Project Planning from the Top Down

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

In many organizations, managers (and especially senior managers) view project planning as a waste of time. To them, the project plan is needless. They want to “start work immediately without wasting time in useless planning meetings and creating mounds of paperwork.”

Project Planning: A Waste of Time?

Why do many managers and executives have the attitude that project planning is a waste of time?  Why are they unwilling to invest their time in project planning? Here are a few of the reasons:

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

Project Planning: A Waste of Time Reason #1

The most common reason why they have never seen a project properly planned is that the organization doesn’t exercise control or require justification for starting a new project. There is no reason to plan if people can start a project any time they want. The organization also doesn’t require a return on investment (payback) from a project.

On the other hand, executives must plan their projects if the organization requires the following:

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

Project Planning: A Waste of Time Reason #2

A second and very common reason for these “waste of time” attitudes is that many executives have never sponsored, run or even worked on a properly planned project. As a result, they don’t know the benefits a properly planned project can deliver. Their projects usually miss their planned completion dates and budgets. They rarely deliver the project scope or any business value. Project teams don’t know what they are accountable for delivering, what performance level the project manager expects or how the project manager will evaluate their work. As a result, the project manager must tell the team members what to do each week.

The executives also have no practical experience with change control. They don’t realize that a well-conceived project plan gives them and the project manager tools to manage changes to the scope, budget, quality and resources.

Project Planning: What Is Top-Down Planning?

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

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

project planning

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

Project Planning: Top-Down Benefits

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

Top-down project planning also saves you from doing the wrong things on the project. That’s because you have done all the thinking on the deliverables before you start work. And that means you don’t incur the costs of having to produce “missing” deliverables at the last moment. In top-down project planning you start with a clear definition of the project’s scope. Then you can break it down into high-level deliverables. You continue to break these down into sub-deliverables until you get to the level of tasks you assign to the team members.

Project Planning Summary

You are certain to have a failed project if you fall into the trap of starting work immediately without using the top-down project planning technique. The executives who forced you to start work quickly will be exceedingly dissatisfied with the results as well as the money and the time spent to produce them. The only way out of this situation is to explain to the project executives that success is a direct result of a solid planning effort.  Working from the top down, you and the sponsor must define the scope of the work and the acceptance criteria that the project stakeholders will use to judge its success. The key to top-down project planning is having a clear scope definition that you can break down into high-level deliverables and sub-deliverables. Then you have the basis for a work breakdown structure (WBS) that minimizes the amount of work required to successfully deliver the project’s scope.

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

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Team Motivation

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

Project team motivation is every bit as important as developing a clear plan & deliverables,creating a tight schedule and spotting problems early. Too many project managers assume that their team members are robots that will not be affected by their management behavior.  Thus, they think that how the PM assigns work, solves problems and makes estimates will have no impact on the team member’s attitude about the project. This view of team motivation is comfortable for leaders who believe their technical/creative knowledge make the team want to follow them. That is very far from the truth which is why the technical or creative guru types fail so often;  the think they can ignore team motivation.

The three leadership challenges above are what we call a project manager’s moments of truth with the project team. How the project manager treats the team members and how he values their input, and how he reacts to problems go a long way to determining the teams overall motivation. Let’s talk about these three moments of truth. Project Management Skills Main Page

Are you leading your team from in front or marching behind them carrying a snow shovel like that poor guy marching behind elephants at the circus? There are three moments of truth for project team motivation when leading your project team goes a long way to determining their motivation and if your project will succeed or fail. Those critical moments are; gaining commitment to estimates, handling “bad news” and reporting status. The first moment of truth happens while you’re estimating with a project team member. If you have an open discussion and the team member feels that they were able to participate in setting the work estimate for their tasks, you will get a much higher level of commitment to the estimate than if you arbitrarily set the number. The second moment of truth occurs when you deal with variances on a project. Your behavior in the face of this “bad news” largely determines whether your team members tell you about problems early or hide them from you because they don’t want to be blamed. The last moment of truth occurs when the sponsor is disappointed in the project progress. How you handle this is critical for your credibility, particularly if you blame team members for the problem rather than accept responsibility yourself.


Dick Billows, PMP, GCA

Dick Billows, PMP, GCA

Dick has over 25 years of experience as a project manager and regional partner with the fourth largest international professional firm and a VP of a Fortune 500 company managing a portfolio of project across 14 states. He has managed projects and programs in all 50 states and a dozen foreign countries. Since starting, he has assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project results and trained hundreds of project managers.

