3 Point Estimating – PERT

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

Estimating is tricky for project managers because the customer wants the project to be done quickly and cheaply. You want your team to be committed to the numbers because they are realistic and fair. On top of that, everyone is concerned with the risk that exists on any project. So the best estimating technique should give you accurate numbers and some assessment of the risk in the tasks and the project as a whole. The best approach is to quantify the estimate and the risk of not hitting it. We use the 3 point estimating technique, or PERT which comes from the NASA space program, to do this.

This process lets you estimate work and duration with the team members and hear about the risks they see on their assignments. It also lets you give project sponsors the opportunity to decide what level of risk they want to accept on the project. Then you can quantify the additional costs that would be incurred to reduce the risks to a lower level.

The 3 point estimating process or PERT, which stands for Project Evaluation and Review Technique, is a three-step process where you discuss the team member’s task and risks. This includes the good risks that could cause this task to take less work and the bad risks that could cause it to take more work. Second, you note these risks in a work package and discuss the approach to the task with the team member. Third, the team member makes three estimates: an optimistic estimate, a pessimistic estimate and a best guess estimate. You apply the formulas* (at the end of this article) to those three estimates to come up with the actual data that you will use in the project schedule.

Common Estimating & Risk Issues

There are two mindsets that often cause trouble in the estimating process:

  • Executives believe that projects have no risk
  • Team members think that padding their estimates will protect them from blame.

Both of these mindsets are false and they  get in the way of accurate estimatingThe 3 point estimating technique or PERT deals with both these mindsets. Three point estimating is a straightforward process for developing estimates using a little bit of statistics.  It gives you a tool to quantitatively communicate about the risk of a task’s estimate.  It lets you stop pretending that task #135 is going to finish in precisely 15 days or that the project will absolutely finish by August 30. It also lets you address the issue that most projects are launched with less than a 35% chance of finishing by their promised due date. Because no one talks about that issue, executives think the completion date is 100% guaranteed. They believe the completion date is only missed when someone goofs off.

As an example, the best project managers tell sponsors that a project has a 65% chance of finishing by Analogous EstimatingAugust 30. These PMs also explain what they can do to improve those odds to 75% or 90% and what it will cost. Those PMs manage the assignments of their project team members with an understanding that there is risk on each assignment. They use 3 point estimating, PERT, techniques to get accurate numbers and reflect the risk.

3 Point Estimating or PERT Process

The 3 point estimating process starts with a discussion with the team member about the risks in their task assignment. You discuss the bad risks that will make their task take more work and more time. You also discuss the good risks that will cause it to take less work and time. Why should you do this step? Because you need an estimating process that addresses the team member’s legitimate concern that bad things will happen on their assignment and they’ll be blamed for not meeting the completion date.

Let’s talk a little bit about risk. When you ask me how long it will take to read this newsletter, I might estimate five minutes. Am I guaranteeing you that no matter what happens you’ll be able to read the whole thing in five minutes? No. What I mean is that 5 minutes is my best guess. That means there is a 50% chance it will take you less than five minutes and a 50% chance it will take you more than five minutes.

But if you are my project manager and you ask me for a task estimate, I would be a little hesitant to give you an estimate with a 50% chance of an overrun. What I would rather give you is an estimate where I’m 90% confident that I can finish in that much time or less. As the project manager, you would probably regard that estimate as padded. As the team member, I feel more comfortable with a 90% estimate. Unfortunately, there is no consistency in the amount of padding your team members do.

You want your team members to leave the estimating process knowing that you considered the fact that things can go wrong on a task assignment. Using the three estimates enables you to do that. It’s better than
having a team member give you a single estimate and play the padding game about how certain that estimate is. The three estimates tell you the variability in the task.

3 Point Estimating: Best Guess, Optimistic and Pessimistic Estimates

With agreement on the risks in the task assignment, you go on to ask for the team member’s estimates of work and duration (time). As the name implies, 3 point estimating requires three estimates for each task. That sounds like it will take a lot of work but it takes a matter of minutes.  You and the team member develop an optimistic estimate, a pessimistic estimate and a best guess estimate for each task. In developing those three estimates, we get more accurate estimates from team members and assess the task’s degree of risk and the range of durations.

If your team member estimates that a task has a best guess estimate of 80 hours of work, that means that 50% of the time it will take more work and 50% of the time it will take less work.

Next, the optimistic work estimate is that it will take less work than the best guess.  It is not a perfect world estimate but you want an estimate that’s based on the good risks you identified coming to pass.  The optimistic estimate is low enough that the team member thinks they can get the task done for less than the optimistic estimate 20% of the time.  The task will require more work than the optimistic estimate 80% of the time.

The pessimistic estimate is that it will take more work than the best guess. It is not a “disaster” estimate but you want an estimate that’s based on the bad risks they identified coming to pass.  The pessimistic estimate is high enough that the team member thinks they can get the task done for less than the pessimistic estimate 80% of the time.  The task will require more work than the pessimistic estimate 20% of the time.

Now let’s dip our toe into the statistics and look at two tasks, Alpha and Beta, and the calculated work estimates you would use at three different levels of confidence.

You take the three estimates and use the following simple formulas to calculate the task’s work estimate for a certain level of confidence of finishing within the estimate.

Mean=(4*BG)+OE+PE/6.  The mean is 4 times the best guess + the optimistic guess + the pessimistic guess divided by 6.

SD=(PE-OE)/6.  The standard deviation is the pessimistic guess minus the optimistic guess divided by 6.

Probability level = work= Mean +(z-score for probability)*SD

For task Alpha you can be 80% confident with an 82.2 hour estimate. But task Beta, with optimistic and pessimistic estimates that are further from the best guess than Alpha, will require an 88.7 hour estimate to reach the 80% confidence level.

