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 technique. Schedule & Software Main Page

Chris Pimbock, the Impudent Project Manager, walked over to a vacant seat the crowded passenger boarding area at gate #63. Chris joined two sullen business travelers waiting to fly home on a Friday evening. They were staring out 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 all 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 instead of reading a magazine. That’s the critical path.”

Feigning ignorance, Chris Pimbock asked, “How do you know what’s on the project 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 man 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 sat on the tarmac with the driver reading a magazine. A fuel truck waited with the driver watching the mechanic. The gate attendant had left her station and gone to help at the next gate, #61, to get the passengers for that flight checked-in and on board.

The rumpled guy shouted at 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 PM 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 at the gate, this attendant  will dela the flight 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, provisioning 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.”

Project Critical Path Summary

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

 

Team-building: Moments of Truth

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

Project team building is a critical success factor. As a project manager, you want a project team of highly motivated, aggressive problem solvers. You want team members who are totally committed to their deliverables, budget and due dates. And you want them to support you and other team members. Do teams like this actually exist?  Yes, but they are very rare. Here’s how to build yours.

Many team members have suffered from the poor performance of other leaders and now you, the new project manager, have to fix it. If you don’t, bad team performance could kill your project (and your career).     Leading Teams Main Page

It’s easy to say you want a motivated and committed team on the new “critically important” project you’re going to manage. But how do you build one?  What team-building strategy should you follow? There are certainly team building classes you can attend. Another option is using a facilitator to help create a more effective culture. But it’s easy, and common, for those behavioral changes to vanish as soon as the training session is over or the facilitator leaves.  Leadership and Team Assignments

Team Building: Moments of Truth

So it’s pretty much up to you to build a motivated and committed project team. You can’t just talk about how everybody’s going to be highly motivated and aggressive problem-solvers, etc.  Instead, you do it in three critical instances of your interaction with the project team. This is the heart of team-building. These instances are moments of truth that do the following:

  • establish the culture of the team
  • communicate your expectations
  • teach the project team how you will work together.team building

These team building moments of truth occur at particularly important times in your relationship with each team member.

Moment of Truth #1

The first occurs when you assign a task to a team member. You must assign each team member tasks that are within their skill set. If you don’t, you will set them up for failure and undermine any trust that existed between you and the team members. Your bad assignment techniques alert the team members to start protecting themselves from blame. Team Motivation

Moment of Truth #2

The second moment of truth occurs when you work with each team member to estimate the duration of their task assignments. If you don’t consider the team member’s honest estimate of the work required, they feel they’re being set up for failure. And that causes the team members to pad their estimates.

Moment of Truth #3

Finally, how you handle bad news about an assignment is critically important. You can’t lose your temper or punish the team member if a problem arises or a task completion date slips.  Your behavior must encourage team members to tell you about problems as early as possible. That gives you time to work together to fix them. Problems are inevitable. So team members shouldn’t be punished when they make you aware of them.   Effective Feedback

You can learn how to build a high-performance team in our online project management courses. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.

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How to Become A Great Project Manager

Organizations Need Super Project Managers

A project certification and the ability to answer multiple choice questions does not equip you to be a great project manager.  This ingredients for the great ones are complex brew of hard and soft skills. Importantly, being a technical guru is not on the list.  What you need to build an impressive track record of project successes on tough projects is:

  • a tool kit of project techniques and the knowledge to select the correct estimating, scheduling, risk management, tracking techniques for each particular project. One technique does not fit all projects.
  • Interpersonal skills that let you motivate your team and make them want to work on your projects.  Your praise is a potent reward for your team members because it is not empty words; they value it
  • Your communications skills and ability to read people and select the correct  communications style and content lets you influence and persuade team members and executives.
  • Your leadership style signals that you will stand up for your team members and gives executives confidence that you will not hide problems or blame others.
  • You management style causes you to work “out in front” of your team not march behind them. This lets you anticipate problems and apply solutions before the problem grows big.
  • You use the project technology to give decision-makers choices.  You always have options and quantified alternatives for getting around problems or taking advantage of opportunities.
Make yourself a super project manager.