Dick began his career in project management with an international consulting firm starting as a technical consultant and move up to project and then program management. He successfully managed performance improvement, cost reduction and systems development projects for clients across the United States and overseas for 12 years. He directed projects in the following industries: computer chips, aluminum extrusion, insurance, local and state government, food manufacturing, restaurant chains, international reservation systems, K-12 education, oil refining, law firms, hospitals, medical practices and construction contracting and sub-contracting in commercial, industrial and residential construction.  Dick’s system development projects include accounting systems, ERP, financial reporting, inventory control, scheduling, personnel management and claims processing.

He made partner at Grant Thornton International (the world’s fifth largest accounting and consulting firm) and later assumed responsibility for the entire regional portfolio of client consulting projects in the western United States. Im that role he was responsible for training and developing dozens of project managers who managed thousands of projects each year.


A Fortune 100 client hired me to manage a 14 state region with responsibility for a portfolio of new products, including new locations, advertising, marketing, research and development. MY division achieved over 40% growth in five consecutive years.

A team of project managers and I formed to provide project management training and consulting for PMs and clients around the world.

My current duties are implementing project methodologies for clients, training project managers and consulting with project sponsors and executives.

Dick teaches in-person seminars for corporate clients and also directs the project consulting practice, helping organizations manage strategic projects and implement 4PM’s Achievement-driven Project Management™ methodology in their organizations.

I hold an undergraduate degree in economics and statistics from Johns Hopkins University, an MBA from the University of Colorado and has done doctoral work in organizational behavior at the University of Colorado.

Dick is the author of 14 books and over 225 articles on project management. He has also written and directed over 50 short project management videos. In 1986, Dick formed where he and his fellow project managers assist organizations in improving their project management processes. They include: Siemens, Intel, Baker-Robbins, Citicorp, TCI, Kaiser Permanente, Sentry Safe, Reader’s Digest, Jones Intercable, US WEST, Norwest Bank and First Data Corporation as well as smaller organizations like Candy’s Tortilla Factory and Colorado Mountain Development. Dick has a BA in Economics and Statistics from Johns Hopkins University, an MBA from the University of Colorado and did three years of doctoral work in Organizational Behavior at the University of Colorado.

I have been managing projects for over 25 years and have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project results. Along the way, I have written 14 books, over 325 articles and directed 36 short videos on project management. I’ve managed projects all over the world as well as managing portfolios of projects and trained 1000’s of project managers. I am president of and directs the firm’s consulting, in-person seminars and web-based individual training programs for professionals.


Dick’s books include:

  • Project Manager’s KnowledgeBase, 10th edition 2012
  • Managing Information Technology Projects, 6th edition, 2010
  • Advanced Project Management Techniques, 4th edition, 2011
  • Construction Project Management, 5th edition, 2012
  • Essentials of Project Management, 11th edition, 2011
  • Managing Healthcare Projects, 3rd edition, 2009
  • Program and Portfolio Management, 9th edition, 2011

Project Plan for Small Projects: Fast Food Approach


Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Creating the Project Plan for a small project is difficult for many reasons.  One of them is that the boss wants you to start as soon as possible without “wasting” a lot of time with meetings and paperwork.  Also the boss usually doesn’t give small projects much thought before dumping them in your lap. You clearly see that this is a recipe for failure.

Good project managers know that for every minute you spend on your project plan you save 10 minutes during the execution of the actual project. The reason for that 10 to 1 payback is that a plan allows the team to focus on executing rather than deciding what they’re going to do next.  A project plan also communicates to everyone what you’re going to do and how you’re not going to do it.  So how do you deal with the boss and still get even a basic plan?

Project Plan: Drive-thru Window at “Projects Are Us” Fast Food

You can do your project plan like the order-taker at a fast food drive-thru window. The fast food approach to planning is focused on getting started quickly by finding out what you. Here’s an example of how to apply that approach to a new Supply Room Project the boss emailed you about. You’d go to his office and the conversation would go like this:

Project Manager: “Exactly what do you want me to deliver on the last day of the project?”

Boss: “I want you to clean up the file room!”

Project Manager: “That’s what you want me to do but what is the end result you want me to deliver?  What should I be able to show you at the end of the project?”

Boss: “I am too busy for games.  I want you to show me a clean file room!”

Project Manager: “What is your standard for a clean file room?”

