Bottom-up estimating is a project management technique in which the people who are going to do the work take part in the estimating process. Typically those people are the employees, vendors and other project team members. They work with you, the project manager, to develop estimates for tasks in the work breakdown structure (WBS). Setting the estimates of the amount of work, duration and cost at the task level lets you combine them into estimates of higher-level deliverables and the project as a whole.
Bottom-up estimating is the most accurate approach to estimating the cost and duration of project tasks. It also requires the most time. This estimating technique gives the entire project team the opportunity to take part in developing the estimates used to measure their work. As a result, bottom-up estimating tends to develop a higher level of project team commitment than other types of estimates (like parametric and analogous). The drawback of the bottom-up approach, however, is that it takes more time than other estimating techniques. A second issue is that you must wait until you know who will be on your team before you can do the bottom-up estimating.
In this video, Dick Billows, PMP, discusses how to make accurate estimates for small to medium size projects.
Making Accurate Estimates of Time and Cost
Bottom-up Estimating: Working Your Way Up
In bottom-up estimating, you follow a three-step process, working from the lowest level of detail in the work breakdown structure (WBS). You begin bottom-up estimating by developing a detailed work package to go with the WBS. In the work package, you detail the scope and major deliverable that each team member will produce. You describe its cost and duration as well as the risks that affect the task.
This work package is like a contract between you and the team member for their task. You need this contract to make the bottom-up estimating process work effectively with as little padding of the estimates as possible. Team members pad their estimates because they’re concerned about the scope of their work expanding without any adjustment to the estimates. They foresee finishing late on the expanded scope and being blamed for missing their commitment. A similar result can happen when external events affect their ability to get the task done within the estimated timeframe. Because of these factors, work packages are an effective tool for clearly explaining to the team member that any changes to the work package are going to reopen the estimating process. In that sense, it gives them protection from scope changes on their task(s). That is why the work package documents the deliverables, the risks and the approach to the task. You record the team member’s estimates and you both sign the document. This removes a lot of the anxiety from team members who have previously been burned by the estimating process.
Bottom-up Estimating: From the Work Package
Once the work package is complete and the team member is comfortable with it, you can go on to develop the cost and duration estimates. In bottom-up estimating, you must be careful not to force an estimate on the project team members. If you force the estimate on the team member, you cannot expect to earn much commitment from them. That commitment is dependent on a free and open negotiation where the team member feels the estimate is fair and reasonable. You may use the team member’s pessimistic, optimistic and best guess estimates developed in the 3-point estimating process. That technique allows the estimates to show the task’s uncertainty.
Alternatively, you can use an analogous estimating technique with the team member. You will look at the actual amount of work that similar tasks required on completed projects. If you have several projects and tasks to draw information from, you can quickly reach a consensus on how the current task compares to the other tasks. Then you can adjust the estimated work number to show that difference. The team member needs to actively participate in this discussion and in determining the work number that you will use.
Last, you aggregate the estimates for each activity in the lowest level of the WBS and roll the numbers up to develop estimates for the major deliverables and the project as a whole.
You can use a number of mathematical techniques with bottom-up estimating. The most popular and most accurate is 3-point estimating where each team member provides their pessimistic, optimistic and best guess estimates for the calculations. Which is the Best Estimation Technique?
To learn more about how to do bottom-up estimating, consider our online project management courses. You work privately with an expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.
Emergency projects challenge every PM’s professional discipline. When the emergency strike High ranking execs want fast action now… they don’t want thinking, or planning. If you are not moving at high speed… Get out of the way! Everyone else is frantic and if you don’t start responding franticly, they’ll think you don’t care. These hysteria enablers won’t be still until they have a to do list headed, “Start Work NOW!”
So give them the todo list and then use the resulting silence and calm to identify the decision makers who will judge the success of the emergency response. Let them define success then you can start the planing with a quantified deliverable which defines the scope.
What if people/property are in danger!
If the emergency is in the “Act of God” category (fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami, meteor strike), there will be law, public safety and political officials all over the place. They each will have their own goals want to be in charge of saving people and property. You won’t begin work until all the people and property are secure. But in the meantime, you can plan so once the people and property are secure you can start work with a developed and detailed plan for whatever type of emergency you face.
Another type of emergency is affects the organization’s:
product competitive positions
loss of prized human resources
There are many examples of these emergencies. In one of them a competitor might exclusively acquire a new technology that will allow them to profitably sell your #3 product for 35% less than you do. Resulting in a potential drop in your revenues of 23%.
Recovery Project Scope
The initial thinking about the scope of the recovery project is often focused on “getting back to where we were.” In other words, the recovery project should aim to make us just like we were before the emergency. But a better way to think through the planning is to recognize that we may
Often the best thing to do is take 5 minutes to assemble a todo ir only It doesn’t matter if you are the most experienced PM out there or if you just started your career in this field. There will be times when things don’t go your way and you have a crisis project. As a matter of fact, if things wouldn’t go wrong from time to time, we would not have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. However, it is also important to remember that no matter what the situation, a good PM always turns to problem analysis and planning first, that’s good crisis management. Project Planning Main Page
Towards the end of last year, I was reminded of the importance of planning during times of crisis. We had just completed a smaller migration project. This project was a rather routine exercise, as we had done similar projects multiple times before. The objective of the project was to move a number of trading transactions from one book to another in our main trading platform. We had a standard plan for this kind of project, everyone had signed-off on the plan, we had a number of test rounds, and finally, we did the migration in our production system. And then came the crisis. During our initial analysis and throughout the implementation phase, we had overlooked a small, but rather important parameter, and as a result we had produced a little mess in our main general ledger. Needless to say that most of our users had a tendency to panic, and the first thought was to move into action immediately, and to just adjust the ledger manually. This would have taken a whole day, and it would have bound numerous resources.