Super project managers make themselves, they are not born. Training and experiential learning are critical to being able to think on your feet.  You also need to avoid the technology trap.  That’s where project manager think that their success comes from making good technical decisions.  That is the trap door to micromanaging your team by making all the decisions for them.

That takes so much time that you ignore the six characteristics listed above and wind up as a very ordinary project manager who ever achieves much.

Project Failure: How To Rescue It

project failureProject failure rates top 70% in some organizations. Why is that? Here is the project management process in theory. First the project manager and sponsor define the scope in crystal clear terms that everyone understands.  Then the project manager and team  “just” execute the scope. What can go wrong? Lots! So much for the theory. Enterprise Project Management Main Page

We all know how projects should be initiated but they often aren’t done the right way. As a result, you, the project manager, must try to rescue these failing projects. In one situation, perhaps someone else did the planning and you are assigned to take over the execution phase. In another situation, perhaps the project is headed for disaster and you have been asked to save it. I hope that this post will help you successfully manage whatever project situation you’re given. Project Failure

Project Failure: How To Rescue It – Step #1

When you take over a  project failure in process, your first and most important task is to understand the project’s scope. If you don’t know where the ship should go, you won’t be able to steer it. Also, if you don’t understand the scope, chances are you are not alone.  The project team, stakeholders and even the project sponsor may not be able to define the scope. If you can’t “uncover” a solid scope statement, it is never to late to write one.  Without a solid scope, you will have a hard time finishing what someone else started. I found it’s very useful to clearly state what is and what is not in the project’s scope. Make sure that at least you and the sponsor are crystal clear about what the project has to deliver. Project Rescue

Project Failure: How To Rescue It – Step #2

Next, you should try to locate the project charter and the stakeholder register. The project charter should tell you why you do what you do and what your boundaries are as a project manager. This is a very important document because you will have to maneuver the project around many obstacles. So you must know what the boundaries are. The stakeholder register is important because it lets you get in touch with the people who are most important to the project. The stakeholders are the people who are affected by the project and have an interest in its success.

Project Failure: How To Rescue It – Step #3

Third, introduce yourself to the major stakeholders and the project team. Make sure all of you have the same understanding of the project scope. Get the project team together and discuss the current status. This is also a good time to go over the project plan with the team. Once you know the scope, it is easier to spot weaknesses in the plan. It’s best if you go over the plan with the project team.

Project Failure: How To Rescue It – Step #4

Last but not least, if you and the team identify a major weakness, you should address it. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel, but you should listen to what the team, the stakeholders and the sponsor want to do differently. Project Catastrophes

Project Failure: How To Rescue It – Summary

Here is the bottom line: don’t shy away from accepting the challenge of rescuing a project failure. I urge you to start with the scope. Your job as the project manager is to keep the big picture in mind. If you have to turn a project around, you will find that most often the project failed because of scope creep or other scope-related issues. If you tackle the scope first, everything else will fall into place.

You can learn how to correctly manage the entire project process in our online project management courses. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.

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Stakeholder Management in 4 Steps

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

Stakeholder management began as an effort to identify your stakeholders so you could surface their requirements for the project. The benefit of this was that requirements that spring up late in a project cost many times what they would have cost early in the planning process. The payback on the time spent was positive.

But the new focus adds to that “requirements orientation” and provides tools for building and maintaining support from your stakeholders. This involves engaging them in the project management process itself. It also includes identifying their project expectations early and managing those expectations so they align with the project’s deliverables. Stakeholder Main Page

Those of us who manage projects in the “real world” know that strong executive stakeholder support for your project is critical in several areas. First, broad support for your project helps you keep your project team together rather than having them be pulled off for other projects. In a very real sense, every project is battling the other projects in the organization for priority on resources. If your project to loses priority because of poor stakeholder support and unmet expectations, you’ll find your team members being reassigned to higher priority projects.

