The Money Files

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts.

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How to demo your project deliverables

What you need to know about your project supplier

In Memoriam: Wilhelm Kross

Get the most out of a conference (video)

How to handle out of hours work

How to demo your project deliverables

Categories: tips

Demos and prototypes save your project time and money because you can get early feedback. I’ve talked about that before (in this video) but a couple of people have asked me for some more tips around setting up demos. And I’m very happy to oblige.

Let’s get on with it then, shall we?

The demo environment

Pick a nice room. By that I mean one that is large enough to fit everyone in comfortably and that’s got enough power sockets. Everyone brings a device along these days and they all need plugging in.

Understand the room’s heating and lighting controls. You don’t want people getting fidgety because they forgot their jacket – you want them concentrating on your amazing project deliverable.

If you are doing your demo via a web conference, get the software set up well before you expect everyone else to join the call. Test your microphone and headset and make sure you can share control of the screen with your co-presenters, if you have any.

Set expectations

Manage the expectations of the people in the room. Are you showing them a very rough outline of a product, a prototype that doesn’t quite work properly yet, a feature-rich almost-finished product, or the final thing? Set their expectations around what they are going to see so they aren’t disappointed when features don’t work or when you tell them it’s too late to change the colour because you’ve already ordered 30,000 in blue.

Review your objectives

What is it that you want people to get out of this demo? You can organise a demo or show people a prototype for a number of reasons such as:

  • To get buy in for your proposal
  • To ensure you are on the right track
  • To get feedback
  • To confirm your understanding of requirements
  • To keep your stakeholders engaged on the project
  • To show someone a finished product prior to delivering testing on how to use it.

Think carefully about why you want to do this demo and what outputs you are expecting. Do your demo attendees have the same understanding as you? It’s worth running through the objectives at the start of the meeting, just in case they don’t.

Get organised

Practice, practice, practice. A complete dry run is a good idea. You want your audience to notice what you are saying, not get cut off halfway through your web conference because you don’t know how to use the meeting controls.

Walk through the demo in preparation, whether you are doing it in front of a ‘live’ audience or via a computer screen.

Prepare for questions

Be ready to answer questions. You are showing them your project deliverable in anticipation of some kind of feedback so expect them to have questions about what it does, how it does that and what else it could do. Be prepared to manage the ‘wouldn’t it be great if…’ type questions if you aren’t able to consider any modifications at this point.

Provide back up materials

Your demo attendees will hopefully be so excited about what you have built that they will want to share it with their teams. Have some materials ready so that they can do that: screenshots or handouts are great, but a test login (if software) or samples (if something else) and details of how to use it are better.

This gives them the chance to play with what you have created and if you want further feedback, let them know that you are open to their ideas and provide details of how to get them to you – direct contact, via an online request form or so on.

Demos and prototypes are a really powerful tool, especially if you are delivering a software product or a tangible item. End users particularly find this sort of workshop or meeting a very valuable session as they can see what they are getting. In my experience, showing someone a demo of your product helps build engagement too, as they start to get excited and they can see the idea become real.

However, make sure that if you are doing a demo that you are in a position to comment about when they are likely to get to access the final deliverable. There’s nothing worse than seeing a demo and getting excited about the project only to be told, or you can’t have it for 18 months. Set expectations carefully!

How have you used prototypes and demos? Let us know in the comments.

 

Elizabeth Harrin also blogs at A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.

Posted on: October 11, 2014 06:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Get the most out of a conference (video)

Categories: tips, video

In this video I share 4 tips to help you get the best out of attending a project management conference.
Posted on: September 26, 2014 08:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to read a bridge (and use one on your project)

Categories: methods, reports, tips

A bridge is a way of displaying financial information in visual format. You might also know it is as a waterfall chart, or ‘the one with the flying bricks that looks like something from Mario’. It’s just a way of showing how an initial position has been affected by subsequent changes, so you can see why that would be useful for a company’s financial position. It can show changes that are positive and changes that are negative, and ends up with the new cumulative position as you can see in this diagram.

