I was inspired to do the Generative AI for Project Managers course (which is currently free, and definitely worth looking at on the PMI website) and from there, to sign up for a ChatGPT account. In parallel to that, I was asked to deliver a webinar on AI-proofing your career (spoiler alert: AI takes away the parts of the job that I didn’t like so much anyway, and frees up more time for you to shine in human relationships), so I seem to have embedded myself in the world of AI recently!
I thought I would put ChatGPT to the test by asking it a question I get asked frequently:
What are the top 5 challenges affecting project managers in the world today?
This is an edited version of what it said. It gave me 246 words, and I’ve added my own thoughts after each point to add a human-in-loop spin on the feedback. The GenAI course explains human-in-loop if you have not come across this term before.
(Sidenote: I feel weird calling it ‘it’ when you can have a conversation with it. I think I would like to give my ChatGPT bot a name, I just don’t know what!)
As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, the following were some of the top challenges affecting project managers worldwide:
Elizabeth says: So far so good. This seems to be a perennial problem across the ages. It’s not particularly new, but I’m sure it is true. Every project manager I speak to seems to have issues with resourcing and capacity planning.
Elizabeth says: Again, this is not new news. It’s not the modern, fresh take I was hoping for. Perhaps there isn’t one: we’re stuck with the challenge we’ve always had, which is reassuring and disappointing at the same time!
Elizabeth says: I’m sensing a theme here. These are all true, but as project managers, we’ve been overcoming the challenge of remote and distributed teams for years, even before the pandemic.
Elizabeth says: I agree that risk management and working in uncertainty is a challenge, but we have whole project approaches designed to minimise the impact of that and maximise user engagement through short deliverable sprints. Yes, the world is an uncertain place, but again, project managers have been looking out for the things that will bite us in the backside for years. That’s the job!
Elizabeth says: I would not have put stakeholder management as one of the challenges for project managers. In fact, it’s one of the fun parts! I do understand that it is challenging to manage competing priorities, but again, our processes are set up to identify those and work through them.
Then ChatGPT goes on to add:
Please note that the landscape of project management may have evolved since my last knowledge update. Factors like emerging technologies, evolving business models, and global events (such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic) can introduce new challenges or shift the emphasis on existing ones. It's recommended to stay updated with current industry reports, trends, and insights to understand the most pressing challenges faced by project managers in 2023.
Elizabeth says: I agree that it is important to stay up to date with the pressing challenges, and the best way to do that is to stay connected to the industry. Conferences like the PMI Summit and publications like project management magazines provide timely insights into what is important. For example, sustainability isn’t on the ChatGPT list and I would have thought that would have been a concern back in 2021.
I haven’t yet paid for an upgraded account, so perhaps a paid account would have better outcomes and give me a different take on what the current challenges are, so there’s that to consider.
Meanwhile, I’m curious! Do you agree with these challenges? Do you think there are others more pressing for us as project managers? And what do you think of the output of ChatGPT if you’ve used it? Let me know in the comments below!
Earlier this month, I wrote about our summer trip to a holiday park. Two of the shows we saw while we were there were magic shows. One was a comedy-style show with some fun magic thrown in. The other was a ‘proper’ serious magic show with all the atmospheric lighting and big illusions.
It got me thinking – I know, this is not how most people spend their holidays, but perhaps project managers are this way inclined – about the parallels between the shows and my job back at base. Here’s what I learned.
1. The wait is part of the journey
We learned on other holidays that if you want a good seat, you have to get to the show early and sit and wait for a loooong period of time for it to start. This is because there is no allocated seating.
While we were waiting for the show to start, having arrived 40 minutes early, the family at the table next to us got out a game to play. They used the downtime as family time, getting everyone involved. It was part of the experience for them: being around a table to play a game.
We had brought books and electronic devices, and we were all occupied but not together. We weren’t using the time as family time. We were just waiting.
The wait is part of the experience. Plan for downtime on your project. How can you use that time productively? For example, can you bring forward tasks, fit in a peer review or a risk review, run an audit, or something? Where there are slower periods on projects, what are you going to do with them?