Second, most projects involve implementing changes, whether it’s following new procedures, using new software, or installing new hardware. Those changes have to happen in operating/user departments and they always cause pain and take time. If you have lost stakeholder support for your project, the implementation of those changes in the operating departments will fall behind schedule, at best, or will be ignored, at worst. The impact on your ability to deliver your project’s scope is enormous if those changes are not implemented.

Third, engaging your stakeholders in the project and the project management process yields significant benefits. As an example, stakeholders who are involved in your risk management process are more likely to support and participate in your risk responses. Engaging your stakeholders also helps you gain support with operational areas that are lending you team members. As I mentioned above, borrowing those resources faces competition from other projects. You are also competing with their “real jobs” and projects that may be launched in their home departments. Engaging the operational area boss in your projects helps ensure that those resources are available when you need them.stakeholder management

For all these reasons, we recommend this four-step stakeholder management process.

First, during initiation you identify the people and organizational units who will be affected positively or negatively by the project. These stakeholders can come from outside the organization as well as the internal players. You’re identifying not only who they are but what interest they have in the project, what their “hot button” issues or project requirements are and their potential influence over the project.

Second, during the project planning phase you also plan how you will manage your stakeholders. You identify what techniques you will use to meet the needs of each stakeholder and to keep them engaged in the process.

Third, during your execution of the project, you implement the stakeholder management plan and the communications strategies required to engage the stakeholders in the project and build their ongoing support.

Fourth, as you execute and control the project, you’re also monitoring the stakeholders and identifying problems/issues to which you must respond to maintain their support. Those issues would include things like new requirements or requirements that are not being met.

This process may take an hour on a small project or weeks on a large one, depending on the size of the stakeholder group. But it’s a proven fact that active stakeholder management builds a foundation for your project success.

Project Schedule: Best Scheduler Techniques

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

Every project manager does project scheduling. For a project that you can do in a day, a yellow note pad is often enough.  When there are others doing some of the work, an Excel spreadsheet may work to plan everyone’s dates and dollars. When the team reaches 4-5 people and the duration is more than a couple of weeks, PC software specifically designed for project scheduling and budget control is most efficient.

Project Schedule: Data

Some project managers have very little data to help them successfully managing their projects, deal with change orders or respond to variances. They may not even know when they have a variance.  The key to identifying problems is getting estimate-to-complete information from your team and vendors.

Project managers who receive that data are able to quickly gather information about problems and opportunities. The key to their success is that they find out about problems early, before the problem causes a due date to slip. Here are the keys. First, you must get information on every  task that is in process. Second, you must know how much work has been completed and how much remains.  This allows you to forecast the project completion date and the total expense on all the tasks. You can control any variances, handle change requests and take corrective action early and easily. You can use project scheduling software to optimize your schedules. In this article we’ll show you how to do all these things.

Project Schedule: Software

Previously, project managers didn’t use project management software because of the high cost and the amount of time required to learn how to use it.  Those two excuses are no longer valid. There are some adequate project management software programs that are free and easy to learn. It only takes 30 to 40 minutes to learn how to use the software through the entire project lifecycle.  Gantter is a free program available with your Gmail account. There are editions for smart phones, tablets and desktops. This software provides all the capabilities you need for small and medium-size projects. The learning curve is short considering the benefit you get. Project Schedule & Software Main Page

More capable software for larger project scheduling includes Microsoft Project®. It is almost $600 but provides more capabilities and a tremendous amount of decision-making data. It includes the ability to do budgeproject schedulingting and cost tracking and also manage multiple projects. These features are adequate for even large projects. You will need to invest a few hours of time to learn it.

Now lets talk about how a project manager using a yellow note pad, an Excel spreadsheet, or project scheduling software would handle three common situations.

Project Schedule: Finish Date, Changes & Status

The project manager doing project scheduling with a yellow note pad can quickly tell the client the finish date by using his or her ability to pick a number out of the sky. There is no basis for this completion date other than a guess about how long the project will take. This “yellow pad project manager” makes a similar guess about the cost. Projects scheduled on yellow pads usually finish late and cost more than anticipated. This means the project manager and their company lose money if they’re doing a project for a customer or client. This project manager uses the same approach when the customer wants to change the project or the deliverable. The project manager guesses about the impact the change will have on the finish date and the cost. And they are usually wrong. The yellow note pad project scheduling technique gives project managers a very limited career future.

