Project Disasters – Comedy Video

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

Project DisastersIt takes a lot of work to make a project disaster as bad as this one. Our cast members show you how in a Project disasters comedy video about how to screw up a project.

The PMs and team members are preparing their failed project for a big project status meeting. You’ll see micro-managing PMs frantically hiding problems and berating team members for finishing early. Other team members point fingers at each other while sleazy executives maneuver for their political advantage.  Whacked-out IT staff members use a million phony excuses about why the system is late.  While the Human Resources people back-stab the Sales people to avoid blame for a  pointless employee survey. You’ll see all the things NOT to do on a project.

You’ll also see how the PM deals with the inept executive sponsor of the project, Mr. Lonegan. He starts more projects than the organization can possibly finish. His projects never have a clearly defined scope so the project managers and team members have to guess about what they think Mr. Morgan wants the project to deliver.  Because the project managers are not sure what Mr. Lonegan wants, they make very vague assignments to their team members. That way they can’t be blamed but the team member can.

The final icing on Mr. Lonegans’s disastrous cake is the red hot anger he directs toward any project manager or team member who admits to being late. Mr. Lonigan probably convinces himself that he is a dynamic leader with very high standards. In truth, Mr. Lonegan is a complete failure as a project sponsor. And he drags down and rest of the organization with him.

These characters may remind you of some of the people on your projects and the interpersonal challenges they give you. If you remember characters or situations from your experience, share them with others in the blog.

If you have outrageous examples of how to screw up a project, send them to us in a comment and we’ll try to work them into the next episode of 537 Ways to Screw Up a Project.

How to Screw Up Project: Status Reports


Project Management Plan – Video

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

Knowing how to create a Project Management Plan is tricky. The size of the project is not important. People mistakenly think that longer project plans are better than shorter ones. They think the plan’s word count reflects the amount of thinking that’s gone into the document. The opposite is usually true. In our 25+ years of managing projects, we’ve found that the more words in the project plan the less thinking has gone into it.

Here we’ll discuss what a good Project Management Plan should have in it and we’ll provide you with the tools to create one. If you have project managers reporting to you, we’ll give you information to let the PMs know what you want from their Project Management Plans. All the plans should follow the same general structure. Each project manager can make adjustments to their plan based on the scale and scope of their project(s). Project Planning Main Page

Here is a video that shows you how NOT to start a Project Management Plan.

Project Planning Blunders: Stakeholder Turf Wars


Project Management Plan: Size

The Project Management Plan doesn’t have to be a long document but it must cover some very important elements. The vital elements are the deliverables the project will produce and how they will be measured.  The first step is the hard part. Easier elements of the project plan are the schedule, budget, risk analysis, quality control, resource requirements and product metrics and specifications.

Project Management Plan: Elements

The sections of the Project Management Plan must detail how much project management the PM is going to do in each of the major areas. In the first section, the project manager must detail how he/she is going to manage the scope definition and scope change processes. The project manager lays out the process of defining the scope. That includes who will be involved, what techniques they will use and how long the process should take. They also define the procedure for making changes to the scope. This is one or two sentences about who will have the authority to approve changes and what documentation is required.

The project manager should also have plans for the project schedule, budget, risks, quality control, rsources and procurement management. In each of those areas, he/she should identify who is going to do these activities and what techniques they will use. The Project Management Plan may specify that the PM is not going to do any quality control or risk management because of the unique requirements or limitations of this particular project. That’s okay. There’s no sense in overburdening small projects with too many project management processes. A key element of the Project Management Plan is deciding what you’re not going to do.

The project sponsor should review these elements of the Project Management Plan to ensure that adequate controls are in place. They should include information on the frequency and level of detail in project status reports. They may decide that different groups of stakeholders need different kinds of information about the project. The sponsor may also want weekly data rather than monthly and the Project Management Plan will list all of these decisions.

Project Management Plan: Project Sponsor and Project Manager Time Investment

Project management planning begins during the initiation process. This is where the project plan is developed and approved. In general, the project management planning effort should consume 90% of the time the project sponsor invests in the project.