Boss, irked: “Nothing on the floor and everything stacked neatly in part number order”

Project Manager: “I can deliver that.” But then you remember how the fast food folks at the drive-thru window always ask if they can supersize it. So you add, “Do you also want to make it easier to find supplies? Not everyone knows the numbers of the parts.”

Boss, smiling for the first time: “Good thinking. I get a lot of complaints about things being hard to find.  Let’s kill two birds with one stone.”

Project Manager: “Great. Give them to me and I will suggest some additional deliverables before I leave today!”

What did the project manager accomplish here?  First, he/she improved the chance of project success.  They would have been near zero if the project manager had just started work with a scope of “clean up the file room.” Second, the project manager enhanced their credibility by asking some good questions that earned the boss’s praise. The approach used here appeals to a lot of bosses who sponsor projects. Particularly the ones who often complain about the planning meetings and paperwork that are necessary to start a project. In the fast food approach, you’ll forget all that PMBOK® stuff and reach agreement with the boss on the project’s scope. The project manager’s “supersize” question got a great reaction from the boss and they could continue talking about what business value the project has to deliver. The the project manager can get to work.

You can learn these skills for small projects in our project management basics courses.

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

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


Project Sponsor – How to Train a Bad One

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

Project sponsors should play a critical role in projects. They should set the goals for the project, use their authority & influence to help the PM get resources and solve problems. When there are conflicts the sponsor should protect the project. While many executives understand their role and play it well, there are many who do not. The bad ones won’t commit to exactly what they want from their project.  They  play it safe politically by never committing to a scope. These sponsors usually want to drive the project to a completion date they often pluck from the sky.  Talk to other PM about a new sponsor.  If the have many failed projects and often blame the project manager and team. You have a bad. Because sponsors outrank the project manager, often by many levels, you have to use a great deal of tact in using these techniques to guide an ineffective project sponsors toward fulfilling their project role. As a project manager, you will routinely face high-pressure situations with sponsors trying to do things that will harm the project. If you let the intimidation get to you, the project will fail. Here’s what to say, and what not to say, in each situation.

Project Sponsor Situation #1 Defining a Project Scope

Number one among the project sponsor’s responsibilities is defining the scope of the project.  Its the reason the sponsor initiated the project in the first place. Project sponsors need to give the you and your team a crystal-clear definition of what the project should deliver. The definition should include the acceptance criteria they will use to accept or reject the project.  If they’re playing political games with the scope, doing friends favors, or won’t committ themselves to exactly what they want, the project manager and the team members are almost certain to fail. When the sponsor demands the project team to start work without knowing what’s expected of them they are headed for delivering an unacceptable product, late and over budget.  There are other project sponsor obligations that project managers have to subtly guide them to fulfill. Let’s discuss them.

This occurs during the initiation of the project. In that first session you need to take a very strong position that the scope of the project must be defined in measurable terms, that is with a measurable metric. Often times you have to “sell” the sponsor on the benefits of a scope that defines what he or she wants with numbers rather than vague, subjective definitions.

Project Sponsor Situation #2

Another make or break situation occurs when you discuss your authority to direct the project team. If you are borrowing team members from another department, you want to be able to give them assignments directly rather than going through their supervisor.  You also want to be able to evaluate their performance and have input into their annual performance review.

Project Sponsor Situation #3

Other critical situations are change orders affecting the project scope, duration or cost. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Every scope change affects the project’s duration and cost.  Similarly, the project sponsor can’t cut the project’s duration without affecting the scope and cost or cut the budget without affecting the scope and duration. Project sponsors don’t want to hear this so you must be able to show them options for managing changes to the scope, duration and cost.

Project Sponsor Situation #4

Finally, status reports with a bad variance are a critical situation. You must present viable solutions to fix the problems of schedule or cost overruns.

Effectively handling each of these situations is critical to your relationship with the sponsor and to the success of the project.

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

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

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

Project Plan: Surface Expectation Differences Early

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Stakeholders and project managers often judge the success of a project plan meeting by how well everyone gets along. But they are making a mistake. One of the key outcomes from the planning process should be to surface any conflicts about the scope, deliverables and resources.  It is better to have those disagreements aired and resolved during the planning phase than have them erupt half way through the project. Project Plan Main Page

Project Plan Step One: Surface Expectation Differences

First, as the project manager, you do not take sides in the conflict.  Your best position is that you don’t care which side wins. You just want the conflict resolved before work begins on the project. Basically, you are on the sidelines for the whole project plan meeting. But you periodically sprinkle gasoline on any smoldering embers of conflict until they are all put out.

