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

Critical Path Method for Shortening Duration

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

The critical path is the longest sequence of tasks in a project. It determines the project’s duration and completion date and it can change  minute to minute. It’s easy to use the project critical path method to cut the duration and optimize your project plans to finish as quickly as possible. Let’s see an example of how to correctly use the critical path method. Schedule & Software Main Page

Chris Pimbock, the Impudent Project Manager, took a vacant seat the crowded passenger boarding area at gate #63. The seat was near to two sullen business travelers waiting to fly home on a Friday evening. They were staring through the big plate glass windows of the terminal at a mechanic standing atop an aluminum ladder working on the jet’s port engine.

The blue-suited professional sitting to Chris’ left muttered, “The gate attendant better wake up. Those dopes have to get another mechanic working on that engine pronto!  That’s a critical path task. Without working engines, we won’t go anywhere!”

The thoroughly wrinkled passenger across the aisle growled, “Nah, that captain and his crew sitting near the gate keep looking at their watches. I bet they are about to go off duty. Without a crew, we won’t go anywhere. Getting a new crew is what that gate attendant should work on. That’s the critical path.”

Feigning ignorance, Chris Pimbock asked, “How do you know what’s on the critical path?

With an exasperated sigh, the guy in the blue suit said, “Experience. Hey, I do this stuff for a living and I know a critical path task when I see one.” The other passenger nodded agreement.

Chris casually looked over the boarding area at gate #63 and the tarmac. The fight crew was still sitting in the corner chatting. A food truck was sitting on the tarmac with the driver reading a magazine. A fuel truck waited and that driver was watching the mechanic. The gate attendant had left her station and gone to help at the next gate, #61. She was helping get the passengers for that flight checked-in and on board.

The rumpled guy mumbled to Chris, “Is that stupid gate attendant gonna get more mechanics? Wait, look the food truck just drove off. That gate attendant is an idiot; ignoring us and working at another gate! Now we’ll have to wait even longer for another food truck while she helps her buddy at the next gate.”

Chris said, “Ahh, give the woman some credit, she knows what she is doing.”project critical path

“That’s crazy. Look the fuel truck is leaving too!” the wrinkled PM snorted. “All she cares about are the passengers at gate #61!

Chris frowned and asked, “So the gate attendant should assign more mechanics to the critical path task and get another fuel truck. Is that critical too?”

The two PMs sneered at Chris. One muttered, “Duh.” The other nodded sadly and said, “Sure. You’ve got to really watch the project critical path tasks like a hawk. And when you add more people you get the tasks done faster.”

Just then the first PM said, “Look,” and pointed out the window at the mechanic who was waving frantically at the gate attendant and holding up a broken wrench and mouthing the words, “Need a new wrench!”

The gate attendant was too busy at the other gate to look out the window. Failing to catch the attendant’s eye, the mechanic picked up his broken wrench and tried to work with it, shaking his head in frustration.

Chris said, “What happened?”

“Thanks to that moron gate attendant,  the flight will be delayed even longer. The mechanic needs a new tool and she couldn’t see him because she has abandoned us and gone to gate #61. I’m gonna tell her what a dope she is!”

As the wrinkled PM rose to walk to the counter, Chris noted that the plane at gate #61 was leaving. He said, “I would give it a minute or two before you make a jerk of yourself.”

The wrinkled PM slumped back down and said. “That gate attendant has really botched this flight. We’re going to be here for hours.”

They settled back into their chairs and in a moment the gate attendant picked up a black microphone and cleared her throat.

The blue suit predicted, “Now, that dope is going to cancel the flight.”

The loud speakers in the waiting room hissed as a new food truck arrived and the attendant said, “Our new airplane will be pulling up to gate #61 momentarily. Please move to that gate now. We will board in 5 minutes, the plane has fuel, the food is on board and we’re ready to go.”

Chris said, “I guess that gate attendant did the calculations and decided that the sequence of tasks involved in fixing the plane, fueling it, loading the food and replacing the crew was longer than getting us a new plane that was ready to go. She used the duration data, not just guesses, about what task was critical. She kept her eye on the right critical path the whole time. Most importantly she focused on the correct scope; getting us home tonight, not just fixing the plane.”

You can learn to identify and optimize the project critical path by taking one of our online, instructor-led courses. You’ll get personal coaching from an expert project manager as you practice applying the best practice techniques to realistic project case studies. You can work at your own pace and fit your schedule.

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Leading Teams: Six Techniques For Success

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

A highly motivated, problem-solving team is a key reason for every project success. These teams are committed to completing their assignments on time and within budget so the project goal is met. The proven techniques for leading teams to success include:

  • selecting the right team members
  • crafting the right-size assignment for each person
  • accurately estimating hours of work and duration
  • gaining team member commitment
  • receiving status reports
  • giving constructive feedback.

Leading Teams: Techniques for Three Sizes of Projects

The techniques are different for each project, depending on the size and scope. Here are the project size definitions:

Tier 1: Small – they’re done within one department
Tier 2: Cross-functional – they affect multiple departments and cross organizational boundaries
Tier 3: Strategic  – they’re organization-wide programs or projects for clients with strategic impact.