Project management planning should also consume about 60% of the time the project manager is going to invest in the project. That way, they can invest sufficient thought about the entire project, anticipate problems, and think through alternative ways of doing the project. Project Management Plan best practices call for a very detailed planning effort followed by execution. The project execution process should require a small amount of adjustment and adaptation. A thorough project planning process allows the PM to efficiently produce the project deliverables.

The Project Management Plan document itself can be as brief as one side of one piece of paper for a small project as long as it identifies the major deliverables, the most significant risks and provides rough estimates of the required resources’ cost and hours. In larger projects, the plan could be quite large. The most common mistake in project management planning comes when the project sponsor sees the plan as a waste of time and wants to start work as quickly as possible. The sponsor brushes off objections from the project manager with the novel idea of “planning as we go.” Starting project work without a plan is not the way to produce the needed project deliverables as quickly as possible. This approach causes a great deal of wasted time and effort. People produce the wrong deliverables and waste considerable amounts of time. They’re trying to figure out what they should be doing and how all the pieces should come together. Even in emergencies, starting work without a plan is a dumb thing to do. You will always finish earlier and produce better results with a thoroughly thought out Project Management Plan.

Project Management Plan: Stepsproject management plan

Follow these six steps to project management success:

  1. Project manager and sponsor define the project scope. It is a clear, objectively measurable deliverable.
  2. Project manager and sponsor decompose (break down) the scope into 4 to 7 major deliverables that are required to deliver the scope.
  3. Project manager and stakeholders further subdivide the major deliverables down to the level of individual assignments for team members. Each of these is also a deliverable, not an activity. The lowest level of deliverables is the work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS is the basis for scheduling and other project management activities.
  4. Project manager and team members estimate the amount of work and duration that each task in the WBS will require. The team members should participate in these estimates so they have some “skin in the game” and commitment to their assignments.
  5. Project manager tracks actual results versus the plan. He/she reports variances and corrective action options to the project sponsor.
  6. As the project team produces each deliverable, the sponsor and stakeholders formally accept it. The project is over when the sponsor accepts the team’s last deliverable.

Learn how to create a Project Management Plan in our online Project Management Basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.

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New Product Launch

You settled  down at a table in the company cafeteria with status reports on three of the projects in the program you were managing. You decided to start with the most problematic of your projects and opened that folder, managing to remove the staple with a knife without stabbing yourself. At a neighboring table, people from sales, marketing, production, engineering and accounting were having an intense, heated discussion. You knew all the managers involved and you’d had each of them as a stakeholder on more than one of your projects. You had at least a productive working relationships with new product launchall of them and two were your close friends.

Join a New Product Launch Meeting

One of the friends spotted you and waved at you to join them. As you took a seat you said, “From the gaiety, I would say you’re planning the holiday parties. Am I right?”
Your friend said, “I don’t make jokes at your project planning meetings. Our new product launch session is every bit as divisive.” Your friend looked around the group, held up his hands to all of them, and said, “I’m not trying to score debating points. I’m just trying to summarize everybody’s position on the new product launch.”
The rest of the group nodded but watched your friend warily.
“Okay,” he said, “my friends from accounting think this new product will lose money. They don’t think we can cover the fixed costs in the first two years. My colleagues from sales and marketing take issue with that. They say this new product could be a home run for the organization. The production managers think the new product is too complex to manufacture with a low defect rate. They are concerned that a high defect rate will cause this product to fail. Warehousing and shipping managers think the transportation costs are going to go through the roof because the salespeople want to promise 24 hour delivery.
You listened carefully and nodded at each of the managers as their position was stated.
Your friend turned to you and said, “Pretend this is a project. How would you address this? What do you call it, stakeholder conflict?”  Project Planning Main Page