The PM doing project scheduling with an Excel spreadsheet does a bit better. He or she enters start and finish dates for all the tasks they can think of. Then they let the program give them an idea of how many days or weeks it will take to complete those tasks. The problem with using Excel spreadsheets for project scheduling is that if the client wants to make a change, the project manager has to redo the entire spreadsheet. The same is true if the client adds a task or alters a finish date. The “Excel spreadsheet project manager” spends endless hours laboring over their PC instead of managing the project.

The project manager who uses project scheduling software does the best of all. If they are using the software correctly and following best practices, they base the project schedule and budget on work estimates. Instead of picking a finish date with a Ouija board, this project manager works with historical data, published estimating information, and the opinions of the project team members. They use this data to build a schedule based on estimates of the amount of work required. When project managers use work estimates, they gain all the benefits of the project scheduling software.  They decide how much work each team member can do and the project scheduling software will assign the work to the team members so the project finishes as soon as possible. These calculations take the software about two seconds. This project manager can work with similar speed on a change request. They merely change the amount of work for the task(s) the client wants to alter. Then a nano second later, the software re-schedules the entire project and gives the project manager a new completion date reflecting the change request. If the project manager has entered hourly rates for the team members and the material costs, the software will also calculate a budget and give the project manager data on the cost of that change request.

Finally, this project manager can give accurate status reports based on the team’s estimates of the amount of work they still have to complete on their tasks. This lets the project manager anticipate problems early, not after getting hit in the face with them. There is a very good reason consistently successful project managers use project scheduling software. It allows them to spend their time managing the team and solving problems. They don’t have to spend their time making guesses or laboring over an Excel spreadsheet or a yellow note pad.

Project Schedule: Optimizing the Schedule

Too many project managers control the sequence of tasks in their projects using the start and finish dates. Instead, they should use project scheduling software with predecessor relationships. For example, these relationships tell the software that Task B can’t start until Task A is finished.  Or that Task A and Task B must finish at the same time. Entering start and finish dates wastes an enormous amount of time during the original creation of the schedule and every week after that. Project managers who don’t use project scheduling software with predecessor relationships spend hours updating their schedules and changing all the start and finish dates.  Even worse, the schedules they create with this fixed date technique almost always have longer durations than they should. However, project managers can experience these problems even if they use project scheduling software like Microsoft Project®. This happens if they use start and finish dates to control the sequence of tasks instead of  using predecessor relationships.

Project Schedule: Increase Efficiency

Predecessor relationships are the key to building dynamic schedules. These are schedules that update themselves whenever you make a change.  As an example, if you discover that Task D is going to finish two weeks early, or two weeks late, you merely enter that fact into your project scheduling software. It will automatically change the start and finish dates for every one of Task D’s successor tasks (the tasks that depend on Task D).  The alternative is to manually change each task’s finish date. Using predecessor relationships saves you hours in the initial project scheduling and significant time every week for the duration of the project.  That is reason enough to use this project scheduling technique.  How To Use Dynamic Project Scheduling

Project Schedule: Finish Earlier

Using dynamic scheduling, you set up our predecessors in the software by identifying the type of relationships that each task has with its predecessors and successors.  There are three types of predecessor relationships:

  • Finish-to-Start predecessor relationship between Tasks A and B is scheduled by the software so that Task B starts after Task A is finished.  You’ll use this type of predecessor 85% of the time. That is why it is the default in project scheduling software.
  • Finish-to-Finish predecessor relationship between Tasks A and B is scheduled by the software so that these two tasks start at the time that’s required for both of them to finish at the same time.
  • Start-to-Start predecessor relationship between asks A and B is scheduled by the software so that these two tasks start at exactly the same time.

You can get fancier with predecessors by using leads and lags.  But these three types are the basics and are a great way to get started.