Why should you go to this trouble?  Why not smooth-over any conflicts about expectations and requirements now? That will get the project plan approved and let you start work.  That’s what the boss wants. The answer is that the conflicts you smooth-over in the project planning meeting always rear their ugly heads halfway through the project. Then they slow the work down and may even cause problems with the availability of team resources.  Experienced project managers know that there will be plenty of unexpected conflicts that arise as the project progresses. You don’t need to have known conflicts festering and bursting into flames late in the project. Resolving these expectation differences now, during the planning meeting, is a form of risk avoidance.

Project Plan Step Two: Draft the Project Plan

The second part of this technique is in how you write your draft project plan.  As an example, on a customer service project you would never define a deliverable with wording like, “Improve the quality of answers given to customers who call Customer Service.” That’s a terrible way to define a deliverable. It’s just motherhood and apple pie mush.  It’s not specific enough for anyone to disagree or raise differences of opinion. It allows every stakeholder to define their own expectation for the accuracy level. And their expectations will vary wildly.  You need to surface and resolve these differences, then get agreement on their expectations of the deliverable.

Here is another problem with the “Improve quality of the answers given to customers who call Customer Service” statement. It doesn’t give you or the team any of idea what the accuracy level goal is on the answers given to customers. Here is a better way to define the deliverable; “Improve the accuracy of answers given to customers from 61% to 71%.  Some stakeholders may want 90% accuracy and others will want less.  But now the discussion can focus on the differences in cost and time (duration) between various specific accuracy levels.project plan

Once again, your role is not to take sides or voice your own opinion.  Instead, your job is to quantify the tradeoffs in terms of cost and time between the various accuracy levels. You use project management software to model these options. For example, you would say, “Going to 91% accuracy would increase costs  by $18,000 and increase the project duration by 8 weeks.  Is that what you want?” The one issue you are very firm on is that no improvement in accuracy is free. The tradeoff always has a cost and duration impact. Your stance on this is very important.  If you let your stakeholders believe that they can change the project scope for free, you will face a constant flow of change requests throughout the project. And, stakeholders will be angry if you tell them there is a cost.

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

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

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


Project Management Methodology: Repeat Successes Not Failures

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

It’s important for project managers to understand the Project Management Methodology in their organizations. Here are the five stages organizations go through as their project methodology evolves and reaches project management maturity:

1. Ad-hoc projects
2. Increasing density
3. Resource overload
4. Initiation control
5. Consistent success  Project Methodology Main Page

Knowing how the project methodology stages evolve in an organization can help you be consistently successful with your projects. You can adjust your work efforts (or job hunting) to make the best of the situation.

Project Methodology Stage 1 – Ad hoc Projects

In this stage, there are only a few projects and project management is a relatively new way to get things done. Everyone on the project team reports to the same boss, who’s also the project sponsor. Projects aim at producing benefits within the unit or department. Successes are frequent because good weekly meetings that foster nurturing and commitment in the team are all that’s needed. Sure there are deadlines to meet and other work to do but the boss decides what’s most important for everyone on the team to work

The Weekly Team Meetings Go Like This

Project Manager: “We’ll go around the room so I can find out what everyone decided to do last week. I also want to get your ideas about things we should do on the ‘Paper-less Project’ this week.”

Team Member A: “I think we should add a training class about going paperless!”

Project Manager: “Great idea! Everyone will enjoy that and I think it will really help.”

Team Member B: “Can we also print up big colored posters that tell everyone to “Save a tree, do it on the PC?”

Project Manager: “Excellent! I’ll show the boss these ideas then we can go ahead. We’re a great team with good ideas. No wonder they want us to do another project after this one.”

The sheer enthusiasm people have for the rare opportunity to work on a project makes up for any project management sins. The scope of the project lets the PM work without many project management tools or techniques. People managing projects in this stage can’t understand why PM’s in other organizations have any problems at all. They don’t see any need to learn project management best practices. Organizations may stay in this first stage forever and enjoy high success rates as long as their projects don’t go beyond installing simHow project methodology evolvesple or “canned” solutions. But early successes and competitive pressures usually trigger more projects.  And some of the new projects span functional boundaries and aim for more significant business results. That’s when the organization’s methodology moves to the next stage.