So how do you convince a crowd not to just jump into action, but to first perform an analysis and a planning session? You remind them about the consequences if the quick fix doesn’t work. The reason we had been in this situation was that we overlooked something before; hence, I reminded them that we don’t want to do the same mistake twice. Obviously, not everyone agreed, but most users understood the importance of analyzing the error and planning the response. So we did our analysis and created a simple “project plan”. This was not an endless document, on the contrary, it was an email, but a structured one. The email had the following sections:
Objective including a “business case”, which was the result of the error analysis
List of Stakeholders
Risks & Constraints
Procurement (we concluded that we can fix the problem ourselves)
A brief WBS
During this “crisis” planning phase we discovered a very simple method of fixing the error, so the fix was truly “quick” and required a lot less time and resources than the original quick fix. Once the fix was implemented, I produced a lessons learned document and adjusted our standard plan for procedures like this. By following the standard project management during a crisis situation, we had forced ourselves to think first and agree on the way forward. In our case, the analysis part revealed a better solution, but even if we would have had to manually correct the error, we would have brought everyone back into the boat.
Over the last 10 years, technology has allowed team members to work at home in great numbers. That is in addition to the contractors and stakeholders from other locations. The technology for remote team members forces changes to the project manager’s leadership techniques. The most frequent mistake we see (and we made it ourselves at first), is to think that technology will let you manage the team the same way you did when they were all in the same office. Leading Teams Main Page
The truth is that your leadership style still has to accomplish 4 things with all your team members, no matter where they work. You must:
Give them clear performance expectations and explain how you will measure their work.
Gain their commitment to the team’s goal and understanding of how their assignment fits in.
Ensure that they understand the status of the project and their assignment(s) each weekly.
Practice giving praise publicly. That’s your most valued reward.
Live Video Conferences
PMs can use live video conferences to make their leadership effective for remote team members. When you use the video conference as a substitute for face-to-face meetings, you need to avoid falling into the video conference Tar Pit. Let me explain what I mean.
Video Conference Tar Pit
In the Tar Pit, managers start the video conference off by logging into the meeting, saying hello and then turning down the sound. They proceed to catch up on emails and phone calls while occasionally glancing at the screen and listening to the muttering voices. The Tar Pit spreads like the flu when these managers mistakenly call their subordinates who are in the same video conference. Oops! People quickly realize that faking their attendance and attention is the “cool” thing to do. Soon no one is listening.
The project manager realizes that the absence of any questions from the attendees is a symptom of the Tar Pit. So they start asking questions of random people or threatening the group with a test. That works for a while until an attendee answers the question with, “I can’t hear you; there’s too much static” or “Excuse me, I need to use the restroom.” The excuses and their entertainment value skyrocket until the PM stops asking questions. Here’s how you can avoid the Tar Pit:
Limit the size of your video conferences to 1-4 people.
Limit the video conference time to 30 minutes.
Use the conferencing software feature to display everyone’s image, not just yours.
Keep the conversation moving. Schedule 1-on-1 sessions to discuss details that aren’t of interest to the entire group.
Keep the meeting moving by asking people’s opinions.
You should also leave the video conference open to other team members. You can decide whether to admit them based on the topic being discussed. That gives the meeting a social boost which people working at home need.
Collaboration between remote team members
You need to give your team members tools to work with each other. This collaboration is important for both efficiency and social bonding. It’s where remote workers are made to feel they’re part of the team.
Most of the “remote team” software products provide several communication tools that can function between team members, working from home, in different offices, or another country. In addition to video conferencing, they include: texting, email, Twitter, Facebook, live streaming of meetings and much more. These tools have enabled remote team members to collaborate effectively. But some programs have a few bad features. Among the worst are the “drop in” communication packages. They let you or a team member connect directly with another team member’s PC. That team member is rudely interrupted (and possibly frightened) when someone’s face appears in a window on their screen. Working remotely, however, can also create some challenges when working as a team.
Successfully managing remote teams requires keeping up with technology and producing the same, if not better, results than if you were working with your team locally. Here are five suggestions for effectively managing your remote teams.
Conduct the Remote Project Teams Kick-Off as You Would for Local Projects Managing a project remotely may not allow for a face-to-face initial kick-off meeting, but the same principles should apply during initiation, determining scope, etc. Brainstorming sessions, although potentially easier in person, can still be conducted thoroughly via video conference. This is opportunity to identify as many questions, concerns, ideas, timelines, constraints, etc., as possible to help ensure clarity toward the end goal throughout the project. Other Suggestions: Kick-off with a clear agenda that includes project purpose, goals, and success factors. Ensure team member roles are established and explained and include appropriate people to positively support the project.
If in Your Control, Form Strong Remote Project Teams If you have the opportunity to build your own remote project team, seek motivated, positive, self-sufficient and of course, knowledgeable people. A self-sufficient and motivated team member will help offset the potential communication challenges a remote environment offers like time zone differences, meeting availability, or lack of face-to-face meetings. An opportunity to work with the most qualified candidates increases with the pool of employees from across the country or even globe. This is a big advantage of managing a remote team. Other Suggestions: Invest time in your project team. Get to know your team members. You can use LinkedIn to learn something about them. Also, it’s best to speak with your team members about more complicated items rather than using email.
Conduct Regularly Scheduled Meetings (as needed – daily, weekly, etc.) Communication is key, especially when distance of any length exists among your team. Project team members can easily get distracted and focus more on other tasks or projects when “out of sight, out of mind.” Detailed status reports containing issues, items for attention, etc. should continue to be sent before each meeting and used as an agenda for the meeting. This helps keep meetings at an appropriate length. I have never heard anyone complain about a meeting being too short. Please be mindful of time zone differences (if needed) to accommodate the entire team as much as possible. Other Suggestions: Gain a reputation for being reliable and dependable. These characteristics become even more important when working in a remote environment. Respond to inquiries and issues in a timely manner. This behavior typically is replicated and benefits the entire project.