2. Same prop, different delivery
Both magicians used an identical prop, and they both performed Houdini’s Metamorphosis trick (where one person is locked in a box and the other stands on top with a curtain – they drop the curtain and they’ve switched places).
But the delivery was different. One was fun and light; the other was dark and dramatic. But the box looked the same, and the trick was the same.
Tailor what you’ve got to make it yours. The lesson for me here was how one item could be used so differently. Tailor what you use to make it relevant to your project and the way you want to deliver your work.
3. If you’ve not seen it before, it’s magical
The second magic show contained big set piece illusions: a box pierced with swords, but amazingly the magician inside was still safe, making snow from a piece of paper, levitation, escaping from a strait jacket before a flame burns through a rope and the magician is squashed. I am a huge magic fan, and I’ve seen all these before, in live shows and on TV.
But for my kids, they are new.
And they were truly amazed.
Don’t take for granted what you know. For some of your stakeholders, the magic of project management will be new for them. Train people in the process. Let them know what to expect and help them understand things about the process that feel new and different.
You’ve seen it all before; you’d read about it, done it, written the documents, and got the T-shirt. But they haven’t. Give them the support they need to come along the journey with you.
Project management isn’t really magic, but some days it feels like the team comes together, and we’ve pulled off something amazing. Don’t you think?
Risks get logged on our spreadsheets or in our tools, but it’s often the identification part that people find difficult.
Below are 5 causes of risk. You can use these as a jumping off point for your own risk identification. What would happen on your project if one of these causes created a situation for you?
1. Equipment failure
On projects in the past, we’ve had the local council cut through power lines while doing work digging up the road outside one of our locations.
We’ve had internet outages. We’ve had component failure. And once one of my colleagues had their laptop stolen from out of the back of their car – not exactly a failure, but it caused the same kind of situation. If you’ve ever lost a piece of tech you’ll know the headache that comes with getting a new one and all the governance paperwork to fill in too.
What risks could you have on your project around equipment failure?
2. Planning errors
Incorrect estimates, incorrect assumptions… these all lead to the potential for your plans to be wrong.
Even missing out someone’s annual leave or scheduling over a bank holiday because you didn’t have it on your calendar can cause a delay.
You might have risks related to the accuracy of your planning and scheduling.
3. People problems
A lot of project risks are created by people! For example, in one situation I heard of, a project team hired the wrong person for the job. The candidate said they could do the work, it sounded like they could do the work and when they showed up, they couldn’t.
Other risks could be the risk of someone not turning up (as has just happened in our house with contractors due to fit the new floor), refusing to do the work, changing their daily rate or is otherwise demonstrating difficult behaviour.
Even if you can resolve the problem, sorting out challenges like this takes time and energy, and often we don’t have much of that on projects.
What people-related risks can you foresee on your project, and what can you do about them?
4. Watermelon projects
Another risk is that people don’t report the true status to you so you end up with a watermelon project: green on the outside and red in the middle.
You can deal with that risk by making sure you have processes for adequate reporting and are able to understand the current situation. If you don’t have visibility, you can’t control the project.
Could one or more strands of your project be at risk of going watermelon?
Finally – and this can happen on any project – miscommunication. Team members do things wrong because they don’t understand or they haven’t had complete instructions.
In theory, this one should be easy enough to resolve, so much so that you might not even think it is worth putting on the risk register at all. However, if you work with a cross-cultural team, different time zones or remote teams then it is probably a higher risk factor for you.
Would your project be at risk of communication challenges?
I don’t think of myself as someone good at delegating. I tend to want things done when I want them done, and it’s easier to do them myself rather than waiting for someone else to do them on their time (thinking about household chores here…).
But as I have got on in my career, it has become more important to learn how to delegate, and to do it well.
Here are 5 risks that present when you delegate something and what you can do about them.
1. The job is done badly
There is a risk that the job is not done to the standard you require. This could happen if the person is not capable of doing the work correctly, perhaps because you’ve delegated to the wrong person – someone who has not been trained, for example. There might have been a hiring error: someone looked great on paper and performed well at interview but they aren’t really right for the role.
