Tag Archives: management

Do you praise your teams enough?

Guest post by Erika Flora

Years ago, I heard this great quote that has really stuck with me and become somewhat of a mantra. It is as follows:

There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.

General of the Army George C. Marshall

Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye recognized for bravery under fire in Afghanistan - by US Army Africa via Flickr

Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye recognized for bravery under fire in Afghanistan - by US Army Africa via Flickr

What a fabulous concept! Often, we are so worried about our own jobs and careers that we don?t take the time to think about those around us and make sure we help them get what they want. Ever since I started making a conscious effort to really ?let go? of who gets the credit, my work attitude has completely changed. In addition, the way my team and others around me view my work has completely changed. They realize that I am their champion, and they work hard to perform to the best of their abilities. Rather than spending time worrying about whether executive management sees all the great things I am doing, and position myself accordingly for that next great promotion, I focus on mentoring others and helping those around me get recognized for their hard work. I actually spend part of my work week thinking about how I can bring visibility and kudos to the efforts of my teams.

Too often, when employees are surveyed in their companies, many of them say that they feel their work is not valued or that no one has told them in the last six months that they appreciate them. How terrible! The best thing we can do for our coworkers, direct reports, colleagues, and project teams is to find creative ways to show them our thanks and make sure everyone in our company knows that they are making a valuable contribution. We all love to get praised for our hard work. Make sure you are taking the time to proactively do that for others.

Many companies have put great examples of this concept in place. When I worked with Pfizer, they implemented something called a Pfish program where you could send a Pfish card to a colleague for a variety of reasons (being a team player, going the extra mile, or even just making your day). Every week, the people that had received a Pfish card were entered into a raffle for a gift card. However, the very best thing about the Pfish card program was that the recipient?s boss was copied on the email that they received. It was a really fun program and one that made employees feel special and appreciated.

However, you don?t need a company program to show your appreciation for others. Here are some really easy things you can do to make a big difference in the lives of those around you ? Submit your project team for an internal company award, external ?Project of the Year?, or other award. There are lots of professional organizations that look for a variety of award submissions and, many times, are excited to get new submissions from companies or people they have not heard from before. Log onto LinkedIn and write unsolicited recommendations for people you have enjoyed working with. Send a short email to a coworker?s boss thanking them for going the extra mile on a difficult project. Start a ?Thanks a latte!? newsletter that thanks your team members by name and post it up at work, maybe even leave a small Starbucks gift card on their desk before they get into work. The more creative and silly, the better! You will be surprised by the results. It seems counter-intuitive, but we as project managers end up shining the brightest when our teams shine. What other examples have you seen or done to brighten the day for those you work with and help them get the kudos they richly deserve?

Erika Flora, PMP, ITIL Expert
[email protected]

Introducing “Critical Chain Project Management”

Critical Chain - photo by Ella's Dad via Flickr

Critical Chain - photo by Ella's Dad via Flickr

CCPM. Have you heard about this project management framework? What about the concept of critical path? If you have ever been exposed to project schedules, the latter would probably ring a bell. Critical path is the shortest distance to project acceptance and completion. If the project has 10 tasks to deliver, and 8 of them are critical for acceptance, the critical path will comprise of those 8 tasks. Makes sense?

CCPM is a framework build around the critical path concept. To me it is an effective scheduling technique that enables project managers to truly plan a project instead of merely stringing tasks together to an end date. True planning calls fot a great deal of thought that should go into executing a project and steer it towards success. But to do that, we need to first understand project failure.

Why do projects fail? According to Allan Elder’s whitepaper (link below), most projects fail to meet deadlines on time, on budget, and on scope (OTOBOS) due to the following 5 reasons or diseases of project management:

(a) We are victims of “Bad Multi-Tasking“. In short, we have too many tasks on our plate mainly due to a lack of planning from the task assignor/delegator – your Manager or ‘You, Inc.’ – thus leading to bad task prioritization to procrastination to burnout.