Set Expectations Throughout the Entire Project Lifecycle Similar to an exercise program, consistency is crucial. In addition to regularly scheduled meetings, project statuses and updates should be communicated frequently. The team must be aware of exactly where the project is on the overall timeline, which tasks remain open, and the status of each task for each team member. Consistent and appropriate communication should occur at both the individual and team level. Other Suggestions: Customize for individual expectations. Work with each member individually, as needed, to ensure expectations are clear. While some members may prefer and even excel in multi-tasking various responsibilities, other members may be more effective with a shorter list of tasks.
Recognize Team Members for Positive Performance Most people enjoy some type of positive recognition. Recognition can be tailored to each individual team member depending on their preference. For example, a team member might finish their task early, which could correlate to an earlier project finish time. That person might appreciate even more responsibility and assisting with another task. Another person might appreciate getting the “extra time” to work on other projects. In addition, an email to their immediate superior recognizing their good work is always appreciated. Other Suggestions: During each (weekly) meeting, do a “shout out” in praise of at least one team member and document the recognition of their achievement in the meeting minutes.
Managing a unique project from start to finish, whether working with a local or remote project team, will always present challenges. Working with a motivated team through appropriate and timely communication channels can help overcome at least some of these challenges.
Project team building is a critical success factor. As a project manager, you want a project team of highly motivated, aggressive problem solvers. You want team members who are totally committed to their deliverables, budget and due dates. And you want them to support you and other team members. Do teams like this actually exist? Yes, but they are very rare. Here’s how to build yours.
Many team members have suffered from the poor performance of other leaders and now you, the new project manager, have to fix it. If you don’t, bad team performance could kill your project (and your career). Leading Teams Main Page
It’s easy to say you want a motivated and committed team on the new “critically important” project you’re going to manage. But how do you build one? What team-building strategy should you follow? There are certainly team building classes you can attend. Another option is using a facilitator to help create a more effective culture. But it’s easy, and common, for those behavioral changes to vanish as soon as the training session is over or the facilitator leaves. Leadership and Team Assignments
Team Building: Moments of Truth
So it’s pretty much up to you to build a motivated and committed project team. You can’t just talk about how everybody’s going to be highly motivated and aggressive problem-solvers, etc. Instead, you do it in three critical instances of your interaction with the project team. This is the heart of team-building. These instances are moments of truth that do the following:
establish the culture of the team
communicate your expectations
teach the project team how you will work together.
These team building moments of truth occur at particularly important times in your relationship with each team member.
Moment of Truth #1
The first occurs when you assign a task to a team member. You must assign each team member tasks that are within their skill set. If you don’t, you will set them up for failure and undermine any trust that existed between you and the team members. Your bad assignment techniques alert the team members to start protecting themselves from blame. Team Motivation
Moment of Truth #2
The second moment of truth occurs when you work with each team member to estimate the duration of their task assignments. If you don’t consider the team member’s honest estimate of the work required, they feel they’re being set up for failure. And that causes the team members to pad their estimates.
Moment of Truth #3
Finally, how you handle bad news about an assignment is critically important. You can’t lose your temper or punish the team member if a problem arises or a task completion date slips. Your behavior must encourage team members to tell you about problems as early as possible. That gives you time to work together to fix them. Problems are inevitable. So team members shouldn’t be punished when they make you aware of them. Effective Feedback
You can learn how to build a high-performance team in our online project management courses. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.
Feedback is not just sharing your evaluation of a team member’s work. An important part of a leader’s job is setting clear expectations and norms of behavior. These help the team members work together effectively and efficiently. You, as the leader, must set and enforce these expectations and norms of behavior. You reinforce positive behavior and change negative behavior by giving feedback to team members. Leading Teams Main Page
Feedback in the form of constructive criticism is one way to change a team member’s bad behavior. It is best to do this in private but occasionally it can be in public. It has the most impact early in the life of a team. During the “forming” and “norming” phases of team development, team members are most sensitive to your efforts to steer their behavior. A small disappointed frown from you when one team member criticizes another is often sufficient to stop that behavior. Later on, it is harder for you to change or stop undesirable behaviors. That’s because they have become ingrained. It is important to avoid punishing people with your criticism. Punishment doesn’t change how people behave and it can produce negative results.
Let’s look at the right and wrong way to handle several feedback situations.
Feedback Situation #1: Team Member is Late For a Meeting
You had e-mailed the project team the agenda for a 30 minute planning meeting. The group assembled several minutes early, except for one team member. There was informal and light–hearted conversation since most of the team members knew each other. Then you started the meeting at the appointed time. After 15 minutes, the missing team member arrived and made a couple of humorous comments as he took his seat.
There are two parts to getting the change in behavior you want. The most important part is to set the standard for timeliness. It may sound silly that you need to tell professionals to be on time for meetings. However, being late for meetings might be OK on some teams. You must make your expectation and the standard clear because it may differ from the norms they have on other teams. Let’s look at the ineffective and effective ways to handle the first part. Team building
Ineffective Feedback: Setting Standards
“By being late you have wasted all of our time. That is unprofessional and inconsiderate. If you do that again, you and I are going to have trouble.”
You are trying to punish the late arrival and this threat is an overreaction. It only makes you look silly. There is a better way to define what you expect from all the team members.
Effective Feedback: Setting Standards
“When people are late for meetings I can respond two ways. I can interrupt the meeting to let them catch up. But this wastes everyone else’s time. Or I can let the late arrival figure things out as we move on. Those are both bad choices. So please, let’s all be on time for meetings.”
The next part of the criticism is changing his behavior, not punishing him. So you should talk to him in private and give effective criticism. Two approaches to that next conversation with the late team member are below.