Using 3 Point Estimating or PERT 

All of the better project management software packages, such as Microsoft Project®, enable you to use 3 point , PERT, estimates and create a variety of reports that communicate the project’s risks. You can take estimates like those above and calculate the odds of finishing the entire project within various durations.  That information is a solid basis for a discussion with the sponsor about the tradeoffs between cost, scope, duration, risk and resources.

To learn these 3 point estimating or PERT techniques and the entire estimating process, consider our private, online courses where you work individually with your instructor. They are available by phone, video conference or e-mail whenever you have a question or need help on an assignment. We can also deliver a customized training program at your site for up to 25 people. Call us at 303-596-0000.

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High Touch Leadership

High performance teams are increasingly rare. Too often people don’t have much to do with their team members and they aren’t committed to the project’s goal. No one cares much if the project will be late and the only thing people are concerned with is avoiding blame. Here’s how to change that with your team.

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

In High Tech High Touch (1999), John Naisbitt et al, forecast that high technology makes team building and team member motivation more difficult; not easier. Many of the transactions between team members now happen via email, cell phone, blog and chat rooms rather than face-to-face: High Touch Leadership. This adds a strong impersonal element. Virtual meetings as a partial or total solution to team communication increases the distance between team members and their leader. It stimulates mechanistic, task-oriented management. There is little focus on leadership or identifying and meeting the needs of the individuals. Consequently, there is very little trust between members and leaders in the high tech team. And that lack of trust is devastating to the morale and culture of the team.

High Tech High Touch Leadership: Personal Interaction

So how can we fix this? How do project managers develop high performance teams with high levels of commitment and a strong bond uniting them in achieving the project’s goal? John Naisbitt et al believe the answer to overcoming the problems of high technology is High Touch Leadership. It requires a significant time investment and requires the leader to give up some of his/her decision-making authority to the team. This doesn’t mean that the team can merely participate in the decisions, it means that the team can actually make them.

The mechanistic project manager uses efficient but impersonal, one-size-fits-all ways of interacting with the team members. The High Touch leader spends a great deal of time personally interacting with each individual. How the leader deals with and communicates with each individual depends on their personality type and their needs. The interaction is customized for each team member. This is a very inefficient way to manage people and it certainly limits the size of the team. But that customization, along with empathetic interaction with each team member, can dramatically increase trust. This requires the leader to understand the personality type and needs of each team member. Building empathetic relationships between the leader and team members is the first step in High Touch Leadership.

High Tech High Touch Leadership: Trusting Relationships

The second stage builds on that trust between the leader and the team members. The leader must also work to develop the same trusting relationships between members of the team that he/she has with each of them individually. This second step is an even bigger challenge than the first because with just 5 people involved there are 25 relationships to foster.  That’s too much to handle if you have a three-month project and then each person goes their own way. But building that second level of High Touch leadership is very appropriate for small department or a small organization where the people work together on several projects. When the team has permanence that survives individual projects, the investment fostering those empathetic relationships is much more reasonable.  Let’s move on to the goal of that second stage.
High Tech High Touch Leadership

The high quality of the leader’s relationships with each of the team members allows the leader to accurately anticipate how each team member will react to an event. Also, each team member is able to accurately anticipate how the leader will react to an event. Next, the leader must work to increase the trust between the team members. This second step is more inefficient than the first. From a mechanistic task point of view, the team members are losing productive time when getting to know and understand each other better. This effort doesn’t get the project work done but it helps the team members work together in a much better way.

High Tech High Touch Leadership: Better Business Results

All this effort is very time-consuming and results in the loss of productive hours. So why would an organization make this kind of investment? They certainly wouldn’t do it on every project. But projects with a strategic rather than a tactical objective are different.  Outstanding team performance resulting from High Touch Leadership may yield significantly better business results than the product of an unmotivated, disconnected group of individuals. When the stakes are high and the skills on the team are only available remotely, the investment in High Touch Leadership pays off. It will also pay big dividends in small departments or firms.

You can learn these team leadership skills and become a successful project manager 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 with your instructor as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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

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

Team Building

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

When many project managers, team leaders and team members see the term “team building,” they immediately think of a facilitator or consultant coming to work with their group. These facilitators run games and exercises as a way of improving team member performance. That kind of team building has its place and can be effective.  However, team building is also a part of every project manager’s work day because you should never stop developing your team. Team building starts when project team members are selected and continues through the planning and implementation phases. It ends when the team is disbanded after the close-out phase. Leading Teams Main Page

 Team Building – Creating A High-performance Team

So what should you as a project manager do to build a high-performance team? The first question to ask is what is a high-performance team? You will get many answers but here are some universally accepted characteristics of high-performance teams:

1. Team members are committed to the same goal

2. Team members know and fulfill their roles on the team

3. Team members are cooperative and supportive

4. Team members share information honestly and openly

5. Disagreement and conflict among team members is considered productive, not destructive.

Team building produces high performance teams that respect each other, support, cooperate and trust each other. The team members use effective problem solving techniques. They have norms of behavior that reflect the positive relationships and the group enforces those norms. The norms include a high level of productivTeam Buildingity and the ability to make conflict productive.