Leading Teams Technique #1: Selecting Team Members

In the selection process, you’re trying to get the best people for your project team. But you’re also gathering information about their work habits and personality so you can craft the right assignment for them.
Tier 1: Small projects: You are usually familiar with the potential team members’ work performance and quality standards when you all work in the same department. During the project planning phase, you need to ask the boss for the people you want on your team. That’s when the boss is focused on the project and can give you hints about the correct assignment for each person.
Tier 2: Cross-functional projects: When you have to borrow your team members froLead Teamsm other departments or organizations, it is more difficult to make sure you get productive team members. If possible, you should interview potential team members to assess their work ethic, problem solving ability and quality standards.
Tier 3: Strategic projects: On large projects for your organization or your clients, you may not be able to select the team members. If personal interviews are possible, you can gather information about potential team members’ experience and work standards. You will use that information to design the right assignments for each person.  If interviews aren’t possible, you will have to make an on-the-spot judgement about the right assignment for each team member. Leading Remote Project Teams

Leading Teams Technique #2: Designing Appropriate Assignments

You must design the assignments so they fit the capabilities and personality type of each team member. You want to give larger/longer assignments to people who have solid technical experience and are skilled problem solvers. They will appreciate the assignment’s challenge. You should give shorter assignments to people who are inexperienced and/or less capable. This will let you easily track their progress and help them when it’s necessary.
Tier 1: Small projects: You usually have flexibility about the duration of assignments. For trainee-level team members or less capable people, you want assignments that are 1 to 3 days long. For the average team member, 5-day assignments are usually the right size. For experienced professionals, you should design assignments that are 2 weeks or longer to give them a challenge and independence.
Tier 2: Cross-functional projects: With people borrowed from other departments, it is often acceptable to talk with their boss about the right-size assignment and the level of challenge you should give them.  If that’s not possible, then you will adjust the complexity and length of the assignment as they work on the task and you learn their capabilities.
Tier 3: Strategic projects: On larger projects with people who are accountable for major deliverables, you need to engage them in the design of their assignments. You must avoid micromanagement of these experienced people who are very capable.  On the other hand, you should give “rookies” assignments that are within their capabilities in terms of time and complexity. Team Micromanagement

Leading Teams Technique #3: Work Packages

You must clearly describe, in measurable terms, the deliverable(s) the team member should produce. And you must document their availability, as approved by their boss.
Tier 1: Small projects: This level of documentation is often skipped on small projects with three or four team members working on a project within a department. On the other hand, giving a simple work pack to each team member avoids confusion about your expectations for their deliverable.
Tier 2: Cross-functional projects & Tier 3: Strategic projects: For larger projects, you should document a work package for each assignment. It will make the assignment clear and document the deliverable you expect the borrowed person to produce. The work package also provides a standard information base for estimating the tasks’ hours of work and identifying their risks. It is best to document the work estimate and give a copy to the borrowed team member’s superior. Team Building Techniques

Leading Teams Technique #4: Estimating Task Work and Duration

A project management best practice is to estimate the required hours of work so you can measure progress during the assignment.
All projects: Regardless of the size of the project, you should engage the team members in the process of estimating the amount of work their assignment will take. The work package is the basis for the estimating effort. You should always estimate the amount of work (50 hours, for example).  You should never estimate just the duration (Oct. 21 through Nov. 7, for example). Estimating the amount of work required for the task provides you with the ability to more accurately track progress and spot problems. Their team member’s availability to do the work (halftime or 2 days a week, for example) is also documented. Team Building

You should also discuss the assignment’s potential risks with the team member and what can be done about them. This helps you avoid, eliminate or mitigate those risks. Finally, the work package should list the task’s required deliverable, the approach to take on the task and the inputs the team member requires to finish their task. Team Building video

Leading Teams Technique #5: Status Reporting

Team members should report status on their tasks every week. This allows you to find problems early so you and the team have an opportunity to fix them before the task or project is late or over budget.
All Projects: Data can come to you by phone, e-mails, a form, template or on “sticky notes.” The important thing is that each week you get the hours of work competed, as of that date, and the estimated hours required to complete the task. No narrative is necessary. You should make status reporting easy so people will do it.  It is a best practice to give all team members updated status data on the entire project.

Leading Teams Technique #6: Giving Feedback

All projects: You must give feedback to team members on a timely basis. People want to be praised for a job well done. Remember that public praise is the most effective. People also need to be told when their performance does not meet your expectations. This should be done in private and include what they can do to improve. You must deliver feedback in a way that encourages people to tell you about problems early, when you and the team can define a solution or a “work around.” Constructive Feedback

It is extremely ineffective for you to get angry with team members who report bad news. This action (or reaction) causes team members to hide problems. Then you are doomed to find out about problems when it’s too late to fix them. Dysfunctional Project Team video

Leading Teams Summary

Use these proven techniques to successfully lead project teams:

  • select the right team member for each task
  • assign the right size task for their capabilities
  • create a work package to define their deliverable
  • involve the team member in estimating the amount of work required and the duration of their task
  • receive weekly status reports from the team members
  • give team members constructive feedback and praise

Matrix Teams

Project Team Culture

You can learn these techniques and enhance your skills for leading teams in our online project management courses and certifications. You begin whenever you wish and control the schedule and pace. You work privately with an expert project manager and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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What is Project Leadership? – Video

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

What is project leadership? It consists of proven techniques that project managers use to:

  • set standards of behavior and performance
  • motivate the team members to high performance and
  • rally the team members when the project has problems to overcome.

