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

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3 Ways To Be More Strategic As a Project Manager

Introducing The Public Sector Advisory Community for Estimating

Setting Up Programme Budget Tracking

Quick Tips for the Testing Phase

Programme Management: Planning Your Finances

5 Ways to Add Value as a Project Manager

You hear it all the time: “We want our project managers to add value.” “How are you adding value to the organisation?” “I want to spend more time on valued-added activities.”

But what does adding value actually mean?

I’m not a great fan of buzzwords that I can’t explain and turn into practical actions, so I’ve given this topic quite a lot of thought over the years. Here are 5 things I think you can do to add value (in a meaningful way) as a project manager.

1. Team building

Projects are done by people. People make up teams. Groups of people don’t have the same impact as a well-functioning team. Therefore, spending time on team building is worthwhile and will create value for the organisation because you’ll be better at delivering whatever it is you are delivering.

Focus on creating a positive work environment. Think about what people need to get their tasks done. Look for roadblocks you can remove, processes you can streamline. Talk about the blockers and why they are a problem.

And get some fun in there too.

2. Tenacity

Being committed to the team and the job, and the project, is a sure way to add value because it increases the chance the project will actually get done. How many projects do you know of that started but didn’t have the momentum to get across the line? That’s what tenacity will help you avoid.

Assuming you are working on the right projects, the ability to follow through and get the work done is important for making sure your time pays off for the company.

3. Relationship-building

This is such a large topic, which includes resolving conflict, smoothing over awkwardness, being diplomatic while speaking truth to power, respectful challenge and knowing who to connect and when. There’s a whole bunch of soft skills (or power skills, as it is trendy to call them now) that fall into this bucket.

They are important because this is what helps you get work done even when the environment is tricky. The more you listen, the more you understand and the easier it is to get your projects done. You’ll understand more of the business context that lets you make the right decisions that – you guessed it – lead to delivering a higher-value result.

4. Control the process

Governance might not seem like a particularly value-added thing to do, but when you understand and use the processes of project management, you can structure, standardise, save time, automate, compare and improve so much more easily.

If you have a standard approach, however informal, everyone knows what to do and what to expect and that takes some of the uncertainty out of what is normally a pretty uncertain time for people – projects deliver change and that comes with an overhead of having to live with not knowing exactly what the future will look like. That can be an added source of anxiety and stress for the team and wider stakeholder community.

5. Change management

Projects start to feel out of control when change is not managed appropriately, and that’s when stakeholders start to get nervous. You can help your projects be more successful and ‘land’ better with the receiving organisation, if you manage change properly.

That goes for both the process-led effort of receiving and handling change requests as part of your project management work, and also integrating what you are delivering into the business in a way that makes it possible for the benefits to be received as soon as possible, with the least disruption. Benefits = value.

How do you interpret ‘adding value’ as a project manager? I think it could go much further than what I’ve written here. I’m sure there are many other ways of looking at our role and how we can serve our stakeholder communities in the most value-adding way. Let me know by leaving a comment below!

Posted on: March 22, 2022 04:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

5 Pitfalls of EVM

Or perhaps this article should be called: 5 pitfalls that can happen when EVM is not implemented the way it should be!

Here are 5 things that can go wrong when an organisation chooses to implement Earned Value Management as a way of working for project performance tracking.

1. There is low organisational support

Possibly: there is no organisational support outside of the PMO. EVM is very much an enterprise-type solution so everyone needs to be on board. The whole organisation needs to know what it means for them as individuals and as a team – and you should try to bust the myth that it’s all complicated maths.

In reality, most of the tools now do all the heavy lifting for you, so there’s no need to be hands on with the maths. However, the project delivery teams are going to need to understand the inputs and outputs to the formulas so they can interpret what the numbers are saying. That’s the secret: it’s making sure the wider team understands that the move to EVM is all about creating a set of essential measures to track performance and improve project control.

2. Thinking of EVM data as the answer

EVM data is simply a representation of current project performance. It’s not a decision in itself. It’s not a set-in-stone forecast that tells you what is definitely going to happen.

The team can still adapt and change, mixing up what they do to shape future performance, preferably in a positive way. The data should be seen as decision support information, helping the team make the right choices about what to do next in order to get the best results for the project.

3. There are poor or no decision-making processes

Pitfall #2 brings us on to this one: EVM implementations struggle when the organisation has poor (or no) decision-making processes. There should be some way of managing decisions as part of project control. Decisions and management responses to situations should be structured and repeatable, not knee-jerk. Proactive action taking is better than reactive ‘let’s just do something and cross our fingers’ type decisions.

EVM data is good, and helpful, and informative but if the project leadership team don’t have the power or ability to do anything with it, then the data is just a set of pretty reports no one ever looks at. Decision makers should be looking for patterns, documenting decisions made and their outcomes so that future decisions can be shaped by today’s lessons learned and building credibility by using the information to improve project performance in meaningful, predictable ways.

4. Limiting EVM to a small group

When EVM is implemented, we talk about it being a whole enterprise thing, and that everyone needs to understand what it is and the value it brings to the organisation (as discussed in Pitfall #1 above). But making it ‘a whole enterprise thing’ actually goes far wider than a communication campaign.

When EVM is implemented, it’s important that the whole team is able to see, input, act on and engage with EVM numbers. They should be responsible for their part of the system. In other words, it’s not a good idea to limit the people with hands on experience to a small sub-group of project practitioners in the organisation. It’s ineffective to ask project managers to provide time sheet information, for example, to the gatekeepers who then load it into the system and provide monthly reports in PDF format.