Every project manager wants a high-performance team that is composed of supportive, highly motivated, aggressive problem solvers who are committed to their deliverables, budgets and due dates. Are there teams like this? Yes, but they are rare. That’s because too many factors interfere.  First, team members bring “baggage” with them from previous projects, their real jobs and the relationships they already have (good or bad) with other team members.  Their attitude toward your project may be affected by bad experiences on previous projects. Perhaps they were unfairly blamed for overruns or project failures.  If a team member’s home department or organization has conflicts with another team member’s department or organization, you will probably have to deal with conflict between those team members. Leadership and Team Assignments

It’s usually easy to identify what you want from your team. But deciding what team building tools and techniques to use is not as easy. There are certainly team-building classes and facilitators who can help you create a more effective culture. But it’s very easy for those behavioral changes to vanish as soon as the training session is over. Effective Feedback

 Team Building – Leadership Moments of Truth 

It’s really up to the project manager to build a high-performance team. It’s not done by talking about how everyone’s going to be highly motivated, aggressive problem-solvers, etc. No, it’s done in three critical instances of a project manager’s interaction with the project team. These instances are moments of truth that establish the culture of the team, communicate the project manager’s expectations  and teach the team members how to work with each other and the project manager. Team Motivation

These moments of truth occur at particularly important times in the relationship between each team member and the project manager. The first occurs when the project manager assigns a task to a team member. Bad techniques in this assignment process can undermine trust between the team member and the project manager.  They also alert the team member to start protecting themselves from being blamed for project failures. We’ll discuss the right techniques to use in a bit. Team Types

The second moment of truth occurs when the work estimate and duration of the task(s) are established. If the project manager handles this poorly, the team member’s alarms go off about being set up for failure.

Finally, how the project manager handles bad news about an assignment is critically important to maintaining the team member’s productive attitude when they encounter the inevitable problems.

Team Building – Stages of Team Development

A researcher named Bruce Tuckman developed a model of how teams evolve from the time they initially come together. Each of these stages (forming, storming, norming & performing) has particular characteristics and they offer the team leader  different opportunities for effective team building.  The first stage of team development, the forming stage, occurs when a team is first brought together. Typically each individual’s behavior at this stage aims at being accepted by the rest of the group. So they “play nice” with the others. As a result, there is very little conflict or disagreement. Everyone is gathering information about the other team members and how to get along with them.  Everyone is sensitive to what others think of them so that is when the project manager can have the most direct influence on the culture of the team and the norms that develop.

During the second stage, called storming, disputes and disagreements arise. The project manager must stop unproductive or destructors behavior from affecting the group’s culture and performance. As an example, a team member from the operations department might make critical remarks about the sales department in front of that department’s team member.  The project manager doesn’t want conflict between different functional departments and the storming phase is the time to stop it. The project manager’s subtle frown the first time one of these remarks is made is usually enough. If interdepartmental bickering flares up again, the project manager may stop the conversation and talk about how critical remarks between departments are unproductive. This direct but polite remark should be enough stop that behavior because everyone is sensitive to that sort of criticism during the storming phase. If the project manager sits back and doesn’t actively participate with the team during this phase, the conflicts between departments may become a routine part of the team’s culture and their norms. Stopping it then is exceedingly difficult and some teams never get past the storming stage.

If the team progresses to the next stage, called norming, the team’s culture is established and team members cooperate with each other and establish good working relationships.

The final stage is called performing. As it implies, the team members make decisions and solve problems as they work toward a successful project outcome.

Team Building – Team Member Behavior 

With all these ideas in mind, the first decision a project manager needs to make is selecting the team culture and the kinds of behavior they want the team members to exhibit.

The culture is built from the personality types of the team members.  Being able to observe your team members and talk with them provides you with the information to determine each person’s personality type.  Everyone is either an extrovert or an introvert.  They also have a temperament which determines their communications preferences and the focus of their lives.  Gaining an understanding of each team member’s personality type and temperament lets you use that information to assess people and decide which techniques you will use to deal with them. This is a key to effective leadership and creating a high performance team. This is not a set of techniques that you can master the first time you try them. Practice will improve your skills at “reading” the people on your project team and effectively influencing their behavior.

A key principle is that you change behavior with praise and rewards, not with punishment. Getting angry and emotional at a team member who misses a goal or encounters difficulty on an assignment is not going to change their behavior. It also won’t reduce the likelihood of it happening again. A project manager who gets angry only encourages team members to cover up problems until they are too big to solve and the team members can no longer hide them.

So you should steer the team members behavior with praise, rewards and positive feedback rather than anger and punishment.

Team Building – Team Culture

There are many unique types of project team cultures. In the beginning, it’s useful to think about these project team cultures as resulting from the balance between a focus on the members’ interpersonal relationships and a focus on achieving the planned results. It’s not possible to perfectly control the culture of a team but there are things that the leader can do to steer behavior and the culture in productive directions. Let’s talk about some extreme situations.

A team with a strong focus only on achieving results does not have team members who are supportive and cooperative with each other. These team members tend to be more competitive. There’s also a focus on avoiding blame if the desired results are not achieved.  This is not to say that the team shouldn’t focus on achieving the desired results. But when that is all the manager and team members are concerned about, they rarely have a high performance team.

At the other extreme is a team where relationships between team members are the primary focus.  These are teams where there is a lot of support between members as well as nurturing and helping team members overcome problems. But there is so much focus on the relationships and making sure everybody “likes everybody” that these teams do not perform at a high level and achieve their goal.

Team Building – Foundation for Action

We have discussed a number of techniques for team building.  A project manager who can build a high performance team must use a wide set of skills and techniques. They must be able to:

    • Identify their team members’ personality types from observation of their behavior and conversations
    • Determine the type of project team culture that would be most effective, given the team members’ personality types and the purpose/mission of the team
    • Understand the stages of team development and be able to play an appropriate leadership role as they guide the team through these stages
    • Master the techniques for giving effective feedback/criticism and for rewarding  team member performance
    • Use leadership techniques that positively affect the team members’ behavior and the team culture.

You can learn effective team building tools and techniques in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the basics course in your industry specialty.