The number one challenge to project leadership is the fact that the project manager has no formal organizational authority over the project team. Another factor that makes project leadership difficult is that project managers are usually technically-oriented people with little experience or skill in motivating others.

Project managers must tailor the interpersonal techniques they use to fit the personality of each team member and stakeholder with whom they work. That’s the only way project managers can make up for their lack of formal authority.  Once they have “typed” the person’s personality and selected the right techniques for dealing with them, they have won half the battle. Here is a video on Team Member Personality Types

Another technique of effective leadership is to apply the best practices in terms of how the project manager trains and treats their project team members. Watch this video of a PM dealing with a situation where a team member has been pulled off the project and assigned elsewhere. In the first video, you see the PM use a technique that does not fit the personality of the team member. The result is complete failure. Then watch an analysis and see the PM do it the right way, using the right technique for the team member. Leading Teams

Communicating with the team member who has a problem

    You can learn all of these skills in our online project management basics course. We individually tailor this course for business, IT, construction, healthcare and consulting specialties.

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    Project Planning Template

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

    You can use this project planning template to define the project scope and identify major deliverables. You can also use it to manage the project risks and constraints as well as the resources it requires. On every new project, you need to decide what Project Planning Template elements to include, what to exclude and how to develop them on each particular project.   For 90% of the projects done in most organizations, your project plan should be 1–2 pages long. Managers are more likely to read a short, concise document.

    Project Planning Template 1st Step – Define the Scope

    You need to define the project scope as a deliverable with measurable acceptance criteria. To do that, you talk with the project sponsor, ask questions and then develop the scope statement. Next you define 4 to 7 high-level deliverables and their associated acceptance criteria. Those criteria tell everyone exactly what the project must deliver. They also help you control expectations by making it clear what the project will and won’t deliver. Fast Track Project Plans

    When you ask the sponsor what he or she wants, they might say something like, “We really need to have this project cut costs for us.” You immediately try to get to quantified acceptance criteria by asking, “How much cost reduction would make this project a success?”

    When the sponsor says, “$15,000 of cost reductions,” you have the scope definition with an acceptance criterion that tells you how much cost reduction the project has to deliver. This is the key to the project plan template. You can then drive the rest of the project from that number. (On larger projects consider the scope reach) How to evaluate a project plan

    This is a simple example of top-down planning but most project managers don’t ask the right questions. They are satisfied with a To Do list of the first dozen things the project sponsor wants them to do. That is a terrible basis for your a project plan and it’s disastrous if you start work with no more information than a To Do list. To successfully plan a project and have high odds of project success, you need to know what the boss wants in measurable terms.  How to Plan Top Down

    Project Planning Template 2nd Step – Define Major Deliverables

    You then break down the measurable project scope into its major supporting deliverables.  There are several different ways to do this. The simplest is where the high-level deliverables literally add up to the scope and its acceptance criteria. Therefore, in a conversation with the sponsor, you might talk about how to break down the scope. The sponsor might say, “I want each department to develop their share of the overall savings.” During further discussion, you might identify the savings amount for each of those departments. You use them as your high-level deliverables with the acceptance criteria being the dollar amount of savings each department has to produce.

    You see the major deliverables below and how they add up to the project scope of $15,000 of cost reductions.

    • Reduce order intake monthly operating expense by $4,000
    • Reduce production monthly operating expense by $2,000
    • Reduce order production monthly operating expense by $3,000
    • Reduce inventory monthly operating expense by $2,000
    • Reduce shipping monthly operating expense by $4,000  project plan template

    Project Planning Template 3rd Step – Identify Major Risks

    Depending on the size of the project, you may invest a great deal of time identifying the risks that threaten the project. You can do this in brainstorming sessions with the project team and stakeholders. But on a small project, you might develop your list of risks over coffee. In either case, you’ll include them in the project plan along with ideas for mitigating those risks. See example risks you would enter into the project plan template below:

    •  Layoffs may result in labor actions which disrupt operations
    •  Production may drop as much as 25% for 3 – 5 months.

    Project Planning Template 4th Step – Identify Project Team Resource Requirements

    Using the major deliverables, you now identify the number of hours of work and the skill sets required to create each deliverable. You would total those estimates up to the level of the entire project and make very rough estimates of the people and skills required. Below are examples that you would enter into the project plan template.

    •  Bill – full time 3 months
    •  Mary – half time 2 months
    •  Raj – full time 3 months
    •  Sharmaine – quarter time 4 months
    •  Henry – full time one week

    Project Planning Template 5th Step – Break Down to Individual Tasks

    The last of the five steps in creating the project plan is to decompose those major deliverables developed in the second step. You break them down into smaller deliverables until you reach the level of a deliverable that’s an appropriate assignment for one team member. That’s the level of your work breakdown structure (WBS). It completes the project planning process in the project plan template. Then you can move on to the scheduling process.