New Product Launch as a Project

You laughed and said, “What you have here is a project; I don’t need to pretend it’s one. But it’s a project without a defined scope. The scope is what the product will deliver to the organization; its goal. You’re arguing about various deliverables without any framework to define them. Can I ask a couple of questions?”
All the people at the table looked around a bit uncomfortably and then nodded.
“Okay. Am I correct that the goal of this new project is to generate a positive cash flow for the organization?”
Everyone nodded and a few made faces at the obvious statement.
You continued, “How much cash flow do you need to generate in each of the first five years for this project to be a success?”
A manager from sales said, “That depends on how many units we sell.”
You smiled and asked, “How many units are you committed to selling in each of the next five years.”
He replied, “That depends on the price and the features we can offer our customers. That’s the way sales works.”
“Humor me,” you said. “Tell me how many units you can sell if the product contains a specific set of features and a specific production cost.”
The sales manager shook his head angrily, “You’re asking me to go way out on a limb here.”
You smiled and said, “Well eventually you have to commit to how many units you can sell. That allows everybody else to plan on how many units they have to produce and ship.”
The irritated sales manager looked at you and said, “That’s not how marketing & sales works. We sell as many as we can and everybody else has to adapt.”
There were loud groans from production, engineering, accounting, shipping and warehousing.
“It seems to me,” you said, “that there is some disagreement with that approach. I can see how the volume of your sales is going to have a drastic impact on these other parts of the organization. So it’s reasonable that they want to know what sales level to prepare for.”
The sales manager said, “You don’t understand. This is not project management. We can’t specify in advance how many units we’re going to sell because the market is far too turbulent. And we can’t anticipate all the actions of our competitors.”
“You make your point eloquently,” I replied, “but I’d be surprised if good product development procedures let the marketing and sales people off the hook on hitting a sales target.  Having that data and your commitment to it is the only way to start this new product launch. You don’t have to consider it a project but you must follow certain procedures. Like any business person, you come up with an idea for a new product that you think makes sense for the market. That’s what we call a business case. In that document, you justify this product by making commitments to the following:
  • the number of units you can sell
  • the profits
  • the investment
  • the people resources it requires.

That’s what the executives look at decide whether to approve or disapprove this new product. They’ve got to know it makes sense financially, operationally, and in terns of capacity and human resources. I’d imagine, just like in project management, there are other new product ideas or other investments that the executives have to weigh versus your new product.”

The accountants started clapping first, then the operations manager said, “You mean we’d be able to plan production levels based on a sales forecast?”

You nodded at all of them and said, “Right. This is the project management world. New project launches aren’t begun without first being justified. Most importantly, the people who want the project need to make commitments to the benefits the project will produce. They have “skin in the game.” That’s what makes the business case process so worthwhile. Once you get agreement on the scope of the new product (the project), I’d be happy to help you break it down into the production costs, delivery costs, personnel costs and so on. All of them will be part of your network of product deliverables.”

You looked around the table at their approving faces.

Strategic Vision vs. Project Myopia

Too often project managers get lost in the minutia and don’t have strategic vision for the project. They don’t see the big picture of how the project deliverables will affect the organization as a whole. In our work with over 300 organizations, this is one of the biggest concerns that client executives have about project managers. That is particularly true of project managers with an engineering or software orientation. The executives’ concern is that the project manager does not see the customer or the product or the larger organization. Instead they dive headfirst into the barrel of technical details.

It’s important to understand your project’s role in the organization’s top level strategy for reaching its goals. Strategic visionThis is true whether you’re assuming ownership of a project that’s underway or starting one from scratch,  Without that strategic vision, your project runs the risk of satisfying its own ends but disappointing the organization and/or the sponsors that supported it.  And that’s not a good thing.

Sources of Strategic Vision

So how do you apply strategic vision at the project level and see the big picture?  As a project manager, you need to have a good grasp of your organization’s long-term goals.  Your project charter should provide that linkage and you may want to clarify that in the project plan by directly describing how the project’s desired outcome supports the strategic goal(s).  If this connection is not made or isn’t clear, you may be only a few well-intended—but unfortunate—decisions away from providing results that don’t meet the project sponsor’s intent.

Questions to Gain Strategic Vision

You should ask yourself the following simple questions and keep them in mind as you execute your project. They will help you maintain that strategic vision and keep your project on track.

