Project Management

Easy in theory, difficult in practice

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My musings on project management, project portfolio management and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organizational change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog contains articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

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What lessons has my dog taught me?

Applying project management to an election run (part three)

Applying project management to an election run (part two)

Applying project management to an election run (part one)

How does your team run their standups?

What lessons has my dog taught me?

Like many other home-bound folks, we added a furry family member early in the pandemic. Tux is a two and a half year old Shih Tzu and, like all dogs, has managed to fully integrate into all aspects of our daily lives.

While he has completed the first level of doggy training (and graduated top dog within his cohort!), over the past two years, he has taught me a few lessons in leadership and project management which are worth sharing.

Don't squander opportunities to rest

Although Tux is a very active little dog who loves to chase his stuffed toys from one end of a room to the other, he also rests whenever he is not being actively stimulated. This gives him the ability to give 100% of his energy when something catches his attention.

Most projects and life itself is a marathon not a sprint so take the time to recharge your batteries whenever possible and encourage your team members to do likewise.

Don't hold grudges

While we've occasionally had to discipline Tux for bad behavior, once his transgression and our accompanying discipline has been delivered, he is quick to rebound to his usual sunny disposition.

Stakeholders, sponsors and your team members will sometimes let you down, and if they do, forgive and (be willing to) forget so long as this is an infrequent occurrence.

Be curious

Whether it is an open closet door, a shopping bag or an unfamiliar sound, Tux will rarely miss the opportunity to investigate it. Tux is also always ready to try a new food even though he really enjoys his regular meals.

While we might think we are correct with a given decision, that should not prevent us from considering other paths. And while we might encourage diversity in the make up of our team, a lack of curiosity leads to less inclusiveness.

The stakeholder cup is half full

Tux is not afraid of any person or other dog. Whether they play with him or not, he will wag his tail and greet them with good intent. And (with dogs, not humans!) if they bark or lunge at him, he won't take it personally but will just let them be and won't let that affect his positive reactions in the future.

Certain stakeholders might make our team members' lives miserable but that shouldn't mean that we should be suspicious about the intent of all stakeholders. Remember that you will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Everything I know I learned from dogs.” – Nora Roberts

Posted on: August 07, 2022 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Applying project management to an election run (part three)

The final (pre-election) article in my series covering my election run for city councilor of Ward 4 in Welland, Ontario shares some of the key risks I've identified with this project and how I'm responding to them.

In general, most projects will have two broad categories of risks - those which relate to the delivery of the project itself and those which relate to the outcomes from the project. Delivery risks will affect the ability of the team to complete the project within normal constraints such as scope, schedule, cost, quality and team member availability. Outcome risks will impact the realization of expected benefits.

For each category, I will provide the key risks I've identified, their qualitative impact and likelihood of realization and the risk responses I've implemented or plan to implement.

Delivery Risks

Increased costs due to inflation or increased demand might cause the project to exceed its approved budget. The impact of the risk is high and the probability is moderate given the current economic conditions. I am attempting to mitigate this risk by identifying multiple suppliers for the products and services I'll be procuring to ensure I'm getting good prices and will reduce its impact (if the risk is realized) by cutting back on what I will be purchasing.

Another risk related to products and services is that supply chain delays might increase the likelihood of not receiving procured items on time before the election date. The impact of this risk is high but the probability is low as the items being procured are readily available. The same response as in the previous risk will address this risk.

Given the large number of bylaws and regulations related to the election, there is a chance that I or one of the volunteers supporting my campaign might break one of the rules resulting in fines, disqualification from the election or other penalties. The likelihood of occurrence is moderate and the impact would be high. My mitigation risk response has been to thoroughly study all the official election documentation and to seek clarification from election officials whenever I run into a scenario which is not explicitly permitted or prohibited.

Ward 4 has over 6500 residents (as per the previous 2018 election data). I'm planning to go door-to-door introducing myself to homeowners on a number of the main streets within the ward in early September once the start date for posting lawn signs has passed. I'm not planning to visit any given house more than once. As such, there is a risk that if a large number of residents are not home when I visit, the effectiveness of this activity will be reduced. The impact is high but the probability is low given both the demographics of the city and kids will be back to school which means fewer families would be out of town on vacation. I will try to reduce the likelihood of occurrence by concentrating my visits in the early evening and on weekends.

