As project managers, we’re all about the future!

By J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM 

What future am I talking about? The future of the project we’re currently managing. Why? Because everyone is obsessed with the future: you, your team, the boss, and the client.

Everyone wants to know: when will the project be done? How will it work? There’s a lot of anticipation. Yet, we are oftentimes poorly equipped to tell them, our stakeholders. We hedge our bets all the time, and we do so because we don’t regularly employ a good tool kit of techniques to help us do the hard work of predicting the future.

As project managers, we’re placed in the position of predicting the future on a daily basis, an activity that people around the world have been trying to do for thousands of years. And, they have resorted to a wide variety of very interesting techniques, such as consulting psychics and soothsayers, using Ouija boards, going to fortune tellers, and one of my all-time favorites, the Magic 8 Ball!

Of course I’m not suggesting that project managers should use any of these “tools and techniques!” I’m simply highlighting the fact that project managers are paid to do what billions of people have attempted to do  for thousands of years. Thankfully, we have better ways to do it.

How can you predict the future of your project? Here are three ways that can help.

  1. Practice Relentless Risk Analysis (RRA)

    Every time you have a meeting, use the top ten risks as your agenda. If you practice management by walking around (even if you do it virtually) you should always be asking your team and stakeholders questions about the future. For example: What risks do you see in the near term? What would we do if the top engineer left for another position? What’s the Plan B if we don’t receive the materials on time? After all, risk is a future phenomenon. The more we ask our team about risks, the more we encourage them to think about the future.

  2. Employ other tools and techniques such as strategy meetings, the Delphi technique, Monte Carlo analysis and Earned Value Management

    Convening meetings to perform scenario analysis, seeking advice from experts, using sophisticated quantitative techniques, and deciding the most appropriate formula for calculating your Estimate At Completion (EAC) are all ways you can gather the information you need to reasonably estimate where your project is headed. Reach out and engage others in the process. Project management is a team sport; use everyone and anyone you can to help.

  3. Identify your project’s “Leading” indicators and track them

    Many of the progress and performance metrics used on projects are lagging indicators. They tell us what happened in the past, and, as we know, we can’t change the past, we can only react to it. What metrics could you employ to help tell you about the future? One client used the number of tasks added to the schedule every two weeks  as a possible indication that the scope was increasing, thus impacting cost and schedule negatively. If the world’s top economists believe in lagging indicators, then you should too!

In order to reliably assess what the future holds for your project, you need to gather relevant data on a regular basis at frequent intervals. This not only instills a discipline in reporting but it enables you, the project manager, and others, to detect trends. If you are keeping track of trends, then you’ll be in a better position to see where those trends lead.

However, the key to such reporting is to ensure that the information we receive is credible. That means it is being provided by people who are trustworthy and telling the truth. It does you no good whatsoever to have your team members providing overly optimistic reports. You want the unvarnished truth. As a project manager, you simply cannot be the last know critical information that’s affecting your project.

Predicting the future isn’t easy. But with the right techniques and the right folks on the team, we can provide credible information to our stakeholders. After all, that’s what we’re paid to do isn’t it?

About J. LeRoy Ward

LeRoy Ward is a recognized thought leader in project, program, and portfolio management and the facilitator of IIL’s PM Cert On-Demand. With more than 39 years of experience in the field, LeRoy has presented to more than 200,000 professionals and authored nine publications. He is the 2013 recipient of PMI®’s Eric Jenett Award for Project Management Excellence.


Lessons Learned From My Most Important Project Management Best Practice

By Harold Kerzner, Ph.D
Senior Executive Director of Project Management, IIL 

Last year, I wrote a blog entitled My Most Important Best Practice. In the past several months, people have been asking me what I learned from this best practice. This is good news because it means that people are reading my blog.

I have modified this blog to include what I learned. As most often occurs in industry with continuous improvement activities is that the capturing of one best practice can lead to the discovery of other best practices.

During the almost five decades I have spent in the project management arena, I have collected many best practices that eventually end up in my textbooks. Most of these best practices revolve around continuous improvements to the project management methodology and result in updates to the policies, procedures, forms, guidelines and templates used for managing projects.

Actually, the wording “best practice” may be incorrect. It may be better to use the words “proven practice” because a best practice implies that it cannot be improved further. Proven practices, on the other hand, are subject to continuous updates.

