Search This Blog

Friday, July 30, 2004

Six Steps to Political and Project Success

Assess the Environment

    Who are the relevant stakeholders?

    Who are the most important stakeholders?

    Where does the power lie?

    Whose actions will impact the project most (Negative or Positive)?

Identify the Goals/Needs of the Stakeholders and Sponsor

    What are the stakeholder's/sponsor's work and/or organizational motivations?

    What are their psychological motivations?

    What is their overt motivation?

    What is their hidden agenda?

Know Thyself

    What are your strengths and weaknesses as you perceive them?

    How are you perceived by others?

    What are your personal values related to your workplace?

    How can you compensate for your weaknesses (actual and perceived)?

Define the Problems

    What are all the relevant facts?

    What are the underlying assumptions (both True and False)?

    What is Reality?

Develop Solutions that Work

    Avoid premature solutions that don't account for the four steps above

    Obtain user buy-in to the solution

    Obtain Sponsor buy-in to the solution

Test and Refine the Solutions

    Initial solutions are tough and usually difficult to sell

    Continually refine and test your solution

    Get sign-off from all relevant stakeholders and your sponsor



A solution that does not take the realities of the political environment into account will fail.  Don't be naive when it comes to internal politics.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Quality Guide - Welcome to Managing for Quality

Quality Guide - Welcome to Managing for Quality.

Here is a site that has some great information regarding Quality Management.

Michael Greer's 20 PM Actions/Results

Michael Greer's 20 PM Actions/Results

This looks like a good site for general Project Management Information. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Good Requirements Management = Increased ROI

What of the biggest areas of concern in the IT Project Management field is Requirements Management.  It has been said that reducing requirements errors can have the biggest impact on delivering a quality software project on time and on budget.  How do you as a Project Manager help to reduce requirements errors while not slowing down project progress? 

Before we answer that question lets look at some industry statistics. 

According to the Standish Group (over 352 companies reporting on over 8000 projects):
  • 31% of all software projects are canceled before completion
  • 53% of all projects will cost 189% of the original estimate
  • 9% of projects are delivered on time and on budget (in large companies)
  • 16% of projects are delivered on time and on budget (in small companies)
The reasons given for the above are:
  • Lack of user input or participation - 12%
  • Incomplete Requirements and Specifications - 12.3%
  • Changing requirements and Specifications - 11.8%

To answer our question stated previously, what can a Project Manager do to reduce requirements errors? 

Try the following:

  • Structured  requirements gathering meetings
  • Walkthroughs and reviews of requirements with end users and customers
  • Better organization and documentation of requirements
  • Improved project progress reporting
  • Improved requirements-based testing and requirements tracability

If you will implement the above suggestions you can reduce requirements errors by 20% or more.  Any reduction in requirements errors will help to significantly reduce project cost and schedule overruns.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Project Management Office

Many companies are implementing a Project Management Office (PMO).  If you or your company are thinking about starting a PMO there are a few critical things you must consider. 

First, there is no right or wrong model for a PMO.  The issue is which PMO type is right for your organization and have you done the proper planning up front before implementing a PMO. 

Before you decide on the type of PMO that is right for your company consider the following:

Do you have a Mission Statement for your PMO?

Do you have a Vision Statement (can be covered in the Mission Statement)?

What are the PMO's Principles (what statements will guide how the PMO will achieve its Mission)?

Who are your Customers?

Who are the Stakeholders (those people or groups that will be impacted)?

What are the Goals of the PMO (what does the PMO hope to achieve)?

What are the Objectives of the PMO (must be S.M.A.R.T)?

Note: S.M.A.R.T Objectives are (S)pecific, (M)easurable, (A)ttainable, (R)ealistic, (T)imebound

Other things to consider are what Products, Services, Roles and Responsibilities will be offered by the PMO.

Once all of the above items have been finalized you are ready to build a Workplan that outlines the activities to make the PMO a reality.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

What is a Work Breakdown Structure?

