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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

My Love/Hate Relationship with Project Teams

Project teams can be a project manager's greatest resource or can be a huge impediment to getting things done. I have a lot of opinions about project teams and most people would find them to be controversial. I will state them here and hope for feedback.

My general theories about project teams follow:

Project teams tend to waste a lot of time, and like to blame others (outside the team) for lack of project process

Project team members are rarely on the same page

Internal politics doom many project teams from the start

Project managers usually don't have the ability to reward or punish bad behavior

One or two "bad apples" can spoil the whole bunch

Many functional managers don't believe they have to support project teams, and at times they do all they can to undermine the team approach to managing projects

A "visionary" is a person that is usually disengaged from everything and accountable for nothing

Lack of leadership, direction, and follow-up from top management is the number one cause of project team failure

If you have a member of your project team that would rather be doing something else, do everything you can to grant their wish

Most project managers are wimps when it comes to managing individual members of their teams

Lots of organizations talk a good talk when it comes to project management and teams, then go about managing change using the same old failed processes

Many project team members are loyal to their functional departments, not to the project

Teams by nature are dysfunctional, and because of this fact the project schedule and estimates should reflect this

Dysfunctional project teams are the fault of senior management because of their refusal to attend important project team meetings

Many project teams are composed of the wrong people doing the wrong things at the wrong times.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Mr. Common Sense. Mr. Sense had been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such value lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm and that life isn't always fair. Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not kids, are in charge).

His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place - reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Mr. Sense declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student; but, could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Finally, Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense finally gave up the ghost after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, she spilled a bit in her lap, and was awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust, his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by two stepbrothers; My Rights and Ima Whiner. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.

Author Unknown.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Estimates Are Always wrong?

I have been burned more times than I can count by bad estimates. What can a project manager do to help ensure the accuracy of estimates?

First we should understand the basics behind the estimating process (there are many more than I have listed here). Some are:
  • The more unique the project, the more of a challenge it will be to get good estimates
  • Estimates are only as good as the estimator is at predicting the future
  • "Padded" estimates are not always bad as long as the padding is communicated (... and as long as the Project Manager is the one doing the "padding")
  • An estimate is not a bid
  • Estimates using sound estimating practices, performed by experienced estimators from clear specifications should never be negotiated
  • Ballpark estimates are guesses and should be treated as much by the project team, management, and the project sponsor
Other items to consider when estimating are:
  • Ensure the statement of work or contract is clear and understood by the person(s) doing the estimates
  • Ensure that a schedule or mandated date doesn't drive the estimating thought process
  • Include Risk Management in the estimating process
  • Ensure that estimates take into account the skill level(s) of the person(s) that will do the work
  • If your work breakdown structure (WBS) is flawed, your estimates will be inaccurate
Accurate estimating is an art and a science. The estimator (or team) must take into account historical data from past proejcts, the team's knowledge and experience, the project risks, the statement of work and other project information to make the best estimate possible.

Keep in mind when planning your project that estimates aren't hard and fast numbers. They are guesses, however they should be very good guesses if you have good estimators and are following tried and true estimating practices.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Leadership Void

"What creates trust, in the end, is the leader's manifest respect for the followers" - Jim O'Toole, Leadership Change.

I read that quote this morning and after thinking about it I realized that in many of the places I have worked there has been a consistent lack of respect shown to the followers by the leaders, which ultimately results in a Leadership Void. A Leadership Void exists when the goals of the leaders aren't embraced by the followers. Respect, or lack of it plays a big part in helping to create this void.

So what do you do when you are in an environment with a Leadership Void. My advice is to start modeling the behaviors of tried and true leaders.

Some Leadership principles I have come to believe are:

Be consistent in what you say and do. Inconsistency shows a lack of focus. Being inconsistent will undermine your credibility with others.

As a leader you will need to provide focus, constancy of purpose, and clear direction to your team. The problem with many leaders isn't a lack of personality or charisma, it is a lack of focus and follow-through.

When leading remember "beware of no man more than thyself" - Thomas Fuller. Ask for feedback from others. Remember the higher the leader is in an organization the more blind spots he or she will experience.

A good leader is a master of the big picture and is knowledgeable of the details. A leader that isn't willing to get involved in the details is just plain lazy and won't have the respect of the team they are leading.

Be careful about negative assumptions. Leaders that are high achievers know their behavior tells the truth about their assumptions.

Leaders ensure that their followers know where they fit into the big picture.

Leaders who underestimate the intellect of others tend to overestimate their own.

Other things that are always displayed by a leader are the ability to:

Create and nurture a vision


Leave their ego at the door

Think before acting (not quick to criticize)

Be a risk taker

State and meet commitments

Be a role model

Be a risk taker

Have a can do attitude

Encourage success

and finally...

  1. Walk around and talk to people (this doesn't happen much where I work)
  2. Schedule monthly one-on-one interviews
  3. Conduct regular formal group surveys and do something with the data
  4. Pick areas where Quality is lacking and form teams to fix the problem

What do you think. I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Project Management Goals for 2006

Setting Personal Goals for 2006

Since the new year has begun, it is time to look at my goals from last year and make some changes. Last year's goals (listed in previous posting) have for the most part been carried over into this year, with some revisions. While goal setting is important, measuring progress towards achieving the goals is imperative. Some measures can only be gathered by asking others for feedback. I vow to solicit feedback from my peers and incorporate their comments into my behavior.

Be an effective listener

Plan each project with the end (deliverables) in mind

Conduct more face-to-face conversations

Lead by example

Evaluate criticism from others and use it to be a better project manager

Know that failures will occur and plan (or replan) accordingly

Be positive, enthusiastic, and supportive of others

Project Management Strategies

We all need a strategy to succeed in life. In the project management world there are many different opinions regarding how to successfully manage a project. One of the most important things we need to do in project management is manage the expectations and relationships with our stakeholders. Some things to keep in mind to help us manage our stakeholders are:

Assess the culture (Is it supportive, what is the balance of power, what are the stakeholder attitudes)

Identify the goals of the stakeholders and sponsor (Are the goals realistic, attainable, communicated)

Assess our own capabilities and limitations (Are you politically savvy, respected, a good negotiator)

Define the problem (Define goals, risks, relationships)

Develop solutions (Create action plan, determine the right solution for the right time)

Test and refine the solutions (New learnings must be incorporated, replan, retool, rethink)