There is one best practice that I have used over the years and have never been able to improve upon. I regard it as the “best” of the best practices, and it relates to how I run my life (related to project management, of course!). This best practice has not appeared in any of my books.

I spend a great amount of my time traveling and conducting seminars and workshops for the International Institute for Learning (IIL). We work with PMI chapters around the world and will send out brochures and e-mails about upcoming programs.

Once the announcements are made regarding the programs, I begin to receive e-mails from people I have never met, wanting to take me to dinner. I enjoy having dinner with the PMI chapter officers the night before the event because they tell me about the companies that will be attending and what their expectations are. This input is invaluable because it allows for some customization of the presentation.

Unfortunately it is other people, many who have no intention of attending the conference, who offer to take me to dinner for their own personal reasons. Regardless how many times I ask them the reason for the meeting, they prefer to say it’s personal and we can discuss it over dinner.

This is what usually happens:

5:30 p.m.: The individual picks me up at my hotel and drives me to a restaurant at least 30 minutes from my hotel. This means that I am now at their mercy for a ride back to my hotel and they have my undivided attention.

6:00 p.m.: We arrive at the restaurant, end up sitting in some remote location where nobody can hear us or perhaps even see us, and order dinner. My host tells the waiter that we are in no hurry and want a slow, leisurely dinner. This usually gets me nervous because I will be a captive longer than I expected.

6:10 – 7:30 p.m.: My host tells me about their life history from the age of 10 to their current age of usually 30-40 years old. This includes information about their family, their education, the number of courses they took, their grades in the courses, and what they learned. And as expected, a lot of it is totally unrelated to project management. This also includes facts about their employment history. If they have an unhappy home life, this portion of the meeting can run for another hour. When this happens, I am under the impression that my host has me confused with Dr. Phil. I pretend to listen attentively, my mind thinking about starting an IIL blog entitled Dr. Phil on project management. Recognizing that this new blog could drive me to serious drinking and drugs, reality soon returns and once again I am clueless as to why they are telling me this. The suspense in now killing me!!!  Why am I here?

7:30 – 9:00 p.m.: For the next 90 minutes, they tell me all of the facts about their current employer, especially everything that’s wrong with the company related to project management and everything they did (or at least tried to do) to correct the situation. Of course, they are very adamant that 99.99% of the problems are because of senior management. They try to make it appear that they are God’s gift to project management and yet their company does not appreciate their efforts.

During the discussion they continuously ask me, “Didn’t I make the right decisions?” or “Don’t you agree with me?” or “What would you have done if you were me?” At this point I am getting a little nervous for fear that I may not have a ride back to my hotel. I am also fearful of giving this individual my ideas for how I would handle the situation because I have no idea what they would do with the information, or whether or not it would be taken out of context. And, once again, I am still in suspense as to the purpose of this meeting.

9:00 – 9:30 p.m.: Now we get to the real issue. Since their company obviously does not appreciate their efforts, they want to leave their company and is there anything I can do to help them find employment elsewhere? I just spent 4 hours listening to someone who wants a project management position somewhere. Now I finally figure out that my host really does not believe that I am Dr. Phil or Jerry Springer, but instead thinks that I am an employment agency. And as you might expect, they now pull out a resume from their briefcase. 

You cannot imagine how many times this has happened to me. So, what’s the best practice for how to handle this situation?

  • When people ask to take me out to dinner, I ask them one question: Why do you want to take me out to dinner? This catches them by surprise and most people refuse to answer the question and try to change the direction of the conversation.
  • Relentlessly, I keep asking the same question until I get an answer.
  • If they have a valid reason, I will be glad to have dinner with them.
  • If they tell me it is a personal reason, then there’s no question in my mind that they are seeking employment and want my help. I then tell them that they can join me for breakfast in my hotel between 6:30 a.m. – 7:00 a.m. to discuss whatever they want. I make sure they understand that at 7:00 a.m. I am heading to my lecture and our breakfast meeting is over.

In 30 minutes over breakfast, all of the important information is discussed. Most of the time they decline to have breakfast with me and just send me a resume. This best practice has worked well for me for several decades. And for those of you that know me, give up the idea that any time soon I will have an afternoon TV talk show like Dr. Phil to discuss personal issues related or unrelated to project management.