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

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

Virtual Teams – Video

Virtual Teams Need High Tech, High Process and High Touch Leaders

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

The traditional way of managing teams doesn’t work with virtual teams. Virtual teams despite (or because of) all the technology are regularly crippled by:

  • conflict between team members
  • poor communications
  • ineffective collaboration
  • little cohesion
  • inefficient processes
  • declining interest and commitment.

In summary, they are poorly managed.

Virtual Teams: Leaders Build a Foundation

Why are virtual teams poorly managed? Because the leaders of virtual teams ignore the unique leadership demands of virtual teams. Or they assume the technology will take care of the leadership demands.  So they start work without building the special foundation that virtual teams require. That foundation has three components:

  • High Tech Leadership that can select the correct technologies for each team & project
  • High Process Leadership that can design and enforce the right processes for decision-making
  • High Touch Leadership that builds trust and understanding among team members.

Those components are nice for any team but they are essential for a virtual team. The leader of a virtual team must be both a high tech leader and a high touch leader to succeed. (John Naisbett, “High Tech High Touch”). They must be actively involved with the communications technology the team uses. The leader must install, monitor and enforce communication processes. The entire team should participate in setting these rules. The leader of a virtual team also has to be a high touch manager. They need to focus on the relationships they have with the team members and the relationships the team members have with each other. Fostering strong social connections between the team members is the basis for trust and effective collaboration.


Virtual Teams: Leader Implementation

These ideas make the case for a different kind of team leadership and management. Multi-tasking is certainly one of the requirements for success. Let’s consider the steps a virtual team leader must take.

The leader begins by selecting the technology platform for the virtual team. Data from the Economist states that videoconferencing is a standard tool among the more successful virtual teams. There is a lot of videoconferencing software available. The leader has to choose between the offerings of WebEx, Microsoft Skype, GoToMeeting, and many others. The technological choices don’t stop there. The leader has to select the kind of email, chat, blog or Twitter/Facebook page is best suited to the team. Each of the alternatives has advantages and disadvantages. So the selection of the technology platform is of major importance. It’s the vehicle on which the team will collaborate (more on that later).

Another initial step is the design of the processes the virtual team will use. It’s not like a co-located team that meets in the third floor conference room. There the leader can assume that the processes for information exchange, collaboration and decision-making will automatically happen. With a virtual team, they won’t happen automatically  or effectively. The leader has to lay down some rules. These  are simple, common sense ideas that have to be enforced. The leader might choose a completed staff work concept. That means no items are discussed in a virtual meeting that have not been put on the agenda. And team members must have received supporting documentation for the items.  The leader has to enforce that rule, “If it’s not on the agenda we don’t talk about it.”

The leader also might have a rule about responding to people’s phone calls or emails within six business hours. Because the virtual team is not located together, members of the team don’t know if a fellow team member is out of the office. A virtual team member must follow the process rules for responding to phone messages or emails. The team leader also enforces that process. These rules and others like them must be developed with the team members’ participation. Compliance won’t happen without it. The team must agree that they need these rules to make the virtual team function properly.

Finally and most importantly, the team leader has to build the foundation in which people can collaborate efficiently. That requires that they have empathy (the ability to share someone else’s feelings) for the other team members. They must be able to understand “where the other team members are coming from.” That requires a fairly high level of familiarity with the team members as people. It’s certainly a lot easier to develop that kind of familiarity and get to know the other team members if they all work in the same office. But they don’t and they won’t have effective collaboration if the team members don’t trust one another. That trust must be built on knowing the other people on a personal level, as people. This is the most difficult role for the virtual team leader. He or she must have a relationship with each of the team members. They must also be able to lead the team through interpersonal processes so the team members develop empathy for each other. From empathy they can build trust. And with trust the team members can collaborate effectively. This is the key to excellent team performance and the role of the virtual team leader.

Learn more about how to effectively lead teams in our online project management courses. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager who is your coach and instructor. You may have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. You begin when you wish and work on the course at your pace and as your schedule allows. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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

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


Micromanage? Not Me!

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

Do You Micromanage Your Team?

None of us like to think we micromanage. But it’s often a challenge not to micromanage your project team. Here are some common assumptions of PM’s who micromanage:

  1. You’re the project manager and that means you’re the expert on everything about the project…so you need to make all the decisions
  2. Your project team members want to goof off and do the least work required…so you frequently check that they are working
  3. You are the only one who cares about quality…so you thoroughly check their deliverables.

Are these assumptions correct? No, they’re dead wrong. Believing those assumptions will lead you to micromanage your team.  It’s easy to fall into that trap.  You’re the guru and can quickly solve all the problems for the team. Why take the risk of trusting the team members to make good decisions?  You can make better ones very easily. But think about the consequences. The micromanagement style hurts morale and it causes your team members to take no responsibility for anything. That will haunt you when you move up to larger projects. So it’s critical that you never micromanage your team.  Project Manager Skills Main Page

Don’t Micromanage: Lead

The better approach is being a project leader. This is very difficult for people who believe any of the assumptions listed above. Here’s how a leader differs from a micromanager. The leader holds their team members accountable for producing end results; the project deliverables. The leader clearly defines the deliverable by setting acceptance criteria.  For an experienced performer, the leader allows that team member to figure out how to produce the deliverable and helps only when needed. The leader gives this team member a lot of freedom and decision-making authority. For an inexperienced team member, the leader will sit down with them and work out the details of how to produce the deliverable. The leader will check the work more often until the team member demonstrates an understanding of their task. Then the leader gives the new team member a bit more freedom. The leader will also allow team members to take part in setting of the time and duration estimates. That encourages commitment to “hitting the numbers.”

Leading is difficult because you need to keep your hands off the team member while they’re working out their assignment. However, here are the benefits of trusting your team members:

  •  their commitment to the project and
  • their responsibility for producing good work on time.

