Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with - or even disagree with - leave a comment.

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Getting Out of Trouble

Project trouble can hit from a blind spot, even though you tried as much as possible to prepare for issues. You did a risk analysis when you took the project on, and even tried to be ready to mitigate unknown issues.   

As I advised in my previous post, do an assessment to determine the problem. Figure out what needs to be fixed, or if the situation is even fixable. If the project seems to have reached a point of no return, here are some tips on how to pull it out of trouble:

  1. Seek out your sponsors. They should be the source to go to when trouble arises. Not only is it likely they will have encountered something similar in the past, but they can also provide additional budget funds, more resources or reinforcement for areas in conflict.
  2. Consult with your team. Bring everyone together, discuss the problems surrounding the project, and begin to discuss counteraction and next steps. Steer away from blame and trying to determine who is at fault. Beware especially of ganging up on the customer. Team members may want to take the position that it's the customer's problem, not the team's. But be clear that the point of getting together is to determine how to solve a problem project, not pass it off as someone else's fault. Instead, gear questions toward possible solutions and the support needed to achieve them. 
  3. Rely on backup and supporting information. Most likely, you will have monitored risks and issues all along and kept a good repository on your project. If so, you will be able to locate the exact information that helps address your problem. For example, you may be over budget because equipment purchases ate even beyond what your contingency allowed, and now a project sponsor or customer may be questioning the overrun. You should be able to pinpoint the authorization you received to make that purchase. 
  4. Enlist outside resources, if needed. Lessons learned or a fellow project manager could be consulted for knowledge transfer and experience. You could even call in an outside contractor for a specific need. 
  5. Remember that a halt is an option as well. Most times, this is seen as negative, and the project is considered a failure. But that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes, halting the project is the necessary solution, and it doesn't have to have horrific implications. If it isn't halted, the project could accumulate astronomical costs. The trouble could consume the project to the point where it would need to be shut down. A halt can also help you assess if the project is still meeting objectives (which could be the source of the problem). Stopping the project in its tracks could help you to determine if you need to redirect funds and/or resources. 

Finally, keep in mind that not all trouble devours all. Before panicking, calmly look to areas that will guide you to a solution. You may even find your project is more sound than it seems.

How do you confront trouble on your project?

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: October 15, 2013 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tips for First-Time Global Project Managers

A project manager's first global project marks a pivotal time in professional development. A project with global scope offers an exciting opportunity to work with people from many different cultures and skill sets. 

However, global projects also come with unique challenges. These can include large physical distances between implementation teams, language barriers, country-specific regulations and other considerations that can negatively affect your project.     

To get off to a good start, project managers need to manage the differences between global and co-located projects within these essential elements: 

1. Requirements: On a co-located project, there is a single set of project requirements. On global projects, it is common to encounter both global (such as quarterly financial reporting) and country (such as provincial tax) requirements. Failure to consider them can cause painful functional gaps upon implementation. Work with your project leadership team to define a prioritization scheme for both types of requirements. For example, prioritize the country requirements by regulatory mandate, business value and desired need. A prioritization scheme helps you achieve overall balance in meeting the project success criteria.  

2. Estimation: A global project typically features added complexity and costs not found with a co-located project. This calls for estimation to include additional effort to manage the previously mentioned requirements, as well as cross-geography coordination. The latter can include things such as team member travel time and global communications. In addition, there can be additional costs, such as import duties on equipment, that can add to the overall estimate. To ensure good estimation, identify global and local estimation components to more accurately account for the additional complexity.

3. Scheduling: Scheduling milestones, effort and resources on global projects is one of the greatest challenges for a project manager. The first thing to remember is to include country-specific scheduling considerations, such as regional holidays and vacations. In addition, always leave room in the schedule for project risks that can arise from unstable governments, new regulations and labor disputes. Finally, be prepared for unexpected surprises from nature, such as snowstorms, floods, volcanic eruptions and other disruptions. If such an event happens, meet with your leadership team to discuss whether to reset the project schedule around the unexpected surprise.  

While global projects can present some unique problems, they also can be very rewarding when managed properly -- even if a volcano erupts! 

What tips do you have for first-time global project managers? 


Posted by Kevin Korterud on: August 15, 2013 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Plan for Special Events on Your Project Calendar

The months of July and August have a few events that can put kinks in your project plans in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

During the summer, for example, temperatures can reach as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius).

Project managers working with or in the Muslim world also need to plan for Ramadan, when the majority of the population fasts between sunrise and sunset. Then there's Eid al-Fitr, a national holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. Its importance is similar in scale to Christmas or Yom Kippur.

These combined events mean project managers must plan meticulously to ensure minimum disruption to their project schedules.
 
During this one month, the expected impact on the construction sector alone is a reduction of productivity by 40 to 60 percent. The main causes are heat and a fasting workforce that is unable to work at full capacity.

Additionally, project managers in construction face government constraints, which forbid laborers to work more than six-hour shifts in the day. They must stop working at noon and wait until it gets cooler to start again.