Although this situation may appear humorous, it does bring up a very important point; why are some people unhappy with their current project management position and want to change jobs? To answer this question, we must ask another question; what do project managers expect from their employers such that they are happy with their position? My experience is as follows:

  • A Reasonable Salary: Most project managers that earn a reasonable salary and are happy with their job will not leave the company. Project management may very well have the lowest turnover rate of any profession. There appear to be items more important to project managers than money such as happiness on the job and quality of life. I have seen project managers refuse promotions to positions that may require that they surrender their project management duties.
  • Lifelong Educational Opportunities: Every project manager that I have ever met was proud to be called a project manager even though they were facing enormous challenges and often complained about the lack of support from their parent organization. Project managers want to perform better and better with each new assignment. Companies that are willing to support lifelong educational opportunities for their project managers have taken the first major step toward employee retention.
  • Visible Executive Support: The most common complaint I hear is that executives do not support project management. Visible executive support is needed and I stress the word “visible.” Quite often, people tell me that the executives do not understand project management and refuse to attend any type of training for executives. My experience is that most executives do in fact understand project management but do not exhibit this knowledge because they have personal agendas for their lack of support such as a fear that project managers may end up making decisions that are reserved for the executive levels or that project managers may become more powerful than the executives.

If executives want to retain competent project managers, then they must show support. There are several ways it can be done including the creation of a “wall of fame” to display project successes, congratulations that appear in the company newsletters, and reporting successes to the local media for publication.

  • Decision-Making Ability: Project managers understand that they may never have all of the authority they expect to make every decision. But they want sufficient authority to make those decisions that are commensurate with their responsibility.
  • A Pleasant Working Environment: This involves having a corporate culture where people are willing to work together freely and share information. Companies that create an internal competitive culture and refuse to share information because information is seen as a source of power end up destroying morale for project management and good people will leave the company.

Obviously there are other issues that could have been considered. But these five items are, in my experience, the most common reasons why people may wish to change companies.


The Growth in Project Management Trust

By Harold Kerzner, Ph.D.
Senior Executive Director of Project Management, IIL 

There were numerous reasons why I decided to write a book entitled Project Management 2.0. While some people focus heavily on the skills, tools and techniques used by project managers, there is also a significant change taking place at the senior levels of the organization and how they view project managers.

In the early years of project management, project managers were seen as expediters. Projects were planned and approved without any involvement by the project managers. After project approval, project managers were assigned and were then handed a series of specifications, accompanied by budget and a schedule, and told “go execute the plan.”

Executives created the position of project sponsors to provide governance of the projects and to make sure that the project managers were not making inappropriate decisions. There was also the fear that some project managers may try to make decisions that were reserved for the senior levels of management.

Project management methodologies were created based upon rigid policies and procedures so that there would be standardization in the way that all projects were managed. The rigidity of the methodologies was also to quell the fears that executives had about project managers that wanted to “do their own thing” to get the work accomplished.

Some companies did have a level of trust. But, regardless of what most people believed at that time, there was significant mistrust about project management at the executive levels of the companies.

With project management 1.0, there was often a disconnection between project management and the senior levels of management. Project managers were allowed to make some technical decisions but almost of the business decisions related to the project were made by the sponsors. This resulted in the project manager, the sponsor, and even the customer working toward different definitions of project success. This compounded the mistrust environment.

Mistrust between the project manager and the executive levels was often the result of the poor status reporting system. Most methodologies for project management report primarily metric information on just time and cost performance. Time and cost alone cannot clearly depict the true health of a project.

As a result, executives were often required to make seat-of-the-pants decisions rather than informed decisions. There was an inherent fear at the top of the company that things may not be going well but that the executives were being kept in the dark. Having partial information for decision-making and the disconnect between the project manager and senior management led to the continuation of mistrust.

The significant difference between PM 1.0 and PM 2.0 is the distributed collaboration of meaningful information. In the last five years, there has been a growth in the number of metrics used to determine the true health of a project. Combining this with the growth in the use and acceptance of dashboard reporting systems, Executives are now getting meaningful information about project status.

The growth in meaningful status information, which is a characteristic of PM 2.0, has now led to a more trusting relationship between the executive levels of management and the project managers.

This new relationship has resulted in:

  • Executives believing that they now have a much clearer picture as to the true health of the project
  • Executives now believe that they have enough information to make “informed” decisions rather than seat-of-the-pants decisions
  • The additional metric information has allowed executives to replace the rigid project management methodologies (previously based upon policies and procedures) with flexible methodologies based upon guidelines, forms, templates and checklists.
  • Executives are allowing the project managers some degree of freedom on how to apply the forms, guidelines, templates and checklists to satisfy a particular client’s needs. Methodologies are being replaced with frameworks because of the new levels of trust.