1.  Exactly how does my project support the organization’s strategic goals?  How do the project’s requirements and deliverables relate to the strategic goals?  Consider how much flexibility the deliverables can bear before they no longer support the goal(s).  You may even establish a threshold beyond which the project should be reassessed and/or revised.

2.  How will my project’s success be determined?  Success criteria should be spelled out in your scope statement.  If set correctly, success criteria directly support the desired business outcome of your project. By extension, they support the sponsor’s strategic goals.  If you must adjust success criteria due to approved requirements changes, make sure this linkage to success criteria, desired business outcome, and strategic goals remains intact.

3.  Where does my project fit in the organization’s strategic activities?  View your project from the outside. From a broad, strategic perspective, how does your project align with other projects addressing the same or related goals?  There are both benefits to be gained and pitfalls to be avoided from this exercise.  For example, you may discover the potential for synergy with another project, or at least opportunities for mutual support of a strategic goal.  But you may also discover redundancy or interdependencies that must be acknowledged and dealt with.  At a minimum, you will gain valuable insight into the tactical role your project plays in supporting the overall strategic goals of the organization.

4.   What is the long-view of my project?  As project managers, we often become mired in the here-and-now issues that demand our immediate attention.  Without meaning to, we may lose the ability to see our project in the long-term and not recognize when we have strayed from our core purpose.  It is important, maybe even critical, to allow yourself time now and again to look far downrange and make sure that the course you are on isn’t leading to the wrong destination.

5.  Do I truly understand my project’s cause and effect relationships?  By dwelling too much on low level management of daily project operations, it’s easy to miss or underappreciate cause and effect relationships that stretch beyond that myopic perspective.  Problems you’re dealing with today may have roots far in the past, maybe even preceding your appearance in the project.  As a project manager with “strategic vision,” you’ll have the ability to step back and understand the full scope of that relationship. That will allow you to address it appropriately.

Project Due Date Trap – Video

The project due date trap occurs when the boss will only talk about the project’s due date. They want a commitment to that date without defining what they want the project to deliver.

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

This project due date trap is deadly for a project manager. What draws you into this trap is fear of the boss’ anger. You are certain that your career will be over if you don’t commit to their due date. So you don’t even ask some reasonable questions.  Project Planning Main Page

Experienced project managers have learned how to deal with the executives who set the project due date trap. They have learned that a project manager won’t be fired for refusing to commit to a due date. But a project manager could be fired for failing to hit a due date or budget they have committed to meet The first step is getting the sponsor to clearly define the project scope. The scope includes the major deliverables the project must produce and their acceptance criteria. Without that information, the project manager cannot estimate a realistic due date and commit to it. So the project is doomed.

Project Planning Blunders - Plucking Due Dates Out of the Sky

Project Due Date Don’ts

The wrong way to do project planning is to start by identifying the first task you’re going to do on the project, then the second, then the third and so on. This “to do” list approach is easy because it doesn’t require much thinking. But it has major downfalls. Project managers who use this approach tend to include a lot of good, but unnecessary, requirements. They don’t limit the plan to include only what they must do to deliver the result the boss wants. So they waste lots of time and resources. And since they don’t know exactly what the boss wants, they can’t decide what to do to deliver it. They end up adding things to the project later on that they suddenly discover are vital. This “to do” list approach to project planning gets off to a fast start but ends up with projects that take longer and cost more than they should.

Project Best Practices

Long-term success requires that you learn project management best practices. Those are the skills you need to deliver the project scope on time and within budget. For small projects, a five-step methodology is enough. Here are the steps:
Project Due Date Trap

  1. Project planning – focus on a clear scope and a deliverable-oriented project plan. Create the work breakdown structure by working from the scope statement down to individual team member assignments. Clearly define the deliverables that are required to reach the project’s end result.
  2. Assigning work to the project team – focus on giving them a crystal-clear understanding of what you expect them to produce before they start work. The deliverables must be measurable.
  3. Estimating – focus on how much work it will take to produce each deliverable. It’s always best to have the team member who is going to do the work take part in this estimating process.
  4. Tracking progress against the plan and spotting variances – use project management software and status data from your team members to stay on top of your project. Anticipate problems when they are small and before they impact the entire project.
  5. Designing corrective action and reporting status – design corrective action when you find problems. Clearly report problems and solution options to the project sponsor for their approval.

