Delivering Projects as Promised: Stick to the Baseline or Manage Through Change Requests?

Project Baseline and Change RequestsThe preliminary project scope statement outlines the project and product objectives, and high-level scope, schedule and budget. Requirements collections help refine various parameters which often serve as the initial project baseline.

Given that several unknowns will materialize as you progress deeper into the project, what is the best way to deal with these unknowns? Despite your best project management plan, you may not have a choice but to issue change requests to address the changing project dynamics.

Is it better to do everything in your power to stick to the initial baseline or succumb to the need to issue change requests? With the former, you will look good by keeping your promise but may end up delivering an inadequate product. With the latter, you run the risk of losing your credibility by not delivering as promised.

What should you do?

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The Ask: A Management Tool to Expedite Tasks

Project Manager's AskFrom various engagements, consultants get to see the best practices of top organizations worldwide. A good tool or technique usually becomes part of the consultant’s repertoire of best practices.

In the last few months, I have learned the concept of “the ask”. In a project, you need to have a clear understanding of the “project sponsor’s ask”. What is it that s/he is asking you to deliver?

When delegating tasks to team members, be explicit on what you are “asking” them to do. Do you want them to review the documents and provide feedback, or do you want them to edit and finalize the documents?

Instead of simply forwarding an e-mail with an FYI tell them what to do with it—“no action is needed” or “add a calendar reminder”.

A clear “ask” can expedite the completion of tasks.

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Project Management in Exactly Three Words

Project Management in Three WordsThe PMBOK® Guide used 459 pages to document the project management body of knowledge.

Inspired by Dharmesh Shah’s Startup Advice In Exactly Three Words, the list of tasks below, in rough sequence, captures the essence of a project manager’s job.

Initiating

– Develop the charter
– Identify all stakeholders

Planning

– Collect high-level requirements
– Define the scope
– Create the WBS
– Define WBS activities
– Sequence activities logically
– Assign activity owners
– Estimate activity durations
– Estimate activity costs
– Determine the budget
– Prepare the schedule
– Plan for quality
– Build the team
– Prepare communication plan
– Manage project risks
– Plan project procurements

Executing, Monitoring and Controlling

– Schedule weekly meetings
– Prepare weekly reports
– Assemble steering committee
– Provide committee updates
– Keep monitoring risks
– Ensure project quality
– Recognize good work
– Resolve issues quickly
– Adjust plans accordingly
– Communicate potential problems
– Motivate the team

Closing

– Close all contracts
– Capture lessons learned
– Celebrate project success

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Four-Step Process for Peak Performance and Productivity

Project Peak Performance and ProductivityThe four-step process below incorporates concepts from Getting Things Done (David Allen), twice-daily e-mail checks from The 4-Hour Workweek (Tim Ferriss) and techniques that I have been using successfully for several years.

  1. Take control of your e-mails: Eight Easy Steps to Eliminate E-mails. Process your e-mails only twice a day, one at mid-morning to respond to overnight and early morning e-mails, and another one at mid-afternoon to read the rest.
  2. Transform the e-mails in your Do folder into one-line action items: use the verb-noun format, e.g., Read the report
  3. Prioritize your action items: Three Tricks for Tackling Top Tasks (long explanation)
  4. Apply assembly-line techniques: work on one group of top tasks at a time by location (home, office or away) and tools (computer, phone, etc.)

Eight Easy Steps to Eliminate E-mails

Empty E-mailLearn how to get rid of the e-mails in your inbox!

These steps are based on Outlook but they can also be done with other e-mail programs.

  1. Create five folders: Do, Defer, Delegate, Document and Delete*
  2. Group related e-mails by sorting them by subject
  3. Review each e-mail and decide
  4. If an action is needed today, move it to the Do folder
  5. If no immediate action is needed, move it to Defer (right click on the message, point to Follow Up and then click on Add Reminder)
  6. If someone else should do it, Delegate it and add a reminder
  7. If the e-mail contains useful information, move it to the Document folder
  8. If you cannot decide, move it to Delete

Prioritize the Do folder daily. Revisit the rest weekly.