Project Schedule: Parallelism and Concurrency 

You make a project take less time to finish when you sequence the tasks by building in parallelism. This means you have many things happening at the same time.  It makes sense that if a project has three or four tasks going on at the same time it will finish earlier than a project that has only one task happening at a time.  In other words, you don’t want the whole project to be a long sequence of FinishtoStart relationships.  Instead you want to design the predecessor relationships for each of your major deliverables so as many tasks as possible are occurring at the same time.  The simplest way to create parallelism using the project scheduling software is to give a task multiple successors.  Whenever you can do that, you will shorten the project duration.  A parallel design is always going to take less time than scheduling those three tasks to occur one after another.

There are obvious limits on parallelism, such as limits on how much work a person can do and the technical or physical dependencies between tasks (e.g.: the materials must be delivered before they can be installed).  But using predecessor relationships lets you avoid unnecessarily long task sequences. That makes reporting and updating faster and saves you hours of time.

Take a look at our online Project Management Basics course where you can learn these techniques from an expert PM. In this instructor-led online training you have as many phone calls, e-mails and live video conferences with your instructor as you need.

Project Estimator – How to Play the Commitment Game

Dick Billows, PMPProject estimators know how to play the commitment game. The sponsor wants commitments from the PM very early in the project. The process is often political and involves much more than numbers. The Project estimators play the estimating game properly and don’t get caught committing to numbers that have a low probability of success.

Let’s look at some of the games surrounding project estimates and then discuss what the Project Estimator should do. In the real world, estimating a project’s duration and cost is a high stakes game. The client or executive wants an accurate estimate of the project costs and duration with a commitment from the PM to hit those numbers.When asked for those project estimates by an executive during the initiation process, a project manager may answer with any of the following Project Estimator Tactics:

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

Answer #1 – It’s truthful but enrages executives.
Answer #2 – Executives quickly forget “rough guess” and are happy.
Answer #3 – It’s the whole truth but it’s useless for executives.
Answer #4 – It’s very ingratiating but a project deathtrap.

Which choice do most project managers make? Choice #2. It deals with the reality of the situation. Executives are under the gun to make cost/benefit and priority decisions about projects. There are also strategic realities that force certain completion dates on everyone.

The project estimator is caught in a narrow vise when asked to provide estimates, particularly when the scope of the project is vague and the availability of resources is largely unknown. Project Estimator Tactics are a must. That’s how we make this situation a little better for everyone with a four-step estimating process that we announce during the initiation process. We explain the estimates executives will receive in each of four stages in the project lifecycle.project estimator

The Four Stage Project Estimates Process with Project Estimator Tactics

  1. Initiating: Project level analogous estimates based on similar projects.
  2. Early in planning: Project level and major deliverable analogous estimates.
  3. Final project planning: Bottom up estimates from the team members.
  4. Weekly status reporting: Rolling estimates weekly until completion.

Let’s look at a four stage estimating process that we might use on a very simple project. An executive invites you into the conference room and says, “All these weekly reports from the branches come in with different data in different formats and I want you to develop a consistent template, pronto. This is a high priority for me and you’ll get everyone’s cooperation. Listen, I have to run to a meeting right now but come back at 3:00. I want to know when you and your team can get it done.”

So the PM thinks through prior experiences with similar projects and accesses the archives for similar project estimates. At 3:00 the project manager is ready and says, “During the project I will give you 4 different estimates. The accuracy will get better and better as we know more and more. The best I can do now is give you a project-level, order of magnitude estimate based on prior experience. I’m 60% confident we can have that done in 18 to 35 working days.”

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

The PM says, “I can give you a better estimate as soon as we have finalized the scope and major deliverables and you have signed off on what you want.”

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

The PM smiles, “I would still need a sponsor’s signature on the scope and deliverables.”

The executive nods glumly, “OK lets get to it tomorrow at 8:00 am.”

After the following day’s 8:00 o’clock session, the executive frowns at the PM and asks, “Now, how long will the project take?”