Micromanage: An Example

Let’s look at how the sponsor spots a micromanager.

“Me, micromanage?” The PM scoffed as the executive looked over the 68-page Gantt chart with 1,279 tasks for a 3-week project.

The executive ran a finger down the column of task durations. “Yes, this is the work of a micromanager. I see a lot of one-hour meetings and three-hour tasks on this schedule. The only thing you missed was scheduling restroom breaks. People don’t like being managed this tightly. Do you estimate the work at that level of detail and then track actuals?”

The PM looked out the window hoping for a tornado or an earthquake. “Well, we are just a little behind in posting the actuals and doing our variance analysis. Some people are a little too busy to report status on 20-25 tasks each week.”

The PM smiled and said, “I guess I’m just a bear for detail. I like to really pin everything down. Anyway, our 5-hour status meetings are good for team-building. And I really know where we stand after those sessions. Best of all, we use the meetings to hone in on what we think we’re trying to achieve. Everyone’s ideas are welcome.”

“Oh really! Flexibility on the project’s objective is just great when you’re spending $2 million of the company’s money,” the executive replied sarcastically.

The PM responded, “Well maybe it’s just me, but I think that ‘delighting the customer’ and ‘providing world class service’ are a bit vague as objectives.”

The executive ignored that snide comment and said, “Exactly how far behind are you in tracking things?”

“Six months, give or take.”

The executive glared at the PM and said, “Do you realize that I spend hours talking to people and reading status reports about new functionalities, endless training courses and wondrous new processes? But I have no inkling of what your project is actually achieving for the business.”Micromanage

“Well we’re trying to detail that with…….”

This is not a pretty story. We often hear about PMs building these monstrous project plans but never using them to actually track and report project performance. Worst of all, the executives who sponsor these projects have no idea what the project will actually achieve for the organization.

Micromanage: A Solution

There is a simple solution to the micromanage problem. You can’t make up for lack of clear and measurable objectives with a long laundry list of activities. You can’t view the project plan as a “To Do” list of all the tasks the team will complete. When you micromanage at this level, it’s impossible to track progress. Instead, you must drive the project toward a business-relevant outcome. Then your project plan and work breakdown structure (WBS) become tools for planning and tracking the project’s measurable achievements. These are at a higher level than micro-tasks in a “To Do” list.

The benefits come not only in clear objectives and scope control, but also in the quality of the assignments you make to the team members. The plan and WBS tell each team member what they must deliver, not the details of how to deliver it. You let them use their knowledge, experience and creativity to decide how they will meet their objectives. You’ll have a more dedicated and committed team when you don’t micromanage them.

Read more about the problems that micromanagement creates.

Our project management courses and certifications for organizations and individuals teach you a step-by-step process that makes you a leader, not a micromanager.

Poor Performing Team Member

Sooner or later, every project manager will encounter a Poor Performing Team Member who is just not cutting the mustard. They may be a once good team member whose performance has fallen off or a new employee who is failing to meet expectations. I’ve had to deal with Poor Performing Team Members on several occasions, and although for me the experience was always unpleasant, having the situation resolved was worth the investment. In a couple of cases, employees who were offered multiple opportunities to correct their performance but failed to were let go. And happily, in other cases, employees were able to recognize and improve their performance deficiencies with effective encouragement and coaching. If you manage people, it’s a reality that a Poor Performing Team Member awaits you at some time. Project Manager Skills Main Page

The natural human tendency for problems such as a Poor Performing Team Member is to pretend it doesn’t exist or will get better on its own. But neither response benefits your project and will eventually harm it. As a project manager, one of Poor Performing Team Memberyour responsibilities is to identify when a performance problem exists. This person you once believed in now threatens the health of your project and you must act promptly to limit the damage their poor performance may inflict. When the day comes that you find yourself in this situation, if you follow a deliberate, thoughtful process you may find the actual experience to be much less daunting than you imagined.


Assess the Poor Performing Team Member Situation

First, keep your radar on all the time. You can’t deal with a problem by wishing you didn’t have it. So through your own observation, customer or team feedback, or unsatisfactory deliverables, be open to recognizing and confirming that you do have a Poor Performing Team Member.

Assess the situation as best you can. Are there obvious indicators of the root problem, such as whether it is a motivation vs. an ability issue? Gather clear indicators of the problem, such as failure to meet deadlines or product quality, unexcused absences, inappropriate behavior, etc. You need to have and document concrete examples of failure to meet performance expectations or job requirements.

Confront the situation promptly. Most performance issues don’t resolve on their own but worsen over time. You must meet with the employee without delay (one-on-one, if within organizational guidelines) to discuss your concerns with their performance. There are several fairly critical factors to be considered in this step:

• Be positive. Convey your concern, rather than your displeasure. After all, you both have an issue: the employee’s performance does not support retention, and you have a productivity issue you have to address. Fixing the problem is in both your best interests.

• Go over your evidence. Rather than arguing whether the problem is real or not, the concrete examples of performance shortfalls you gathered let you focus on what to do about it.

• Whose problem is it? You mustn’t assume that the problem is the fault of the employee. Through your dialogue with the employee, you need to find out whether the problem is originating with personal issues (family, health, etc.), work-related issues (job skills, a change in the task, conflicts with coworkers, task management, etc.), or external factors neither of you control (regulatory interference, resource availability, suppliers, employment conditions, etc.). This step is clearly the most important in terms of defining a “get well plan.” In my experience, understanding the root cause of poor performance is a great relief to both parties. That’s because in most cases, a path forward can be quickly determined and a partnership formed to make things right.

Create and Monitor a Performance Improvement Plan

As a project manager, your job is to achieve your project’s objectives. And to do that, each team member must meet theirs. You and the poor performing team member must agree to specific, measurable performance improvements. All the factors that contribute to those goals must be supported, including any for which you may be responsible. These may include necessary training, process improvements, resources, HR assistance, priority-setting, and so on.

