Project Change Management

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

The point of the project change management process is not to prevent changes.  PMs who try and stop all changes to the project plan have short careers.  Rather, we want to ensure that changes to the baseline project plan are carefully analyzed and are necessary to produce the approved project scope and deliverables. If a change does not meet that criteria the PM calculates the cost and impact on scope and schedule and risk. Then he ask the submitting executive to agree to the consequences of the change.

Change order requests are a central element in the project’s change management process. All changes to the project baselines for scope, budget, schedule, quality and risk are documented and analyzed as part of the project change management process. It’s the project manager’s job to gather the information about each change request and analyze the effect of the change on the entire project. This information, along with the project manager’s recommendation, goes to the project sponsor, the change control board or the configuration management committee for final approval or disapproval of the request. Change Control Main Page

The project manager’s responsibility in the project change management process is important from several perspectives. First, you need to ensure your stakeholders and team members submit change order requests and go through the change management process. You should never allow stakeholders to make changes to team members’ assignments, the specifications of deliverables, or to add new deliverables or tasks without going through the change management process. By adhering to this requirement, you prevent scope creep. That’s where the project plan changes without explicit analysis, approval and control.

Second, your job is not to prevent changes to the project. You should encourage people to come up with new ideas and better ways of doing things because that improves the project. By encouraging change requests, you maintain good relationships with the project stakeholders.

Third, a consistent project change management process built around change order requests ensures that all ideas are treated the same. Requiring change order requests whenever someone wants to alter the scope, duration, or budget is a best practice. It allows you and the sponsor to consider the consequences of that change on the rest of the project. Without change order requests, seemingly inconsequential changes to the scope can cause substantial increases in the duration and/or the budget that no one anticipated.

Fourth, a little bit of thought about consequences, especially unintended consequences, is worth the time invested in the analysis. Many people can request a change to a project but you, the project manager, should always assess the impact of that change on the project’s scope, duration, cost, risk, quality, and resources. You should also include your recommendation on whether the sponsor should accept or reject the change order request.

Project Change Management Process

Project Change ManagementIt’s very easy to go too far with paperwork in the project change management process. The point is not to make change control a bureaucratic jungle of forms and procedures. You want to make it easy and straightforward so you can promptly process change order requests and give decision-makers the data they need. As importantly, the change management process should not aim at reducing everything to a single piece of paper. It’s wise for you, or others engaged in evaluating change order requests, to actually talk with the people who submitted it. Stakeholder management is most effective when people feel that you are listening to their ideas or the problems they have identified.

Below is a bare bones change order request with the key elements you and sponsor need. A stakeholder does not have to fill out this form. An effective processes is for you to use it as a guide in your discussion with the stakeholder about a change.

Project Change Management: Minimum Change Order Request Elements 

The dates of each step and the identity of the people should be included in the change control process.

  1. DESCRIPTION of the change. The focus should be on the specifics of how a change order request will alter a deliverable’s specification or the process used to produce it.
  2. REASON the project plan should change. Include specifications of the problems this change order request will solve.
  3. SCOPE- Impact of the change order request on the project scope. The project plan is a pyramid of deliverables with the scope at the top. The deliverables throughout this pyramid support the higher-level deliverables above them. You need to analyze changes to lower-level deliverables in relation to the impact the changes will have on the higher-level deliverables.
  4. RESOURCES & WORK – You need to assess, and usually re-estimate, the work required in the tasks affected by the change order request. That should include a description of changes required in the skill sets of the people working on the tasks affected by the change.
  5. COST – You should estimate the cost impact of the change request in terms of materials, equipment and supplies as well as changes to existing contracts and the cost of the people assigned to the task.
  6. DURATION & SCHEDULE – You should use project software to model the impact the change order request will have on the duration of the affected tasks. The software will determine if the change will affect tasks on the critical path and how the change will ripple through the project and affect the overall completion date.
  7. RISK – You should review the list of identified risks and determine if the change request affects any of the existing risks or creates new risks.
  8. QUALITY – You should assess whether the change order request will affect the quality or specifications of any of the project deliverables.

It is a useful stakeholder management tactic to include the person making the change request in the analysis. At the very least, you should review the analysis with them before passing it on to the project sponsor. It’s best if the requester can agree with your analysis. But it’s also important that you know where you disagree before passing the change request on to the decision-maker(s).

Project Change Management Process Steps

Step 1: As the project manager, you receive a change order request. The first step is always to see if the situation can be resolved with corrective action that would not change the project plan or any of its components.

Step 2: If corrective action fails or is not an option, you analyze the change order request. You document each of the items listed above and make your recommendation for approval or rejection of the request. You should complete the analysis in a timely manner and include quantification of the impact of the change on the project scope, budget, duration, etc. as detailed above.

Step 3: You forward your analysis of the change order request to the project sponsor with your recommendation for approval or rejection of the request.

Step 4: The sponsor decides whether to approve or reject the change order request and the consequences. You document the result.

Step 5: If the sponsor approves the change request, you implement it by changing the project budget, schedule and scope as necessary. Then you alter the team member assignments to reflect the changes. You follow these same steps for all change order requests.

Step 6: You should archive the change order request and all supporting documentation. This information is invaluable for handling future requests.