Project Methodology Stage 2 – Increasing Density

As the organization moves into this stage, more managers and executives are initiating projects. The projects are reaching for more significant business results and they involve multiple decision-makers and stakeholders. Defining and controlling project scope becomes a challenge. Projects now include people from across functional or organizational lines. Many people are on several projects simultaneously. This creates conflict for people working on multiple projects. They must balance their project work and their “real” jobs.  Contention for resources also increases. The first line managers in particular are in demand on multiple projects. But they still have departments to manage.  Project managers face the challenge of leading larger teams whose members represent different organizations.  Cross-functional authority problems occur since the project managers don’t have skills in managing matrixed people. The ad-hoc project methodology is inadequate for projects with larger teams and scopes. Consequently, project failure rates rise.
The response to the increased project failure rate is micromanagement by executives and the PM’s. That style makes the projects much less rewarding for team members than in Stage 1.

The Weekly Team Meetings Go Like This

Project Manager: “Did the user sign off on the specifications yet?”

Team Member A: “Yeah, I’ve got 46 pages of them and I’ll be getting more specifications for the next two weeks. This has gotta stop – the requirements keep growing! I have no idea what this project is about and neither does the user.”

Project Manager: “What this project is about is finishing 90 days from now. We’ll figure out the rest as we go. I’ll give everyone new “to do” lists each week.”

Team Member B: “Bill and Marcy got pulled off to work on their boss’s #1 priority project . So I won’t be able to start my stuff until they come back. Can you revise the schedule to give us more time? I’m on six different projects.”

Project Manager: “Oh sure, that’s real likely. The VP ripped my head off last time I even mentioned being late. I’m sorry but you’ll just have to do the best you can. Remember this is a #1 priority project.”

Team Member B: “Yeah, everything’s a #1 priority.”

When the pain of project failures gets too bad, executives respond by training their project managers how to use better techniques. This has some limited benefit but the project managers face an executive group that still operates in the Stage 1 world. They start as many projects as they want whenever they wish. As failures continue, the response is to scale back the large cross-functional and strategic efforts. Decision makers try to dodge the inability to work across functional lines by appointing co-project managers from each functional unit to run projects. Their attempts to avoid authority, priority and resource allocation problems are unsuccessful and failure rates continue to rise. The newly learned project management techniques have little impact on success rates. Executives focus on due dates because they have no other objective control points in the project plans. The unaddressed issues of resource allocation and lack of prioritization cause team member workloads to rise beyond reasonable levels. Executives launch new projects of all sizes without any assessment of their business value or resource demands. The need for strategic, cross-functional results and the scale and density of projects continue to grow, leading us to Stage 3.

Project Methodology Stage 3 – Resource Overload

Here project failure rates climb. Often 70% fail to deliver the scope, on time and within budget. The Stage 3 organization launches so many projects that staffing requirements are three times the actual available resources. Blame avoidance is rampant. The organization begins to lose their best staff members who are tired of the failures, confusing assignments and 70-hour work weeks.

Organizations respond to the crisis by assembling “best practices” groups to try to bring some consistency to the project management process. The usual result is a paperwork nightmare of project and developmental controls with countless forms and reports. Compliance is low and cursory at best. They install subjective tracking and reporting systems, like the red, green and amber light systems. These are certain to fail since they provide very little information and encourage ridiculous optimism in reporting as people try to avoid blame.

The Weekly Team Meetings Go Like This

project methodologyProject Manager: “Is anyone in red light status?”

The project team members look at one another as they all deny being behind schedule. They remember the angry tirades from the project manager and executives the last time someone reported an overrun.

Project Manager: “I haven’t seen the documentation for task #167’s work.”

Team Member B: “Do you want me to write the code as well as the documentation? There’s no time in the schedule for me to do both.”

Project Manager: “Just put something down on paper. That’ll keep the standards committee off my back.”

Team Member B: “What a stupid waste of time! I’ve already got five other projects to work on and I’d like to get home before 10:00 p.m. at least once this week! ”

Project Manager: “Hey, I spend my nights doing variance reports and project narratives that some 9 to 5 pencil-pusher designed to show off his or her project management expertise. Just copy and paste from other projects. No one reads this stuff anyway.”

Organizations move out of Stage 3 only when the pain from recurring project failure becomes excruciating enough for senior management to give up their privilege of initiating unlimited projects.

Project Methodology Stage 4 – Initiation Control

This stage starts when executives realize that they must:

  • Control project initiation
  • Set priorities
  • Control people’s workloads and allocate their project hours based on project priority
  • Actively manage the project portfolio
  • Regularly rate each project in terms of its cost versus the business value produced.