A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a deliverable-oriented grouping of project elements that organizes and defines the total scope of the project work: work not in the WBS is outside the scope of the project. 

The WBS is often used to develop or confirm a common understanding of project scope.  Each descending level represents and increasingly detailed description of the project elements.  What does the WBS look like?  Work Breakdown Structures s are communicated and organized in many ways. 

The two most common ways to communicate a WBS is either a hierarchy diagram or a table of contents (TOC) layout.  In some cases both formats are used to gain understanding and define the work to be performed.  Typically, complex projects with a large number of internal and external stakeholders respond better to a hierarchy diagram. 

However, to understand and accomplish the specific work tasks, the project team responds better to the TOC layout.

To view more information about a WBS and see an example of a WBS click here

Common approaches to Developing the WBS

The two most common approaches to developing the WBS are the top down approach and the bottom up approach.  Some find a combination of both beneficial.

Top-Down Approach

The top down approach uses a predefined product development lifecycle, or a WBS template, or a WBS from a previous similar project as structured models to define the WBS from general to specific.  This approach involves using a model and reviewing the major project deliverables which have been subdivided into smaller, more manageable components until the deliverables are defined in sufficient detail to support future project phases (planning, executing, controlling, and closing).  

Bottom-up Approach

The bottom up approach uses a planning group to brainstorm the work elements that are needed to deliver the major deliverables of the project.  A planner then groups the output from the brainstorming sessions into phases, activities and tasks.   The bottom up approach involves using a small group of people (5-6) who have some subject matter expertise to plan the project. 

The technique uses the brainstorming method to identify the work needing to be performed to deliver a specific thing.  When the project is large or complex, the brainstorming activity is focused on a major deliverable or end product instead of the broader scope of the project.   The results of the brainstorming session, generally are the pieces of work or tasks that the group knows needs to be done.  It is similar to creating a “to-do list”.  One of the planners then takes this information and groups the related work. These groups may then be grouped again to build up to the highest level of definitions.  The information is reviewed with the original group and they modify, fix, and add any missing pieces. 

Monday, July 12, 2004

Project Estimation

As stated so eloquently by Bob Lewis in his book "IS Survival Guide", There is no way for you to successfully estimate projects. Take that as a given. It can't be done, and for a very simple reason: Every one of your projects is one-of-a-kind. Mr. Lewis makes a very good point, however in my experience, I have yet to have met a manager that will let me get away with saying "I can't estimate this project".


I like to call the solution to this problem rolling-wave estimating. By that I mean when the project is in the initiation phase and you have very little information your estimate should reflect that fact. This means very early in the project your estimate(s) could be off by as much as +200/-75% (or more). As you progress through the project planning phase you will breakdown the project into smaller, more manageable pieces of work (decomposition). This process helps to narrow the range of your estimates.

Do not be fooled into thinking that because you have broken down your project into phases and/or small manageable pieces of work that you can just add up the estimates and have a total overall project estimate. Many times, especially on IT projects, there are integration issues that are difficult to estimate and are usually ignored in the planning phase. Do not forget to add time for these critical integration activities. Also, while padding of estimates is a no-no, don't forget to account for Risk in your project estimates. PMI advocates for contingency and management reserves to account for risk events, but I have not worked in an environment where these exist so I have to plan for Risk in my estimates.

Be smart when estimating and realize that in the IT world estimates are always wrong and tasks are always underestimated.

Managing a Project in Steps

Everyone should know that for an initiative to be considered a project it must have an actual start and end date. Additionally, the project must needs a scope statement, budget, and resources.

The work in a project is considered to be unique. There may be similarities to previous projects, but no two projects are exactly the same because you will always be dealing with different circumstances and resources.

There are many different ways to manage projects and organize the work. We want to manage projects in an organized fashion using a methodology that has either been tested by others, or created for our own environment.