To keep project schedules moving during the very hot weather and major holiday, the key is to plan, plan -- and plan some more. These planning best practices can help:

  1. Begin planning for special events about three months prior. The project manger should meet with the customer, contractors and suppliers to agree on expectations, tasks and deadlines.
  2. Determine activities that can be moved up or delayed to compensate for risks during the special event, such as climate, absent staff and lower productivity.
  3.  Employ more staff to compensate for loss of productivity. 
  4. Keep a sharp eye on daily logs. Doing so will minimize risk -- especially in cases where work hours or the calendar have been altered and extra resources have been employed.
  5. Communicate with teams on when they expect to complete tasks. Coordinate dates and lines of escalation in the absence of managers.
  6. Ensure health and safety of employees in the work place. In the case of heat, plan for generators to cool work sites, for example. Provide plenty of water, appropriate clothing and equipment.
How do you plan for special events in your project calendar?
 
Posted by Saira Karim on: July 31, 2012 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Project Risks + Proactivity = Success

Risk management as a best practice is critical to project success. It forces the team to consider the deal breakers on a project, and to proactively prepare and implement solutions.

PMI's recent 2012 Pulse of the Profession report found that more than 70 percent of respondents always or often use risk management techniques to manage their projects and programs and these practices lead to higher success rates.

Here's an example of how risk management could have saved a project:

A project manager oversees an electrical team that is responsible for installing electrical and audio-visual equipment. The construction and civil engineering teams hand over the completed and decorated site, ready for the final phase of the project. To the project manager's dismay, the projectors do not align with the screens, rendering them not fit for the purpose.

What went wrong?

The civil and construction teams had altered the dimensions of the rooms; the customer failed to communicate the changes to the electrical team. Assuming the project was executed according to plan, the project manger planned and submitted the electrical drawings based on the original dimensions of the room. These plans were made redundant when the room dimensions changed, which upset the equipment's position.

To correct the situation, the project manager drew and submitted new electrical drawings. The site's walls and ceilings had to be reopened to accommodate the changes, which caused delays and increased cost, rework -- and frustration.  

Had there been a robust risk identification and implementation plan, they would not be in this situation. Too many assumptions were left unchallenged and risks pertaining to the many external dependencies were overlooked.

As part of this risk management, proactive communication with the customer and other teams should have been planned. For example, the project manager should have considered and asked questions about how the contractors and sites would be monitored and controlled. What would the frequency and type of communication be like with stakeholders?

There should have been an assessment of 'what if' scenarios. What happens if the deliverables are not as expected? What are the risks if there are problems with contractors? What is the impact of not having dedicated resources on the team?

These types of discussions and questioning would have alerted the project manager and team to proactively plan to manage the quality of contractor work and employ the necessary resource on the project team.

Do you practice risk management? How does risk management planning make your projects successful?

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.

See more on the Pulse of the Profession.

Posted by Saira Karim on: July 03, 2012 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

A Project With No Project Charter?

Also known as the project initiation document, the project charter is a high-level document created at the start of a project and referred to throughout the project's duration. It is the foundation of the project, a basis for how the project can evolve. The charter should state the purpose, main objectives and vision for a project.

Many project professionals may consider the project charter as 'more documentation' or a 'mere formality.' But the truth is that if they start to consider creating a charter as a best practice, many problems or issues can be eliminated.

However, I regularly meet project managers that manage their projects without referring to or even knowing the existence of their project's charter.

Why?

Here are some reasons a charter is left out, based on my experience:

  1. Project management immaturity, lack of project approaches or poor project governance by the sponsor or organization. There's a lack of awareness for the need of a charter or formal authorization process.
  2. At project initiation, there are no clear measurable objectives or reasons for the project. Hence, there is nothing to write.
  3. The charter may have been written, but is filed away or lost within the organization's documentation system. This could be a symptom of high staff turnover or poor information systems.
  4. Requirements and other changes to the project deemed the existing project charter obsolete.
  5. The project has been initiated or is continuing without real executive commitment. 
  6. The project is considered too small or simple to be chartered, so writing a charter is considered a 'waste of time.' 
  7. A charter may exist but contains information that is rigid. Details, budgets and milestones may be unrealistic and unachievable, and therefore not referred to.
  8. Alternatively, the metrics and information contained in the charter may be too broad and ambiguous and therefore not referred to.
However, without a charter, a project is headed for problems including:

Risk of diminished value and importance of a project, if its purpose and strategic benefit are not documented, agreed and formally recognized.

Delayed decision-making. Getting management and sponsors to sign off on things becomes difficult. There is no one to champion for the project and responsibility for it is passed around.

Difficulty managing expectations. Without a collectively agreed to charter, there may be frequent disruptions and disagreements from stakeholders. They will have differing intentions, opinions and understanding of the project's outcomes.

Risk of failure. When there is no clear, recorded statement of a project's goals, it's more prone to fail. The project charter includes the business case and other additions, which serves as a constant reminder of the project's vision, mission and critical success factors.

Lack of authority. The project manager will be plagued with problems from lack of authority to spend the budget, the ability to acquire and assign resources, and a general power needed to make day-to-day decisions and actions. This will also make it harder for the project manager to attract good suppliers, vendors and resources to work on the project. This can create a culture of dissatisfaction and apathy within the existing project team.

Subject to scrutiny, delay and bureaucracy. The project can expect numerous changes and deviations, which increase the risk of not delivering and reaching the projects goal. It could eventually become a financial burden to the organization.

Do you know of any other reasons why a project charter would not be created? How can the lack of a charter plague a project?
Posted by Saira Karim on: May 24, 2012 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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