Executives learn to manage within the resource limitations and accept the fact that everything can’t be a #1 priority. They implement a project methodology across the organization that minimizes paperwork and produces hard-edged data for quantified decision-making.

Micromanagement begins to fade as project managers hold team members accountable for clear and measured end results, not To Do activities. The PM’s think more about quantifying the end results they must produce. They also have the tools and techniques to anticipate problems and manage “out in front” of their teams. They don’t just focus on last week’s problems. Additionally, they can quantify the time, cost, risk and quality dimensions of their projects and present trade-off options to the decision-makers.

The Weekly Team Meetings Go Like This

Project Manager: “Well, our project has been dropped down one priority level to free resources for a new project. You’ve all gotten your new schedules and you’ll see that our project is now scheduled to finish 6 weeks later than the original baseline completion date. I’ll keep this meeting short. I just need to meet with Bill to work out a problem. The rest of you are in good shape so you can go.”

Bill: “You want to talk about the variance on task #224?”

Project Manager: “Yes, where did we go wrong on the estimate?

Bill “We got a little too optimistic on the time it would take to interface with that legacy system.”

Project Manager: “Okay, that happens. Can you give me 10 hours of overtime over the next two weeks? That will cut the overrun in half and I’ll add some other resources to the successor tasks to recover the rest of the slippage.”

Moving out of the crisis of Stage #3 is not easy. Organizations need high levels of compliance with a consistent protocol and controls. These give executives the data for assessing each project’s business value, setting priorities and managing resource allocations against those priorities.

Project Methodology Stage 5 – Consistent Success

The last tier of the project evolution comes when all levels of the organization use a consistent methodology and everyone knows their role. This includes a consistent and integrated method of processes and controls that are scaled so they’re appropriate for the size of each project. They measure and track quantified dimensions of each project and manage resources to maximize the business value each project produces. first meeting team

The Weekly Team Meetings Go Like This

Project Manager: “Marcy, thanks for stopping by. I want to discuss modifying your achievement and the work estimate on task #56. I need to develop some trade-off alternatives that will let us finish 30 days earlier. If we cut your response time achievement from “90% of inquiries handled in 60 seconds” to “60% of inquiries handled in 60 seconds,” how much can we lower the work estimate and duration?”

Marcy: “I’ll need to think about it but that would let me cut out 6 inquiry types so we might get a 30% reduction in the hours and duration.”

Project Manager: “Great. Can you give me a final commitment by the end of the day? One of my bosses wants to review the options tomorrow.”

Moving to Stage #5 is difficult. Organizations need to shed the restrictions of the rigid management hierarchy. They also need to initiate techniques that require project decisions and problem-solving to be based on hard data and measured business value for the organization. For IT departments and consulting firms, this methodology is the foundation for strategic partnerships with users and clients that are based on business value.

Learn more about our project management methodology.

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

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

Project Management Methodology Development

How to Develop Project Methodology – What Steps Should I Follow? 

As Project Management Professionals, we sometime find ourselves in an Project methdologyenvironment that has no established project management methodology. Instead, what we is inconsistent, and wasteful approaches to managing projects. Some project managers bury small projects in stacks of unnecessary paperwork.  Others manage large projects with no attention to risk management, the proper utilization of resources or procurement.  Still other project managers are so intimidated by due dates that their practices that focus on turning out something, anything (crap) by the deadlines, not on using resources wisely, nor meeting stakeholder expecations. Unfortunately, organizations in those environments are not leveraging their experiences to make improvements in their approach to project management. Enter the Project Management Professional (PMP), armed with PMI best practice approaches and eager to enhance his/her organization’s capacity to adopt best practices. However, the PMP should proceed with caution, do not try to change things overnight or act as someone who has all the answers. Project Methodology Main Page

It’s important to respect the project methodology that is currently in place within the organization. Also, to identify who the main players are and what are their key requirements. Once that has been ascertained, it’s time to start a gradual process to show how improvements in the project management process could add value to the organization’s efforts. Start by getting a clear idea of the requirements of the whole project delivery system within the organization. What are they trying to achieve via the projects in the pipeline? How successful have they been in the past in meeting those requirements? Are they capturing any lessons learned and recording those as an organizational assets? Once those have been determined, it’s time to start a participatory and inclusive process to address the current and emerging gaps within the organization.

