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 RebelsGuideToPM.com.

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How to keep a business case up to date

More schedule tasks to do before you baseline

Quarterly review time: How was your Q1?

Saving 14 minutes a day with AI

Finished your schedule? Here’s what to do next

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Saving 14 minutes a day with AI

Research amongst Microsoft Copilot users highlights that on average they are saving 14 minutes a day (1.2 hours per week) by using Copilot, which is an AI-add in. Some users reported saving over 30 minutes a day, and using the time gained for focus work or additional meetings (*gulp*).

If you’re wondering how GenAI is going to change the way you work, Copilot is an example of something quite easy to use that speeds up completing your daily tasks. For example, you can draft a new presentation from a prompt or summarise an email thread or chat thread. I can see how this would help you catch up on meetings too as you can ask it questions based on a meeting transcript, or get a recap of the whole meeting.

I think that nothing really beats the aha moments in a meeting where you are working with others and finding a way forward, but there are also plenty of meetings that should have been an email. And I don’t know about you, but my diary is often double-booked with invites, and it’s hard to find time to squeeze more calls in, especially with senior leaders. Summarising a missed meeting can save people 32 minutes, which you could fill with another meeting, or take a lunch break, or write that project proposal that’s been sitting on your desk for a week.

Fourteen minutes per day does not sound like much, but it’s worth having, if the overall burden of admin work is reduced, freeing up time for us to do more project leadership and less creating slides, typing minutes or searching for files (the study said users were 29% faster in a series of tasks including searching, writing and summarising information).

The most important thing that I took away from the survey is that it doesn’t take less effort – it also feels like it takes less effort. The mental load of work is substantial. There are tasks to juggle, unending To Do items, stakeholders to keep engaged and lots more that we hold in our heads every day. Sometimes I end the day with decision fatigue. Sometimes it’s hard to switch off and the mental energy expended throughout the day has been exhausting.

If I can feel like I’m doing less burdensome work and more value-add work, that has to benefit my mental health and my enjoyment of the job.

Personally, I think this kind of GenAI has more practical use for project leaders than the ChatGPT-style interfaces that are available, including PMI’s own Infinity. I checked that out too, and it’s good for learning. I asked it to work out some potential risks for an example project for me, and it did a pretty good job of coming up with some basic risks I could include in a risk log as a starting point for discussion. A huge benefit of Infinity over my ‘normal’ ChatGPT account is that it provides the sources, so you can be confident you’re getting reliable, trusted information, which is very important if you’re building out work products based on the guidance.

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I can see a workplace in the not-too-distant future where we’ve got a pop up GenAI tool on the desktop to support everyday tasks, and a ChatGPT-style interface for research and more in-depth (or even quick) questions. What do you think about the way GenAI is influencing how work tools are built and the features on offer to you? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: March 12, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Challenges that arise from implementing alternative metrics

We’re all familiar with the standard ways of measuring progress and project success. You might use earned value, or burndown charts or even percent complete.

There are other metrics we can build into our project management practice, and over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring them. One of the questions I got asked in response to my first article on alternative metrics was what challenges might arise from implementation and how could we, as project managers, overcome those?

Let me share some ideas.

alternative metrics challenges

Change adoption

The hardest thing with implementing any new way of working is resistance to change. You want me to track something else, in a different way, making more work for me? No thanks.

So when you want to introduce a new metric, like customer satisfaction tracking for internal customers, the goal is to make it as easy as possible.

Try to reduce the barriers to implementing the change, using all the good change management practice you are familiar with, like training and communication and helping people understand the reason for tracking in new ways. Find champions. Remove the old ways of doing things. Give people the tools they need.

Start small

As with all changes, it helps if you have someone leading the charge, and that is likely to be you. Let’s say you want to implement customer satisfaction measures, following the outline of the process in my book, Customer-Centric Project Management. There’s no obligation to start with your biggest program, or even to do it on more than one project.

Use your own project and just do it. Start by asking the sponsor what they value the most from project delivery or what they find important in the process, and then track how satisfied they are with that measure once a month. For example, when I did this, communication was one of the things stakeholders said was important, so each month we tracked how good we were at project communication by asking them to rate us on a scale of 1-10.

Ultimately, we did get the whole department of project managers tracking internal customer satisfaction in this way, but we did start with one project.

Be consistent

Another challenge with changing any way of working is being consistent. One of the things we’ve found with tracking measures monthly is that often (too often, really), we’ve found a flaw in the original assumptions, or some business process changes, or some other thing happens and we realise that the way we are tracking needs to change. Getting more data, more understanding and more accuracy is not a bad thing, but it does rather invalidate your earlier measures if they are now not comparable to your ‘today’ measures.

The way around this is to be consistent, both with tracking in general (in other words, do it regularly and don’t give up on it) and in how the measures are calculated.