Projects almost always operate on a timeline, and so must performance milestones. Be sure that you and the employee both understand what the performance improvement metrics are in both substance and time. Both of you must agree that your expectations are reasonable and fair. Your management “deliverables” that make performance improvements possible must be part of this equation.

As the project manager, you will monitor and measure progress against the improvement plan. Acknowledge progress and provide encouragement. As the employee’s performance improves, provide feedback and advice. If the employee believes that you have faith in their recovery, he or she will be much more likely to keep reaching for the next rung.

Evaluate Compliance with Performance Improvement Plan

You must make the final determination. Did your plan succeed or has the team member’s response fallen short? You and your HR department will likely be involved in making this final judgment together and it must be as objective as possible. An employee who, for whatever reason, cannot meet the job requirements must be replaced for the sake of the project. Although it is difficult, if you have been deliberate and objective, you will find arriving at this decision something you can do without self-doubt.

A final message: In one case where I followed this process and still could not rectify the situation, the employee reached me months later to thank me for my sincere but failed attempt to stimulate a satisfactory work ethic in him. Being fired, he said, was the wake-up call he needed to see past the false impression he had that he was indispensable. He now views his new job as a privilege he re-earns every day.

Status Meetings: Info-free, Macho or Micro-detail

Your Status Meetings quickly earn a reputation, and it’s usually bad. First we’ll discuss three types of bad status meetings. Then we’ll explore ways to make your status meetings short and effective.

status meetings
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4PM.com

Status Meeting Types

Some status meetings are info-free, meaning no one knows much about anything. The project manager doesn’t know where the project should be and is blissfully ignorant about any variances between where it should be and where it is. So the project manager provides no information to anybody about this. The team members are left to self-report, sometimes at great length about where their task is and what problems they are encountering.
In other info-free status meetings the project manager utilizes a three color system. Greenlight status is good, yellow light status is a warning and red light status is deeply in trouble. Greenlight is used 99.99% of the time because people know that anything else gets them in trouble. Yellow light is used to signal minor problems like the moon has crashed into the surface of the earth. Red light status is not used until the due date for the task was more than a month ago.
These status meetings waste a lot of time because there is little or no information.  The project would be better off not having any status meetings. Unfortunately, these are predominant types of status meetings.
The macho status meeting doesn’t use any cutesy status reporting tools like the red light/green light system. Instead, the people plan what they are going to do during the next week. Why do they do that in the status meeting? Because it wasn’t done before they started work.  They try to figure out what to do next and when they do, it is accompanied by rock-solid commitments to be finished by next week’s status meeting. No one thinks much beyond that. If one of the team members feels a little uncertain about what their going to deliver by next week’s meeting, they are criticized by everyone for letting the team down. With this macho insistence on committing to due dates that aren’t tied to factual information, the people on these teams work a lot of overtime. And many of those costly hours are wasted.
The third popular type of status meeting focuses on micro-detail of tasks and deliverables. These projects are usually headed up by a project manager who is (or thinks he/she is) a technical guru. This expert is uncomfortable with other people making decisions. They believe everyone should come to the guru to receive direction and assignments from “on high.” Status meetings revolve around the guru’s detailed investigation into exactly what was done and what was created. This grilling is mixed with angry lessons about mistakes that were the result of a team member “going rogue” by making their own decisions. As a result, the team members’ feelings of dependency on the guru grow with each status meeting. Soon the team is afraid to make any of their own decisions or solve any of their problems. They go to the guru instead. Unfortunately this type of project manager is incapable of managing teams larger than two or three people. How to Write a Weekly Status Report

Status Meeting Organization

You can fix the problem with whatever type of status meeting you have by learning how to organize your status meetings. We all have heard these statements: What is the purpose of meeting every week? Don’t we have enough meetings? We project managers have asked ourselves this question: How can we organize a status meeting that gets results and doesn’t bore people to death? Lately I’ve tried something that takes a little more work on my end but boosts the productivity of my status meetings. It also cuts down the time that status meetings take. Let me tell you what worked for me…  How to Write a Weekly Status Report

First, I prepare the agenda for the project status meeting ahead of time. Let me explain. What is the purpose of the status meeting? It is to provide your team with the overall status of the project and to learn the status of their activities. It is also to identify potential problems. The emphasis is on identification, not on solution. So I prepare a standard project status report meeting form. That sounds bureaucratic, but it isn’t. The first section just lists the people who are expected to show up and those who are not. Those who are not expected to show up, will receive the meeting minutes. Next, I add a graph about the project status. For this status I graph the information from my Earned Value Analysis. It shows a comparison between the percentage of work actually completed vs. the percentage of work planned to be completed. Next, I add sections for activities that are overdue, that are due this month, and that are active throughout this month. For each activity, I list only the following information:

  • The owner of the task
  • The original due date
  • The current estimated completion date
  • The current % complete
  • Three lines for status text

Every week, I update the status for each of the tasks according to the status reports I received throughout the week.

Second, I organize the meeting using MS Outlook’s meeting organizer. I know it sounds trivial, but I need to make sure people know there is a recurring status meeting.

The actual meeting follows a simple routine.  We discuss what’s new on the project. Next there is a general status report of the project, followed by a status update of each of the tasks listed. Going through the task list is rather simple. I state the task and ask the task owner where they are on the task. I do not go into details during the status meeting. I don’t want to start lengthy discussions. If I sense a problem, I will schedule a private meeting with the task owner. Going through the task list usually takes no more than 20 minutes. Once this is done, I ask the team if there is anything else we should add to the protocol. Once again, my goal is not to solve all these issues. It is to bring topics to the table and organize additional meetings for the problem solving process.

