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Archive for the ‘PM Basics’ Category

Railing Against Project Bureaucrats

Posted by iammarchhare on 3 September 2009

Being a project manager is walking a fine line.  Many mistake project management for doing EVM, making a schedule, filling out a charter, and so on.  These are functions of a PM, but they are not the most important.

TechRepublic posted “Managing innovative projects: Don’t mistake the map for the journey” by Rick Freedman.  Freeman writes about these paper pushers who “manage” projects:

When I teach project management, I often draw a distinction between project managers and project bureaucrats. We’ve all had encounters with project managers who turned into bureaucrats. Project bureaucrats are more interested in ensuring that every step of the methodology is applied and every line of every form is filled in than in what’s actually happening on the ground. On the other hand, it’s common to meet project managers who apply minimal project methodology, yet, through their expert use of relationships and personal interactions, always seem to know exactly where the project stands.

He goes on to give an excellent example of a project failure.  That is, it was a bureaucratic failure.  Yet, the product was an ultimate success.  The product was the film Titanic.

So, how does he view being innovative while still maintaining project discipline?  You’ll need to read his article to find out.

Posted in Agile, Leadership, PM Basics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Highlights From Seth’s Blog

Posted by iammarchhare on 20 August 2009

Most of you know by now that I enjoy Seth Godin’s blog.  You’d be amazed how many of his posts relate to project management as well.  Here are some highlights from this month:

1. “All storms are perfect” makes the point that a perfect storm can be anticipated.  I don’t want to give his whole post away (it’s very short), but notice where the actual failure is in his example.  Now, ask yourself, “What sort of ongoing verification have I put into place once this project has been completed?”

2. Godin tackles a requirements definition problem in “Are we solving the same problem?”  If you’ve ever had to sit through some large vendor’s sales pitch, you surely can relate to this post.  How many sales people drone on and on about features you aren’t even interested in?  Worse, have you ever delivered a project only for the enduser to say, “That’s not what I wanted”?  Perhaps you were, like the vendor sales person, focusing on the solution and not the problem.

3. Godin’s article on “When tactics drown out strategy” reminds me of my own difficulty in separating tactics and strategy.  It is far too easy for me to focus in on details and forget why I’m trying to get it done in the first place.

4. In “Critics that matter”, Godin points out that there are critics that matter, critics that are loud and critics that are difficult.  I have alluded to this in previous posts that you won’t please everyone.  As I have stated in “Ambiguous Scope”, the sponsor needs to define for you when a project is “done”.  It needs to be measurable.

However, there will be other key stakeholders on the project that you need to identify and engage them in shaping requirements.  They are called “stakeholders”, but don’t kid yourself that all of them have a stake in “the project”.  Don’t lose sight of the fact that their real concern is in the product being produced!

You know the audience is somewhat different, the tools are different and even the emphasis is different, but there are a lot more similarities between marketing and project management than either side will admit!

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A New PM Resource: The Lazy Project Manager

Posted by iammarchhare on 13 August 2009

I came across a unique resource called “The Lazy Project Manager”.  While it is a serious discussion about a serious topic, the website is anything but dry.  While the sentences can be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it provides a unique look at project management.

Apparently, the website is based upon the book The Lazy Project Manager by Peter Taylor, a speaking and project management professional based in London.

“Lazy” is used in the sense that focus is placed where it counts.  “Lazy does not mean Stupid.”  “Lazy does not mean Unsuccessful.”

My only real gripe about the site is that, in Firefox at least, the homepage has a huge gap in it, and, if you aren’t paying attention to the scrollbar, it is easy to miss the fact that there is more information near the bottom of the page.

Anyhow, I’ve only been through about 1/3rd of the pages, and it is an interesting read.

Posted in PM Basics, References & Resources | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Not Everyone Should Be a Project Manager

Posted by iammarchhare on 5 August 2009

Josh Nankivel wrote an interesting article on Project Management Tips on 29 June 2009 “Run Away! (And Other Helpful Advice For A Career in Project Management)”.

I am passionate about project management in general, and helping people new to the field more specifically.

But let’s be honest. We’re all nuts.

Well, I have been hearing these voices lately.  They talk to me in the car during road trips.  I think it’s coming from this thing called a “radio”…

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Real life project management: Projects, programs and operations of a house

Posted by iammarchhare on 4 August 2009

I have published a new article on Associated Content titled “Real Life Project Management: Projects, Programs and Operations of a House”.  Here is an excerpt:

Project Management Lessons from “Real Life”

Projects, programs and operations are all necessary parts of a business. How do you tell them apart? Let’s relate this to an item most of us can readily identify with: owning and maintaining your home.

Owning your own home is a rewarding experience. However, it is also a lot of work. All things need maintenance. The larger and more complex the system, the more it will need maintenance. A house is one of the largest and most complex item most of us will ever own. Not only is a house a system, but it is a superset of many other subsystems: plumbing, electrical, heating, etc.

Is maintenance part of ongoing operations, then? Is maintenance a project item? Or is maintenance a program? I want to show you that the correct answer is, “Yes.”

You can read the rest here.

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Real Life Project Management: Lessons From Making Sourdough Bread

Posted by iammarchhare on 3 August 2009

I have published “Real Life Project Management: Lessons From Making Sourdough Bread” on Associated Content.  Here is an excerpt of the article:

Another Example of How We Use Project Management in “Real Life”

I like fresh sourdough bread.  I also like making it because it is such a stress reliever.  It also has some lessons to it, though, so bear with me.

First, you mix up the flour, salt, sugar, oil, baking soda, sourdough starter and water and beat it with a spoon for about a total of one minute.  Then, you add in flour until the mixture is stiff, throw some flour on a surface, dump the dough onto the four and proceed to beat it up.  Literally.  Except, bakers call this “kneading the dough”.