Learning a simple methodology like this will help you be successful on the vast majority of projects most organizations do.

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Three Point Estimates – Video

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

Three point estimates are a best practice in project management because they produce accurate estimates and stronger team member commitment. They also provide us with risk data on the probability of more or less work, and duration, on tasks than we had planned. See a PM do three point  estimating the right way in the video.

The improved estimating accuracy in three point estimates comes from the fact that we are considering the risk inherent in any task. We identify with the team member the risk factors that can make a task take more or less time than the best guess estimate. Then we give the team member the opportunity to estimate the work load if adverse risks occur. We also ask the team member to estimate the work if positive risks occur that affect the task. From those three estimates; best guess, worst case (pessimistic) and best case (optimistic), we can calculate the probability of various task durations. That allows us to talk with the project sponsor about the level of certainty the sponsor wants on the project duration.

How To Do 3-point Estimates With Your Team

Example of Three Point Estimates

As an example, we might discuss a task that has a best guess estimate of three weeks duration. The probability of completing the task within that best guess estimate is 50%. We can also offer the sponsor probabilities of 60, 70 and 80% certainty. As always, there is a cost to increasing our certainty and that often comes in the form of increased labor costs. Having this data allows us to give the project sponsor the opportunity to pay for more certainty.

The improved team member commitment in three point estimates comes from the fact that we engage our team members in estimating the work and duration of their tasks. When team members are given the opportunity to participate in the estimating process, the final estimates they have more confidence in the numbers. That is in sharp contrast to the PM simply telling the team when they must be done . Having this discussion with the team about the risks on the task also gives us another big benefit. If we identify the risks that could cause the task to take longer than the best guess estimates, we try to mitigate those risks very early in the project lifecycle. Early risk identification and mitigation is always preferable to firefighting when we’re halfway through the task.

As you watch the video on Three Point Estimates, observe how the project manager teaches her team to come up with the three estimates. Then you’ll see the project manager use the estimates with the project sponsor to give him choices and also fend off arbitrary cuts to the project’s duration.  Finally you will watch private interviews with the team members so you can see their reaction to the three-point estimating process.

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Project Sponsor Types: Political Operator – Video

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

There are many project sponsor types. Some are focused only on delivering business value to their organization and have excellent strategic vision. They know how to support the project manager and the team so they can be highly effective. Unfortunately, not all project sponsor types operate like this. There are a number of project sponsor types whose behavior is destructive. Project Sponsor Main Page

In this video we’ll examine an interesting project sponsor type. We’ll look at this political operator whose primary interest is in playing one upmanship with other executives and ensuring that he has someone else to blame if things go wrong. The person who usually gets the blame is the project manager. Watch the video and see a number of tactics that project sponsors who are political operators use with project managers. After each little scenario, I’ll suggest the best way to respond to this type of project sponsor to protect your project and yourself.

Project Politics: Dealing with a "Political" Sponsors

You may be saying, “I don’t have to deal with this crap.” But the strategy of putting your head in the sand and ignoring the sponsor’s games is very unlikely to succeed. Why? Because every project and project manager is dependent on the project sponsor. When you think about the amount of time you’ll spend working with the project sponsor, you’ll realize how critically important it is to handle that individual effectively.

The project sponsor and project manager spend the majority of time together during the initiation and planning phases. Then the sponsor is actively engaged in securing organizational approval for the project,  and defining the overall scope and major deliverables that they want. Sponsors are also involved in identifying the project stakeholders and assessing the overall risk of the project. Once the charter for the project is approved by the organization and the project manager begins detailed planning, the sponsor’s role changes to approving each element of the project manager’s work. After the sponsor gives approval to the project plan and the project management plan, the sponsor’s role changes again. Following that approval process, the sponsor’s role becomes one of approving changes to those plans. The sponsor also is involved in reviewing and approving all change requests which can increase the cost and duration of the project.  As well, the sponsor approves changes to the scope, the risks and the quality of the deliverables that are to be produced.