Learn about Decision Making Data & Project Tracking & Status Reports

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Project Management Role

Work Breakdown Structure
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4PM.com

Let’s talk about the project management role. What do landing people on the moon and cleaning up your department’s supply room have in common? They are both projects. Project management is about producing deliverables, like new payroll software, a bridge over I-95,  reorganizing the file room, hiring a new marketing director, producing a new personnel manual or taking a 20 minute moonwalk.

Organizations need deliverables like these that cannot be produced by an individual as part of their regular job. In fact, many deliverables require work from a number of people working as a team. Larger projects may require the efforts of people from several different departments within the organization. Coordinating all the people, assigning them tasks and integrating their results is a challenging effort. It requires different tools and techniques than those used by a department manager. Organizations discovered this fact when they encountered difficulty producing the deliverables they needed on time and within budget. Modern project management gained many of its tools from the space program, specifically from the Apollo program to land men on the moon.

Today all kinds of organizations use the tools of project management for efforts that take as little as a few days. A project manager, who may have a regular job in addition to managing projects, leads a team of people in producing those deliverables. wbsProjects are a one-time effort. They are unique, which is why there is a special way of managing them. These tools and techniques are detailed in a project management encyclopedia called the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)® that is published by the Project Management Institute (PMI)®. It includes hundreds of tools and techniques that project managers and organizations have developed from years of experience. Project managers don’t use all of them on every project. Instead, they learn what each of the tools and techniques does and how to select the right ones for each project.

Let’s say you are managing a very small project. You will use simple techniques to define the scope which is the project’s objective or goal. You must get this information from the project sponsor. They are the manager or executive who wants the project to be done. The scope of a project should be defined as a deliverable, that is a statement of what the project will produce. The scope statement should also include a metric, a measurement that tells everyone how success will be measured.

The next step in the project management process is to gather requirements. That means you identify all the things that have to be done to produce the scope of the project. Then you would write the charter which is a summary of the project’s scope and requirements. You should also identify the risks the project faces, the resources that will be required to deliver the scope, and how changes can be made to the scope and requirements.

After the project charter is approved by the sponsor, you work with the project team, assigning them tasks, estimating the work and duration for those tasks and then developing the project schedule and budget. When the project sponsor approves the schedule and budget, you and team begin to execute the plan. The team members have their task assignments and report their progress to you on a regular basis, preferably each week. From that data, you prepare status reports and deliver them to the project sponsor. You also deal with changes that people request to the project plan and schedule. Your role as the project manager is to analyze each change and make a recommendation to the sponsor about whether or not the change should be implemented.

Finally, when the last of the project deliverables have been produced, you close the project and archive the data. Having archives of past projects provides valuable information that makes managing future projects easier.

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

Project Management Career Steps

There are five distinct project management career steps.

Getting into the Profession as an untrained PM

The process starts with becoming a  project manager and getting into the profession. This can be as simple as being in the right place at the right time. What I mean is that you’re an effective contributor in your organization and someone in management may tap you to run a project. When you do well, your project management career is launched.

Getting a beginner certification and basic skills
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

Other people carefully prepare themselves with training in the tools and techniques of project management. They use their credential to gain entry as an assistant or associate project manager. Once they have the job, good performance drives their career. They will be actively involved in planning projects, gathering requirements, developing schedules and tracking actual performance against the plan. On-the-job training can teach you a lot of that, but it’s also wise to take a course in the fundamentals of project management. You’ll learn techniques and a proven methodology that you can repeat on every project.

Steps in a Project Manager Career

Getting Certified

The next project management career step is moving up to a full-fledged project manager position. A functional or specialty certification is very valuable during your first or second year in project management. That certification gives you proven techniques for doing the things you may have been doing by guess work. These functional or specialty certifications also teach you some of the unique project management techniques required in information technology, construction, healthcare, consulting and general business projects.

project management careerIndustry Specialization

With your industry specialty certification, you are positioned for the next career step which is getting a higher-paying position to manage larger projects. After three years working in your profession, you probably have sufficient project manager hours to qualify for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. To earn that certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI), you need to document your project manager work experience and project management training classes and then pass a difficult 4-hour examination.

You can earn a certification in your project management specialty area: IT, construction, healthcare, business  consulting.  Then earn the PMP certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) as you move up to senior project manger and program manger.

Program and Portfolio Management

The top run on the ladder is positions and certifications for managing multiple projects and programs which can also include managing all the projects and programs in the organization which puts you into the executive ranks with appropriate compensation.

Project Trade Off – Scope, Time, Cost, Risk, Quality

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

Project managers use trade offs to provide decision-makers with data on the impact of a change on scope, time, cost, quality and risks. Then the sponsor understands the full impact whenever they have a variance or a change request. Trade offs maintain the project’s feasibility. Project Manager Skills Main Page

Here is an example of  a project trade off.

The sponsor says to the project manager, “I want to move up the finish date from June 30 to May 30.  Make it happen.” The sponsor starts to leave the meeting.

The project manager says, “Yes, I can shorten the duration of the project by four weeks. Your assistant told me about that and I modeled it.  To cut a month off the duration, I will need to have two additional engineers for the month of April and the budget will increase by $10,000 for extra consultants.”

A trade off has two sides. First, there’s the positive side where the PM shortens the duration of the project. Second, there’s the negative side where the project manager says they need added budget for two additional engineers for the month and additional consultants.