    Project Planning Template in Practice

    In many organizations, project planning is a combination of vague generalities about the objective of the project. But the one thing that is often rock solid is the completion date. That date is frequently the only measurable project result. Because project managers don’t know what the executives want them to deliver, they have no ability to exercise control over the scope of the project. As a result, the objectives change weekly. Project team member assignments are vague and ever-changing. That is why estimating is inaccurate and why 70% of projects fail when they are planned that way. Let’s look at the best practices for project planning and then look at a project plan template for projects of different size.

    Project Planning Template “Best Practices” In the Real World

    Very often, project managers face a difficult organizational environment. The organization lacks the processes to do project management right and the executives don’t know how to play their role correctly. In these situations, the PMs need best practices that allow them to do things effectively, even though the executives and the organization’s processes are obstacles and not assets. The project plan template will help. The purpose of this intense project planning process is to make all the decisions before starting work. The approach of making the project plan and then executing it is much more efficient than a “plan as you go” process. However, it is very difficult in many organizations.

    For this approach to work, the organization, its executives and project managers must do things correctly. That is, the executives must specify exactly what they want the project to deliver. They cannot make the project assignment using vague generalities where the only thing that is specific is the due date. The organization must have processes for evaluating and prioritizing projects and giving them access to resources based on those priorities. Last, the project managers must know how to do top-down project planning. That means they are able to take the clear acceptance criteria, specified by the executive/sponsor, and decompose it down to the level of specific assignments for each team member. Most organizations fail to meet one or more of these criteria and that is why we rarely see an ideal project planning process. There are two major ways to go Large Project Planning Techniques or for less paperwork and meetings,  Small Project Planning Techniques.

    Project Planning Templates by Scale of the Project

    We utilize three tiers of project plans techniques in the project plan template. They depend on the scale and complexity of the project:

    • Tier 1: Small Project Plans – Done within a department with the boss as the sponsor.
    • Tier 2: Medium Project Plans – Affect multiple departments or done for customers/clients.
    • Tier 3: Strategic Project Plans – Organization-wide projects with long-term effects.shutterstock_96175697

    Identify Stakeholders

    • Tier 1 – Identifying stakeholders is not necessary on an in-department project where the manager is the primary stakeholder.
    • Tier 2 – We must identify stakeholders across the organization and find out their requirements early. Requirements cost more late in the project than they would have at the beginning.
    • Tier three – Requires an elaborate process of surveys and interviews to identify internal and external stakeholders so we can consider their requirements.

    Project Business Case

    • Tier 1 – We often skip this since we don’t need formal project approval on an in-department project.
    • Tier 2 – Organizations with sound project management processes require a business case to justify a project’s priority versus other projects in the portfolio.
    • Tier 3 – The scale of financial and human resources usually requires detailed justification and demonstration of the strategic impact of the project.

    Project Charter

    • Tier 1 – A 1-page broadbrush plan with achievement network, risks, resources and PM authority.
    • Tier 2 – This project charter addresses the project acceptance criteria, business justification and rough estimates of the resource requirements (human and financial).
    • Tier 3 – The size of the investment in these strategic projects usually requires extensive documentation of risks, benefits and impacts on other strategic initiatives and the entire organization.

    Gather Project Requirements

    • Tier 1 – Usually limited to a meeting with the boss where the PM defines the project’s scope and decomposes it into the major deliverables.
    • Tier 2 – We survey project stakeholders for their requirements. Each requirement is reviewed and either included or explicitly excluded from the project.
    • Tier 3 – We follow an extensive process of identifying and analyzing requirements gathered from the stakeholders. It includes assessing stakeholders in terms of their interests and their ability to influence the project’s success.

    Project Scope Statement

    • Tier 1 – A short statement of the project’s desired result and the acceptance criteria.
    • Tier 2 – A more detailed scope statement that also covers assumptions, constraints and the major deliverables.
    • Tier 3 – A full scope baseline development with exploration of alternative means of delivering the project scope.

    Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

    • Tier 1 – Decompose high-level deliverables into the deliverable for each team member’s assignment.
    • Tier 2 – Decompose high-level deliverables and use WBS sections from previous projects that are similar.
    • Tier 3 – Usually developed in sections with the people responsible for that major deliverable doing the decomposition.

    Project Planning Template Summary

    This project plan template uses a five-step project planning process. You can modify the planning to fit projects of different sizes depending on their complexity. You can learn to use this template in our online Project Management Basics courses. You’ll work privately with Dick Billows, PMP, an expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.

    During an introductory video conference, you and Dick Billows, will design your program and what you want to learn. You will choose you course and select your case study from business, marketing, construction, healthcare, or consulting options.  Your case study-based assignments that include project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your project specialty.

    Lessons Learned Review

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

    Organizations need lessons learned review processes to make sure they don’t relive project failures. But these processes are ineffective in most organizations. So they make the same mistakes on one project after another. Even worse, the bigger the project failure, the less likely the organization is to learn from it. The same issues that cause a project to fail also prevent the people involved from learning from that failure. Let’s examine a typical Lessons Learned review session. Then we’ll talk about the right way to do it.  Project Lessons Learned Main Page

    Lessons Learned: Poking Through the Wreckage

    You shuffled into your Lessons Learned review session, sick and tired of the political games and the finger-pointing. Twenty minutes later, you trudged out with the voices still echoing in your head:

      “No, you’re responsible for us finishing late!”
      “Me? You kept making changes. I’m surprised we ever finished!”
      “You still aren’t finished. The crap you gave us still doesn’t work!”