Ineffective Feedback: Giving Criticism
“I find that people who are late also do sloppy work and are very unprofessional.”
Stating stereotypes of people who are late as being sloppy and unprofessional is insulting. It may actually get in the way of changing the person’s behavior. You need to focus only on the behavior you want, not on personality traits.
Effective Feedback: Giving Criticism
“We are all too busy to have our time wasted by someone who is late. Please help me enforce the standard that everyone arrives on time. Thank you.”
There is no personal criticism in this feedback. There is no implication that the person who arrived late is a bad person. This is a clear comparison of the behavior you want, compared to what you got. The request for their help is a nice touch to make the criticism more effective.
Feedback Situation #2: Functional Turf Wars
As you continued to work with the team, you noticed sharp remarks exchanged between the team members from Marketing and Operations. The barbs seemed to focus on a previous, failed project. Each side was implying that the other was to blame for the project failure. You quickly decide you have to do two things. First, you have to define the norm and the kind of behavior you want from the team. Second, you need to effectively criticize the barbs being made by each side to make clear how their behavior deviates from what you want.
Ineffective Feedback: Defining Norms of Behavior
“I don’t want to hear any more of these inter-departmental turf wars. It’s stupid and completely unprofessional.”
That statement is publicly criticizing certain people on a personal level. It produces resentment, not better behavior.
Effective Feedback: Defining Norms of Behavior
“Let’s focus on the future and the brilliant things we will deliver as a team;not on failed projects from the past.”
Next you need to speak privately to the people involved about how their comments differ from the behavior you want. Let’s look at the effective and ineffective ways to do that.
Ineffective Feedback: Past Grudges
“You can dislike the people from (pick a department name) on your own time. On my project, you have to work with them. So get used to cooperating with each other.”
Effective Feedback: Past Grudges
“Everyone will have a separate, measured accountability on this project. And we will know if someone is not pulling their weight or trying to shift work off to other departments. So let’s not re-fight old wars. Let’s focus on making this project a success.”
Feedback Situation #3: Not Meeting Assignment Requirements
You cannot wait for team members to deliver bad assignments to define your expectations. You must do it upfront during the initial project planning phase. Leadership and Team Assignments
Ineffective Feedback: Meeting Expectations
“Top management is watching this project very closely and they will know very quickly if someone is not doing a good job on their assignments. So don’t let bad work on this project ruin your career.”
This is the perfect way to have people start working on their excuses for avoiding blame. They’ll do this even before they start work on their tasks. There is a better way to define your expectations.
Effective Feedback: Meeting Expectations
“The most important part of my job as project manager is to make sure you understand exactly what is expected of you. That’s why we are developing a work package that defines what each of you must do to succeed. The work package describes the deliverable you are responsible for producing. That deliverable is defined with a metric and the standards you must meet. The work package also lists all the documentation that you must produce. If you produce what’s in the work package, your assignment will be a success. If people in the organization want something that is missing from your work package, that is my fault. It’s not yours.”
As you execute the plan, there may be assignments that fall short of the expectation defined in the work package. Let’s look at the wrong and the right ways to handle that situation.
Ineffective Feedback: Falling Short of Expectations
“You have not given me what I asked for because you didn’t listen. This is all wrong due to your poor work.”
This is too vague and does not tell the team member what they did wrong. It also heaps a lot of personal accusations on them. This will not change their behavior for the better.
Effective Feedback: Falling Short of Expectations
“I guess the work package I wrote was not clear. I would like you to complete the deliverable with this new, better defined work package.”
Taking some of the blame, whether deserved or not, will make the criticism more acceptable to the team member. And, with the focus on the future, it may improve their attention to detail going forward.
Effective Feedback Summary
It’s easy to handle situations that involve good news, like finishing early and under budget. But it’s challenging to manage situations when the project that is late and over budget due to team members’ poor performance. You need to focus on changing their behavior, not punishing them. You do this with effective feedback delivered in private. It’s easy to lose sight of how your own behavior and emotions can get in the way of building a high-performing project team. To master skills for giving effective feedback, you need to practice handling these situations the right way.
You can learn and practice these skills in our private, online Project Management Basics course. You will work individually with an expert PM on a realistic project case study. You have as many e-mails, phone calls and live video conferences as you need.
Watch this video about “how to” and “how not to” make team assignments. We show you what the initial meeting with a team member should deliver. Next we’ll discuss an example of how not to make a team member assignment. Finally, we’ll talk about the right way to make team assignments.
Your First Meeting with a New Team Member
The goal of this example project is to improve the quality of the applicants that Human Resources refers to line managers for job interviews. The project manager asks one of the team members to stop by his cubicle to discuss the project. He is a bit uncertain about how to start the project. He asks the team member to interview all 65 of the company’s first level supervisors about the quality of the job applicants Human Resources is sending them for job interviews. Leading Teams Main Page
Team Assignment: Round 1
The team member returns to the project manager’s cubicle a week later and says, “I finished the last of the 64 interviews this morning. One of the supervisors is in the hospital so I couldn’t interview her.”
The PM says, “Good work. Tell me about the results of the interviews.”
The team member replies, “The hiring supervisors are very unhappy with the quality of the applicants referred by the Human Resources department. 70% of them rate the applicants as poor or unsatisfactory in terms of meeting the job specifications. Only 10% rate the applicants as excellent. We certainly have a problem to solve here.”
The project manager responds, “That’s not what I wanted. I want to know specifically what is wrong with the applicants the HR department sends them to interview. Please go get me the information I want.”
The team member nods at the project manager, turns and walks out, thinking to himself, “If you wanted data about what was wrong with the applicants, you should’ve told me that.”
Team Assignment: Round 2
With a marked lack of enthusiasm, the team member proceeds to again interview the 65 hiring supervisors (the last one was home from the hospital). The supervisors are unhappy with the team member because they feel they’ve contributed enough time to the project. Several remark to him, “You really should decide what you need before you waste people’s time.” The team member says nothing but nods agreement.