*Dr. Estrella’s “Deadly D Folders”

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Nine Reasons Why Project Failures Are Good

Project Management Successes and FailuresProject failures are good only if you can learn from your mistakes. With a keen eye on lessons learned and failure points, here are nine potential ways to turn a project failure into future project successes.

  1. design a case study around it
  2. update the organizational procedures
  3. institute new preventive policies
  4. add an item in the risk checklist
  5. document symptoms of the failure points
  6. create a gate-driven diagnostic tool
  7. revise the project management training manuals
  8. train the staff on how to prevent similar problems
  9. use as a basis for quantifying project failures

There are times when you can learn more from your project failures than from your project successes. As long as you keep your mistakes small by making them early, you can use them to become a better project manager.

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Project Management Certifications Are Worthless

Project Management CertificationsDon’t bother with project management certifications if your primary reasons include getting instant fame and fortune. Adding the PiMP designation after your name will not make you an overnight sensation even if your name is John! And no, the new iPMP designation is not the latest iPhone.

Only consider getting a project management certification if you are willing to:

– change your old habits
– standardize your terminologies
– learn additional tools and techniques
– commit to professional development

And, your organization will agree to:

– change ineffective and inefficient processes
– aspire for consistent and repeatable results
– reward your efforts based on project results
– expect that success will not happen overnight

It takes two to tango. Likewise, certifications are only valuable through mutual commitments. If you can’t tango, you might as well not give it a go!

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19 Reasons Why Project Management Is Useless

Project Management Is UselessProject management will remain ineffective and inefficient unless the:

Project sponsor

1. Gives a clear project objective
2. Helps craft a well-defined scope
3. Removes project obstacles
4. Mediates disagreements
5. Supports the project team

Customers or end-users

6. Help refine the project scope
7. Convey their requirements fully and clearly
8. Avoid changing their minds frequently
9. Adhere to the change management process

Subject matter experts

10. Highlight common pitfalls
11. Help vs. hinder decision making

Project team

12. Buys in to the project objective
13. Identifies all required tasks
14. Provides accurate estimates
15. Reports progress truthfully
16. Delivers on commitments
17. Focuses on business value vs. technical features

Project manager

18. Recognizes that there is no “I” in project
19. Resolves issues and risks that may arise from the 18 items above quickly, efficiently and effectively.

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Fail-Proof Your New Year’s Resolutions

Project Management and New Year's ResolutionsProject management can help you achieve your New Year’s resolutions. I have to admit, however, that I have not been so good for the past seven years.

Pawel Brodzinski’s blog post challenged me to clean up my act. For 2010, I will make the following SMART changes.

  1. Divide multi-year goals into one-year chunks (specific and measurable)
  2. Limit my goals to 12 versus as high as 24 in 2003 (achievable and realistic)
  3. Set interim milestones for each goal (time-constrained)
  4. Stick to the plan

For 2010, I will take a French course, become a master scuba diver, run my fifth marathon, earn the PgMP, publish three books, produce Chief Scout Award recipients, visit Western Canada with my family, max out our RRSPs, contribute to my children’s RESPs, reposition Agilitek, license an intellectual property and consult/speak in another country.

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How To Create Visual Project Timelines

Project TimelinesConsider using Microsoft Visio if you need to quickly put together a high-level timeline to share with your project sponsors and team members. If needed, you can easily embed the visual timeline into a regular document or a presentation slide deck.

In Visio 2003, on the File menu, point to New, point to Project Schedule and click on Timeline.

In Visio 2007, Project Schedule is simply called Schedule.

Drag the block, line, ruler, divided or cylindrical timeline into the drawing area.

Add a bracket, block or cylindrical interval as appropriate.

If needed, add an expanded timeline to provide more details to a portion of the timeline.

Jazz up your timeline by adding milestones (diamond, square, circle, X, triangle, 2 triangle, line, pin or cylindrical).

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