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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

When Project Managers Attack!

As a project manager I have had my share of frustrations over the course of my career. Some days while working on certain projects I feel like why bother. I get to the point of thinking, if others don't care about the project's objectives, why should I? I can only give one good reason why the project manager should care about their projects; THAT IS WHAT WE GET PAID TO DO!

Certainly there are other reasons to care: a sense of ownership, responsibility to our customers, a commitment to finish what we started, personal pride, professional integrity, because it is the right thing to do, because others are counting on us, because as leaders we must always do what is expected, etc, etc, etc...

Project managers wear many hats. We are members of teams, leaders of teams, we are followers, we are stakeholders, we are fiscal planners, we are risk managers, risk takers, planners, schedulers, mentors, quality assurance reps, writers, motivators, listeners, we are empathetic, we are sympathetic, we demonstrate common sense when others don't, we demonstrate a fair and balanced approach to problems, and lots more.... You get the idea. You can see why we are sometimes frustrated. You can see why we need to be as professional as we can all the time.

I have communicated with many people that read this blog, and there is a lot of frustration out there in the Project Management world. The consensus seems to be that yes, there are organizations that do a good job of Project Management and have a great support structure for their project managers. But, it seems that a large majority of organizations don't do a very good job implementing and/or supporting project management, and according to what I hear, quite a few do a terrible job.

In many organizations the project manager position (if one exists) isn't viewed as a profession, but a job that can be performed by virtually anyone in the organization. That can be frustrating for those of us that consider ourselves to be professionals. We all get frustrated sometimes no matter what job we have. We all feel like we aren’t being supported which can lead us to believe that we are being “setup to fail”.

You know what, we all get paid to do a job, and sometimes the job isn't easy, fun, or structured the way we would like. If our managers value us as individuals then they should be willing to hear our ideas about what we need to be successful.

Keep in mind; the project manager can’t be successful on his or her own. They need a management structure in place that is committed to seeing Project Management succeed. Management must at least agree that Project Management adds or can add Value. Management must be able to state the Value that Project Management is adding or should be adding to the organization. If management can’t do that then you probably need to find a new place to work. It is that important.

As you probably know by reading this blog I usually try to reinforce the basics of Project Management, and today won't be any different.

Rule #1 - Team Conflict hurts Projects!

Team members need to remember that they must manage their departmental responsibilities as well as their project tasks to support the project to which they are assigned. Their management needs to assist the team members in setting priorities so that the project work doesn't suffer when the departmental work becomes more important.

Rule 2 - Management Apathy Hurts Projects!

All levels of impacted management must remember that if they are not engaged and interested in a project's success then their lack of support is a major contributor to project failure.

Rule #3 - Poor Planning Hurts Projects!

Project Management can only work when the project manager is given time to plan properly. Also, the project sponsor must explain the project's objectives clearly, and most importantly, obtain the entire team's commitment to meet the all of the project's objectives (this is a critical planning component). Simple project management principle: If you Fail to Plan, then you Plan to Fail. The failure to allow enough time for proper project planning is the sponsor's fault.

Keep fighting the Good Fight!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Loose Lips Sink Ships!

Have you ever heard of the "Three Ships to Success"? The one that is considered the best to have and/or demonstrate is Kinship. Kinship requires that you take time to nurture and build your relationships to make them stronger. The second ship is Sponsorship. This requires that a senior person in your organization take a personal interest in your career and your success. The third ship is Showmanship. This ship is your ability to delight and amaze your superiors, peers, and subordinates with your abilities and talents. While the three ships are important, without ability, skill, and knowledge the three ships will not take you very far.

While you work on your "three ships", keep in mind that if you work in a highly political environment you need to work on the following:

Don't criticize others.
Use data to back up your claims and don't exaggerate your needs or your customer's requirements.
Try to understand the political process where you work no matter how hard that may be.
Understand that many rules are out of date, no longer make sense, are not enforced, and are often ignored. Use this to your advantage, but never at the expense of another person, group, or your organization's reputation.
Prove yourself through your efforts, not by talking about what you once did.
Be respectful of others. Keep in mind they determine if you are treating them with respect, not you.
Be reasonable (this can be difficult). Note - I'm not sure who determines reasonableness.

On a personal note, I have never liked or performed up to my highest potential in highly political environments. The things I have listed above are weaknesses of mine and are things I need to work on to be a better project manager.

Remember relationships based on personal preference and personal styles are often major contributors to highly political organizations. Lastly, keep in mind the perceived and demonstrated values of your organization will drive the politics.