This picture shows a completely made up scenario, but I think it illustrates a point. In September, the starting position for this department was $75,000. This could represent value, profit or anything else. Then there were some things that changed. These are illustrated by the small floating boxes: the first change that happened was a positive improvement of $16,000. Then there were some other criteria, inputs and changes that also increased the situation positively.

Now we come to the black boxes. These on my chart represent money out, so let’s say this department spent $2,000 on some new software licences and $1,000 on a big party for everyone. This has had an impact on the net position so if my maths is right, the closing position on the graph, the situation in October, is now $100,000.

Great. But how is this relevant to projects?

Typically this type of bridge is used to represent financial information and you have financial information on your project, don’t you? I think it is a great way to present the impact of changes on your project budget to stakeholders. It’s useful because it’s a good visual representation of how you got from there to here and where the money went.

So you could use it to show the financial changes on your project, but there is nothing to stop you using the same layout to display other sorts of changes. Take this version, for example.

This shows you the situation in September in terms of project days. There are 150 days allocated to this project. Then there are a number of changes put forward. The green boxes show what would happen if you add those changes – the number of days spent on the project goes up (it’s not rocket science really). There are also some changes that save you time on the project. Let’s say that the big one, the 20 day time saving, is because the project sponsor has decided that the overseas office isn’t going to be included in this initiative after all, so there is no need to train those team members and you can save a whole lot of time. Another little change knocks 3 days off your project total.

If all these changes are approved, your project will now take 152 days.

When you are looking at individual changes at the change board, some stakeholders might find it hard to keep approving changes that add time. Two changes that add 10 days each? That’s huge. But when they see all the changes on the table that month laid out like this they can see that approving them all only adds 2 days to the project overall. That’s a very different story.

Of course, you might not want all those changes approved – there might be some stupid suggestions in there or functionality that would be better pushed off to a Phase 2. But using this bridge diagram gives you a new way to present the same data to stakeholders and help them decide on the impact overall.

I hope you find it useful!

Posted on: September 16, 2014 05:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Easy illustrations for your project meetings

Categories: team, tips

You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, at ProjectManagement.com this month we are really testing that theory with the features on visual project management. And not wanting to miss out, I thought I would share some drawing tips with you.

Drawing? If you are thinking now that you can’t draw, bear with me. By the end of this article you will be able to, I promise.

First, let’s think about why you should be using illustrations and pictures in your project meetings. It’s easy to come up with lots of reasons:

  • It’s fun
  • Drawings help explain complicated concepts
  • People remember drawings better than lists
  • Drawings help get everyone on the same page (ha ha! You know what I mean)
  • Drawings help remove misunderstandings about processes.

And I’m sure you can think of other reasons.

When can you use illustrations in your project meetings? There are lots of times when it is appropriate, for example:

  • Requirements elicitation workshops
  • Solution design workshops
  • Process workshops
  • Change management meetings
  • Long meetings that need something extra to keep the attendees engaged
  • Any time when you are facilitating a session and taking notes on a flip chart.

OK? Let’s get started.

Drawing people

I hated drawing at school so if I can do this, then anyone can. Think of people as a five-pointed star. Then replace the top point with a head, like in the illustration below. An easy person! You can make it look as if the person is pointing, and put them together around an object to represent breakout sessions or collaborative working.

It doesn’t take much to adapt the star concept to have pointy arms and lots of legs to represent a group. I know this particular group only has 5 legs which isn’t realistic. Six would have been better (although there are 4 heads in the front row so someone is still missing out). But you still know what it relates to, don’t you? You can see that this could represent a client group, a project team, a user community… anything.

Illustrating processes

Process maps are represented in a particular way when you are using Visio or similar to put them together in their final version. But in a workshop, you can have much more flexibility about how you draw out processes on flip charts or illustrate them on slides. And there are likely to be some processes that are discussed in meetings where you don’t want a full-blown detailed process map and a quick illustration to show that there is a process will do just fine.