    “What? We gave you what you asked for! You just didn’t train your people to use it

    “They’d need PhD’s to use what you built!”

    You walked down the hall knowing the project failure was your fault. Sure, there were some jerks involved in the project and it would be easy to blame them. But you knew that a good project manager could structure things to make even the jerks be productive.

    As scenes like this repeat themselves after each project, the organization’s processes for doing projects don’t improve. The same problems wreck project after project. But there is an alternative.

    Living Lessons Learned

    What you need instead is a “living” lessons learned process that gives the organization and its project managers an opportunity for continuous improvement. The time you invest in your post-project review should also positively affect projects that are underway. It should reinforce the use of a consistent project management methodology. You gain these advantages with a living lessons learned process conducted in three stages.

    Lessons Learned: Step 1 – Pre-Launch Peer Review

    Many of our clients use peer reviews of projects thatLessons Learned are ready to launch. That sounds fancier than it is. This just means that PM’s get feedback on their project plan from other PM’s. Sometimes they hold a live web meeting to discuss a recent plan. That gives PMs the chance to share ideas and renew their understanding of the methodology.

    While the pre-launch stage is a busy time for project managers, it’s also the point at which correcting mistakes is least expensive. The process is straightforward. Early in the project lifecycle, the other project managers review the business situation faced by the user or client. Then they independently critique the project’s strategic plan, scope statement, requirements, WBS, charter, accountability structure, team assignments and schedule. If the organization’s project management methodology places a premium on thinking  rather than paperwork, it doesn’t take the other project managers very long to review several project plans.

    In the review session itself, the other PM’s ask questions and offer ideas, which the project manager whose work is under review may use or ignore. The project manager gets the benefit of the thinking of other PM’s engaged in the same type of work. Every project manager suffers from tunnel vision as he or she works through the final development of their detailed project plan. So the thinking of other project managers who are not buried in all the details is enormously helpful. They can spot disconnects between the user’s or client’s business problem and the project plan details. However, it is important to keep this conversation up at the project management level, focusing on “Are we doing the right project for this business problem?” and “Does the planned control process make sense for the desired business result and resources involved?” The conversation should not sink into a technology debate.

    Sessions like these are effective in building consistency in the use of a project management methodology. Compliance with project management standards tends to slip under the pressure of all the work that must be done just before launch. But when project managers know their peers will be reviewing their work, they tend to comply with the standards.

    These pre-launch peer reviews are ideal for reinforcing the organization’s project management methodology. The right people are dealing with real business situations and projects, not theoretical ideals. As a result, these sessions are good opportunities to renew people’s skills in using the organization’s project management methodology.

    Lessons Learned: Step 2 – Corrective Action and Changes

    The second step in the lessons learned process is regular (usually weekly) review of project variances. The PM and team members will decide on the corrective action they will take on variances at the weekly status report meeting. Then the PM should go through the variances again. During this second round, they focus on how to avoid the same variances in the future. They also identify other tasks that are likely to have the same issue. The focus is on ways to avoid a repeat and it doesn’t take long to identify the options.

    To do this review, the project methodology must give PM’s a reliable method of identifying changes to the approved baseline schedule. The organization needs a methodology that gives the PM objective measures of project progress plus the work and cost estimates to measure the variance.

    Lessons Learned: Step 3 – Team Culture and Leadership Style

    The last step in the lessons learned process is the periodic assessment of the culture of the project team and the project manager’s leadership style. Obviously the project team members’ work attitudes and effectiveness are stroLessons Learnedngly influenced by the leadership behavior of the PM. But even a professional team may suffer in silence about the PM’s leadership rather than take the risk of providing constructive feedback.

    Constructive feedback is very useful so you have to offer a “safe” environment for team members to give it. An effective technique is to ask the team to have lunch together once a quarter without the PM. They write a summary of the PM’s strengths and weaknesses on which they reached agreement. The PM should digest the information but ask no questions about it. Most importantly, the PM should not ask them to justify any of the negative feedback. That makes the PM appear defensive. Good project managers act on negative feedback and make themselves better. Bad PM’s can’t handle the criticism and learn nothing.

    Lessons Learned Review Summary

    The lessons learned review is a three-step “living” lessons learned process for project management improvement. It is an important element in moving the organization toward delivering consistently successful projects because it is a process through the entire project lifecycle. It also contributes to developing a cadre of consistently effective project managers who get better over time and don’t repeatedly relive failures.

    More information on lessons learned

    We include this post-project review living lessons learned process in our project management methodology.  We teach it in our online project management certifications and training seminars for clients.

    Project Initiation: It’s Not Like a Fast Food Drive-through Window

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

    The Project Initiation step is often crushed  by executives who hysterically shout, “Get started quickly! We’ll plan when we have more time..this project is critical.” This hysteria saves them from having to commit to exactly what they want. Avoiding a commitment about what they want the project to deliver makes it easy to blame other people when the project fails. To be fair, however, the executive may not know what the project should produce.  A person higher up the chain of command may have dumped the project in their lap.