The PM looks over the notes on a yellow pad and says, “At this point, I can give you a better project-level estimate. We’re still working top-down based on similar projects, but I can give you a somewhat tighter estimate and also apply some ratios to that so I can give you project estimates on each phase. I’m 75% confident we can finish in 23-30 working days. Using my experience and the ratios between phases on previous projects, I can also say that I’m 75% confident on the following phase estimates:

  1. Branch office managers sign off on requirements: 4-7 days
  2. Development test – Test group can complete the template < 60 minutes: 5-8 days
  3. Training- User can complete template in 45 minutes: 4-5 days
  4. Roll-out and enforcement – 95% compliance: 10-15 days.”

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

The PM answers, “As soon as I detail the work estimates and get commitments on the people here at headquarters and in all the branches. Then, I can give you a bottom-up estimate, which will be more precise than the top-down estimates we’ve been using. Bottom-up is more accurate because I’ll be using estimates from the people who will be doing the work and aggregating them into the overall numbers.”

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

The executive gives another slightly less venomous sigh and says, “Okay, this is getting better but I’d still like really tight project estimates.”

The PM nods and says, “The fourth type of estimate I’ll be giving you is a rolling weekly estimate. As we progress further into the process, the uncertainty will decrease and I’ll regularly give you new estimates. We call these rolling estimates. As an example, once the requirements are approved the uncertainty in the development work will go down a lot and that estimate will get much tighter.”

Are These Project Estimates and Project Estimator Tactics Statistical Hocus Pocus?

The simple four-step process we’ve gone through illustrated how a project manager gave project estimates and changed estimating techniques as the uncertainty about the project declined. In the example, the PM used analogous estimates based on information about previous projects. Next working top-down, the PM estimated by major deliverable using ratios from previous projects. However, this information could have come from an organizational project databank, from commercial estimating methodologies or from elaborate statistical analysis of previous projects. Whatever the source of the data, the top-down estimates provided relatively broad ranges in the overall estimates.

In the third and fourth estimating techniques, the PM used the work breakdown structure and duration/work estimating techniques at the level of individual assignments. Then the numbers got a lot better because the PM could use a bottom-up approach and aggregate the estimates of project team members to develop the overall project estimate. In this bottom-up approach, the PM based the estimate on the team member’s own estimates for their individual assignments. The fourth estimate type was the rolling estimates, also based on a bottom up approach, with the team members making regular weekly re-estimates of their work/duration. As we complete tasks, the uncertainty decreases each week and the estimates become more accurate.

The one consistent thread through each of the steps was that our PM had the benefit of a clear and unambiguous scope definition and equally measurable outcomes for each of the deliverables and assignments in the project. Estimating is difficult enough without the burden of a vague project scope or mushy team member assignments.

Enterprise Project Estimates Project Estimator Tactics

A major step to consistent project success and vastly improved project estimates comes from a modest investment in archiving data from previous projects. This whole estimating process becomes more effective when the organization stops playing those fantasy games with project estimates and adopts a consistent methodology for developing the kind of “better and more accurate” estimates we’ve been discussing.

To learn more about these estimating techniques consider our advanced project management courses over the Internet as well as our in-person seminars for organizations.

Project Plan – Answer Tough Questions

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

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

Project Plan Questions: Time and Cost

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

Project Plan Answers: Trade-offs

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

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

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

How to Answer Executives' Questions

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

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Requirements by Prototype

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

Gathering your project’s requirements by using a prototype can be effective because it is very attractive to the users.  Requirements by prototype consists of planning and then developing a sample deliverable for the users to “play with,” review and modify.  Prototyping takes some pressure off the users.  They don’t need to specify all of the requirements up front, without having evidence that they work.  After the team produces the initial project deliverables, the user/client evaluates the prototype and tells the project team about the prototype’s flaws. Then the team goes back to work to fix those issues. They produce another prototype for the user/client to evaluate, and the cycle goes on.