Outcome Risks

Given that under 35% of the eligible voters participated in the last municipal election, there is a high probability, high impact risk that even if I am successful in creating sufficient awareness about myself, sufficiently few residents will turn out to vote which could favor the incumbents more than a newcomer. To mitigate the likelihood of this risk being realized, a key component of my campaign is to raise awareness about the upcoming election and to encourage residents to vote.

Finally, there is the risk that in spite of my campaign, I might get insufficient votes to be one of the two winners in my ward. The impact would, of course, be high and the likelihood of realization is moderate. My entire campaign is a response to address this risk so hopefully it will be successful!

Posted on: July 31, 2022 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Applying project management to an election run (part two)

Categories: Project Management

In my previous article, I provided an overview of my current personal project of preparing for and running for election as one the city councilors in Welland, Ontario.

With a good understanding of the constraints for this work, this week's article will focus on three key knowledge areas, namely scope, schedule and cost and how those will be managed over the life of the project.

There are three key deliverables for this project: candidate registration, the campaign itself and the post-campaign financial report.

The first and last deliverables are well defined as the requirements for those are specified by the city's election officer and by the provincial guide for municipal elections. The first required me to get 25 endorsements from local residents, pay a nomination fee and complete some paperwork. The last will require me to complete a formal financial summary of campaign contributions and expenses and to submit it to the city by a specified deadline. As such, a predictive approach can be used for the management of both of these deliverables.

Not having run for public office before, it would be unwise for me to attempt to define the full scope of the campaign deliverable up front. Based on the time and budget remaining, certain work packages may be added, dropped or reprioritized. Therefore, an adaptive approach will make the most sense for completing this deliverable.

Outside of any restrictions imposed by the city or province, I have significant latitude on how to proceed. I have three objectives:

  1. To increase resident awareness of the upcoming election and the importance in their voting
  2. To create or increase awareness of myself as a candidate
  3. To convince a majority of eligible voters within my ward to vote for me

Given the limited budget I have set for the project, the specific levers I use will be based on maximizing the "bang for the buck". I've reviewed the financial statements from the candidates in the most recent election as well as solicited ideas from my volunteer team.

I have elected to go with:

  • A campaign website
  • Lawn signs
  • Door hangers (i.e. one page cardboard brochures which can be hung off front door handles)
  • A one time advertisement in our local newspaper
  • Door-to-door introductions

These tactics will leave me with just under 25% of my budget. This will be kept in reserve to be used for any cheap, quick wins which are identified closer to the election date.

Each of the deliverables has a set time window.

Candidate nominations can be submitted anytime between May 2 to August 19. Campaigning can commence anytime from the time when nomination papers have been filed and formally accepted to the election date which is October 24. Signs can be placed on lawns from September 9 and must be removed three days after the election date. And financial statements for the campaign are required to be submitted no later than March 31, 2023.

Having these key dates defined up front simplifies the planning process. For example, the constraint on how early signs can be placed will also set the date for when I'd need to have door hangers and lawn signs available to be given out.

Cost management is quite simple as I will only be paying for the procured campaign products or services. My time and that of my volunteer team is not being estimated, tracked or expensed.

In next week's (final) article of this series, I will cover the key project risks as well as the responses implemented to address them.

Posted on: July 24, 2022 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Applying project management to an election run (part one)

Categories: Project Management

Last year I wrote three articles about the project management tools and techniques I used for managing our inter-city relocation. Every four years, the municipalities within the province of Ontario hold elections for city council, the role of mayor, school board trustees and regional councillors. With the elections coming up this October, I decided a few weeks ago to run for one of the two city councillor roles within my ward in Welland (for more information about my platform, feel free to visit my campaign website at kiron4welland.com).

This initiative would meet most operational definitions for what constitutes a project. It is time-bound as election day is October 24. It is a unique endeavor as running for office is different each time one does it. And it will (hopefully!) produce the valuable result of my receiving the most votes by my neighbors within my ward.

As I've written previously, it is important to understand what constraints exist on a project as well as which constraint is the most critical. In the case of this project, many usual constraints apply including:

Time: the main accomplishment for the project will need to be completed no later than the end of election day

Cost: election rules mandate the maximum amount which a candidate can contribute towards their campaign or can spend as expenses. Given that there isn't a significant financial return on investment for this project, I have set a modest limit on personal contributions and campaign expenses which is well within the limits set by the rules. As such, there is some flexibility for cost.