Step I use to manage a project are:

1. Define the Work (Concept Documents, Business Case, Charter)
2. Create the Plan (WBS, MS Work, Project, Excel)
3. Manage to the Plan (Earned Value)
4. Manage Issues
5. Manage the Scope (from the Scope Statement)
6. Manage Communications (Status Reports, Meetings)
7. Manage Risks (Risk Management Plan)
8. Manage Documentation (Document Management, Intranet/Internet)
9. Manage Quality (Quality Plan)
10. Manage Metrics (Status Reports, Earned Value)

It is important to remember as the complexity of your projects increases you will need to delve deeper and deeper into the Ten steps listed above. An excellent resource that explains how to use the above process steps is

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


While getting ready to leave for the day I was reminded of a quote by Tom Peters, "Commitment, not authority produces results". All project stakeholders need to be committed to seeing that a project's objectives are met, but more importantly they need to be open, effective, and honest when it comes to their communications with the other team members and management.

To support the project team and ensure their success, management must provide the best people to participate on project teams, and have a deep seated belief that the people on the team are intelligent, creative, and have the capability to succeed.

The entire project team and all levels of management involved must have the attitude that they will do everything possible to ensure that the customer (end user) is satisfied with the product of the project.

The number one measure of Project Success is Customer Satisfaction. Having a set of "shared values" will help a project team increase customer satisfaction for every project they support.

More Project Management Communications Information

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), "Project Communications includes the processes required to ensure timely and appropriate generation, collection, dissemination, storage, and ultimate disposition of project information. It provides critical links among people, ideas, and information that are necessary for success. Everyone involved in the project must be prepared to send and receive communications, and must understand how the communications in which they are involved affect the projects as a whole".

What does this mean in the real world? Keep those that need to know informed. Use face-to-face meetings, phone calls, e-mails, status reports, project status web sites, meetings, and other ways to keep users abreast of project progress, issues, and concerns.

Be aware that on many projects there will be stakeholders that are out to sabotage your project. Sometimes these actions will be obvious, and sometimes the signs will be subtle. Occasionally the saboteur doesn't even realize the damage they are doing. It could be just the way in which they go about doing their job. They may be confrontational with everyone they work with and they may not care what others think. Be prepared to gently confront these stakeholders and escalate through the management chain if necessary to keep your project's communications effective and relevant.

PMI considers Project Communications to be very important. It is one of the nine knowledge areas as defined by PMI's PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). It is an area of knowledge you must master to be a successful project manager, and if you hope to pass the Project Management Professional certification exam.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Project Communications

Good communications are a necessity if you want to have success on your projects. You need continual, effective communications among all team members during the life of the project if you want to minimize problems with stakeholders.

Agreements must be made early on regarding goals, how problems will be addressed and solved, how resources will be managed, and how the expectations of stakeholders will be satisfied. Project Communications are conducted throughout the lifecycle of the project. When the customer creates a business case or project request they start the communications process and the activities that follow (Project Charter, Statement of Work, Work Breakdown Structure, etc) support the project's communications effort. All project teams need to keep in mind the four major communication areas they must support.

RESPONSIBILITY: Each member of the team needs to be aware of their role on the team and their responsibilities.

COORDINATION: Information among team members is shared and each member works to carry out their assignments in the time allotted.

STATUS: Progress is tracked, issues are identified, and action is taken to remedy any problems. Project status reports are distributed to all project stakeholders.

AUTHORIZATION: Team members must be kept informed about decisions made by customers, vendors, sponsors, and management personnel that relate to the project.

Initial Posting

As a project manager working for a County Government I am faced with challenges everyday that I didn't often experience in the private sector. Hidden agendas, internal politics, and silo mentalities make for an environment that has many pitfalls, but also many rewards.

In the seventeen years I have been a project manager I have prided myself on my ability to work with others towards a common goal. I feel that a project manager's greatest attribute is his or her communication skills and the ability to be flexible when presented with a challenge. My goal in creating this BLOG is to pass along some of my thoughts and learnings, which will hopefully help you to avoid repeating the mistakes I have made over the years.

Stephen Seay, PMP