to break down the scope. The sponsor might say, “I want each department to develop their share of the overall savings.” During further discussion, you might identify the savings amount for each of those departments. You use them as your high-level deliverables with the acceptance criteria being the dollar amount of savings each department has to produce.

You see the major deliverables below and how they add up to the project scope of $15,000 of cost reductions.

  • Reduce order intake monthly operating expense by $4,000
  • Reduce production monthly operating expense by $2,000
  • Reduce order production monthly operating expense by $3,000
  • Reduce inventory monthly operating expense by $2,000
  • Reduce shipping monthly operating expense by $4,000  project plan template

Project Planning Template 3rd Step – Identify Major Risks

Depending on the size of the project, you may invest a great deal of time identifying the risks that threaten the project. You can do this in brainstorming sessions with the project team and stakeholders. But on a small project, you might develop your list of risks over coffee. In either case, you’ll include them in the project plan along with ideas for mitigating those risks. See example risks you would enter into the project plan template below:

  •  Layoffs may result in labor actions which disrupt operations
  •  Production may drop as much as 25% for 3 – 5 months.

Project Planning Template 4th Step – Identify Project Team Resource Requirements

Using the major deliverables, you now identify the number of hours of work and the skill sets required to create each deliverable. You would total those estimates up to the level of the entire project and make very rough estimates of the people and skills required. Below are examples that you would enter into the project plan template.

  •  Bill – full time 3 months
  •  Mary – half time 2 months
  •  Raj – full time 3 months
  •  Sharmaine – quarter time 4 months
  •  Henry – full time one week

Project Planning Template 5th Step – Break Down to Individual Tasks

The last of the five steps in creating the project plan is to decompose those major deliverables developed in the second step. You break them down into smaller deliverables until you reach the level of a deliverable that’s an appropriate assignment for one team member. That’s the level of your work breakdown structure (WBS). It completes the project planning process in the project plan template. Then you can move on to the scheduling process.

Project Planning Template in Practice

In many organizations, project planning is a combination of vague generalities about the objective of the project. But the one thing that is often rock solid is the completion date. That date is frequently the only measurable project result. Because project managers don’t know what the executives want them to deliver, they have no ability to exercise control over the scope of the project. As a result, the objectives change weekly. Project team member assignments are vague and ever-changing. That is why estimating is inaccurate and why 70% of projects fail when they are planned that way. Let’s look at the best practices for project planning and then look at a project plan template for projects of different size.

Project Planning Template “Best Practices” In the Real World

Very often, project managers face a difficult organizational environment. The organization lacks the processes to do project management right and the executives don’t know how to play their role correctly. In these situations, the PMs need best practices that allow them to do things effectively, even though the executives and the organization’s processes are obstacles and not assets. The project plan template will help. The purpose of this intense project planning process is to make all the decisions before starting work. The approach of making the project plan and then executing it is much more efficient than a “plan as you go” process. However, it is very difficult in many organizations.

For this approach to work, the organization, its executives and project managers must do things correctly. That is, the executives must specify exactly what they want the project to deliver. They cannot make the project assignment using vague generalities where the only thing that is specific is the due date. The organization must have processes for evaluating and prioritizing projects and giving them access to resources based on those priorities. Last, the project managers must know how to do top-down project planning. That means they are able to take the clear acceptance criteria, specified by the executive/sponsor, and decompose it down to the level of specific assignments for each team member. Most organizations fail to meet one or more of these criteria and that is why we rarely see an ideal project planning process. There are two major ways to go Large Project Planning Techniques or for less paperwork and meetings,  Small Project Planning Techniques.

Project Planning Templates by Scale of the Project

We utilize three tiers of project plans techniques in the project plan template. They depend on the scale and complexity of the project:

  • Tier 1: Small Project Plans – Done within a department with the boss as the sponsor.
  • Tier 2: Medium Project Plans – Affect multiple departments or done for customers/clients.
  • Tier 3: Strategic Project Plans – Organization-wide projects with long-term effects.shutterstock_96175697

Identify Stakeholders

  • Tier 1 – Identifying stakeholders is not necessary on an in-department project where the manager is the primary stakeholder.
  • Tier 2 – We must identify stakeholders across the organization and find out their requirements early. Requirements cost more late in the project than they would have at the beginning.
  • Tier three – Requires an elaborate process of surveys and interviews to identify internal and external stakeholders so we can consider their requirements.

Project Business Case

  • Tier 1 – We often skip this since we don’t need formal project approval on an in-department project.
  • Tier 2 – Organizations with sound project management processes require a business case to justify a project’s priority versus other projects in the portfolio.
  • Tier 3 – The scale of financial and human resources usually requires detailed justification and demonstration of the strategic impact of the project.

Project Charter

  • Tier 1 – A 1-page broadbrush plan with achievement network, risks, resources and PM authority.
  • Tier 2 – This project charter addresses the project acceptance criteria, business justification and rough estimates of the resource requirements (human and financial).
  • Tier 3 – The size of the investment in these strategic projects usually requires extensive documentation of risks, benefits and impacts on other strategic initiatives and the entire organization.

Gather Project Requirements

  • Tier 1 – Usually limited to a meeting with the boss where the PM defines the project’s scope and decomposes it into the major deliverables.
  • Tier 2 – We survey project stakeholders for their requirements. Each requirement is reviewed and either included or explicitly excluded from the project.
  • Tier 3 – We follow an extensive process of identifying and analyzing requirements gathered from the stakeholders. It includes assessing stakeholders in terms of their interests and their ability to influence the project’s success.

Project Scope Statement

  • Tier 1 – A short statement of the project’s desired result and the acceptance criteria.
  • Tier 2 – A more detailed scope statement that also covers assumptions, constraints and the major deliverables.
  • Tier 3 – A full scope baseline development with exploration of alternative means of delivering the project scope.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

  • Tier 1 – Decompose high-level deliverables into the deliverable for each team member’s assignment.
  • Tier 2 – Decompose high-level deliverables and use WBS sections from previous projects that are similar.
  • Tier 3 – Usually developed in sections with the people responsible for that major deliverable doing the decomposition.

Project Planning Template Summary

This project plan template uses a five-step project planning process. You can modify the planning to fit projects of different sizes depending on their complexity. You can learn to use this template in our online Project Management Basics courses. You’ll work privately with Dick Billows, PMP, an expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.

During an introductory video conference, you and Dick Billows, will design your program and what you want to learn. You will choose you course and select your case study from business, marketing, construction, healthcare, or consulting options.  Your case study-based assignments that include project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your project specialty.