Seven days later the team member returns to the project manager’s cubicle. The project manager sternly asks, “Did you get the assignment right this time?”
The team member drops a 1 inch thick report on the project manager’s desk and says, “You asked me to find out what was wrong with the applicants and I have done that. Here are all the flaws of the 76 applicants that the HR department has sent to hiring supervisors in the past year. There are 1,576 things wrong with those applicants.”
The PM rises to his feet, snapping, “This is useless! We can’t correct all the problems on this enormous list. I need to know the top 10 things that are wrong with the applicants. I can’t believe you didn’t understand that when we last talked. You should be able to figure these things out for yourself. But if you can’t, you are responsible for asking questions until you’re clear about your assignment.”
Team Assignment: Round 3
Without saying a word, the team member walks out and begins another round of interviews with the same supervisors. The team member’s lack of enthusiasm is now even worse than that of the supervisors. Also, the team member’s attention to detail is far below his usual work standard. As a result, the data gathered is incomplete and full of errors.
Team Assignment: Who Is At Fault?
Without question, the project manager did a miserable job defining this team member’s assignment. The team member followed the PM’s instructions correctly. In each of the cycles through this stupidity, the team member did what the project manager told him to do. And that is the heart of the problem. The project manager was telling the team member what to do but he didn’t tell the team member the result he wanted the assignment to deliver. If the PM had said, “Identify 10 categories of flaws with the job applicants that Human Resources sends to our supervisors,” the team member would have understood what the PM wanted him to produce. He would have delivered the desired result the first time. But the project manager did not specify the deliverable he wanted. What he told the team member to do was insufficient.
Too often, project managers don’t think about exactly what they want the product of the team member’s assignment to be. It’s much easier to just give the team member a “To Do” list and hope they get the assignment right. If they don’t, the project manager blames the team member rather than himself. When you, as the project manager don’t give your team members a clear and measurable deliverable for their assignment, you make the team members much less effective than they could be. When people have to guess about what a “good job” is, their work effort will be less focused than it could be. Additionally, if members of your project management team are uncertain about your expectations, they will naturally protect themselves by padding their estimates of the work’s cost and duration. They expect your unclear expectations to change and they want to avoid the blame when things turn out badly.
Team Assignment: The Right Way
Consistently successful project managers always define clear performance expectations for team member assignments for every deliverable. If you want to be successful, you need to set a measurable performance expectation for every assignment you give your team members. As work progresses on the team members’ deliverables, you can compare what is being produced to the original, measurable assignment. This allows you to spot and resolve problems early so your projects finish on time and within budget. And it lets your team members feel proud about doing a good job on their assignments. That builds team morale.
Learn how to make clear team member assignments in our online project management basics courses. You’ll 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.
There are two different techniques you can use when you are making project team assignments. The easiest way to assign work to your project team members is to give them activities to complete, like items on a “To Do” list. That technique doesn’t take much thinking and the assignment is usually a little vague. The more effective technique is to make the team members accountable for producing a specific deliverable. Each deliverable must have a measurable outcome. This technique takes a lot of thinking because you must specify exactly what you want the team member to produce and how you will measure it. Deliverables are always better assignments than a list of To Do’s. That’s because the team member will understand exactly what you expect of them before they start work. People perform at a higher level when they are accountable for deliverables and that is the key to consistent project success. Let’s discuss how to define and assign deliverables. Leading Teams Main Page
There are several components when you assign a deliverable to a team member. You need an estimate of the amount of work the deliverable will take. You also need to identify the risks in producing the deliverable. A team member often needs to receive work products from others to be able to produce their deliverable. All that information should be stated in a work package. The work package is a one-page document that gives clear assignments to team members. It also lets team members participate in defining the approach to the task and estimating the amount of work it will take. But let’s get back to the key element, the performance expectation.
Project Team Assignments: Deliverables versus Activities
There is a clear distinction between project team assignments that are activities and those that are deliverables. Activities are “To Do’s” like “teach the payroll system training class.” Deliverables are end results like, “After the payroll class, 85% of the attendees can enter 30 pay changes per hour.” After receiving each of these assignments, a team member can teach a payroll class. But the content will be different with the deliverable assignment because the trainer is not just conducting a class. They have a measured result they are accountable for delivering. Project managers who design team member assignments as deliverables have significant advantages over those who use activities. Before listing these advantages, let’s make sure you’re clear about the differences between team assignments with activities and those with deliverables. Effective Feedback
Project Team Assignments Example #1: Assignment to a Teenager
The Activity: “Clean up your room.”
The Deliverable: “Put all the empty Pepsi cans and candy wrappers in the garbage can.”
With the activity assignment, the parent have only told the teenager to perform an action. They have not defined the expected outcome. The teenager has to guess what the parent wants. There can be many interpretations of what the “Clean up your room” activity involves. So it is likely that the parent won’t get the end result they’re looking for. The key flaw in this (and any) activity assignment is that there is no clear performance expectation. There is no performance standard to measure the teenager’s actions against. There is only a vague idea of what a “clean room” looks like. As a result, the parent can’t gain the teenager’s commitment to the assignment. And they can’t reasonably deliver consequences for the teen’s good or bad performance. Team building
With the deliverable of “All the empty Pepsi cans and candy wrappers in the garbage can,” the teenager has the potential for better performance and commitment. The expectation is clear and it is possible to get the teen to commit to it. If there are still empty cans and candy wrappers on the floor after the teen says they’re done, they will have to agree that the standard wasn’t met. On the other hand, if they also put their textbooks and computer on the desk, the parent must agree that the teen exceeded the standard. In this example of a deliverable, any rewards and punishments have a better chance of being seen as fair because the standard was clear.