I would recommend starting slow and proposing pilot projects that could demonstrate the effectiveness of any new or enhanced project methodology for managing projects. It’s critical to get senior management buy-in on any proposed changes/ enhancements to the current approach. Expect some resistance initially but if you can demonstrate efficiency and effectiveness as outcomes, you will be in a better position to get support and buy-in. It’s critical to remember that any proposed changes should demonstrate clearly how it would add value and close any gaps that currently impede projects being delivered on time, budget and achievement of intended outcomes.

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

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


Project Variances, Solve Just the Real Problems

Work Breakdown Structure
Dick Billows, PMP

Project variance is what gives executives nightmares about project failure. They are the calculated difference between the approved project plan’s costs and duration and the actual project results. We can have project variance vs.  schedule where we identified that a task should have been finished by July 1 and it was actually finished by July 5. That’s a four day bad variance. We can also have project variance on the project budget. Let’s say a task was planned to cost $5,000 and it actually cost $4,500 when we were done. That’s a $500 good variance.  Project Tracking Reports Main Page

We can also have project variance on the characteristics of the deliverable and on the planned work versus the actual work. The most important thing about project variances is we do not have to wait until the task is completed to identify a variance. Project managers get information from their team members’ status reports. Using project management software, they take the information about the actual results versus the plan and they forecast variances when the task is done. That allows the project manager to start corrective action before the task is actually finished.

Another major use of project variance is in status reporting to the project sponsor. Having the variance data allows the project manager to show the sponsor how the project is going and what tasks are on schedule and what tasks are not. One of the techniques that separates consistently successful project managers from the rest of the pack is their ability to identify problems early, when they are small and easily solved. Unsuccessful project managers are routinely surprised by big problems that they find out about when it’s too late to fix the damage that’s been done.

The important thing to remember when your project sponsor becomes hysterical about a variance is that we do not have to take corrective action about every variance. If we have a 5 day variance on a task’s forecasted completion date, We do not have to order overtime for the whole team.  If you have used professional scheduling techniques, you will be able to quickly determine if the task is on the critical path and if not how much slack it has. I the task has 10 days of slack you should do nothing about the variance because the slack can absorb it and it will not affect the project completion date. You also need to check if the variance is a signal of a growing problem. But that is an example of when we can ignore a variance.

A few prudent steps during project planning can make all the difference. To spot problems early, you need unambiguous, measurable checkpoints in the project so you don’t have to guess whether you’re on track. With the deliverables defined by metrics, you will know exactly where you are. That’s what lets you take action at the first sign of a problem. Do you want to be regularly surprised by problems when it is too late to fix them or do you want to spot problems early and fix them before they mushroom? How to Write a Weekly Status Report

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

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

Project Management Methodology – 3 Tiers to Fit Project Size & Scope

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

A project management methodology is the glue that binds all the organization’s project management processes and techniques. It is a process that helps everyone understand their role and obligations. Without a methodology you can’t exercise control over the portfolio of projects to ensure all of them produce business value and don’t waste financial and human resources. The project management methodology also gives upper management tools to ensure that the organization is doing the right projects in the order of their priority. But project management methodologies often have a bad reputation because of the way organizations implement them.

There are many decisions to be made in implementing a project management methodology. Too often organizations get carried away with implementing advanced project management techniques and methodologies. As an example, the implementers think it’s necessary to apply every detail in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)® from the Project Management Institute (PMI)® to every project.  But when the project management methodology is too complicated, has too much paperwork and too many meetings, people don’t follow it.  The methodo
logy has to make it easier for project managers, team members and sponsors to do a good job.  That’s why organizations need a project management methodology that is scalable to fit the size and complexity of each project.   AdPM Project Methodology

When organizations try to apply a complex methodology to all their projects, they overload smaller projects
with pointless paperwork. This paperwork jungle bogs down project managers and their teams. The extra paperwork, procedures and meetings take so much time that the project managers don’t do the paperwork.  Or they submit the same forms from an earlier project with just a couple of words changed.  This results in the organizations inability to prioritize its projects. And without priorities, it can’t allocate resources wisely.  It also can’t keep track of all the projects and their current status. In other words, there is no organizational project process.

Another result of this overly complex approach is that the organization can’t control the initiation of new projects. People don’t want to do all the paperwork to get a small project approved. So there are a lot of underground projects that are called something else, like “initiatives.” And there are other people who simply start new projects and ignore the organizational approval process. The result is that there is no control over project initiation and a lot of resources are wasted.