The sponsor says,”No all I want is to cut the duration.  No additional people or money.”

The PM says, “If I told you I could do that it would be lie.  To shorten the date there will be other changes.  It is not possible without consequences.”

The sponsor responds, “A good PM would be able to do whatever I want!”

Then the project manager replies, “But it would be a lie.”

Requirements for Trade offs

Trade offs are part of the toolset good project managers use. You must build the project plan with quantified measurable outcomes for every deliverable. And the schedule must have work estimates and accurate precedence relationships. Then you can model every change with its compensating trade offs. Risk Management

When project sponsors want to make a change, successful project managers never say, “Oh no, we can’t add that to the project.” What they say is, “Certainly I can add that to the project, but I will need three more people full time.” Other negative sides of the trade off could be, “We will have to increase the budget by $10,000” or “We’ll have to reduce the savings in our scope by $6,000.” This is the language of trade offs. The project manager is not saying no.  Instead, they are telling the sponsor or stakeholder what it will “cost” to bring about the change they want. Trade offs maintain the feasibility of the project. Merely shortening the duration does not.

Project Trade off Language

You should do what successful project managers do and use trade offs between the scope, schedule, cost, risk and quality when assessing problems and changes to the project plan. When anyone wants to add or change something in an existing project plan, you should always assess the impact on all of the project’s dimensions. If the change is significant enough to require a change order, you should document the trade offs. That information allows the sponsor or customer to decide if the change is worth making.  You should also use trade offs when proposing corrective action for a variance to the plan. The variance should be documented in a status report.  Status Report Template

Here’s a detailed example of using project trade offs.

Let’s say the schedule has a task that was originally underestimated by the consultant hired to produce the deliverable. Now that consultant says it’s going to take an additional 160 hours of work. The PM agrees with the new estimate and quantifies the impact of that increased time on the project budget.  The 160 hours of remaining work will take 4 weeks at the rate of 40 hours a week with the one consultant. Because the task is on the critical path, this will cause a 4 week delay of the project completion date.

The project manager then develops alternative trade offs for dealing with the situation.  First, the PM looks at the trade off that comes from adding one more contractor to the task. In that scenario, the original consultant would do 80 hours of work and the second consultant would do the other 80.  If each worked 40 hours a week, they could finish the task in two weeks rather than four weeks. The cost of hiring the consultant is $100 an hour.  How much would  the project budget increase? The answer is there is no no increase. The addition of the second consultant allows the work to be spread over two people and the duration reduced. But the hours of work remains the same no matter how many people work on it.

There are many other types of trade offs the project manager could use. They might reduce the scope of the project, which usually reduces the amount of work and the duration. They might also consider trade offs for quality and risk. With this explanation of how trade offs work, let’s talk about how you can use the trade off technique in managing your projects.

Project Trade off – 4 Corners

Think of a project as having 4-Corners:

  • project scope (including quality of deliverables)
  • duration
  • risk
  • cost (human resources and materials).

The project is like a tube of toothpaste. When an executive squeezes on a project’s duration corner by cutting the due date by a month, the toothpaste compensates by oozing out from one of the other corners. When the sponsor squeezes the duration, it will deliver less scope, cost more, or have a higher risk of failure. Changes in one corner always impact at least one other corner.  That fact exists whether people recognize or not. It’s not realistic to assume that making arbitrary changes to one corner of the project, like the duration, can happen without any compensating effects through the rest of the project.

Why don’t sponsors recognize this impact? Because in most projects only one, or at most two, of these corners is measurable.  The completion date is always measurable and is often rock solid. In some situations, the project budget is also measurable. But most internal projects have no other measurable dimensions.  Even with the two measured dimensions of duration and budget, the business value of the project (the scope) and the risk of not delivering that scope on time are usually unmeasurable.  So executives continue to make arbitrary changes to the duration and the budget and think that it will have no impact on the project’s scope, quality or risk.

Just think about what happens when a project manager goes back to his team and says, “We have to finish two weeks earlier.” What will the team members do? They will look for shortcuts. The quality may go down and the level of deliverables produced may suffer as a result. Team members also take shortcuts that increase the risk of the project failing. But the project sponsors don’t  know this and they therefore assume there’s no risk from their arbitrary reductions in duration or budget. They are 100 percent confident in delivering the scope within the duration and/or budget.  Now every project manager knows that 100 percent confidence is ridiculous. Particularly because most organizations have a project failure rate above 50 percent.  Yet few project managers give their sponsors the opportunity to make decisions about the level of confidence they want.

Project Trade off – Using the 4 Corners™ Trade off Approach

This is a better approach. If you have a quantified measure of the project’s scope (the business value) and you follow best practices when building the project schedule and budget, you can present your sponsor with quantified trade-offs between the 4-Corners™ of the project plan.  This data-based decision-making and fine-tuning is a good platform for the sponsors’ approval. It is far better than arbitrary changes to one or more of the 4-Corners™ without any offsetting changes to the others. You will also use these quantified trade offs every time there is a variance to the plan.  Your status reports should include analysis of the trade offs between the “4-Corners.”™ That gives the executives data to evaluate the alternatives for taking advantage of opportunities and recovering from problems.