Lastly, I make sure that the updated meeting protocol is available for everyone to view no later than 48 hrs. after the meeting.

Using this method, the time spent in status meetings went down to about 30 minutes, just enough to keep everyone focused.

If your team has problems with the status meeting, try structuring the meeting in a similar way. By doing so, you provide a protocol and agenda that you can enforce. And you actually boil down the meeting’s purpose to what it is: Getting a status, not solving all problems and issues.

Learn how to lead effective project status meetings in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager and practice running meetings in live online conferences, just the 2 of you. You control the course schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences with your instructor as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.

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Team Training

Team Training

Many times you will be leading a team of subject matter experts whose expertise in their specialty exceeds your knowledge of it by a significant amount. It’s easy to say that you have no need or obligation for team training for these people. While it may be true that you don’t have to train them in their specialty, you may need to train them on how to be a team member. It’s not unusual for subject matter experts to think that they need to do nothing but apply their particular expertise to the matter at hand. But subject matter experts’ contribution and value to the team may be completely undermined if they don’t know how to be a team member. There are five things every person on a team needs to know, whether they’re doing clerical work or applying the talents that won them the Nobel prize.

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

Team Training on Assignments

The project manager or team leader may hand out assignments to each member of the team. Alternatively the team as a group may decompose the overall objective, breaking it into the assignments or deliverables that each team member has to produce. In either case, the team member needs to create a work package for that assignment. They must  be able to add information about the exact nature of the deliverable and the acceptance criteria that will be used to determine whether the deliverable produces what the project needs.

The project manager could certainly do this but it’s also up to the team member to be able to refine the acceptance criteria and make sure there is clear understanding about what will and what will not be produced. Defining acceptance criteria is what makes people’s expectation for the assignment realistic. As an example, let’s say a team member is assigned to cleanup the supply room. If the project manager and team member don’t explicitly define the end result, they will have a disappointed sponsor and stakeholders. So in the work package they might specify the acceptance criteria with language like, “90% of the people can find the office supply item they need within 60 seconds.” That’s a very clear acceptance criteria because the standard is finding the item within 60 seconds. That makes clear that people should not expect to be able to find things in 10 seconds.  It also says that 10% of the time they won’t be able to find what they want in 60 seconds, usually because the item is out of stock. So we’ve communicated a lot about the assignment and the result with that single acceptance criteria. We might add a second criteria that says, “office supplies will be placed on the shelf in alphabetical order by manufacturer’s name.” That acceptance criteria also makes clear how the items in the supply room will be organized. If people have other ways in which they want the supplies placed on the shelves, the time to find out about it is before we start work, not when were finished. People who are effective on teams know how to do this and they make clear to the team leader or project manager and any users of their work exactly what they’re going to produce.

Team Training on Estimating the Hours of Work

Effective team training teaches members to think about their assignments in terms of the hours of work required to produce them. They shouldn’t get caught in the trap of committing to a due date. A good team member knows only trouble comes from agreeing to a hard and fast due date for the completion of the work. A wise team member tells the project manager or team leader, “This assignment is about 60 hours worth of work and my boss has agreed that I can work four hours a day. If my estimate of the amount of work is accurate and I am allowed to work four hours a day, I can complete the assignment in 15 days.” That’s a very clear kind of commitment.

But a bad project manager might insist on getting a completion date. So the savvy team member says. “If I’m allowed to work four hours a day on it and if my estimate of 60 hours of work in total is correct, I can be finished 15 days after I start.” A good team member meets his commitments but doesn’t make commitments he can’t keep. We have to train team members to estimate the amount of work and think of the assignment in terms of the workload and their availability. That’s much more effective than making promises they aren’t sure they can keep.

Team Training on Reporting Status

Effective team training also teaches members how to report the status of their assignments. They must have a reporting tool that is efficient so they don’t waste time giving the team leader or project manager what’s needed. The basic status reporting package is for the team member to tell the project manager how many hours of work they have completed on the assignment and how many hours of work remain. That second number is a difficult one. The way people develop skills in estimating hours of work is to get regular feedback on it. Specifically, if a team member makes an estimate on an assignment and then each week is asked to again estimate the remaining work, they will get better at it. That’s particularly true if the project manager talks with them about why last week’s estimate was off.

After learning how to compile the above data, the team member also needs to be able to compare the original estimate to the current estimate of work and explain to the project manager why it was different. This is where having a well developed work package can be a great help.  Any changes to the requirements or expectations should be documented in the work package. If the expectations for the assignment change, the work estimates should change as a result.  Coaching and feedback from the team leader or project manager will make team members more effective estimators in a very short amount of time.

Team Training Summary

Team training so your team members understand how to do work packaging estimating and status reporting will make them more effective and efficient. It will also make each member of the team a more confident performer because they will know exactly what they’re expected to produce before they start work on their assignment(s).

Learn how to use work packages, estimating and status reporting 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 with your instructor as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.

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Team Micromanagement – Video

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

Project teams have different cultures and attitudes toward the project and its manager. The project team members bring expectations based on their prior project experience as well as their attitudes about being on project teams. But the primary factor that determines the project team culture is the project manager’s behavior. This behavior includes:

  • assigning work to the team members
  • dealing with bad news and
  • handling pressure from the sponsor for earlier completions and deliverable changes.

How the project manager handles those situations sets the standard of behavior that the project team will quickly learn. Leading Teams Main Page

Watch this video of a planning blunder that many project managers make.