Project Team Assignments Example #2: Assignment to a Team Member
The Activity: “Develop recommendations to reduce turnover.”
The Deliverable: “Get management committee’s approval of policy changes that will cut turnover by 10%.”
With the activity assignment of “Develop recommendations to reduce turnover.”, the project manager must continuously check the team member’s work to guide them. That’s because the team member cannot have a clear idea of what the PM wants. (It’s also possible the PM doesn’t know what the assignment should achieve.) The team member doesn’t know whether to develop 200 recommendations to eliminate all turnover or just a few to bring it down a little. This leads to a game of “Did I get the right answer?” each time the team member thinks they are done. The team member does some work and brings their recommendations to the PM asking, “Is this what you wanted?” The answer to this question is usually “No.” Then the PM blames the team member, saying, “You didn’t understand the assignment.” So the team member goes back to the drawing board, frustrated and irritated.
These problems are solved with the deliverable assignment of “Get management committee’s approval of policy changes that will cut turnover by 10%.” The project team member knows what’s the PM expects them to deliver and doesn’t have to guess. The PM has a better opportunity to gain the team member’s commitment and positive or negative consequences will be clear and fair. Additionally, the team member can get a sense of satisfaction from meeting the expectation.
So why do PMs assign team members activities rather than deliverables? The answer is because it’s much easier and safer than assigning achievements. There are two reasons for this. First, by assigning activities, the PM doesn’t have to think through the situation and commit to exactly what he/she wants. They have some wiggle room to change their mind on what they want. Second, it is difficult for the PM to make a mistake when assigning activities. Only the person doing the work can be wrong. Weak PMs always use activity assignments because it’s safe for them and always leaves them wiggle room.
Now let’s look at some more good and bad assignment examples. The bad ones are more entertaining so we’ll start with them.
Project Team Assignments Example #3: Counting the Wrong Thing
Here are a few examples of counting the wrong thing on a customer service improvement project. The project scope is defined as “Provide World Class Customer Service that Delights the Customer.”
A PM measures the engineers’ performance by the number of lines of code each one writes. The engineer with the highest total gets a lunch with the CEO.
A PM measures the trainers’ performance by the ratings that class attendees give each trainer. The trainer with the highest rating receives a certificate of appreciation.
A PM measures the performance of customer service reps by counting the number of interviews each person conducts with customer service managers. The team member with the most interviews gets publicly recognized at a status meeting.
What performance will the PM get from project team assignments like these? In the first example, the engineers will write a lot of lines of code. Some of it may benefit the customer service division but a lot will not. In the second example, the training class attendees will have a fun time and give the trainer a high rating. But they won’t learn much. In the third example, the team members will conduct a lot of interviews. But much of the information will be gathered in a hurried manner and may be useless.
The project managers in these examples counted the activities being performed and got the results they deserved. These activities produced high volumes of whatever the PM was counting, even if it contributed little value to the project. The PMs probably didn’t know what business value the project needed to deliver. So they created assignments that were activities they could identify without much thought.
Project Team Assignments Example #4: Counting Only Dates
Another form of counting the wrong thing occurs when the project due date or duration is the only measurable result. The due date usually comes from an executive. It doesn’t consider the amount of work required or the availability of the people to do it. Next the project manager picks the due date of each assignment to support the entire project’s due date. In this situation, the team members have no commitment to their assignments’ dates because they were forced upon them. They often recognize that the dates are impossible even before work starts.
At each status meeting the PM asks, “Are you on track to hit your due dates? You committed to them.” Most team members give the PM an optimistic thumbs up. Then one day a truthful person says, “No, that date is impossible. There is no way I can hit it.” The PM gets angry and from them on, everyone is afraid to tell the truth about their assignment. So they report they are on target to meet their dates. They don’t mention that they’re counting on miracles to do so. When the due date draws near, the team members slap together whatever they can and turn it in. It’s poor quality work, but at least it’s on time. The organization then spends months and thousands of dollars to fix the failed project.
Project sponsors drive much of this “due date behavior” when all they focus on is the due dates of the entire project and the team assignments. I don’t mean to imply that the dates are not important; they are. But delivering junk by the due date does not make the project a success. Unfortunately, most project sponsors are used to to having only dates for tracking the project’s progress. Too many project managers don’t report anything else that is measurable. Everything else they report is vague, subjective statements. So it’s not surprising that sponsors like dates because they are objectively measurable and unambiguous.
What project managers need to do is to count the right things. They need to count the end result (the business value) the project produces, the date, the cost and the risk. These techniques take a more time but they yield enormous benefits. Let’s see how you do that.
Project Team Assignments: Assignment Deliverable Hierarchy
To be a successful project manager, you must work with the sponsor to define measured deliverables for the project scope. Then you define the major deliverables that lead to it. This includes the acceptance criteria the sponsor will use to measure the project’s success. Let’s use the customer service project example again. This time the scope definition the sponsor sets is “Complete 95% of customer phone calls within 3 minutes with less than 3% calling back about the same problem.” This is a clear measured outcome. Then you break it down into smaller achievements that support the scope.
As you break down the scope into its IT system deliverables, you come to the GUI (screen display) that an engineer has to develop for the customer service reps to use. That measured achievement could be “Customer service reps see 6 months of customer history within 4 seconds of entering the customer’s name or number.” Please note that this achievement is measured in the users’ business point of view. It is not measured in the IT system engineering department’s business point of view. This is much more supportive of the project’s scope than lines of code (like the PM used in the earlier example).
The trainer has a different achievement, too. Their assignment could be “80% of the class attendees can answer the top 20 customer questions in 120 seconds or less using the new GUI.” Again, what you are counting is more relevant to the project’s scope than whether the attendees enjoyed the class and the trainer.