This project trade-offs approach is inconvenient for executives who want to make a change to just one corner. If they do that, you will have projects that aren’t feasible, are late, over budget and achieve less than planned. Arguing with the project sponsor doesn’t work, particularly when they are your superior or your customer. What does work is using decision-making data. That’s the benefit of using project trade offs.

Project Trade off Foundation for Scope, Budget and Duration

Here are the foundations of trade offs:

  1. You must develop alternative combinations of scope, budget and duration by building a project plan and schedule using best practices. The requirements are that you define every deliverable and every task in the work breakdown structure (WBS) with acceptance criteria. That way there’s no ambiguity about the progress or the completion. You base the project plan and schedule on estimates of the amount of work required. You cannot use just start and finish dates. With those components in place, you can offer the sponsor and decision-makers alternatives and trade offs between scope, budget and duration.
  2. During the initial presentation of the project plan, you should model at least three project trade-offs or alternative ways of doing the project. Starting from the project’s base design, you construct three trade offs to finish at least 20% earlier than the base design. You also construct three alternatives that collectively lower the cost of the project by 20%. Having these options available during the project presentation gives you the ability to answer the question that executives often ask, “How can we do this cheaper and faster?”
  3. When your weekly status report shows variances from the plan, you should use project trade offs to model alternative corrective actions to address the variances.
  4. When you have change requests, you should assess the impact of the change on the project scope, duration, risk and cost. Then you present the trade offs between those constraints.

Project Trade off Summary

It is a project management best practice to assess the impact of a change or variance on the project’s scope, cost, duration and risk.  Then you model project trade offs between those “4-Corners” ™ and give the decision-makers alternative ways to deal with the opportunities and problems.

To learn the specific techniques for framing your projects and developing these “4-Corners”™ trade-offs, look at our project management bookstore or consider taking one of our project management training courses. We offer them in-person at your site or as online courses where you work privately with your instructor according to your schedule. More on Decision Making Data,

To master these techniques and the way to present them to the project sponsor, take a look at our advanced techniques courses in your specialty.

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Work Breakdown Schedule

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

The work breakdown schedule (WBS) is the spine of your project plan. The most important function is to communicate clear performance expectations about the project. For executives, the work breakdown schedule communicates exactly what they’re going to get from the project. That is what the business results will be. The WBS entries, from the scope down to the smallest team member’s task, are measurable deliverables.  Each clearly communicates a performance expectation with numbers so it is measurable.  As an example, the scope of a customer service project might be, “Less than 5% of customers have to contact customer service a second time about the same problem.”  That number is a measurable deliverable, it’s an acceptance criterion. Specifically, the project is successful if fewer than 5% of the customers have to call back about the same problem.  When you communicate that expectation to the executives, they know what they’re going to get from the project. As importantly, they know what they’re not going to get. It clearly tells them that the result will not be perfection. They will still have about 5% of the customers calling back about the same problem.  Main Work Breakdown Structure Page

Work Breakdown Schedule: Trade-offs

The work breakdown schedule is a tool for project managers to control expectations. It communicates to executives that they cannot change the project’s scope without compensating adjustments, called trade-offs, to the project’s duration and/or cost. Dealing with those trade-offs is a key to managing the expectations of sponsors and other executives. Consistently successful project managers use those trade-offs during the initial planning phase to communicate expectations about the project’s scope, time, cost and risk. The scope and major deliverables must be defined in measurable terms so the trade-offs can be quantified. If the scope isn’t defined in this manner, the project will have overruns and dissatisfied sponsors and executives.

Here’s a conversation with “Less than 5% of customers call back about the same problem” as a measurable scope:

An executive says, ” Oh you can do better than that; make it 3%.”

The project manager smiles and says, “We modeled that earlier. Remember?We have a 75% chance of hitting your 3% but it will cost $150,000 more and take 18 months longer.  Do you want to authorize that trade-off?”

The executive replies, “Where did those numbers come from?”

The PM says, “From the computer model we built of the project.  Is this what you want?”

The sponsor’s face turns beet red and he sputters “Of course not, I want 3% for the same budget and finish date.”

The PM says, “That’s not possible, sir. We could improve to 4% for much less. Is that of interest? ”

The sponsor demands, “You will deliver 3% for the same budget and finish date, or you will be looking for a job.”

The PM shakes his head sadly and says, “No one could pull off that miracle. So you’d better fire me now.”

The sponsor storms out.

The project manager handled this correctly, refusing to commit to a result he could not deliver but offering two results which he could deliver.

Work Breakdown Schedule: Deliverables

The work breakdown schedule also shows the executives how the project team is going to deliver the result. The project manager and sponsor decompose the overall scope deliverable into 4 to 7 high-level deliverables. They also define each of those with measured acceptance criteria. Those deliverables are the best way to communicate how the project team will deliver the results defined by the scope. It also gives executives unambiguous checkpoints to measure the progress of the project after work begins. The project manager will also decompose the work breakdown schedule down to the level of individual assignmecomm21nts for the project team members.

Those lower level measured deliverables are the foundation for assigning work to the team members and tracking progress. You should define each task in the work breakdown schedule with a metric and link it to the scope through a network of deliverables. As stated above, you create that network by decomposing the scope into 4 – 7 high-level deliverables.  You continue to decompose the high-level deliverables into smaller deliverables, down to the level of deliverables that an individual will be accountable for producing. A work breakdown schedule developed this way gives the project sponsor, stakeholders and the project manager objectively defined checkpoints against which to measure progress. That is a powerful tool for keeping the project on track and for communicating to everyone that you, the project manager, know what’s going on. Using this technique, you can avoid the difficulties with defining and tracking team member assignments when the work breakdown schedule is merely a “to do” list.

