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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The Evolving Landscape of Benefits Realisation

5 Challenges of Integrating Sustainability into Project Plans

Challenges that arise from implementing alternative metrics

Stakeholders: how to improve engagement

How to reduce your project’s carbon footprint

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Testing ChatGPT!

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:

  1. Resource Constraints:
    • Limited availability of skilled resources, both in terms of human capital and specialized tools or technologies, can significantly impact project timelines and deliverables.

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.

  1. Scope Creep and Change Management:
    • Managing changes to project scope and requirements can be a major challenge.

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!

  1. Remote and Distributed Teams:
    • The shift to remote work, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has posed challenges in team collaboration, communication, and ensuring productivity across geographically dispersed team members.

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.

  1. Risk Management and Uncertainty:
    • Identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks is critical to project success.

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!

  1. Stakeholder Management:
    • Balancing the needs and expectations of various stakeholders, including clients, sponsors, team members, and end-users, is crucial.

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!

Posted on: November 14, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Holiday Rep Techniques We Should Use in Project Management

holiday rep techniques

OK, it’s been a while since the summer holidays for us here in the northern hemisphere, and for a while, I’ve been musing on some things I noticed while we were away.

During the school holidays, we took our children to a holiday park – one with a swimming pool, mass catering options, and evening entertainment. During the entertainment portions of the trip, guest services reps – what’s the proper name for those? – milled around before the show started. They managed the queue, checked tickets, and then talked to us while we were waiting for the event to begin.

elizabeth harrin

They were excellent at customer service and making the time feel like it was going faster. Here are a few things I took away from the holiday that I think we could be implementing in project management.

It’s all about the merch

Get your guests in for one thing and then cross-sell them something else. “While you’re here, would you like a hat?”

No, I don’t want a dinosaur hat, but plenty of people in the audience must have bought them for their kids.

The merch stands were obviously secondary money-spinners. The shows themselves were included in the cost of the holiday, but things to wave in the crowd, books, soft toys, and more were on sale at every show we went to.

Takeaway for project managers: “While you’re here, can I also ask you about…?”

Think about who is coming to your meetings and what else you need from them that is beyond the scope of the meeting. Can you ask about an upcoming project? Secure some support for a different initiative?

What can you showcase to a captive audience in a team meeting or even a one-to-one conversation with a stakeholder?

You could even ask them if they need any help with anything else if you are looking to build your network or take on different projects in their area.

Warm people up

Ten minutes before a show started, we’d get a warm up. “Who’s excited to see the show?” Plus lots of reminders about photography, how to order drinks, signposting guests to various social media accounts to follow, or even pointing out the merch stands by the side of the stage in case you had changed your mind about that dinosaur hat after all.

Takeaway for project managers: Build excitement and let people know what is going on.

Let people know how long they have to wait or to do something. Repeat the basic instructions several times. Engage across large groups with broadcast updates and keep reminding people about the benefits, tasks, and activities.

Start high

We did enjoy our time, and we decided during the stay to book again to a different park in the same chain for next year. They encourage people to do that, as you would imagine, by having an on-site shop that discounts holiday bookings for people who book again before they leave.

When I went to book again, I got pitched the most expensive accommodation at the other park, almost £1,000 more than I wanted to spend. We then reviewed all the options and found different ways to bring the cost down to our budget.

Takeaway for project managers: Ask for what you’d like and then work down from there.

When you ask for time, resources, budget, or another type of contingency, be generous with yourself. Start from the position you’d feel most safe in, and then negotiate from there.

Note: this approach might not work so well for risk appetite! You’d want to do it the other way round. Start low and increase the risk as you feel more confident.

The main thing I took from all of this is that there are useful tips and lessons from other management disciplines that are applicable to how we work on projects. While we focus on learning about project management as part of our career journeys, actually, the role of project manager can be far broader as it involves liaising with lots of different business areas, and they all have something to teach us.