Project managers use prototyping with certain types of projects. It’s most often used in software development where the cost of making changes to the prototype is not too expensive. They also use prototyping in manufacturing, depending on the cost of each iteration. Prototyping can take a great deal of both the user/client’s and the project team’s time, depending on the number of iterations. The arguments in support of prototyping are that it encourages continuous contact between the user/client and the project team. Fans of prototyping say it produces a higher quality result and a shorter development cycle. On the other hand, prototyping can create a situation where the project team works on the effort forever. That’s because the user’s requirements change every time they look at a prototype.    Requirements Gathering Main Page

Prototype vs Iterativerequirements by prototype

The requirements by prototype process is different from iterative development because we’re only asking for the requirements, not a final deliverable.  We start by talking to the user and making a plan. Then we produce the prototype. Ideally, the user would review the prototype, make changes and then we would produce the final deliverable.  In the real world we’d make another prototype for the user to review and modify.  Producing one prototype after another allows us to develop the final deliverable prototype by prototype.  Depending on the deliverable, prototyping can be very expensive and time consuming. But if a user or client wants to pay for this approach, a good project manager can accomodate them.

Prototype vs Waterfall

Using prototypes is very different from the classic waterfall approach where we finalize the whole plan in a lengthy planning effort, and then produce the deliverable. The waterfall approach is cheaper.  But it requires the client or user to commit to exactly what they want during the planning process.   It also limits the changes the client can make once we begin to execute. The prototyping approach allows for changes during each iteration, if the client will bear the cost.

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Project Management Career – How to Join a Fast Growing Profession

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

A Project management career offers you a fast growing profession, world-wide demand and high incomes. A Project Management career give you mobility between companies because your skills are applicable in any company.

Project Managers who have the ability to deliver business results on time and within budget are needed in every company. Project managers are in demand  in both public and private sectors. Salaries are high with the average income of a certified project manager (PMP) topping $114,000 US.  I’ll summarize the steps in a project management career from first getting into the profession, to learning the basics, to your first certification and then up the ladder to multi-project and portfolio management. First let’s do a quick overview and then we’ll get into the details.

Project Management Career Progression

More than half of the project managers in the profession got into it because they were pushed into it. Executives noticed they were good performers so when a hot project came up, the executives dumped it in their laps. Learning on the job and on-the-fly, these people got through that first project and then decided they liked the work. They learn the right way later on.

Other people take a project management careers route by consciously deciding they want to enter the profession. They prepare themselves for their first job as a project manager by learning the basics of project management. Then they get an entry-level project manager certification for credibility. These steps help them get their first chance to manage a small project. How To Get into Project ManagementProject Management Career

No matter what route people take to start their project management career, they need to have training that teaches them the fundamentals of planning, scheduling, executing and tracking projects. Many people also get their first certification at this point because it’s a help in job hunting. That first certification is often the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® from the Project Management Institute (PMI)®. That certification requires no project management work experience. But it does require learning the processes, definitions and terms of the profession and passing a 3-hour exam. Pass the CAPM Exam

Functional/Industry Project Management Certifications

Another route early in a PM career is to earn a project management certification in a specialty area. This is a popular route for people already working in IT, Healthcare, Construction, Consulting or Business/Manufacturing. The certifications are:
Certified IT Project Manager
Certified Healthcare Project Manager
Certified Construction Project Manager
Certified Consulting Project Manager
Certified Business Project Manager
These certifications give you credibility in a project management specialty area and confirm your knowledge of the basic through advanced project management skills. Then you can “sell” yourself as a person who can manage small and medium-sized projects using the best practices, tools and techniques.

Project Management Professional (PMP)® Certification and Beyond

After you have several years of experience managing projects, you will be qualified to earn the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute. This is an internationally recognized credential for experienced project managers and is highly regarded in all industries. You must be approved by PMI to take the PMP exam. PMI requires you to document 4,500 hours of project management work experience if you have a university degree and 7,500 hours of project management work experience if you do not have a university degree. They also require 35 hours of project management education. You need an exam preparation course to teach you all the best practices in project management. Then you must pass the exceedingly difficult 4-hour PMP exam. About 50% of the people who take the exam world-wide fail it.

The next step in a project management career is to earn a Program Manager Certification which prepares you up for positions managing multiple projects and larger, strategic programs. Program Management

Following that, your next move will be into senior management in a position like Chief Project Officer, CPO.

We offer individual, customized online courses for every step in your project management career.