Project Management Methodology: Scalable for Three Tiers

The scalable project management methodology is the way you can solve all these problems. It recognizes that small projects need just a small amount of the project management process.  As the projects increase in size, you will add tools and techniques to increase control. A scalable project methodology actually saves project managers time so they will comply with the process. That will produce better data you can use to allocate resources to the right projects. How Project Methodology Evolves

A scalable project management methodology can be tailored to meet the needs of each project; small, medium and large. That is the formula for solid control and success across the organization’s entire portfolio of projects. Let’s look at the three levels of our scalable project management methodology.

Project Management Methodology: Tier #1 Projects

The first level or tier of our scalable project management methodology covers about 60% of the projects in most organizations. There are  usually less that 10 team members and they, plus the project manager, all work in the same department or functional area. They report to the same boss who is the project sponsor. On these small projects, the scope statement and requirements shouldn’t be complicated. These elements make up the Broadbrush Plan. The project manager documents the business value the sponsor wants (the project scope) and the major constraints, like time and cost.  Most importantly, the Broadbrush Plan lets the project manager break down the project scope into assignments for the team members. These assignments include clear performance expectations. They allow the project manager and the team members to make accurate estimates of work and duration for the schedule.  They use the Broadbrush Plan and the estimates to develop a dynamic schedule based on the resources available.

Getting weekly status reports from the team members lets the project manager spot problems early when they can be fixed. They’ll be able to keep the project schedule updated in 10 minutes a week using project scheduling software.  The Tier #1 methodology meets the organization’s requirements for setting priorities and allocating resources. It does have limitations, however. As the scope of the projects and the size of the teams increase, the project manager must use the next tier in the project management methodology.

Project Management Methodology: Tier #2

Projects are a little larger in the second tier of our project management methodology. The team size usually ranges from 10 – 15 people and the project manager needs to borrow resources from different functional areas. Instead of a single sponsor, there are multiple sponsors/stakeholders the project manager must manage and satisfy. The project manager must use more sophisticated techniques to define the scope and  gather the requirements. He/she needs to focus on each business-relevant outcome and define network of achievements that lead to it.  That will let the project manager control scope creep. Lean Project Management

In addition to borrowing people from multiple departments, the project manager may be hiring contractors.  That makes the authority and management issues trickier. These projects involve more dollars and hours than Tier #1 so the project manager will use more elaborate estimating processes for work, duration and cost. The scheduling is more complex so they use the software’s optimization tools to ensure they’re using their resources efficiently and will finish as early as possible. The project manager also needs to develop high levels of team member commitment to the project’s time frames and deliverables.  Gaining that commitment is more difficult when the team members are borrowed from other areas and the project manager isn’t their “real” boss.  So they need to more actively manage the team culture.

Finally, Tier #2 projects have greater risk and higher stakes so the project manager needs to do risk management. They will probably limit their analysis to qualitative risk assessment which is an inexpensive technique.  They’ll focus their risk management on planning the risk responses and mitigation strategies to avoid the negative consequences.

Project Management Methodology: Tier #3 Project Management Methodology

When the PM manages large strategic initiatives or major projects for clients they need to add Tier #3-level techniques to their project management methodology. The project manager will align the project with the organization’s strategy and go through an extensive scope and requirements process. They will do a detailed cost-benefit analysis and feasibility studies.  Then the project manager will break down the scope into measurable/verifiable outcomes that they”ll use as the basis for estimating the work and making team member assignments. He or she must make sure everyone knows exactly what business result the project is targeting and what is explicitly excluded from the project. They must define success in measurable terms and measure progress at each stage in the project’s lifecycle. Additionally, their risk analysis includes quantitative risk assessment which is more elaborate and includes statistical assessment of the risk’s probability and impact.

The project team must have an organization structure.  The project manager needs assignment and reward authorities for contractors and team members who are borrowed from other departments.  To create a high-performance team culture, everyone needs a shared objective and commitment. This requires the use of psychological motivation and commitment techniques far beyond a slogan and t-shirts.

Summary: Project Management Methodology: Scaleable for Each Project 

There are significant benefits to using a 3-tiered project management methodology for projects as they increase in size and complexity. You can expand and contract it to fit the size of your projects – small, medium and large.  It is wise to start with a simple methodology that actually saves the project manager’s time.  That’s how you get compliance and improve your organization’s project performance.

We offer books and courses that teach the tools and techniques for each level of our 3-tiered project management methodology. You can also earn a certificate in project management. You’ll work privately and individually with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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

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