Project Planning Blunders: Too Much Detail

One of the most common (and ineffective) styles used by project managers is team micromanagement. Project managers tend to be very task oriented with a lot of focus on step-by-step procedures and documentation. It’s very easy for these PMs to believe that tight control comes from watching people closely and limiting their independent decision-making.  It doesn’t. Tight control comes from giving team members clear assignments that tell them exactly what the PM expects them to deliver. That is very different than the micromanager who decides what he/she wants as the task progresses.

So how do you tell if you’re micromanaging? The first thing to look at is your work breakdown structure. Scan down the list of tasks and look at the durations. Then take a look at which team member is assigned to each task. If you see a pattern where brand-new employees, your project rookies, have tasks that are 2 to 3 days in duration, that’s reasonable. If you have experienced team members who have tasks of just a couple days, that’s way too short. You want to look at opportunities for bundling their tasks into larger deliverables which you manage. Your subject matter experts should have even larger assignments, whenever possible. The idea here is to give the experienced pros on your team the freedom and flexibility to make many of their own decisions. That also increases their commitment to the task and satisfaction with the job. People like to be trusted to make good decisions. Micromanagers don’t get the benefits of team members’ enthusiasm and commitment to their tasks.

Another sign that you’re micromanaging is a line of team members outside your cubicle waiting for you to make decisions for them. Some micromanagers love that. The fact that all of those people are coming to “the guru” for decision-making thrills them. But it undermines the team members’ confidence and leads to a project team that is not focused on solving their own problems. We often hear micromanagers complain about their team members’ lack of initiative and independence. What we find is that the project manager him/herself has created those traits in the team members. Team members believe its safer to go to the project manager for decisions than to make decisions themselves.

Too many micromanaging project managers go overboard on the details.  This approach denies their team members any opportunity for feelings of achievement, independence or satisfaction in their work. Team MicromanagementThese PMs think this frequent checking and limiting team member decision-making gives them tight control of the project. That is absolutely false. What team micromanagement creates is a team that has no commitment to the project scope or the deliverables they are accountable for producing. They don’t all work together (or creatively) to meet the same goal. These team members only focus on doing exactly what the project manager said because that’s how they avoid getting into trouble. This often results in destructive behavior.  Team members may know that the project manager is wrong about something but they don’t bother to tell him/her. They merely do whatever the project manager says. Team micromanagement also creates situations where experienced team members, the people who have been around awhile and know the ins and outs of the technology and projects, play games. They entice micromanaging PMs to give incorrect directions and assignments that sabotage the project. Those experienced people are so discouraged with team micromanagement that they become vindictive and gladly watch the PM and the project fail.

Consider these micromanaging traits and decide if you exhibit any of them. You can learn all of the skills to become a successful project manager in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with an expert project manager who is your instructor and coach. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences with them as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.

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Matrix Project Team

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In the matrix project team, you borrow people from other departments, not from your own. Matrix project teams have always been popular with project managers. They are a way to get resources for your project without paying consulting fees or persuading people in your organization to give up some of their staff.  That sounds like a fabulous bargain but managing a matrix team is not easy. There are a number of challenges. Leading Teams Main Page

Acquiring A Matrix Project Team

First, the project manager has no inherent authority to borrow people from other departments. So the project manager asks the sponsor to contact the lending department and use his/her power and authority to secure resources for their project team. That doesn’t always work because the sponsor, no matter how high-ranking in your part of the organization, may be ignored when he/she contacts another department to borrow resources. It’s understandable that the lending departments are not enthusiastic about acting like a resource pool for matrix project teams. They lose time from some of their valuable people and the project doesn’t compensate them for the loss. They often must have other employees work overtime to make up for the hours lost to a matrix project team. Those factors often result in lending managers loaning the person they can most easily afford to lose for a few months.

Second, the borrowed matrix team members can be recalled to their “home” departments whenever there is a need. From the perspective of the lending department manager, the work there will always take priority over work on someone else’s project.  So the project manager who borrows matrix resources can lose them in an instant and face immediate project schedule problems.

The third problem with matrix team members is that they earn their raises and promotions in their home department, not on the project. The project manager may have some input into their performance review or may write a complimentary memo or note for their file at project completion, but that doesn’t count for much. Understandably, matrix project team members are often focused on their department’s interests, not on completing challenging project assignments.

Managing A Matrix Project Team

Even if the project manager overcomes the issues we’ve discussed above, they face the very real challenge of managing these borrowed people so they have some level of enthusiasm and commitment to the project goal.

Forget about all the platitudes and well-intended phrases you hear about matrix management.  Every person on a matrix team does not carry the same weight or have the same influence.  Matrix project teams are often composed of and led by people from a primary organization and supported by resources from “outside” the organization.  Some examples include:

  • mixed government-contractor teams
  • Project Management Office-led teams supported by engineering, logistics, business office, etc.
  • primary contractor-led, subcontractor-contributing teams
  • teams led by “graybeards” and supported by less experienced members.

Total equality within a matrix project team is neither possible nor desirable. A hierarchy of authority is necessary on any project. But one of the PM’s most important “people duties” at the outset of a project is to make every member of the matrix team feel included and that their role is as important as any other.  If the PM fails to establish that perception early and clearly, matrix project team members can quickly develop the attitude of project “outsiders.” They feel their contribution is secondary or unimportant to the project manager or even the project itself. They quickly develop the attitude that the project is not worthy of their best effort.

To address this challenge, you should have a project “kickoff” meeting  as soon as all your resources have been identified.  Although this meeting serves many purposes (e.g., to discuss roles and responsibilities, processes, requirements, etc.), one of its greatest benefits is to give the message that every team member’s contribution is critical to the project’s success.  Not establishing an early atmosphere of inclusiveness and investment in achieving the project objective is a lost opportunity with potentially large consequences.

You can learn these team leadership skills in our project management basics courses. You’ll work individually with your instructor at your schedule and pace. Take a look at the course in your specialty.

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