Perhaps learn from our situation and give yourself three to six months where you allow for the measurement assumptions and tracking approach to be tested. Make tweaks as you go so you know that after that period you can ‘fix’ the way you are tracking so going forward your numbers are comparable and stable.

Consistency also means following through and completing the tracking regularly, whatever frequency you set, and that might be different for different metrics.

For example, we track some things monthly, but other metrics are only looked at quarterly because that’s how it makes sense.

Build the obligation to report into people’s job descriptions and roles. Set up a mechanism to hold them accountable if they are not completing the tracking. For example, the PMO could ask for all metrics to be added to a central spreadsheet so all portfolio tracking is in one place. Then you could easily see which projects had completed their tracking and which had not.

There are always challenges with doing things differently, but if you really want to make the change, you can. The good news is that often you don’t need PMO or portfolio office support, or even the consent of your line manager. If your sponsor is happy that you track, and you’ve got the energy and enthusiasm to do it, you can.
I recommend starting with customer satisfaction as it’s easy to do with no specific tools required, and it has a huge impact on stakeholder engagement: it’s very much worth it!

Posted on: February 05, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Stakeholders: how to improve engagement

Every stakeholder on your project is going to come to the work with a different level of engagement. That level of engagement is going to depend on lots of things, like:

  • How busy they are
  • What other projects they are working on and the priorities of those projects
  • Their level of understanding for the project’s goals and objectives
  • What is expected of them (and whether they perceive those tasks to be easy, hard, pointless or worth their time).

Often stakeholders don’t exhibit the levels of engagement that we might feel we need from them to get the best results for the project. Here are some thoughts and simple ideas for how to move people into a place where they are prepared to engage a bit more with the project.

stakeholder analysis

Blocker to indifferent

Projects struggle when the wrong stakeholders are blocking the change. In fact, when any stakeholder is resistant to change, that can cause problems.

Blockers are possibly people who don’t see the problem that the project is trying to fix. They might be keen to defend the status quo, whatever that is.

Talk to them about why they appear to be resistant, or what they are worried might happen as part of this project. Try to share the reasons for the project and the ‘why’ behind the change, even if it doesn’t directly affect their team. They might be more open to engaging with the project if they know the reasons driving the change.

There are various things to try here, but it starts with trying to understand their position and probably ends with escalating to their line manager or your project sponsor.

Indifferent to keen

These are stakeholders who are a bit ‘meh’ about the project and you’d like them to be supportive.

Indifferent stakeholders may think the project isn’t relevant to them. Perhaps they don’t see the point of it. The project just doesn’t seem important. You can see this in their reaction to the work, their slow response in getting back to your messages and calls, and their general attitude to the project.

There is also a chance that you’ve asked them to be involved and haven’t been clear enough with the ask. Talk to them about their priorities and those of their team. Share the successes and if necessary, try to get some of their time ringfenced to complete their project work.

Keen to champion

Supportive stakeholders are keen about the project, but they wouldn’t necessarily be a champion – those super proactive stakeholders who really understand and make progress on the work. Some of your stakeholders probably need to be in the ‘champion’ category.

Think about how you best use their time so they don’t sit in meetings and hear updates that they already know about. Ask for some small commitments and see how they get on completing those before you ask for larger tasks.

Not everyone needs to be a champion

You don’t need everyone to be a champion. Some stakeholders are probably OK to simply be indifferent: as long as they aren’t resisting the change that could be good enough.

The idea of looking at stakeholders in this way and seeing where they are on a scale is to understand better about the kinds of engagement – and specifically the time commitment – required for each stakeholder or group. Those that have the furthest to go on the scale are going to need more time and more focused action to move them into the zone where you want them to be.

Does anyone have an example of a stakeholder who has moved into the ‘more engaged’ category that they’d be prepared to share in the comments? I’d love to hear your stories of successful stakeholder engagement 😊

Posted on: January 29, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

How to Use Alternative Metrics

Last month I looked at a range of alternative metrics for assessing success. One of the comments on that article asked how, on reflection, had I seen these or other alternative metrics implemented effectively. It also asked whether there were challenges that might arise integrating alternative metrics into existing project management frameworks (which I’ll look at in a different article).

So, if you want to implement a more nuanced approach to measuring project success, how do you put this into practice? Below are some ideas. This topic is one that we could probably speak (or write) about at length, but hopefully the examples and ideas I share will give you some starting points for incorporating a range of measures into your project management practice.

metrics for project success

  1. Customer satisfaction

This is an area where I have quite a lot of examples to share. In my book, Customer-Centric Project Management, my co-author and I describe an extensive exercise to set up customer satisfaction tracking on projects, with internal customers.

I’ve written about customer satisfaction measurement on this blog before (start with this article: Lessons about project metrics). Basically, find out what is important to people, then track that regularly and plot your scores as part of regular reviews.

You don’t have to use an ‘official’ CSAT mechanism, or pay for electronic survey tools. Just ask people as a minimum.