    Experienced project managers know the bitter consequences of skipping Project Initiation. They include scope creep, time wasted on pointless tasks and significant overruns.  So experienced PMs try to stop the freight train and say, “Sir, if the project is that critical, we can’t take short cuts. We have to initiate the project properly.  I certainly wouldn’t want to explain why we skipped the initial planning step if the project fails.”  That approach works some of the time. Project Phases Main Page

    A professional project initiation process for small or large projects addresses the following important decisions:

    1. The sponsor tells the PM how he will measure the result of the project  at the end. That is the scope of the project. It’s how will the sponsor will measure the success of the project. In other words, he defines a good job on the project with metrics (costs are reduced 23%, sales are up 10%, turnaround time is reduced 1.5 days, error rates are reduced 4%).  The end result is the target the PM and team aim for.  You will waste a lot of person hours if you don’t know the project’s scope.
    2. With the scope defined you can talk about the path to reach it from  where you are now.  You define this path with measured deliverables. These are numbers that define success, just like the scope.  Each deliverable must be a metric.
    3. Next you breakdown each deliverable until you reach the level of a task that our team can deliver in less than two weeks.

    The Project Initiation Drive-through

    Failed projects are often initiated like the sponsor ordered at the drive-through window of a fast-food joint. In this situation, you, the project manager, can’t control the scope so the project finishes late and produces very little business value. Consistent project failure usually starts when PMs and sponsors initiate projects with fast food order-taking techniques. Let’s see how this order-taking process works.

    The project manager stands at the drive-through window wearing a red and yellow cap that says “Projects Are Us.” The executive drives up in a shiny black car, stops at the drive-through window and says, “I want to clean up customer service by March 30th.”

    The project manager nods eagerly, gives the executive the “thumbs up” signal and screams at the project team:
    “You two, put some new software on the grill!”
    “Dan, dump some training into the deep fry!”
    “Monica, we need more service rep cubicles and new computers, now!”

    The executive smiles, “Wow, you know how to manage a project; no needless meetings or endless paper work.”

    The order-taker project manager gives the executive another toothy grin and says, “We are cranking and everything is in green light status. We’re already about half done.”

    The executive leans back thinking, then says,”I’d like a network with 30 nano-second response time and 50 gigamondo disk drives. And…can we add mauve wall coverings in the computer room? How about multi-lingual training?”

    The order-taker project manager grins and says, “No problem; we’re flexible. I can make any changes you want.”

    The executive frowns, “I’m in a hurry, so speed it up.”

    The order-taker project manager whirls and whispers to the project team, “Let’s go! Get something slapped together by the due date…we can tweak it later. Let’s get to it!” Then he smiles at the executive and gives the thumbs up sign.

    The executive returns two weeks later and says, “Your crappy software doesn’t work. No one knows how to use it and the new computer room is a fire hazard. The customers are still howling about being on hold too long. That’s what I wanted fixed. This is another project disaster!”

    Happy Executives at Project Initiation… or at the End of the Project

    The sad thing about this order-taking technique for Project Initiation is that it makes some executives and users happy. When you initiate projects like this, you and the team start work quickly. Executives like that. They also like that they can avoid deciding exactly what they want the project to produce. That lets them off the hook for committing to the project scope. However, the odds are nearly zero of the PM delivering a successful project and having satisfied executives/users/customers when the project is complete. This order-taking approach begins a process that allows changes every week. Why is that? Because the order-taking process does not produce a scope definition that is objectively measured or controlled. Order-taking does not make the executives commit to what they want. Even worse, when the PM acts like an order-taker, that’s how the executives perceive them. So what is the best Project Initiation process?

    The Best Practice for Project Initiation

    First, you must abandon the order-taking process of listing vague requirements and starting work quickly. Instead, you must ask questions to learn enough about the executive’s business problem so you can help them define the project scope.

    Project InitiationExecutives who are not used to project managers asking questions may resent it. But a successful project manager responds to these objections with a reasonable statement like, “How can I deliver the business end result you want if I don’t know precisely what it is?”

    Executives may not like that push back. But it’s worth some early executive dissatisfaction because it helps you define a measured business result for the project scope. It helps you avoid a list of ever-changing requirements. Let’s return to our story and see how to do this correctly.

    How to Use the Best Practice for Project Initiation

    The executive stops at the drive-through window and says, “I want to clean up customer service by March 30th.”

    The project manager answers, “Exactly what result are you looking for?”

    A flash of anger washes across the executive’s face, “Just get started. I’m in a hurry. When are you going to start work?”

    The project manager says, “We’ll start immediately after I understand the results you’re looking for. What’s the result you want from the project?”

    “I need better efficiency,” snaps the executive.

    The PM says, “I understand. How much improvement in efficiency?”

    The executive frowns in anger again, “Why are you asking all these questions instead of starting work?”

    The PM politely responds, “Because you won’t be pleased with our work if it doesn’t help you achieve your objectives. So I need to know what they are. What amount of efficiency improvement do you need?”