You can learn these skills for working successfully with project sponsors in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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Large Project Planning Techniques

When your success as a project manager leads to larger assignments, you should learn and be ready to use these Large Project Planning Techniques.  Planning larger projects requires different techniques than those that are successful fro small projects . When you started your career in project management, the projects were small and planning was relatively easy. So even poor techniques worked. Often the project sponsor was your immediate supervisor and you had frequent conversations about the project’s business result and deliverables. There was only one person to satisfy and the whole team worked for the same boss. All of you received your priorities from the same person. There were no conflicting goals or priorities. These factors contribute to the high success rate on small projects, even if the planning process is weak. Project Planning Main Page

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

When you move up in the project management ranks, however, planning large project gets more difficult and the consequences are more serious.  Now you must know how to use Large Project Planning Techniques. If you try to use your old small project planning techniques on larger more complex projects, management will quickly send you back to the minor leagues.

Large Project Planning Techniques are Different

On larger projects, the sponsor may not be your immediate supervisor. You may be doing the project for an executive with whom you haven’t worked before. In addition, there may be other executives involved whose career success depends on your project.  These stakeholders will have goals that differ from the sponsor and the other executives. In fact, your project planning effort may even take place in the midst of turf wars between functional areas or divisions of the company. People may try to use the project and its deliverables as part of their political battle.  Worst of all, there may be strong pressure to begin planning and even start work without the decisions about scope and deliverables locked down.  That approach is easier for the executives than trying to reach agreement on priorities. It also allows them to get the project started without making any commitments about exactly what they want it to deliver.

However, the project team is the biggest difference between large projects and the small ones you’ve been managing. On small projects, all or most of the team worked for the same boss. On larger projects, you will be borrowing people from other functional departments. Their priorities and your priorities are often starkly different. Additionally, many functional departments loaning people to your project team are really putting an observer on your team to “represent” their department’s interests. These borrowed resources can be a real management challenge. Their managers often pull them off your project whenever they need them for something in their home department. All of those threats may be new to you.  Learning how to handle them is required for your continued project management success.

Large Project Planning Technique #1 – Define the Scope and Deliverables

There is a strict rule on larger projects that most PMs learn by suffering the consequences of ignoring it. That is Never skip defining the scope and major deliverables.” That’s true even if the sponsor or stakeholders spout these phrases:

  • “We’ll plan as we go”
  • “Let’s make an exception on this project and start work without a plan”
  • “You know what you’re doing.  We trust you to do it right.”

Ignore all that stuff!  You are committing professional suicide if you proceed with setting a completion date and/or budget without objective measures of success. Those measures are the agreed upon acceptance criteria in the project scope. All those greasy executive promises will go up in smoke if you don’t deliver what they want.  Remember, without a scope they’ve sign off on, it will be impossible to give them what they want because you don’t know what they.

Large Project Planning Technique #2 – Define the Acceptance Criteria

Next you must secure the sponsor’s and major stakeholders’ written approval of a measurable scope with acceptance criteria. The acceptance criteria define success for the project as a whole and all the major deliverables. Here’s an example. You can’t just start work on the “World-class Customer Service” project. That doesn’t define success criteria for the project. The sponsor and executives must approve (in writing) the success/acceptance criteria for the project scope.  What you want is an acceptance criterion like, “Resolve 90% of customers’ issues on their first phone call.” That is objectively measurable. It also tells you what end result is good enough.