Posted on: October 03, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

7 Ways to Save Time on a Project

Have you found yourself short of time on a project? It’s happened to me more often than I can count – “If only we had a bit more time,” we say, as we hurtle towards the scheduled go live date.

But can you make more time on a project? Kind of. Here are 7 ways to save time on a project.

1. Add resources

The first, easiest, option is to add resources. Bring in more people or equipment so the job gets done faster.

Another option is to add more money to the project: with a larger budget you will have more choices. Perhaps you could opt for faster shipping or buy in an element of the project instead of having to make it yourself. If you’ve got contingency budget or access to a management reserve, can you make the case that it’s appropriate to use those funds in this particular circumstance? Make sure you can justify your ask.

2. Work in person

This one might be controversial, but I think there are time-savings to be made when you bring people together.

Working in the same room saves time on the back and forth of conversations done virtually. If you have critical deadlines, are deep in bug fixing or are supporting a go live, consider getting the project team together for faster results.

3. Review the scope

Review the scope and see what could be done in a smarter way: do you really need a print booklet of the annual report or could you manage with a PDF only? Could you move any activity to a Phase 2?

Changing the scope to save time usually means doing less, so it’s only an option if you can deliver a decent result for your stakeholders by taking shortcuts. Make sure they are onboard with your recommendations and have the final say about what gets cut.

4. Review the schedule

Review the timeline. Look for discretionary dependencies: the ones you can move without it being a huge deal. Put tasks in parallel instead of in sequence but accept the risk that comes with this. You might end up doing work twice or revisiting things that are technically ‘completed’ because working in parallel might throw up some challenges later.

5. Review assumptions

What assumptions have you made that may not actually be true? This is particularly relevant about people’s availability. For example, if you assumed you could not work on site after 6pm because that’s what has always been the case in the past, it is still worth finding out whether you could extend on-site hours for this project. That could save some time.

6. Review the staffing

Can you switch out the apprentice for a more experienced (and therefore faster) colleague? What could be done before the expert gets their hands on it? Perhaps a colleague could draft the test scripts and have the experts in the test team polish them up. That way they don’t have to start from scratch.

This doesn’t always pay off. I know from editing articles from other writers that sometimes the editing is just as time-consuming as writing the whole thing, but it could work in certain circumstances so it is worth considering.

7. Be your best self

Finally, be someone people want to work with. Make sure you invest the time with stakeholders before the challenge of delivering faster arises (I know, you don’t have a crystal ball) so they are prepared to work with you when times are tougher.

You can’t switch this on as a last minute shift around, but approach your project team and all the work you have to do as a kind, professional leader. And you never know, when you ask other people nicely for help, they might just say yes.

Posted on: July 03, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

5 Ways to Improve your Budget Situation

I’m lucky in that the projects I am working on at the moment have a requirement for resource time, but we can manage the work in-house so we don’t need to invest in anything else. However, in the past I have managed projects with substantial budgets – and also those with small budgets.

Personally, I think that managing smaller budgets is harder because there is less wiggle room to lose a small amount in the rounding, but we have to work with what we have.

When something on your project changes and your budget is reduced, you might have to look at creative ways to make the money go further. Here are some suggestions.

budget

Find angel investors/donors

OK, let’s get this one out the way first! I got this example for the Project Management For Musicians book by Jonathan Feist, and it’s clear that it won’t work for all kinds of projects. I couldn’t run an SAP deployment by finding a lovely benefactor who just happened to want to sponsor an ERP implementation from the goodness of their heart.

But if your project is to run an event, stage a show, or something similar, perhaps this is an option for you. For example, if a benefactor donated a certain amount, they could get a free ticket to the gig.

I’m sure much of the world of PR and event management taps into this option all the time. If you do go down this route, just be sure to make sure whatever you do falls within the ethics guidelines of your organisation as you don’t want to be seen as taking or giving bribes or hospitality gifts that could get you and your company into trouble.

I’m including this one really as a prompt to ask you to think creatively about the situation you are in and what might address it.