(b) Parkinson’s Law i.e. Work expands so as to fill the time available for completion. The safety we’ve built into our estimates with an intent to avoid the worst case scenario somehow transforms into being our best case scenario. And we are not incentivized to do otherwise.

(c) The ‘Student Syndrome’ is in us and we cannot escape it. So, lets accept the fact that due to the above 2 reasons we are not going to work on that task until the 11th hour – the time we need just enough to complete the task and meet the deadline. We dont know how we do it but we do.

(d) Task Dependency for the wrong reasons. Project completion is dependent on all its tasks being completed on time (task completion date) and on budget (resource availability) but when tasks are integrated, projects get penalized due to time wastage and resources being under-committed.

(e) Task Completion ? Task Delivery. We tend ignore those sneaky little unplanned and unforeseen events that cause delays in the delivery of completed tasks. Project progress is measured based on the tasks completed and not task hand-offs.

CCPM is based on the ‘Theory Of Constraints’ methodologies and is said to have proven a high rate of project success when implemented right. I have not tried it out yet but am in the process on learning how to. Walk with me on this critical path to success and we’ll find out how to keep our projects OTOBOS.

In my follow-up to this post, I will dive more into how CCPM works. Meanwhile, please do read “The Five Diseases of Project Mangement” (PDF) to understand the above reasons in detail. This whitepaper is a keeper.



I’m new to PMstudent and I’m developing my interest in Project Management.

Currently, I am involved in a task of trying to identify possible deliverables for an Alternative School Program with an objective to help young people unleash their intelligence and positive energy to rebuild their communities and lives through the program. Can anyone suggest possible Deliverables for this program?

The Alternative School Program is designed and targeted towards young, low-income people between the ages 18-25 where they can work towards their high school certificate while learning job skills like building affordable houses for other homeless and low-income people. Strong emphasis will be placed on leadership and community service.

I am asking about what the deliverables of this particular project could/should/would be since I’m new to Project Management and the word ‘Deliverable’ in particular. I would like to know exactly how to identify deliverables properly for my projects and how to arrive best at the deliverables myself.

I would also like to know about deliverables for a project to set up the Alternative School Program. I’ll be starting a degree program in Project Management next year and would like to start learning right now.

[Editor:? I want to thank Aniekan for having the courage to post in order to learn about project management! This sounds like an excellent endeavor.

My first comment is to not get caught up in terminology yet.? If you have someone who you are working for, be sure you understand the initial goals from their perspective.? Make a list of what you will do and will not do as a part of this project based on those high-level goals.? You can write this up as a preliminary scope statement, but there are many ways to go about all these things.

Write those high-level things you will do in the form of outputs…products or services.? There may only be a few.? Then break down these items by thinking through what it will take to produce them.? Keep breaking them down until they can be effectively managed and executed.

In the end, you will probably find that some of the high-level things are deliverables for the project, and some are lower-level things you came up with.

This is a simple way to do it that I laid out based on my (very limited) understanding of your situation.? There are many other ways to approach it.? I have found, however, that it is best to approach a new subject like this one step at a time.? Great project managers take decades to grow.

Please, everyone else lend your advice to our new friend as well. Thanks!]

Practice Project Management at home

As a Mom, it is important to know exactly where everyone is at any given time, how long they are going to be there, and what they are doing while they are there.? Other than that, it’s pretty simple.

As a Project Manager, it is important to know exactly what task each project resource is working on?at any given time, how long they will be working on?that task?, what they are doing and why they are doing it.? Other than that, it’s pretty simple.

A Mom is?the “boss” of the house.? They make the rules as they go along and everyone just does what they are told.? If they decide to change the process, they don’t need to clear it with anyone, they just announce that expectations have changed, then everyone complies with the new rules.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this actually worked?? But, that is not the case.? A Mom/Project Manager must earn the respect of their team whether the team is their family at home or their colleagues at work.? The first step in earning respect is giving respect.? When you respect the team, they will respect you.