Rule of the day, the Three Ships of Success can help you to overcome political hurdles.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Project Management - Don't Do These Things

Don’t believe everything you are told about a potential project’s benefits. Investigate for yourself and plan accordingly.

Don’t take on a project that doesn’t have a strong sponsor that is committed to seeing the project succeed.

Don't forget that most project assumptions should also be risks.

Don't set project expectations that are higher than reality can deliver.

Don't try to define reality too early in the project planning phase.

Don’t define solutions that do not address needs.

Don’t forget to manage customer expectations.

Don’t forget to thank your team members for the good job they are doing.

Don’t be a whiner. A leader never whines and a whiner never leads.

Don’t forget that leaders need to have credibility.

Don’t forget that credibility requires honesty, dedication, commitment, and capability.

Don’t forget that people are the number one reason for project failure.

Don’t forget that empowering teams is a management function.

Don’t allow others to influence your attitude. Be positive in the face of adversity.

Don’t forget to have fun while working on your projects.

Don’t forget that Project Management is mostly art and some science.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Four Project Principles - Don't believe the Hype!

As I was reminded recently, it is always good to go back to the basics of what you know when confronted with issues that seem overwhelming.

Here are four basic Project Principles and some of my ideas regarding what to watch out for when managing your projects. As always, I welcome your feedback.

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(1) Projects are often constrained from the start (Initiation Phase) by a fixed, finite budget and defined timeline. In other words, many projects have budgets that have strictly defined constraints and a timeline with a set start and end date. This is obvious to all project managers, however what is not so obvious is many times these budget and timelines are not sufficient (or realistic) to accomplish the project’s objectives. From the start, ensure the project sponsor is aware that budget and timelines may need to be renegotiated as project planning progresses.

(2) Projects can have many complex and interrelated activities that need to be coordinated so that proper organizational resources can be applied at the proper time. The big thing to watch out for here is "proper organizational resources". While you may not have input on which resources you get for your project, you do have input on the project’s estimates and schedule. Do not allow others to dictate unrealistic schedules or estimates for resources that are unproven, unreliable or untested.

(3) Projects are directed toward the attainment of a clearly defined objective(s) and once they are achieved, the project is over. Yea, right! Not all projects have clearly defined objectives, and if they do, they are not always achievable given the budget, time, and organizational constraints. Not only that, your organization’s culture can be a huge impediment to successfully managing your project. Be very careful when accepting a new project to ensure you are not being setup to fail. Do not accept projects with unclear or unrealistic objectives.

(4) Projects are unique. Because they are unique, the risks are great and failure is always an option. Minimize the risks by informing your sponsor that until you are finished with your initial project planning activities you may not be able to provide realistic budget and time estimates. Once you have completed your initial project planning activities, (project planning is continuous) provide your sponsor with an estimated budget and time range, and remind him or her that as planning progresses these ranges will be adjusted to closer reflect reality.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Strategic Planning and Other Myths

Are your completed projects adding value to the organization? Was an ROI calculated for the project during or prior to Project Initiation? Did the project benefits ever come to fruition?

Virtually all projects - unless mandated by law or born out of technical or business necessity - should either reduce costs or increase efficiency. One way to ensure the organization will be working on the right projects at the right time is to involve the executives up front in aligning, prioritizing, and ranking proposed projects, and then ensuring they link to the Strategic Plan. If the proposed projects do not align to your organizations strategic goals then they should not be undertaken.

If your organization is good at Strategic Planning, you can avoid many of the traps that plague most organizations.

Poor Strategic Planning Traits:

There is no formal document that links the organization's projects to the organization’s strategic goals and plan.

Senior Management is not engaged in strategic planning, which leads to complaining later about how long it takes to get projects completed and frustration over why certain projects were cancelled or not started.

Projects are started without enough resources or have poorly qualified resources assigned to them.

Many projects that are completed do not achieve any improvements and actually end up costing the organization more money than if they had not undertaken the project.

Project priorities continually change, and resources are always in flux or in conflict with competing organizational needs

Project Managers have low morale and are pessimistic about achieving their project objectives

Executives have set measures that relate to their silos, which can conflict with what is best for the organization

Business plans ignore systems that are broken or in need or repair/replacement

Poor strategic planning almost always leads to undertaking wasteful projects. Even a good strategic plan will not be successful if the organization does not have the right people, tools, and data in place to support the organization's goals.