How do you get the executives to tell you the acceptance criteria? You have to ask them questions about the end result the project should produce. Often executives have not talked about that end result. In this example, they are reacting to the need to do something about the customer service problem. Therefore, you need to ask leading questions about what they want to see from the project. You don’t want to discuss how to get there. You want to ask questions like, “Six months after this project is done, how will our customers’ experience be different?” If you have some of the data you might say, “Now our customers have to wait on hold for 30 seconds and 60% of them have to call back a second time about the same problem. How will that be different six months after this project is over?” This last question is a particularly good one because when the executives answer it, they will answer with data. If they say that 30 seconds is too long on hold, asked them what the hold time should be.large project planning techniques

That Large Project Planning Technique is the way you get objectively measurable acceptance criteria. Once you get those acceptance criteria, they become the foundation for your planning and change control. The executives can certainly change those criteria whenever they wish. However, changes to higher results like “resolving 98% of the customers’ issues on their first phone call” will increase both the cost and duration of the project. This method of defining the scope will be your life preserver as you navigate the tricky political currents of larger projects. This measurable scope definition will also allow you to avoid change control battles. If you can’t clearly identify what is and what is not a change to the original scope of the project, you will have new features added every week without any increases in the project’s budget or duration. Moreover, you’ll be blamed when the project is late and over budget.

That’s why a Large Project Planning best practice is to have objectively measurable acceptance criteria for the scope, the project’s major deliverables and every task you will assign to a team member. Then everybody knows what to expect. Accomplishing this is exceedingly difficult. Executives have to commit to exactly what they want. Moreover, you need to stick to your guns on the definition of these deliverables. When they insist that you start work before they define the scope, you give reasonable answers like, “How can I possibly start work when I don’t know what you want from the project? That would be like you sending me to the grocery store with money bit not telling me what you want me to bring back.” You might also say, “If this customer service project is important to the company, we really need to define what we mean by good customer service. Otherwise we’re going to waste a lot of money and time and probably produce nothing of value for the organization.” You can move on only when you have objectively measurable acceptance criteria for the scope of the project.

Large Project Planning Technique #3 – Define the High-level Deliverables

Next you must subdivide the objectively measurable scope into 4 to 7 high-level deliverables. These deliverables will lead you from where you are now to the end result, the project scope. This is also a critical step. From the first moment on the project, you will be under pressure to commit to a completion date and budget. As you work on defining the scope and high-level deliverables, you must refuse to make any kind of commitment or even discuss the cost and completion date. Instead, you should say, “I can’t possibly tell you how long it will take or how much it will cost until I know precisely and exactly what you want. Then I can estimate how much work it will take to produce it. Next, I will need to know what resources I have to do that work. When I have that information I can give you a reasonable commitment on completion date and budget.” When you have a network or hierarchy of deliverables with defined acceptance criteria, you can move onto the next step.

Large Project Planning Technique #4 – Develop Two Sets of Commitments

First, you need commitments from department and division heads about the team members who will work on your project and how much of their time the project will “own.” The second set of commitments is from the team members themselves. They must estimate how much work is required to produce the deliverables you assigned to them. Only after you have these two sets of commitments can you create a project schedule and calculate the budget based on the hourly rates of your project team members.

Large Project Planning Technique #4 – Develop a Change Management Process

The final Large Project Planning Technique is to enforce the principle that all changes to the project deliverables, schedule or budget, have a cost. There are no “free” changes. Every change has a trade-off. It isn’t possible to cut the project duration without any consequence to the project deliverables, schedule or costs. For example, the trade-off for finishing a week early might be an increase in the budget of $5,000 to pay for the required overtime.

Large Project Planning Techniques are Unique

These Large Project Planning Techniques are certainly different from techniques for managing small projects.  However, when you leave the warm cozy world of managing small projects in your home department, you need to follow a very specific sequence of steps to handle the challenges of larger projects. You need to operate like a consultant who is managing a project for a client. You must adopt a different way of dealing with the sponsor and stakeholders. You have to become comfortable with “pushing back” and insisting on doing projects the correct way. You also need to avoid giving the executives any commitments about the project cost and duration before you complete the planning steps correctly. You can’t allow executives to get away with a vague project scope just because it’s politically easier for them. It will lead to project failure and they will blame you.

More information on the lean project methodology

You can learn how to use these Project Planning Technique in our online advanced project management courses.