Work Breakdown Schedule: Team Member Assignments and Estimates

If you do the work breakdown schedule correctly, every team member can look at it and know what a good job on their assignment is before they start work. The work breakdown schedule will also tell them how you will evaluate their deliverable when they finish producing it. Because your expectations are clear, a good work breakdown schedule is an excellent tool for developing accurate estimates with the project team members. That’s because they have less need to pad their estimates since the assignment is very clear. Team members pad their estimates because they are accustomed to receiving vague project assignments that change frequently. The usual process of making changes to their vague assignments doesn’t allow the team member to accurately estimate the required work and duration. So the team member prudently protects themselves by inflating the estimates they provide the project manager.

When the project manager develops a work breakdown schedule with measured deliverables, the problem of padding estimates largely goes away. That is particularly true if the project manager uses work packages and makes an agreement with the team members that when their assignment changes, the PM will reexamine their time and duration estimates. That sounds very simple but operating that way gives team members lots of confidence in the commitment process so the project manager gets better estimates from the team members.  Additionally,the work breakdown schedule is the tool the project manager uses to identify the skill set of the people they should assign to each of the entries in the WBS. Work Packages main page

Work Breakdown Structure Size

People have questions about the best size for the project work breakdown structure (WBS). The answer depends on the capabilities of the project team and the complexity of the project. That’s because those two issues affect the size of the assignments for the project team members.  The WBS for a very inexperienced project team will lean toward relatively small assignments (2-5 days) and results in a larger work breakdown structure. The other extreme is a project team of experienced professionals who are expert in their tasks. To avoid micromanaging these experts, you would make relatively large assignments (7-21 days) and, thus, have a much smaller work breakdown structure. Main WBS Work Breakdown Structure Page

WBS Work Breakdown Structure

WBS Size Factor #1: Team Member Experience

In most projects, you’ll have a mix of your team members’ experience levels. So you will be designing assignments that range from a day or two for a rookie team member to several weeks for an experienced team member. You’ll also change the size of the assignments based on each team member’s performance. For example, let’s say a person whom you initially assessed as a rookie does very well and consistently produces high-quality deliverables on time. As a result of their performance, you may expand the size of their assignments to give them more freedom and decision-making latitude. You will spend less time evaluating their work because with bigger assignments they are producing deliverables less frequently.  Many people working on project teams value the expansion of their decision-making freedom with larger assignments. That is a great performance reward.

If you’re following project management best practices, you’re going to be getting status reports from each of your team members on a weekly basis. The size of their assignment doesn’t matter here.  When you give someone a large assignment, they’re still reporting on it every week. So you aren’t “in the dark” about the status of their assignment for weeks at a time.

WBS Size Factor #2: Project Deliverables

The WBS size doesn’t affect the production of project deliverables. You may choose to alter an assignment if the project stakeholders are particularly interested in inspecting one or more of an assignment’s deliverables. However, there are some very important things to avoid in terms of outside influences on the size of your work breakdown structure.

Some project sponsors are wrongly convinced that a big work breakdown structure will give them tight control over the project. This is incorrect on many levels. First, an enormous work breakdown structure takes many hours to update every week. It’s harder to get your team members to give you good status data when they have to report on 10 or 12 micro-tasks. It also takes you longer to enter data and update the schedule with actuals. The typical consequence of a monster-sized work breakdown structure is that the project manager can’t keep up and eventually the schedule is not updated every week. That is the same as not having a schedule.

The other consequence of a very large and very detailed work breakdown structure is it makes your project team members feel they are being micromanaged. They think you and the sponsor don’t trust them to make decisions and are constantly looking over their shoulders. If you’ve ever been micromanaged by someone who knows less about your task than you do, you realize how destructive micromanagement is. You wind up with a project team that takes no responsibility for the results they produce. They simply follow the micro-details in the work breakdown structure. You need to explain this to a project sponsor who wants a very detailed work breakdown structure because the negative consequences are serious.

More information on our lean project methodology

Project Failure

project failure

project failure
Dick Billows, PMP

Why Projects Fail

Some organizations have project failure rates at 70% or above. In others, they are always late on promises made to customers. In still other cases, they can’t deliver new products and services that allow them to successfully compete.  Enterprise Project Management Hub

Most Organizations Have a 70% Project Failure Rat

Project success = produce planned deliverables, within budget and on time (including approved changes)

Using this definition of success, we find that most organizations have 70% project failure rates.  That project failure rate wastes so much money and human resources that even a small increase in the success rate is worth a lot. But the solution is not easy. Poor performance causes high project failure.  The poor performance is at three levels in the organization: executives, project managers and team members.  To cut the rate of failure, project managers must coach both the executives (subtly) and their team members (directly) about their roles and expected performance.  And implementation of a project process in the organization is vital to reducing the project failure rate to under 20%.

How To Avoid Project Failure: Executive’s Role

Executives set clear measurable(numeric) objectives for projects. They ensure all projects they allow to proceed yield business value and they allocate resources based on that value. Most executives fail at their project role and this contributes to project failure.  Here is an example of how they usually operate.