Scope: there is quite a bit of flexibility regarding both what you can run for (e.g. mayor, city councillor in one of multiple wards) as well as how you go about convincing citizens to vote for you.

Quality: the election rules do provide clear guidance on the types of activities which are not permitted such as paying people to vote for you or using city resources to further your campaign. There are also municipal by-laws for street signs which provide quality requirements such as content, size, placement, and timing for placing and removing signs.

Resources: while there aren't any constraints on materials or equipment (so long as they will fit within the costs allocated), people's time is the primary resource constraint for this project. However, as I do have a few neighbours who have indicated that they would be happy to support my campaign, there is some flexibility here.

Knowledge: while knowledge is an enabler, limited knowledge can act as a constraint. There are two limits which apply to this project:

  • My limited first-hand knowledge of running for office. While I was elected three times as a director on the board of the PMI Lakeshore Chapter almost twenty years ago, the complexity of that project was much lower and the odds were much more in my favor than this project.
  • The knowledge which my ward's citizens have about the upcoming municipal elections in general and of me, specifically, as I've only lived here for a year.

The good thing is that while knowledge constraints are a major limiting factor, reducing their impact is quite achievable within the time line of this project.

Having provided my analysis of the constraints I'm facing, next week's article will cover the approach I'm using to manage the different PMBOK knowledge areas for this project.

Posted on: July 17, 2022 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

How does your team run their standups?

Categories: Agile, Project Management

Whether you call them Scrums, standups or huddles, one way to plan-as-you-go with an adaptive approach is to hold coordination events on a regular basis to ensure that everyone is working in an aligned manner and on the most important work.

One of the more common topics for such events is to discuss the backlog of short term team work.

But such discussions can be held in a few different ways.

To ensure that everyone has a chance to have their say, one approach might be to discuss incomplete work on a person-by-person basis.

While this has the benefit of ensuring that everyone's voice is heard and gives each team member the opportunity to raise any concerns they have or confirm any assumptions they might be making, it can also result in team members who have already spoken disengaging from what is being discussed by the team members who come after them. While this would not be of much concern if each team member's work is independent of others, in most cases there are likely to be dependencies between the team members at either a work item or an activity level.

In such cases, if a team member has "tuned out" the conversation, they might end up missing something which was important to their work or they might miss the chance to correct an invalid assumption being made by the others.

An alternative which addresses this downside is to go work item by work item. This is likely to keep most team members engaged longer than the person-by-person approach, especially when multiple team members need to collaborate together to complete a work item. However, when some team members have finished the work items they have pulled and are now actively supporting others in the completion of those "foreign" work items, not everyone on the team might get the chance to speak up.

Where work items go through a well defined work flow, another option is to discuss work items by the delivery phase they are in. Assuming team members are working on items across different phases, this will reduce the likelihood of a team member getting disengaged from the general conversation, even if they have already finished discussion the work items in the current phase.

Most work management tools will provide a method to organize the items within the columns of a work board so the team might discuss the incomplete ones in the order they are presented. However, a more efficient approach might be to prioritize the vital few which really merit discussion.

There are three common ways in which this could be done:

By cost of delay - this would include considerations such as business value, risk reduction, dependencies to upcoming work items or the ability to exploit an opportunity

By work item aging - assuming the team has reached sufficient maturity to have just a few different work item sizes then the team could focus on discussing the active work items which are outside normal aging expectations for their size

By work item status - this could be done by starting with blocked work items, then those with identified impediments, and then (if warranted) the remaining ones.

Many of the teams I'd worked with had used a person-by-person method for their coordination events but I wanted to understand what the distribution was across the different approaches.

I ran a one-week poll in PMI's LinkedIn Project, Program and Portfolio Management discussion group and in the ProjectManagement.com community. Out of the 369 responses received, 66% used a work item-by-work item approach, 20% went person-by-person, 11% discussed work items by delivery stage and 3% had some other method. In the latter case, I had requested respondents to provide details, but the comments in most cases reflected a prioritized work item-by-work item approach.

Regardless of how your team coordinates their work, it is important that such events aren't perceived as a waste of time by the team or by key stakeholders. Discussing the effectiveness and efficiency of all standard events within process improvement sessions such as retrospectives is one way to ensure this doesn't happen.

Posted on: July 10, 2022 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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