After you let this ball rise for a few hours, you then “punch” it down.  You are supposed to let it “rest” for 5 minutes, but I often get impatient and cut that short.  You then throw more flour on a surface and, you guessed it, beat it up again.  This time, though, you are kneading it until it gets to the shape and consistency of what you want.  You then let that rise and bake it.

Who knew that baking was so violent?…

You can read the rest here.

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Why “Waste Time” on a Project Charter?

Posted by iammarchhare on 30 July 2009

It is interesting to me that even in places that have a project management process, the project charter is one of the most neglected pieces of it.  A project charter is sort of like a mission statement for a company.  It provides direction for the project, and periodic review of it will help to focus the entire team on what they are trying to accomplish.

Jamal Moustafaev of Thinktank Consulting wrote “How And Why Do We Write Project Charters?” that covers some excellent concepts around the project charter.

And yet, there are a couple of items that I don’t quite agree with.  Moustafaev writes:

“Hey, you know what you have to do; why waste time?” I have heard this question countless times from my managers and customers. One of my bosses went as far as saying, “What do you mean you need a week to write a project charter?! We are already late with this project and you are telling me you plan on wasting five full man-days on writing a charter? You know what you have to do, I know what has to be done and your team members understand the scope of work … why do you insist on writing that document anyway?”

I am trying to think of a single project where I needed an entire week to write up a charter.  In fact, I myself would seriously question anyone who wanted to take that long to do it.  Perhaps my reasoning will become clearer in a moment.

I agree that the project charter fills a need on 2 basic levels.  There is the project need, and there is the portfolio need.

For the project need, Moustafaev writes:

Let’s examine the micro view first. Basically project charter is a list of several questions that have to be answered, at least at a high level, before you are supposed to proceed ahead with a project.  The rule that I always continue to repeat to my students is that no matter how small your project is, if you can’t provide the answers to the questions you are about to see in the next sections of this article, maybe, just maybe, you are not entirely ready to proceed or do not have a project at all. Having said that, you do not have to write a project charter when planning to renovate your bathroom but you still have to know the answers to these questions either at the conscious or unconscious level. Some of these questions include:

  • What problem are we solving?
  • Where do you want to get to and by when?
  • How much money would we need?
  • How long will it take?
  • What kind of resources and materials will we need?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I see a problem already.  Keep in mind, the project charter is done in order to initiate the project, so it is done before planning.  The PMBOK® 4 says:

The approved project charter formally initiates the project.  A project manager is identified and assigned as early in the project as feasible, preferably while the project charter is being developed and always prior to the start of planning.

~ p 73

Furthermore, the project charter is an input to the project management plan.  The output of the project management plan includes the scope, schedule and cost baselines (p 82).

So, not only do I see an issue with what he wrote above, but also with:

Here are some of the examples of well-written project objectives:

“Design and build a prototype of a universal bottle corkscrew opener that complies with the department store specification by June, 2008 (SMART)”

“Complete the registration process for enrolment in the first year of the ABC University’s Business Administration program by May 2010 (SMART)”…

The only way this is going to work is to do the charter, go through planning and the update the charter once things like actual times and effort are known.  Otherwise, things like the amount you are going to spend or the duration of the project are basically just throwing darts at a board blindfolded in the dark.  And, if they are wrong in the charter, they will be more confusing and worse than if there are no such estimates in the charter at all.

However, Moustafaev more than makes up for this in other areas.  I particularly like his tie-in with net present value (NPV).  Unfortunately, it is pretty rare in my experience for a PM to get the time needed to weigh such factors or influence the decisions in such a manner.  Usually, these calculations, if done at all, are done before the PM is even assigned to the project.  Furthermore, options, and especially costs of other options, are often not shared with the PM.  However, it is handy to have in mind in case such information is available or can be asked for in a meaningful manner/environment.  In fact, he does step through some useful examples of how it can be effective.

So, give this a read.  It is only about 10 pages long, but it contains a lot of material, as you may have guessed by now.

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Real Life Project Management: Economic Lessons from Mulching

Posted by iammarchhare on 27 July 2009

I republished the article “Real Life Project Management” as “Real Life Project Management: Economic Lessons from Mulching” on Associated Content.  I intend to make a “Real Life Project Management” mini-series.

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What Are the Basics of Project Management

Posted by iammarchhare on 14 July 2009

Yesterday, I pointed you to a Helium article on the “Basics of Project Management”.  I also posted a Helium article on “What are the basics of project management?” with quite a different approach.  Which do you like better?

What are the minimal items you need to run a project? If you want a decent shot at project success, there are certain elements you need to address, either formally or informally. The larger the project, the more important it is to address these elements formally. Except for very small projects, at minimum, you need a project charter, project team, requirements, project scope statement, work breakdown structure, project schedule, risk and issues plan and a quality test plan.

Before getting into each of these areas, it is important to understand that a key project management concept is progressive elaboration. Each of the items being discussed may change as a result of the process of progressive elaboration. That means clarity is added to a plan when a greater level of detail is achieved as more specific information is discovered. Requirements, for example, will start at a very high level and will be lacking a great deal of detail. As requirements are gathered, however, they become more specific and concrete.

You can read more here.

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Basics of Project Management

Posted by iammarchhare on 13 July 2009

Here is an excerpt from my Helium article on “Basics of project management”:

A project manager (PM) has many tools in the project management belt. Here are some of the more useful things to know about when running your project.

The first and most important thing to remember is that the project is supposed to produce something. It is far too easy for a PM to manage the project schedule, project meetings and project documentation, but forget why the project exists in the first place.

People make up your team. People are, well, people. A good PM is as competent at handling people as the technical stuff.

You can read more here.

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