Project Management

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.

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5 Signs of a High Priority Project

One of the issues with managing multiple projects is that everyone thinks their project is top priority and they all have to show some progress by the end of the month. I wrote a book about that (inspiringly called Managing Multiple Projects) and there are lots of things I could teach you about keeping all the balls in the air.

However, today I want to focus on one thing: helping you understand what makes a project a priority.

You might think this is an odd subject, because your PMO creates prioritisation lists and everyone knows where they sit in the order. But there are many companies that don’t have that level of structure. Or they do… but everything on the list is a Priority 1.

Here are 5 signs that your project really should be a high priority project.

1. It contributes to a strategic objective

Does your project directly align to strategy? Does it deliver something, or a part of something, that is on the strategic roadmap? Can you link it to a corporate objective? If you can, then it’s probably high priority.

I believe that there is a place for non-strategic projects, as there are peaks and troughs in project work and time enough to get other things done. But if your project gets a mention on the strategy deck that was shown at the last corporate Town Hall, then it’s a high priority for the organisation.

2. It is documented as a priority

There’s an obvious way of checking: if your PMO has a priority list, where does your project fall on it? As I’ve said above, having a list isn’t always a sure-fire sign that prioritisation is actively happening. If you read through the list and see that everything is a High Priority, move on to the next criteria below to assess what your ‘real’ priority is!

3. It is an enabler

Wi-Fi upgrades, telephony, laptop replacement schedules, infrastructure projects… they might not sound top priority, but if they enable something else then they are critical.

You can’t launch a new sales portal on a creaking infrastructure. You can’t build a new office if the foundations aren’t in place. This kind of project might plod along in the background but it’s an important one.

4. It gets a lot of attention

Do you have execs dropping by your desk asking for updates? Does your project sponsor return your calls quickly?

Projects that get a lot of attention are high on management’s radar. If the senior leadership team thinks it is a priority, it probably is.

However, they might also think it’s important as it is their pet project. Check to see how many people are giving the project attention. If it’s just the one, it might be a vanity project, and not something that is important to the organisation overall.

5. It is adequately resourced

OK… this one isn’t a perfect sign. I know a few high priority, strategic projects right now that are struggling for resource.

But generally, priority projects have the budget and support to secure the resources they need. I’ve worked on projects where resources have been pulled off to go and do something else – that’s a sure sign that my project was not as important as someone else’s.

If you have the people, time, budget and other resources that you need, you can bet that someone is enabling that to happen and there are routing for the project to be a success.

Would you agree with this list? What other signs have you seen that point to your project being an important one? Let me know in the comments below!

Posted on: September 13, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

3 More Skill Areas to Support Your Team With

Last month, I looked at 3 areas where project managers can mentor and support their team members: risk management, task management, and managing multiple projects. Today I’m looking at 3 more areas where I know people struggle – and where project managers are uniquely placed to be able to help them do a better job.

1. Managing scope

Project scope changes regularly – we all know that having a change management process in place is good project management practice. But dealing with constant changes is hard work for the team, even if the right process is followed.

Address this by:

  • Make sure they know what the process is and that changes are likely to happen.
  • Build resilience. For example, talk together about what the impact of changes is going to be before you get a change.
  • Be clear on what is a change and what is a normal evolution. For example, some small document or schedule changes don’t need to go through change control if they don’t have any real impact. Just do them.
  • Keep boundaries: Don’t say yes to everything, and be prepared to push back on change requests if necessary.

2. Scheduling

Project scheduling is more than simply putting tasks in a list. It’s about managing dependencies and the resources to do the work. It’s understanding how to crash the schedule when you need to save some time and what risks that presents to your projects.

As a project manager, you’ve got a great set of skills to help others on the team understand how to schedule their own work. If they aren’t confident at scheduling you can coach them through it.

Address this by:

Help them use the right tools. You can’t build out a schedule in Excel, not a proper one. Get them access to the right software and show them how to use it.

Understand the flow of the project and what has to happen in what order. Help them understand the dependencies and the different ways tasks link to each other.

Make sure estimates are accurate so they are scheduling with data that’s actually going to stand up.