Do less: reduce the scope

The classic way to save money on a project is to do less. Look for chunks of the project that could be pushed into a Phase 2 or subsequent initiative.

Typically, if you remove scope, you are also removing cost because the work takes less resource to get done. Analyse what could be removed to save money but would have minimal impact on the end result. There probably isn’t much that falls into this category, but there might be something.

Do different: change the scope

Another common way to reduce spend on a project is to look at changing the scope to deliver the goals in a different way. What about these switches:

  • Skip an expensive live in-person launch for a virtual tour
  • Replace classroom training with video walkthroughs and online help
  • Use a train-the-trainer model instead of asking the software vendor to train all employees.

What else could you switch? Let me know in the comments.

Change vendors

If your project involves buying in goods or services, you could also consider changing those providers. Perhaps another vendor would be cheaper, especially if you looked further afield.

Depending on the work, changing vendors could be more expensive, especially in the short-term. Pulling experienced contractors who know your business off a project and replacing them with remote contractors will have a learning curve, even if the skillsets of the two consulting firms are identical. Factor that in before you make any proposals.

Alternatively, consider the cost of bringing the work in-house. Would it be cheaper to hire someone on a fixed term contract than it would to get a supplier to do the work?

Bring benefits forward

Another option would be to look at how the project could be reordered to bring in some benefits earlier. For example, with a product launch, could you get a beta version out early to start bringing in some income that could be offset against future improvements.

If the deliverables can start bringing in some cash, that could change the financing of the work and improve the budget situation on paper, which might free up resources or investment for the next wave of development.

These are just ideas, and I hope you don’t have to use them!

Posted on: May 10, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Why do we bother with business cases?

Project documents (and there are some good templates here on ProjectManagement.com) are important to keeping projects moving, and many times, a project will start with a business case.

You might accept the need to do a business case as part of the organisational process – just something you have to do to tick a box. Maybe your organisation doesn’t use them in a formal sense, but each project has to be justified in some way – whether that’s a slide deck or even an email. There is some ‘reason to work’ that kicks off a project.

But have you ever really stopped to think about what role a business case really plays? If you do them, I think we shouldn’t take them for granted. If you don’t do them, it’s time to start.

Here are a few reasons why it is advantageous to have a business case before the work begins.

Understand the scope

The process of putting together a business case helps everyone involved understand what the scope is going to be. And if they don’t like what that looks like, they have the opportunity to influence it early so the scope better aligns with the direction they want to take.

Understand the issues

Perhaps there are concerns, issues, risks or challenges that decision makers need to be aware of – there always are. The discussions that feed into the business case help make sure that everyone is aware of what those are and what implications they might have for the work.

Fact-based decision making will give the project a better chance of success. The leadership team can weed out the ideas that won’t work before any time and effort is spent on them.

We can frame this conversation by thinking about project viability. Having a thorough discussion of the issues makes people aware of whether a project is viable and will continue to be viable throughout the delivery phases, despite any challenges that may arise.

business case

Understand progress

Finally, a good business case lays out information that is useful for managing the work, monitoring and controlling progress. For example, a schedule of stage payments or key milestones, scope elements or deliverables.

The business case isn’t the project schedule and you will need more than simply the business case, but if it is a well-thought through, well-prepared document, there will be enough in there to help set up adequate project tracking.

The document should also set out success criteria and/or benefits which give you the framework for evaluating success as the project progresses.

As a project manager, you might be thinking that putting together the business case is not really your job, and you’d be right. However, on the projects I have worked on, it’s always been easier to get up to speed and start work when I’ve been involved from the business case stage or earlier.

That doesn’t mean doing loads of work – just being interested and talked to and maybe asked an opinion about the resource information or timeline that should go into the document.

Then when I come to lead the work (assuming it gets approved), I have a better understanding of the ‘why’ behind the project and the decisions that have already been taken.

Do you have a business case template that you are happy with? If not, check out some of the templates on this site as a starting point, and adapt one to give you the information you need to start your projects from a good place.

Posted on: May 02, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
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