An executive calls two subordinate managers into a meeting and says, “We have a mess in customer service and we have to fix it. This has to be priority #1.  Drop everything else and clean up the mess. Install new systems and procedures and whatever else we need for World Class Customer Service!  In fact, we’ll call it that – the WCCS Project.”

One of the managers says, “Didn’t we do that last year?  I mean the acronym we used was different but this project sounds familiar.”

The other manager says, “You’re right.  In fact we’ve done this 3 times since I’ve been here.”

The executive snaps back, “Yes, and each earlier attempt failed.  Let’s do it right this time.”

The two managers exchange pained looks as the executive goes on, “Now, I have two other ideas for projects to cut costs and improve service. So here is what I want…”

The first manager interrupts with a groan, “You always have great ideas, boss, but our plates are full.  Our first-line supervisors are already spending half their time on projects and their real jobs are suffering.  The engineering and technical staffs are all working 70 hour weeks.  Something has to give.”

The executive frowns and says, “I know what’s going on down there and there’s plenty of time to squeeze in a few more projects.  Your people just have to work smarter not harder!”

Instead of giving the project managers a clear unambiguous objective, the executive gave them mission statement mush of World Class Customer Service. There was no assessment of the project’s business value. Additionally, he refused to tackle the politically difficult task of setting project priorities for allocating the limited human resources. Project Rescue

How To Avoid Project Failure: Project Manager’s Role

Project managers conceive, manage and control projects. They use best practice techniques to ensure the projects deliver their planned outcomes efficiently. Many project managers also fail in their role and contribute to project failure. Here is an example of how they operate.

A newly promoted project manager enters the cubicle of an experienced project manager and says, “I’m really nervous about my new project.  The way my director was talking this morning, the world may end if this project fails.  My boss said this is priority number one!  I’m gonna tell my family not to expect me to leave work on time for the next six months.  I’m worried that I’ll be in real trouble if I don’t bring it in on time and within budget.”

The experienced project manager laughs and says, “You’ll laugh too after you’ve heard that speech about 50 times.  On the first day they all talk loud and long about how important the project is.  But when you ask them to spend an hour or two planning this critically important project, they’re too busy.  When you ask them to make sure the project team members from other departments actually show up to work on your projects, they’re too busy for that too.”

The rookie relaxes and says, “Okay, you’ve been there and I haven’t.  I’ll take your advice. Can you tell me how the company wants project plans and schedules put together?”

The experienced project manager chuckles again and says, “We have no standard methodology.  Every project manager in the company just wings it.  You can’t possibly put together a plan when executives make you start work before they decide what they want.  When you try to define the scope or even ask what the project is supposed to produce, you usually get a long speech about how we need to react quickly and stay flexible.  The best thing to do is write down what they want you to do first and do it.  Then go back and ask them what they want you and the team to do next.  They want to micromanage everybody anyway. There’s no sense creating a lot of plans and schedules – they’re always a joke.”

The rookie gasps and says, “You’ve got to be kidding.  This is a successful organization.  How can we be successful without project plans and schedules?”

The experienced project manager smiles and replies, “I’ll help you with that. I’ve got a bunch of old project plans and some really big work breakdown structures you can use to copy and paste.  If anyone asks, you’ll have a really big plan and a highly detailed work breakdown structure that no one will ever look at anyway. But you won’t be responsible for project failure.”

Instead of the project managers pushing for the use of best practices, they act like order-takers at a drive thru restaurant. They give little thought or energy to planning or how to avoid problems before they occur.

How To Avoid Project Failure: Project Team Members’ Role

Team members make accurate estimates of the work and time. They report status accurately so problems are identified early. Many team members fail in this role and contribute to project failure.  Here’s an example of  how they operate.

Two technical professionals with heavy project workloads meet at a table in the company cafeteria.  The first technical professional, who is new to the company, grumbles, “They gave me three new project assignments this morning. I was afraid to say anything but there is no way I can get them all done by the due dates. It is more work than three people could do.”

The second technical professional laughs, “They’re always starting new projects and if you try to do all of them on time, you’ll kill yourself for nothing. Just pad the estimates by 50 or 60% so the project manager can’t blame you for the project failure. There are so many half-done projects floating around that no one remembers them all.  My rule is that if no one has talked about a project in the past month, I don’t do any work on it.”

The first professional replies, “But when we start these projects, the boss says I am committed to the estimates and completion dates. That’s exactly what he did on some projects two weeks ago.”

The second professional laughs again, “Oh yes, you’re committed.  Has the boss asked you about any of those older projects recently?”

“Well no.”

“Then they’re dead ducks.  Work on the projects people are screaming about.”

“But I’ve put dozens of hours into some of those old projects,” complains the first technical professional.  “Does the organization want me to just throw that time away?”

Shaking his head, the second technical professional replies, “I think we waste about a third of our time on projects we never finish. And we have high project failure rates on the ones we do complete. That’s why you shouldn’t get excited about flushing another one that’s headed down the drain.”

Instead of making accurate estimates of the amount of work and time required, project team members focus on avoiding blame.

How To Avoid Project Failure Summary

Organizations that consistently succeed with projects perform well at every level in the project management process:

  • They control the initiation of projects; planning, approving and monitoring projects based on the business value those projects produce.
  • They manage the pool of project resources just as they manage their capital budgets; allocating people’s time and money to projects based on the project’s payback.
  • They follow a consistent methodology for all projects; holding people accountable for measurable achievements.