The team members interviewing the customer service managers could have a measured business outcome like, “Managers reach consensus on the ten most important customer service problems.” This is much more supportive of the project’s scope than counting the number of interviews conducted.
That sounds pretty straightforward but it takes time, thought and planning to create this assignment deliverable hierarchy. You must think about what to count and measure. They must be relevant to achieving the project’s scope. Performance expectations must be clear to the team members before they start work. So you must define team members’ assignments in measureable terms. That encourages their commitment and makes estimating and tracking much more precise. It also lets you spot problems early, when you have a chance to fix them. It plays an important role in managing projects that deliver successful results. When you assign a project team member a deliverable, it is easier to clarify your expectations, gain their commitment and give them rewards that are based on performance. All the techniques in this article are part of our private, training courses and certifications delivered over the Internet or as in-person seminars for organizations.
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.
When a project manager takes over a team from another leader, he or she must first learn the team’s culture. That’s as important as discovering the project’s progress toward reaching their assigned goal. You must examine the team culture and determine if it is contributing to the team’s success or failure. If the team is successful, it’s very likely the culture is the right one for the targets they’re trying to reach. It would be a big mistake to try and change the team culture to something you, the leader, are more comfortable with. You should leave well enough alone. A good leader adapts their leadership style to support an existing team culture that is working. Leading Teams Main Page
Team Culture Foundation
The team culture results from a combination of several things:
the project manager’s leadership style and techniques
each team member’s personal experiences
the “baggage” each team member brings with them
each team member’s personality, standards and goals.
The team members’ experience on prior teams creates expectations for the current team culture. Those expectations cover everything from negatives like the need to avoid blame, to positives like the rewards they receive for delivering good results. If the existing team culture isn’t working well, you need to know the type of team culture you’ve inherited. That tells you what kind of problems you’ll have to solve. You need to understand the team members’ experiences and expectations to be able to build a successful team culture. Team Building
Team Culture Components
Team culture is composed of four components. The proportions of each component determine the unique culture of each team.
Affiliation – this team culture component measures the amount of trust, feeling of partnership, and synergy between the members. Some teams exist solely for the purpose of this togetherness. Examples of teams with high scores on affiliation between the members might include social clubs, support groups and religious congregations.
Task control – this component is an orientation toward predictability, stability and order. The team leader controls what’s happening to ensure the team follows the correct methods and procedures. They must follow all the rules to get the job done. Hierarchy, stability and proven methodologies are very important in these team cultures. Examples of teams with high scores on task control orientation would be a group of workers on an assembly line working along side robots or a prison road gang cleaning trash from the side of a highway. (Do they still have those?)
Personal development – this component deals with the orientation toward the development and personal growth of the team members. Creativity, dedication and commitment to the purpose of the team are very important. Examples of teams with high scores on personal development might be computer skill clubs or leadership clubs.
Professional competence – this component of the team culture deals with the orientation toward achieving excellence in their work and profession. Here there is pressure on team members to be “the best.” That means they are creative professionals who know their business and use the best practices when they do their work. This ingredient is very strong in management consulting teams and winning sports franchises. These team cultures put peer pressure on all the members to be the best at what they do. Team Motivation
Team Culture Rules and Behavior
No team has only one of the four components. Every team culture has all four components in various strengths. Teams blend these four components into a culture that defines the rules people must follow to be a member of the team. The team members, not just the leader, enforce the team culture. A new team member joining an established team will make mistakes. There is a learning process to understand what rules and behavior are important in that team culture and which are not. A new team member finds this out by trial and error and by watching other team members as well as the team leader. They learn how to behave and how to talk to other team members in a way that fits this team’s culture. For example, a team member coming from a team with a strong affiliation component will have a steep learning curve when joining a team where professional competence is the strongest component. They will behave in a way that is very nurturing and supportive of other team members. The existing team members will view this behavior as inappropriate. Their culture uses peer pressure to emphasize performance excellence and being “the best” in the profession.
Leaders use team building techniques to increase the team members’ motivation, work attitudes and performance. These techniques are used for three Moments of Truth (MOT). If team leaders handle them properly, these Moments of Truth (MOT) produce team members who actually try to do the following:
finish assignments early
take responsibility for solving problems
try to find better, faster ways of producing their deliverables.
When these MOTs are handled badly, they produce a team that does the following:
Team Building Techniques: Moment of Truth #1 – Team Commitment to Their Assignments
The first Team Building Technique Moment of Truth comes early, during the project planning phase when you’re building the plan and schedule. You’ll work with your team to define their assignments. You are clear about the deliverable they will produce and how you will measure if it is acceptable. You will document all that in a one-page work package so there is no confusion or misunderstanding. Finally, you’ll speak to their boss and pin down the team member’s availability for the assignment.
Working with the team member, you’ll estimate the amount of work the deliverable will take. The two of you will calculate the task’s duration (how long it will take) from that data. It is important that the team member is clear on the assignment and has input into the estimate. You create a work package that is like a contract. That’s because changes to the assignment also require changes to the estimate. That’s the best way to do an estimate because it helps build the team member’s commitment to their assignment. Leadership and Team Assignments
Team Building Techniques: What Gets in the Way?