Arrows are great as shortcut symbols for processes. It’s easy to draw a basic arrow, I’m sure everyone can do that. A few dotted lines and it becomes the most basic process diagram. You can write in the sections if you want to show what happens where (maybe useful for illustrating the project lifecycle in a kick off meeting?). Where your process has several different end points (like accept, reject or hold changes) you can give your arrow multiple-heads, like in the picture below.

One of my favourite types of arrow is the twisty one. It can stand for lots of things but it represents transformation. So something goes in, something happens and an output falls out the other side. It could mean that software code is quality checked, or that ‘the magic happens’ in a black box process that is being provided by a third party. But it is fiendish to draw, at least that’s what I thought.

I learned how to draw the twisty arrow and the other elements at the Oredev IT conference a few years ago, in a session about visual recoding. The speaker broke it down and I have done the same for you in the picture below.

So now you have the tools to illustrate your meetings, why not give it a go?

Posted on: August 23, 2014 05:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

5 Ways to make better decisions

Categories: tips

Projects need lots of decisions and often it can take a long time to get a decision made, especially if there are numerous levels of bureaucracy to get through. Time is money on many projects, and while I don’t often come across project teams sitting around waiting for a decision before they can move it forward, I am aware of several projects where stalled decisions have impacted delivery dates and tasks on the critical path.

Speedy decision making relies on people actually thinking the problem through, gathering data and coming to the decision – and, of course, speedy decisions are not always the best decisions.

When the decision is under your control, you’ll have to make it. How can you be better at decision-making? Here are 5 tips to help.

1. Consider the long view

Think forward: what decision would you wish you had made next month? Next year? In five years? Approving overtime might feel like the right thing to do now but how will you feel about it on your next project when you’ve already set the precedent and the team are expecting to be paid for extra hours?

Think about the long view as it relates to your decision. This will also help you put the decision in perspective. Remember back to when you took your school exams. I expect the results meant a great deal to you then, but you probably don’t even put them on your resumé any longer. The significance of actions changes with the passing of time, so think about how you’ll feel about  this decision in 10 years – you’ll probably realise that it isn’t that big a deal after all.

2. Cut out data

What data do you really need to make this decision? Strip away everything else. It might be nice to know the resource allocations for the next month, but if that doesn’t have a bearing on whether you accept a schedule change or not then they shouldn’t be taken into account.

Make sure that you are using the right data, not any data to make your decisions, and go for the minimum possible. This will help cut the mental clutter and make it easier for you to see what needs to be done.

3. Understand the impact

What’s the impact of this decision? What will happen if you don’t make it? Sometimes understanding the ramifications of a quick/slow/positive/negative decision can help you tackle it effectively (or at least gather the right information to help).

I’ve often found that the larger the impact, the easier it is to make the decision. Sometimes small decisions seem the hardest because there tends to be less clarity about  the appropriate route forward.

4. Lose the emotion

We all get attached to our projects and teams but it is best to take the emotion out of decision-making. Think about what is best for the project and the company. For example, it might be an unpopular decision to reject a change from the Marketing department, but if it doesn’t help the project meet its objectives and it costs a lot of money, then it isn’t a smart thing to recommend to your sponsor. After all, your sponsor can choose to accept or reject it – you are just putting forward an emotion-free assessment of the change.

5. Intuition isn’t always right

Many project managers report ‘going with their gut’ when it comes to making decisions or working out how to resolve problems on projects. However, the application of some technique does have benefits. Your intuition isn’t always right – ever been caught out in the rain because you figured it would be dry all day so no need for an umbrella? You can’t rely  on your gut when project dollars are at stake.

Choose the right data to support your decision. By all means include some ‘gut’ in your decision-making process but be able to back it up in case anyone asks you why you’ve made that choice.

What decision-making tips and techniques do you use, or do you tend to simply go with what feels right? Let us know in the comments.

Posted on: July 08, 2014 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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