It is important to recognize that this trusting relationship will not exist everywhere. When a project has just one person acting as a sponsor, and that sponsor has some knowledge about project management and the role of the project manager, a trusting relationship can develop. But as the size and complexity of our projects grow, project governance will rest in the hands of a governance committee rather than in the hands of a single individual. As such, there may be members of the governance committee that have very little knowledge about project management and some mistrust may still exist. Finding solutions for partial governance mistrust is probably a topic for another blog. But with PM 2.0, we do expect a much great level of trust on projects.


What are Their Expectations?

By Keith Wilson, B.Comm., PMP, MCT, MCTS
Senior Trainer and Consultant, IIL 

Good project planning requires asking and answering several questions in order to begin the process.

Very often, there is a limited time to perform a needs analysis.  Therefore, it is essential that you have a framework for structuring your questions and collecting information.  The following baseball example is an excellent framework.

For many years, I have used this baseball framework as a method for gathering requirements and understanding a client’s current situation, future needs and existing problems.

KW1-1

Recently, I was asked to do a diagnosis of project management processes and solutions that were being employed by a company involved in the software development for healthcare insurance.

Going to ‘First Base’, I interviewed 18 people about the current situation.  I discovered they basically had a few forms that they filled out.  They closed projects when the customer stopped calling.

Well, I moved forward to ‘Second Base’ to discuss future needs.

Their response, “… we’ve bought 300 licenses of Microsoft Project®.  We’d like to know how to use it.  We’d like to know how to do a risk analysis, to have clear, concise and consistent scope documents and to manage change”.

I then moved to ‘Third Base’, because even as a hockey player I learned that you can’t run to home plate from second base and score a run, if you skip third base.

From my third base perspective I asked, “What kind of existing problems are you facing?”  And they indicated that they were hit during their last quarter with $500,000 in penalties for late implementations.  They also estimated they left approximately $750,000 of billable work on the table.  In other words, they had a customer calling and requesting a change.  They couldn’t really prove to the customer it was a change in scope because they didn’t have a scope document.  They were feeling guilty because, well, they were running late; therefore, they would say yes.

But in hindsight they felt the customer request was beyond scope.  If they could have proved it, they would have billed for the extra requested work, which they did not, and subsequently lost the estimated $750,000 in revenue.  We reviewed this difficult lesson learned.  We executed a staged-in solution which involved proactively solving these problems, while satisfying their specific and measurable needs.

By playing baseball, we’ve practiced Habit 5 of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen Covey, where we “Seek First to Understand” – understand things like current situation, future needs and existing problems, before “Being Understood” and phasing in our solution.

Core Questions for Key Stakeholders

“As you think about your project’s successful outcomes what is important to you?”

More Questions

1st Base Question: Where are you now with _____?

2nd Base Question: Where do you want to be?

3rd Base Question: What are the problems with the current situation?

Let’s Have a Feast 

Avoid using poorly defined, ambiguous terms, such as Effective, Efficient, Better, Faster, Improved, Profitable, and More.

It’s as if I was saying, “Let’s have a feast”.  Some people may be envisioning this feast as going to a fast-food restaurant, having french-fries, burgers and a Cola. Others may envision the feast as going to a fine-dining restaurant, sitting down with white linens, having some drinks, an appetizer, a salad, soup du jour, a sorbet and an entree with Chardonnay and finishing with Crème Brule.

The number one reason why projects fail is the lack of specific and measurable deliverables.  I imagine a majority of you have heard things like, “Make it better!”  “Faster!”  “Improve!”  “Portable” “Scalable” “Profitable” and the inevitable “User Friendly” scope instruction.

What do they mean?  They mean absolutely nothing!

When we use ambiguously-defined words like “feast” or “faster,” different people hear the same word and may have very different perceptions in defining the project scope.

So instead, what you want to do is ensure your deliverables are not dumb, but are SMART!

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Relevant

Time Constrained

Keith-1Keith Wilson is a Microsoft Project and Project Management Senior Consultant/Trainer for International Institute for Learning, Inc. His background includes over 25 years of successful management and consulting experience, with a focus that includes project management, training, and business planning. Well known for his public speaking skills and enthusiasm, he has been a welcomed facilitator at numerous Fortune 500 corporations, Universities and Associations worldwide.