  1. Innovation level

I haven’t used an innovation score regularly throughout a project, but it has been included in the way we rate projects and prioritize which ones should be done as the requests come into the pipeline.

Implement an innovation score yourself on a simple Likert scale (1-5 or similar). Ideally, you don’t want the measure to be subjective, so set some criteria e.g.:

  • Number of tools used where the business has less than 1 year of experience using them
  • Years of experience of team implementing (as someone could have gained a lot of relevant experience in a different role)
  • Contractor level of experience rated on a scale of how many implementations they have done.

Or similar – you really only need a couple of measures to make up your innovation score. Use the innovation score as part of the decision criteria for whether a project should be taken forward or not.

  1. Resource utilization

Resource utilization reports are something I’ve only actively used on a couple of projects, because mostly we either haven’t had the tools to extract the data (because we aren’t doing timesheets or detailed estimates), or because staff have been 100% assigned to the project so we don’t have to worry about them splitting their time across projects. We would still have to worry about them being scheduled to do too many tasks in a week and being over booked, or under utilized, but when the team is full time somehow that’s easier to manage as you can see what they are doing and we speak every day.

Use the reports to check exactly that: is the team going to struggle to meet its commitments? And if it is, because staff are over-scheduled, what are you going to do about it?

Even the basic reports from Microsoft Project will give you utilization data, so take a look at what you already have within your tool suite and if you find it useful, use it.

  1. Risk mitigation effectiveness

The final one I’m going to talk about today is tracking risk mitigation effectiveness. I mentioned in the article that you could use AI-powered insights to establish the effectiveness of the risk management activities undertaken, but in reality I imagine that takes quite a lot of effort to set up.

Another way to do this would be at project closure, or during lessons learned conversations, whenever these take place in your project lifecycle.

Look at what the risk was and what was done to mitigate it. Score the risk based on the effectiveness of the action:

  • 1: Risk management activity was 100% successful and risk was closed
  • 2: Risk management activity was successful but residual risk was worth £x
  • 3: and so on.

Using residual risk (and specifically, a financial value of residual risk) is a way to establish how effective your management action was – or at least, it’s one way to create data that allows you to assess that.

Hopefully that gives you some pointers for measuring project success through different routes, with some more concrete examples of how to get started.

Posted on: January 22, 2024 03:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

7 Alternative Metrics for Assessing Success

We’ve all got metrics we use to assess project success: cycle time, earned value and so on.

As the year ends, maybe it’s time to look at some other measures we could use that might be a bit more… dare I say… interesting? Below, I’ve suggested 7 alternative metrics you could put in place (some easily, some would take more thought and set up) to look at what project performance really means in the round.

metrics for project success

  1. Customer satisfaction (CSAT)

You might find CSAT in use across other teams. Why not implement it for project management customers too? Even if you work in-house, you will have internal customers. Trust me, they have an opinion on the project management service you provide. Why not check in with them directly and ask for it?

You don’t need a formal CSAT tool. Set some survey questions and set up a form to ask stakeholders their views, and then collate the results.

  1. Time to Value (TTV)

Cycle time is worth knowing, but does the end of your cycle always end in value delivered? A different way of thinking about it would be time to value: how quickly the project delivers tangible value per feature, or perhaps overall.

This metric comes with the added challenge of having to define value: but that could be a very useful exercise for stakeholders!

  1. Innovation level

Could you create your own innovation index? There are already indices in use like the Global Innovation Index, but that’s probably overkill for our projects. Consider how innovative the product/deliverables are and the method used to implement them.

  1. Resource utilization

Here’s one you can probably get from your project management software but I don’t see it on reports very often. What could you take from a utilization report? Metrics are only helpful if there is something you can use them for, like decision support. In this case, it would be making sure the team is adequately resourced, so you really want to be looking forward not backward. Although historical data is useful too to see if there is a trend towards over or under staffing.

  1. Change adoption rate

Could you create a metric that looks at how quickly the organization is adopting new changes? If you work with a change manager, they might have some ideas about how to implement this. Any new process changes or anything that requires training could be included, even if your measure was only based on smiley faces!

  1. Sustainability impact

Your procurement team might already have a sustainability index based on their work with vendors and a sustainable supply chain. If you have an energy team, they might have measures you can pull into your projects too. For example, how much carbon saving your project is creating, or how much waste is recycled from different locations.

  1. Risk mitigation effectiveness

We mitigate risks, but are those actions really useful? We could draw on AI-powered insights by plugging in risk mitigation activities across a selection of risks and the outcomes. (Or you could work through this manually). I’m not sure how you’d assess the usefulness of the mitigation strategy: maybe on a scale of 1-5? Then you could see which actions had the biggest impact in reducing the risk.

There are lots of ways to measure project performance, and no one wants to be creating reports and tracking metrics for the sake of it. However, it might be worth looking at whether your current suite of metrics truly give you the complete, holistic picture of performance, because we all know it goes beyond time, cost and quality.

Posted on: December 08, 2023 01:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)
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