    “Enough to cut costs by 12% from the customer service department. We need training, new systems, new cubicles, etc,” the executive says.

    “Well, if you want to have a 12% cost reduction by cutting staff, each customer service rep will have to be able to handle 12% more customer calls.”

    The executive smiles, “Right. Then we could gradually let attrition reduce the staff. Now let’s get into the details of how to do that…”

    Using this approach, the project manager avoided starting a project that was almost certain to fail. A results-focused approach to project initiation and planning produces benefits for the entire portfolio of projects. Learn more about how to initiate and plan projects.

    You can learn all these skills in our project management courses. Take a look at the courses in your industry specialty.

    Project Planning from the Top Down

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

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

    Project Planning: A Waste of Time?

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

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

    Project Planning: A Waste of Time Reason #1

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

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

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

    Project Planning: A Waste of Time Reason #2

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

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

    Project Planning: What Is Top-Down Planning?

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

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

    project planning

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

    Project Planning: Top-Down Benefits

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

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

    Project Planning Summary

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

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

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    Project Estimator – How to Play the Commitment Game

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

    The project estimator knows how to play the commitment game. The project sponsor wants commitments about the project’s duration and cost very early in the project. The process is often political and involves much more than numbers. But experienced project estimators play the estimating game properly and don’t get caught committing to numbers that have a low probability of success.

    Project Estimator: The Tactics

    Let’s look at some of the games surrounding project estimates and then discuss what tactics the project estimator should use. In the real world, estimating a project’s duration and cost is a high stakes game. The client or executive wants an accurate estimate of the project’s costs and duration. And they want the project manager to commit to hitting those numbers. When an executive asks for those estimates during the initiation process, project estimators often respond with some of the following answers:

    1. I’m 60% confident that we can finish the project within a duration range of 3-8 months and a cost between $50,000 and $250,000.
    2. We’ll be done in approximately 5 months and the cost will come in at about $110,000. But that’s just a rough guess!
    3. I will have no idea until we detail the deliverables, estimate the work and find out how many people I will have to do that work.
    4. When do you want us to finish and what’s the budget?

    Answer #1 – It’s truthful but it enrages executives.
    Answer #2 – Executives quickly forget the“rough guess” and are happy.
    Answer #3 – It’s the whole truth but it’s useless for executives.
    Answer #4 – It’s very ingratiating to executives but it’s a project deathtrap.

    Which choice do most project managers make? Choice #2. It deals with the reality of the situation. Executives are under the gun to make cost/benefit and priority decisions about projects. There are also strategic realities that force certain completion dates on everyone.

    The project estimator, you, are caught in a vise when asked to provide estimates. That’s especially true when the scope of the project is vague and the availability of resources is largely unknown. Project estimator tactics can make this situation a little better for everyone.

    Project Estimator: The Four Stage Process

    You should announce this four-step estimating process during the project initiation process. You explain the estimates you’ll give executives in each of the four stages in the project lifecycle.

    1. Project Initiating: Use project-level order-of-magnitude estimates that are based on similar projects.
    2. Early in Planning: Use analogous estimates for major deliverables that are based on similar project deliverables.project estimator
    3. Final Stages of Planning: Use bottom- up estimates based on data from project team members.
    4. Status Reporting: Use rolling estimates weekly until the project is completed.

    Project Estimator: Stage One

    Let’s look at a four-stage estimating process that you might use on a very simple project. An executive invites you into the conference room and says, “All these weekly reports from the branches come in with different data in different formats. I want you to develop a consistent template. Pronto. This is a high priority for me and you’ll get everyone’s cooperation. I have to run to a meeting now but come back at 3:00. I want to know when you and your team can get it done.”

    You think through your experience with similar projects and access the archives for estimates from those projects. At 3:00 you’re ready and tell the executive, “During the project I will give you 4 different estimates. The accuracy will improve as I know more about the project. The best I can do now is give you a project-level, order-of-magnitude estimate based on prior experience. I’m 60% confident we can have it done in 18 to 35 working days.”

    The executive gives you a poisonous look and says, “Okay, come back when you can give me a better estimate.”

    You reply, “I can give you a better estimate as soon as we have finalized the scope and major deliverables and you have signed off on what you want.”

    The executive frowns and replies, “I was planning to delegate that.”

    You smile, “I would still need a sponsor’s signature on the scope and deliverables.”

    The executive nods glumly, “OK let’s get together tomorrow at 8:00 AM.”

    Project Estimator: Stage Two

    After the following day’s morning session, the executive frowns at you and asks, “Now, how long will the project take?”

    You look over your notes and say, “At this point, I can give you a better project-level estimate. We’re still working from the top down based on similar projects. But I can give you a somewhat tighter estimate. I’ll apply some ratios to that and give you project estimates for each phase. I’m 75% confident we can finish in 23-30 working days. Using my experience and the ratios between phases on previous projects, I can also say that I’m 75% confident of the following phase estimates:

    1. Requirements sign-off: Branch office managers sign off on requirements: 4-7 days
    2. Development test: test group can complete the template in < 60 minutes: 5-8 days
    3. Training: Users can complete the template in 45 minutes: 4-5 days
    4. Roll-out and enforcement: 95% user compliance: 10-15 days.”