That leads to a couple of problems. Practitioners feels like they aren’t truly included in the EVM and will probably disengage from it. For them, it becomes one more set of data points to submit to someone else for reporting; something that happens outside of their sphere of influence (or interest). It also creates a culture of auditing, where individuals feel that their work is dissected by people who lack hands on experience. EVM shouldn’t turn out to be a ‘them’ and ‘us’ experience in practice. For best results, it really does need to be a whole team process with plenty of input from everyone. Basically, it needs to become ‘how we do business round here’.

5. Not creating a common vocabulary

Of all the various aspects of project management that require specialist jargon, is EVM the worst? I think it could be. There are all the acronyms (PV, EV, SPI, etc) and formulas. There are control accounts and control account managers (which must make control accounts very important if they have their own managers), plus the terminology that goes along with the WBS.

The benefit of all this jargon is that when it is understood by everyone, it provides a common and clear way of talking about the same things. You avoid the misunderstanding of schedule vs plan, for example, because there is a common language with terminology that means the same thing to everyone. That’s powerful. It’s also good for decision making because clarity of understanding helps execs make the right call.

Next month I’ll be looking at a few more pitfalls from EVM implementations that are not done in the best possible way, but meanwhile I’m interested in your views. What have you seen go wrong with EVM rollouts in the organisations where you have worked? Let us know in the comments!


Posted on: November 16, 2021 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

5 Ways to Mitigate Risk [Video]

Categories: leadership, methods, risk

How do you actually go about mitigating risk? We talk about the need to mitigate all the time, but what kinds of things can you do to ensure that risks really are managed appropriately and mitigated to avoid the impact you think might be on the horizon? In this video, I talk about 5 different things you can try to mitigate risks. They are simple and practical, and you can easily turn them into solid actions for your risk log.

If you want a couple of extra suggestions, and some more detail (or you just prefer to read rather than watch), then the original article that prompted this video is available here: 7 Ways to Mitigate Risk.


Posted on: November 02, 2021 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Books for Building Power Skills

Categories: books, leadership

This month on we’re talking about ‘power skills’: all the things that help you lead effectively and make a difference in your work. The skills you need to advance your career and be the kind of project manager that everyone wants to work with.

I’ve done a couple of training courses in my career that changed how I approached work and gave me additional skills that I could put to good use. Early on in my career, as a graduate trainee, my cohort did a course on management approaches and I remember learning about situational leadership. That was a game changer for me.

Later on, I did an assertiveness course (another game changer) and then a day-long seminar on conflict management. To be honest, I use that one less in my day-to-day life but it was fascinating to learn about best ways to help people come to agreements.

However, I’ve read a lot more books than I have attended courses, and I have learned just as much from those as I have from being in a classroom. Today, I wanted to share a few of my favourites with you: books that will truly give you those power skills to be an excellent project manager.

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

This book fundamentally changed the way I saw negotiation and gave me practical tips to use in high-stakes conversation. I mean, not that I’m in high-stakes negotiations very often (read: never) but the book also gave me some tools for ‘normal’ conversations and has also been very useful at home.

If you have to negotiate with stakeholders, or even have the requirement to simply understand their perspective and what is important to them (and be honest, who doesn’t as a PM?), then this is a great read. The stories of his job as a hostage negotiator are pretty awesome too.

This one is available as an audio book if you are having difficulty carving out time to read.

Exactly What to Say by Phil M Jones

Subtitled, The Magic Words for Influence and Impact, I read this book a while ago and still flick through it now when I’m trying to craft conversations or project communications that HAVE to be just right.

It’s easy to read and full of handy tips that are simple to implement. Basically, changing a couple of words in what you say can make all the difference, so think about your communication intentionally and start to see improved results.

It’s a small format book that is nicely laid out (i.e. with some pages just taken up with a giant quote) so it won’t take you long to read and it’s tiny enough to go in your bag.

The Grit Factor by Shannon Huffman Polson

A book about courage, resilience and leadership but one of the first US female attack helicopter pilots. There are some shocking stories of misogyny in here, but also a lot of takeaways about building an intentional career, being brave enough to go for what you want and taking calculated risks to get you where you want to be.

This is an interesting and thought-provoking read, especially for women in (or wanting to be in) leadership positions.

And finally…

Getting It All Done by Harvard Business Review Press

This is a collection of essays from HBR contributors, from their Working Parents series. It’s a relatively quick read, and project managers will be familiar with some of the tools and techniques suggested as things to help us balance work and home life – for example, a family Kanban board or regular ‘stand up’ meeting around the kitchen table.

However, what I took away from it – and what makes me want to include it in a list of books about power skills – is that it’s hard to be an awesome leader and meet the requirements of your job and also be an awesome human, showing up for your family and community at the same time. And that doesn’t even include having the ability to take time out to look after your own health and mental wellbeing.

The people in the book have a support network and systems that allow them to prioritize. From shared calendars, flexible working and understanding managers, they have built flexibility and balance into their lives by being intentional. I think that’s a real power skill: knowing what is important to you and showing up for that first, and then everything else second. I mean, isn’t that part of the agile principles, prioritizing requirements? And isn’t your family a higher priority than you work?

Have you read any books that have changed your thought process on what it means to be a good project manager? I have some space on my shelves for some new reads, so let me know what I should be looking at next!

Pin for later reading

Posted on: July 13, 2021 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

5 Ways to Build Business Acumen [Infographic]

Here are 5 ways to see the bigger picture in your work in order to make a bigger impact with what you do.

  1. Go to internal networking events (virtual or in-person)
  2. Read the annual report
  3. Read relevant business press for your industry
  4. Join an industry body (as well as a project management-related one)
  5. Ask lots of questions!

There is more about each of these in the infographic below.

business acumen infographic

Posted on: January 19, 2021 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

"A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood."

- Chinese Proverb



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