2. The wrong job is done
There is a risk that the wrong task is done completely. This hasn’t happened to me often, but on one project we did have a team member edit the wrong version of a document, and that work had to be done again. Miscommunication was the reason that happened, so again, this risk should be totally within your control as the project manager to mitigate.
3. The job goes overbudget
There is a risk that the work costs more than if you had done it yourself, for various reasons including it taking longer. I had this with copywriting I outsourced. The person who took on the job did an excellent job, but in the end it required more rework than I had anticipated, so it cost more.
4. The job takes longer
There is a risk that the work takes longer than planned. This could happen because the person you delegate to is busier than they thought they would (or that you thought they would be) or their priorities are changed by their manager. Or they simply work slower than you would do, and you estimated the task based on the speed that you would do it yourself.
This can happen when work is delegated to less experienced colleague as well: typically, experienced staff take less time to do the same job as they don’t need to do so much research or checking.
5. The job is not done at all
There is a risk that the work is not done at all. This could happen as a result of you thinking you delegated but you actually didn’t: manager error, for example, the email got stuck in your outbox. Or perhaps you communicated so gently that they didn’t pick up on the fact you were actually asking them to do the work at all.
It could also be an error on their side. Perhaps they dropped the ball and haven’t got round to it yet, or they have deliberately chosen not to do it and are ghosting you. I think this scenario is rare, but I suppose it could happen.
What risks have you found from delegating? Any to add to the list? Or have you been in any situations where you’ve delegated and it hasn’t turned out exactly as planned?
OK, the title of this blog post is a bit misleading. I don’t think I could count how many different ways there are to do estimating, I’m sure there are plenty of tools and techniques I’ve not used in my work as a project manager.
But there are some high level options for thinking about, presenting and sharing estimates with key stakeholders, and that’s what I wanted to dive into today.
I’m drawing on what PMBOK 7 says about different types of estimating, so you can refer back to that for more information. The guide talks about 5 different approaches to estimating, without mandating that any particular approach is used at any particular time – that’s up to you as the project manager to assess and choose the right estimating technique.
Deterministic estimates are those that represent a single point. For example, 16 months, or $5,250. These are the easiest to understand but (I think) the hardest to come up with unless you have a lot of past project data and simple tasks that repeat.
Probabilistic estimates – why is that so hard to type?? – a those that represent a range. This is what I use most often in the thinking, even though when putting plans together we rarely represent the range in the schedule visually. This type of estimate often includes three factors:
The estimate itself with a range e.g. $5,250 +/- 10% or 16 months +1 month/-1.5 months.
This represents a weighted average based on several possible outcomes (like when you work out a three-point estimate with the most likely, optimistic and pessimistic outcomes), alongside what the range will be for the work. The result is often calculated by scheduling algorithms, but you can work it out manually, or even use professional judgement to make your best guess, as long as people know that’s all it is.
That brings us to the second factor: confidence.
A probabilistic estimate includes a confidence factor that represents how confident you are in the numbers. A 99.9% confidence factor would mean you’re pretty sure this is exactly how it is going to turn out. A 60% confidence factor – not so much.
Thirdly, if you are using computer programs to simulate scenarios and calculate estimates, you will also have a probability distribution, that shows the data and the range.
Absolute estimates give you a specific number that stands alone. A deterministic estimate can be absolute. An example would be that to buy one machine costs £12,000.
Relative estimates are figures that only make sense in the context of other data. For example, buying more than one machine would be cheaper, but we don’t know how much by as the procurement team hasn’t finished the negotiations yet.
A better example, and the one in the PMBOK® Guide, is planning poker for agile estimating. Story points and T-shirt sizing help teams size the work in relation to other pieces of work but alone, “XL” doesn’t mean much to anyone else.
The final flavour of estimating talked about in PMBOK 7 is flow-based estimating. This type of estimating is useful where you know the flow of the work: the throughput and cycle time. If you know how many items of work can be completed in a particular time period (throughput) and how long it takes one item to go through the process (cycle time) then you can estimate how long it will take for a number of items to be completed, assuming other factors like sizing are taking into account in the calculations.