Lots of things can destroy the success of this team building technique. Trust between you and the team member is a key component. Sponsors and lazy project managers who won’t do their work are one cause of problems. These people need to take the risk of being wrong rather than hedge their bets with vague expectations. Here’s an example. Let’s say that during your project initiation meeting with the sponsor, he was quite clear about the required completion date and repeated it often. Successful project managers always respond with, “I understand when you want the project done. But I won’t know if that date is possible until I understand exactly what you want. Then I must determine how much work that will take and how many people I will have to do it.” The sponsor won’t like that answer, but it is the truth. A foolish project manager commits to the due date without having all of the necessary information. Effective Feedback
As you get deeper into planning this example project, it becomes obvious that finishing all the tasks by the sponsor’s due date is impossible. It’s not just tough. Even with lots of overtime, it’s mathematically impossible. So you are waiting for exactly the right moment to tell the sponsor that their date is impossible. You are also hoping for a miracle breakthrough that will make the date feasible. You’re working with the team members on estimating their tasks and starting to squeeze them on their estimates. Eventually you abandon their participation and just make the task durations hit the sponsor’s completion date. Team Types
Bad Team Building Techniques: Due Date Determines the Schedule
This is the dilemma of the first Team Building Technique Moment of Truth. You can confront the sponsor with the truth about the date and take the heat. Or you can yield to the temptation to continue postponing the confrontation. In the latter situation, you show the sponsor acceptable dates by backing into the schedule from his completion date. You do this silly process by starting from the sponsor’s desired completion date and working backward. You pluck task completion dates from the sky like this, “Jack has to be finished by June 23 so Mary has to be finished by June 5th and Pat has to be finished by May 19, etc.”
When you are done with this exercise, you will have met the sponsor’s required date. Then you tell each team member when their assignment has to be finished. If anyone protests, you blame the sponsor directly or shrug and point up to the executive floor. This lets the project finish precisely on the sponsor’s due date, at least on paper. That makes the sponsor happy, at least for awhile. You may be thinking, “We’re smart and hard working; maybe we CAN finish by then.” Team Building
This technique is widely used. In fact in some organizations, plucking dates backward from a due date is their project management best practice. Of course these organizations have 70% project failure rates. More to the point, the imaginary finish dates that you plucked from the sky cause you to fail at Project Team Building Moment of Truth #1. The project team feels they have been plucked themselves. The younger and more innocent members of the team are discouraged, knowing that they will fail to finish on time. The more experienced team members also know they’ll finish late. But their experience tells them they will get to spend months after the project’s “finish” date cleaning up the mess that was frantically slapped together to finish “on-time.”
Worst of all, what kind of commitment do you get from your team with this kind of process? People who know they have no chance of hitting their “committed” dates have little dedication or enthusiasm for their tasks. Even if you and the team use every ounce of creativity, you must squeeze the plan and develop shortcuts to slash the duration. 99.9% of the time these efforts will still fall short of the sponsor’s completion date expectation.
Team Building Techniques: Moment of Truth #2 – Handling Bad News
Whatever happens during planing, every project next faces the second Team Building Technique Moment of Truth. It starts at an early project team meeting and continues until the project is complete. Here’s how it goes. One of the members says to you, “I’m gonna finish a week, maybe two, later than planned.” Visions of the whole project collapsing flash through your mind. But you have choices on how you handle the situation.
This bad news may tie your stomach in knots because the slipping task is on the critical pathThat means it will delay the entire project completion date. It’s very easy to react emotionally. You might even treat this bad news as a personal betrayal by the project team member. So you you get angry and act as if it’s something for which you can punish them. That action stops the team members from telling you about problems. The team member who spoke up will not tell you next time and the rest of the team won’t either. Even if your anger is delivered to the team member in private, the rest of the team will hear about the incident within hours.
Some project managers (and executives) think refusing to listen to bad news is a sign they are dynamic and aggressive leaders. The truth is just the opposite; they are stupid. When project managers teach people not to give them bad news, they deny themselves the opportunity to solve slipping tasks when they are small problems. From then on, team members will wish and hope they can finish on time rather than tell the PM about the problem. They won’t lie. They’ll just use a bit of optimism when reporting the status of their assignments. The PM who doesn’t view bad news as an opportunity to fix a problem dooms himself to learning about big problems when it’s too late to fix them.
You need to learn to handle bad news positively and show appreciation for the opportunity to solve the problem. Keep in mind that the team member with a late task often is not to blame. Even if they are the culprit, it shouldn’t be obvious that you’ve reached that conclusion. You should handle the variance as a problem you and the team member have to jointly solve. You want your team members to continue to trust you. When they do, you get the valuable opportunity to solve problems early, when they’re small. If you discourage your team members from giving you bad news, you doom yourself to discovering problems when it’s too late to recover. Leadership & Team Performance
Bad Team Building Techniques: Moment of Truth #3 – Micromanagement
Even if you are able to plan correctly and handle the bad news properly, you will still face Team Building Technique Moment of Truth #3. The temptation for many technically savvy PMs is to react to every problem by diving right in and making all the decisions. For many project managers, this is a very comfortable position. It’s much easier than trusting the team members and giving them room to make mistakes and own their results. These PMs even relish the sight of a line of team members outside their cubicle waiting for decisions. You know the micromanagement disease is raging when these PMs start complaining about how their team members, “lack initiative and the ability to work independently.” Of course, none of the team members feel ownership of any result or have a sense of achievement because the PM is making all the decisions.
Micromanagers want to “make things happen, now!” so they stick their fingers into everyone’s assignments. They may have built a commitment foundation where the team feels accountable for their achievements. But as soon as they make the decisions and treat the team members as drones, they’ve reverted to micromanaging. It’s difficult to keep your hands off people’s assignments when the sponsor is putting pressure on you about missed deadlines and budget overruns. But that is exactly the moment when you need the benefit of a project team that feels accountable for their achievements. Then they have some incentive to meet and, hopefully, exceed their assignments.
Team Building Techniques: Summary
When you succeed in each of these three Team Building Techniques Moments of Truth, you substantially increase the likelihood of project success. Each of the Team Building Techniques Moments of Truth involves both personal leadership techniques and sound project management processes.
You can learn these processes and our proven project management methodology in our online courses with individual coaching and mentoring. You will practice every tool and technique you are learning in assignments and role-playing exercises with your instructor. Whenever you have a question or want to discuss a technique, you can telephone or e-mail your instructor and always get a response within 24 hours. You have as many live online meetings with your instructor as you need.