To learn a complete methodology for project success in our private online training.

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Emergency Projects

Dick Billows, PMP

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.

Marketing/Operational Emergency 

Another type of emergency is affects the organization’s:

  • market positions
  • product competitive positions
  • systems integrity
  • 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.

Crisis Planning

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
  • Communications Plan

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.

Project Management Certification Options

Here the project management Certification options for beginners, experienced pros and program managers

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

There are a wide range of project management certification options to propel your  project manager career. They can lead you to the upper levels of project, program and portfolio management.

If you have some experience and have earned your first project management certification, it’s easier to get a job in project management. Your first certification could be in a specific industry or in a functional specialty. Those project management certification programs give you basic skills for small projects. Then you can build on them by adding advanced techniques in estimating, risk management, planning with executives, tracking and status reporting. The better programs also give you training and practice in making effective presentations, leading meetings and communicating clearly with stakeholders and your team members. The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers two certifications.  The PMP  (Project Management  Professional) is for experienced PMs. Our PMP Exam Prep course prepares you to pass that exam.  The CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) is for people who are new to project management.

4PM.com offers project management certifications in the following specialties:
IT Project Management Certification In addition to basic and advanced project management tools and techniques, this program gives you the skills to use different systems development methodologies, like Agile and Waterfall, and how to elect the correct one for each project. They also teach you how to manage the users’ expectations and your team members’ performance.

Construction Project Management Certification In addition to the basic and advanced project management tools and skills, this program places special emphasis on accurate estimating, building customer/owner relationships and the intricacies of dealing with subcontractorsProject Manager Certification on your project. You learn how to manage risks and change orders which are critical elements in construction project profitability.

Healthcare Project Management Certification In addition to the basic and advanced techniques and tools, this program gives you the tools to effectively deal with the unique organizational issues in the healthcare environment. You learn how to work with both the administrative departments and the medical staff of a healthcare institution. You will be able to build effective teams across those functional lines.

Business Project Management Certification In addition to the basic and advanced project management tools, this program teaches you how to integrate people from different functional areas into a high-performing project team. You learn how to build project plans and effective teams that include the efforts of information systems, marketing, sales and operations. Each of these areas has a unique perspective on projects.

Client/Consulting Project Management Certification This certification teaches you basic and advanced project management techniques as well as how to “sell” engagements to clients, manage their expectations and finish projects on time. Delivering those results earns a profit for your firm and creates a satisfied customer. You learn how to handle change orders profitably and develop a mutually beneficial relationship clients.

These certifications are valuable credibility-builders within your organization and help you stand out from the crowd when seeking a new project manager position.

Scheduling Software

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

Using the right scheduling software is key to consistently finishing your projects on time and within budget. Project scheduling software lets you do the critical steps more efficiently than using ineffective options like scheduling in Excel or on a yellow notepad. Those waste too much of your time and don’t help you complete these critical steps:

  • Spotting problems early so you can fix them before it’s too late
  • Optimizing the use of resources so you can finish as early as possible
  • Updating the project schedule in a few minutes each week so you know where you are
  • Updating everyone’s schedule in mere minutes when things change.

There are many more benefits that scheduling software can provide when you’re building a project schedule. But those four items are the minimum tools that every project manager needs. Managing a schedule in Excel or on a yellow notepad give you none of those items. Let’s explore what a you need in a software tool. The best option depends on the scale of the projects you manage.     Shorten the Project Duration

Scheduling Software Capabilities

Small Project – Done within your organization for the manager or your boss
Medium Project – Affects multiple departments within your organization or done for customers/clients
Strategic Project – Organization-wide projects with long term effects

Scheduling Software Capability #1: Draw visual project charts like Gantt and PERT

Small Project – These visual charts are useful for communicating with the sponsor and your team.
Medium Project – As the scale of the project increases, you want visuals that compare actual performance to the baseline schedule and cost. You also want to display slack and delay for optimizing the schedule and resources. Earned value reporting is also a tool for this level of reporting.
Strategic Project – At this scale, you require sophisticated reporting by task, major deliverable, resources and the lending department. Earned value, cost and time variance reports are also required.         Buying Project Softwarescheduling software

Scheduling Software Capability #2: Calculate duration based on resource availability and work required

Small Project – Basing the schedule on work and availability, not just start/finish dates, is a best practice. Skip it if finishing on time is not critical.
Medium Project – Resource-driven schedules are a must at this level. So is automatic resource leveling which ensures that no resource is assigned more work than they can do.
Strategic Project – You need resource-driven schedules and software that can allocate people’s time based on the priority of the task or project to which they are assigned.       Project Portfolio Management

Scheduling Software Capability #3: Schedule using predecessor relationships

Small Project – This is not needed on small projects with 2-3 people.
Medium & Strategic Projects – This links tasks and establishes their sequence. When matched with resource-driven scheduling, it saves you substantial time. It also gives you tools to quickly quantify the impact of changes the project sponsor wants to make. This can be a life saver for guarding against silly ideas that don’t support the projects’ scope.