3. Budget planning

In my experience, project managers tend to worry about handling the financial aspects of projects, and that isn’t necessary. If you manage your household budget, the principles are pretty similar! It has also been my experience that we are expected to pick it up as we go. I don’t think I’ve ever had any specific, company-relevant training on how to work with Finance and do project budgeting.

However, junior colleagues or those who haven’t had to manage big numbers before might need a confidence boost and some support with this skill. Especially if they are in the same situation of never having been shown how to do this before.

Address this by:

  • Helping them understand the workings of Finance. Get to grips with what the budget process is so you can share the information.
  • Understand the calendar for Finance, for example, when year end falls and when quarterly forecasting happens. Then they can provide the right information at the right time.
  • Get them set up with the right templates and support. Link them up with colleagues in Finance who can advise.

There are lots of ways we can help colleagues and mentor them; these are just 3 areas that I find come up time and time again. What about you? What do you get asked about the most? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: July 05, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

3 Skills Areas To Help Your Team With

These days, project teams are expected to do so many different things, from deep dive root cause analysis to making sure that projects align to strategy. As a team, you’re both in the weeds of the project and also trying to communicate the big picture to stakeholders.

Let’s face it, it can be difficult to have all those skills – I mean, have you seen the latest PMBOK® Guide?! Between that and the Standard for Project Management there are hardly any management and leadership skills that a project manager is not supposed to have.

However, we aren’t able to say, “I’m not very good with PowerPoint so we won’t create slide decks for status reporting.” We have to be all-rounders, even if we aren’t very good in some areas, or don’t enjoy those tasks.

Here are 3 skills for project managers that I know from my mentoring work that people in project roles have difficulty with. I’ve also included some tips for how to improve, if you choose to do so. If you lead a team and find your colleagues struggle in these areas, perhaps the ideas will help them.

1. Risk management

Large programmes may have a dedicated risk manager on the team, but if that isn’t you then you’ll have to get stuck in with risk identification, analysis and management yourself. In my experience, there are several areas that people struggle with:

  • Risk identification: making sure it is not a one off exercise
  • Risk analysis: using metrics to quantify the risk instead of just guessing what the impact might be
  • Risk management: defaulting to mitigation strategies or ‘do nothing’ because the alternatives are poorly understood or too hard.

Address this by:

  • Making sure the team has regular points where risks are discussed. You can put these on the plan.
  • Giving everyone the tools to analyse risk. Use software. Provide details of what it means to be a ‘low risk’ in terms that are financial, reputational, operational and more so they are not guessing
  • Talk about all the different options available to you and manage actively so risks are reduced, not just put on a list.

2. Task Management

This skill is all about managing your To Do list and making sure tasks have owners. It’s also time management overall on the project, so it encompasses resource levelling and capacity planning so you don’t overload people with too many tasks.

People seem to struggle managing their workload and time, and that leads to them feeling overwhelmed and overloaded.

Address this by:

  • Making sure everyone knows what is a priority task and what can wait. That will help people understand how they should be spending their time.
  • Consider using timesheets to track where time is being spent, if you don’t already use them.
  • Use milestone schedules to draw attention to the next big milestone coming up.

3. Managing multiple projects

These days, most people are managing more than one project. There are still people who lead one large, complex project, but many people are finding themselves running several initiatives at the same time, sometimes with the same resources.

This can lead to each project inching forward at a snail’s pace, lack of understanding about which project should be worked on, feeling overwhelmed as your To Do list encompasses several projects, dealing with conflict between stakeholders, all of whom feel their project is the top priority.

I wrote a book about this exact problem, which came out last month, so check out Managing Multiple Projects from wherever you buy your books if you are struggling with the juggling.

Meanwhile, here are some tips to help.

Address this by:

  • Prioritising projects. Make sure you know and are telling people what priority their projects have so they can apportion their time appropriately.
  • Using software to track actions. I’m a big fan of pen and paper but even I have moved to digital task management to keep track of multiple projects.
  • Time-boxing instead of multi-tasking. Block out time for a project, or for similar tasks across projects (like status reporting) as this is more efficient.

What other skills do you think are key to project management but are actually pretty hard to do? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: June 14, 2022 04:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)
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