    The executive frowns again and asks, “When will I get better numbers?”

    You answer, “As soon as I detail the work estimates and get commitments on the people here at headquarters and in all the branches. Then, I can give you a bottom-up estimate, which will be more precise than the top-down estimates I’ve been using. Bottom-up is more accurate because I’ll be using estimates from the people who will be doing the work. Then I’ll aggregate them into the overall numbers.”

    Project Estimator: Stage Three

    A few days later, you return to the executive’s office and say, “Here is the bottom-up estimate I mentioned. With the work breakdown structure completed and the resource commitments I’ve noted, I’m 60% certain we can finish within 24-28 working days.”

    The executive gives another slightly less venomous sigh and says, “Okay, this is getting better but I’d still like really tight project estimates.”

    Project Estimator: Stage Four

    You nod and say, “The fourth type of estimate I’ll be giving you is a revised estimate each week. As work progresses, the uncertainty will decrease and I’ll  give you new, more accurate, estimates every week. We call these rolling estimates. As an example, after the stakeholders approved the requirements, the uncertainty in the development work decreased a lot. So I can give you a much tighter estimate.”

    Project Estimator Tactics: Statistical Hocus Pocus?

    This four-step process illustrated how a project manager changed estimating techniques as the uncertainty about the project declined. In the example, the project manager used analogous estimates based on information about earlier projects. Next working top-down, the PM estimated major deliverables using ratios from prior projects. This information could have come from several sources:

    • an organizational project databank
    • commercial estimating methodologies
    • elaborate statistical analysis of previous projects.

    Whatever the source of the data, the top-down estimates provided relatively broad ranges in the overall estimates.

    In the third and fourth estimating techniques, the PM used the project work breakdown structure (WBS) and duration/work estimating techniques at the level of individual team member assignments. The numbers got a lot better because the PM used a bottom-up approach. They aggregated the estimates from project team members to develop the overall project estimate. In this bottom-up approach, the PM based the project estimate on the team member’s own estimates for their individual assignments. The fourth estimate type was rolling estimates. They’re also based on a bottom-up approach where the team members make regular weekly re-estimates of their work/duration. As the team completes tasks and deliverables each week, the uncertainty decreases and the estimates become more accurate.

    There was one consistent thread through each step. The PM had the benefit of a clear and unambiguous scope definition. And they had  measurable outcomes for each of the assignments and project deliverables. Estimating is difficult enough without the burden of a vague project scope or team member assignments that can’t be measured.

    Project Estimator Tactics: Archived Estimates

    A major step to consistent project success and vastly improved project estimates comes from archiving data from previous projects. This is a modest investment that makes the entire estimating process more effective. When data from completed projects is archived, the organization can stop playing estimating fantasy games. They have a consistent database and methodology for developing the kind of “better and more accurate” estimates we’ve been discussing.

    To learn more about these estimating techniques consider our project management courses over the Internet. You work individually with your instructor and have as many live video conferences as you want.

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    What Is a Project

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

    Are you wondering what is a project and what is not? Here is an example of a project:

    The manager of the department you work in tells you the people are wasting time getting supplies from the supply room. He wants you to do a project to fix the problem.

    Projects have a specific objective (goal). We want to achieve the goal so we have to do the project only once.  If you keep doing the same project over and over, obviously you’re not achieving the results the boss wanted.

    What is a Project: Some Examples

    The characteristics of all projects are the same. Their size doesn’t matter. All projects have a unique and specific objective. They have a beginning and end date. They often have a specific budget. The expectation is that we do them only once. Here are some examples of projects:

    • opening a new business
    • developing a computer program to process payroll
    • resurfacing a highway
    • opening a new healthcare clinic
    • What is a Projectbuilding an apartment complex.

    What is a Project: The Steps

    All of the efforts listed above are projects. All of them follow the same general steps:

    1. Project initiation – in this first step, a manager or executive comes up with the idea for the project. They give a project manager and other people an overview of the idea. The initiation process often includes obtaining approval from the organization to spend money on a project. When approval is given, we begin planning.
    2. Project planning – we need to communicate what the project is trying to produce. That’s called the scope and it’s defined by the manager or executive who initiated the project. Next the project manger develops the project plan. It includes a schedule, a budget and the people we need to work on delivering the scope. Larger projects have many stakeholders, the people who are affected by the project. So the plans for larger projects are more extensive. The project manager presents the project plan and schedule to the organization. When it’sapproved, we begin to execute the plan.
    3. Executing the project – most of the time and money on a project is spent during the executing phase. This is where we actually perform all the tasks specified in the project plan. The tasks are the deliverables that the team produces. The project executive or stakeholders review and accept the deliverables. They may also ask for changes. The project manager is monitoring everything that is happening.
    4. Monitoring and controlling – the project manager will monitor actual results and compare them to the plan. He or she will also identify differences (variances) between the two. When there are differences between the plan and the actual results, the project manager works to correct them.
    5. Closing – when the final deliverable has been produced and accepted, the project needs to be closed out. That involves holding a lessons learned meeting. It documents what we did and didn’t do well.  The intent is to have data that is useful on future projects and help avoid making the same mistakes. Archiving data from the project makes future projects easier and more successful.
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