Scheduling Software Capability #4: Schedule people for a portfolio of projects based on project priorities

Small Project – Not needed
Medium & Strategic Projects – Helps the organization complete a large volume of projects by ensuring that people work on the most important projects.

Scheduling Software Concepts

Scheduling software will provide you with time-saving scheduling and analysis tools. It will also archive data for use on future projects. These tools include analysis of the critical path using slack and delay data. This lets you optimize the use of your resources to finish as early as possible. The critical path should also be used to identify problems early and quickly model alternative solutions. Critical Path Technique

The value of an archive is that it makes future project estimates easier and more accurate. With the appropriate project scheduling software, tracking actual performance in terms of hours of work and completion dates builds a database for estimating on the next projects. Even a small project can waste a lot of a project manager’s time if these tasks are done manually.

Scheduling Software: The Reality

Too many project managers don’t have the tools or the training to track actual performance versus plan, optimize their schedule or make efficient use of their resources. They are regularly surprised by problems that a bit of data would have helped them anticipate. They are unable to provide decision-making data to executives on ways to finish the project early. They also can’t tell executives the cost of changes they want to make. As a result, the project is guided by guesses so the company’s financial and human resources are used inefficiently and project failure rates are high. Keys to Successful Project Scheduling

Scheduling Software: “Best Practices” In the Real World

Project managers routinely deal with sponsors who are several organizational levels above them or who sign their paychecks. In this situation, a project manager can’t really argue with the sponsor about the best way to do the project. What a project manager needs is data from scheduling software that quantifies the impact of changes and models alternative ways of solving problems. Having that data gives the project manager more credibility with the sponsor and executives. It also gives executives solid data on which to base their decisions. They can stop plucking project due dates and budgets out of the air.

scheduling softwareScheduling Software Overview

Scheduling software comes in many different levels of sophistication with prices ranging from $50 to $20,000 or more. The software itself doesn’t make you more effective; it just makes you more efficient. Scheduling software doesn’t teach you how to define the scope, communicate with the project sponsor or make clear assignments to your team members. It just lets you accomplish these and many other tasks more efficiently. So before we look at the different kinds of scheduling software, let’s talk about the kinds of projects to manage and the levels of PM skills. This will enable you to pick a scheduling software tool that’s appropriate for you and the organization in which you work. You can decide which of the following three categories of project manager fits you best.

Managing Smaller Projects

PMs in this category often plan and schedule with only durations rather than work estimates and resource capacity. Many times these PMs have no need to develop or track a project budget because status reports are limited to tracking the completion date. At this level, the organization usually does not consolidate or “roll-up” all of the projects into a portfolio. And it doesn’t manage the overall utilization of the people who work on projects.

In this situation, there is a very broad range of scheduling software choices and many packages will provide Gantt and PERT charts. For project managers who want to automate the process of building plans, preparing occasional status reports and producing some simple Gantt and PERT charts, the low end scheduling software tools are fine. There are plenty of packages that will automate the basics for you. There are also a host of web-based products that operate at this capability level. For under $100 there are products like: Gantter or ZOHO Projects and others.

Managing Larger Cross-functional Projects for Executives or Clients

As the scale of projects grows and their impact reaches beyond one functional unit, the demands on the project management techniques grow. So does the required capability of the scheduling software tool. Software that is a static representation of start and finish dates isn’t enough. You need software tools that simulate the project and optimize the schedule every time you make a change. The budget is an important issue in planning and tracking. So you must build project plans based on the estimated hours of work required and the sequence of tasks, not start and finish dates. You need scheduling software that gives you the capability to budget and schedule internal employees as well as external consultants, vendors, equipment and travel expenses. The scheduling software should provide more sophisticated earned value reporting, slack and delay reports for fine tuning as well as the critical path and resource leveling capability.

The software cost jumps in price to the $300-$700 level and the learning curve for these software tools is much steeper than the first level. The big market shares belong to Microsoft Project and Quickbase (Quicken).

Managing in a Multi-project Environment

At the high-end are PMs managing multiple projects or operating in a mature project organization where resource utilization is managed across all projects. Executives are accountable for portfolios of projects. In this environment, you need project management processes to bring consistency to project planning and tracking. While scheduling software never ensures a consistent project management process (despite all the people who think it can), this environment adds to the software requirements. You now need to consolidate (roll-up) multiple projects and provide consistent information. This allows decision-makers to prioritize projects, allocate resources and schedule and track a pool of people working on multiple projects.

This process is a lot more complicated than it sounds. It requires organization processes for portfolio management and scheduling software that can identify conflicting demands for the same resources. The data it provides will allow the executives to set priorities among projects that require the same resources. They usually want detailed project budgets and have the software come close to mimicking the company’s cost accounting system. But they want actual cost data a lot sooner than the accounting department provides it. Project managers often need sophisticated risk assessment tools and resource loading features as well as detailed performance tracking.

If you want a lot, you’ve got to spend a lot. Scheduling software for these multi-project users runs from $4,000-$20,000 with network versions to run on your LAN and lots of team communication capabilities. There are dozens of products in this range and some of the packages from the second level also provide the needed capabilities. They include: Microsoft Project, Primavera, and other products.

Scheduling Software Training

You can learn how to use scheduling software in our basic and advanced project management software courses. At the beginning of your course, you and Dick Billows, PMP, will have a video conference to design your program and what you want to learn. The two of you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage: 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 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