Flickr Attribution:  cambodia4kidsorg

Flickr Attribution: cambodia4kidsorg

When Mom decides to change the rules, she should get input from her team (the children) before imposing her new rules.? This doesn’t mean that the children get to make the rules, but by feeling that they are a part of the process, they will embrace the upcoming changes and they will be more willing to adhere to them.? Likewise, a Project Manager should seek input from their team before making any process changes.

Exactly how should a Project Manager introduce a process change?? First, they need to examine the existing process to determine where and if a change is actually needed.? Take the time to map out the current process and share it with the team.? If the process was not previously documented, the team may not have fully understood what was required of them.? This may solve the process issue at hand.

Once the process has been documented and shared with the team, ask for feedback on where the team feels there are inefficiencies or room for improvement.? The team may be doing more or less work than is required at any point in the process.? Understanding and following the now clarified process may solve the issue at hand.

When the current process has been documented, reviewed and discussed, try it for a few weeks before examining where changes should be implemented.

If a change is required, the next step is to brainstorm with the team on areas for improvement.? This will satisfy two requirements for change: 1) The team becomes engaged and ready to accept a change ; 2) The Project Manager is not on their own to create the new process.

In extreme cases, a Change Management consultant should be brought in to facilitate the process change.

We are operating in a world where change is the new normal.? To succeed, we need to manage change in a way that people who are adverse to it, will embrace it.

Fortunately for the Mom, children are very adapable and will readily accept of change; however, the Project Manager is usually dealing with adults who are not as open to following the “new” rules.? By soliciting input from the team, everyone will feel that they had a part in creating the new process thereby motivating them to embrace it.

Avoid the Same Old Mistakes by Focusing on Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

It’s said there are no new project management sins, just old ones repeated. It’s also said that we don’t learn the lessons from past projects and this must be true, otherwise why would we keep making the same old mistakes.

In his article, “Lessons Learned: Why Don’t we Learn From Them?” Derry Simmel, board member of PMI’s PMO SIG, identifies two common problems preventing us learning valuable lessons from past projects:

  1. We think the lessons don’t apply to us.
  2. We want to get things done

“The sad truth is that these lessons learned are useful. That time spent in doing the work better is time well spent. That getting it right the first time is cheaper and easier than doing it now and fixing it later,” Derry says.

So if we accept that lessons from past projects are indeed useful and can prevent problems later down the line; how can organisations create a lessons learned culture where people not only take the trouble to learn from past projects, but actually want to learn. A culture where we apply best practices and discard bad ones.


For new initiatives to succeed it’s usually best to take a top down approach. The organisation’s senior leadership need to foster and support a lessons learned culture. This is likely to be more successful and long lasting than a bottom up approach, although this could have limited success if project managers promote it strongly themselves.

Given top level support, enough time and buy-in from project managers, lessons learned will become part of the organisation’s culture and part of its continuous improvement process.

Process for Capturing Lessons Learned

If project managers are going to actively contribute to the project management knowledge within an organisation and make use of it, then we have to make it easy for them. Nobody is going to go out of their way to do it. So it’s important to have a well defined and simple process for collecting, collating, analysing and disseminating lessons learned. It could be along the lines of discover – recommend – document – share – review – store – retrieve.


Project teams should learn to identify lessons during projects and record them for inclusion in a lessons learned report at the end of the project. This might be done as part of their regular team meetings.

A sign that a project may be having a “lessons learned moment,” is when the resources or customers are unhappy and discussing problems between themselves outside team and other project meetings. Lessons may also crop up during a project when team members identify areas for improvement.

Arrange regular brainstorming sessions with the project team, with an independent facilitator, to unearth valuable lessons. Don’t leave it until the end of the project when memories have faded.

Lessons can be discovered by asking these three questions:

  1. What went right?
  2. What went wrong?
  3. What could have been better?

Use the facilitator to document the lessons, keep the meeting focussed on key issues, and steer the discussion in the right direction.


Project managers and their teams should make recommendations. What would they do differently if they could go back and start over again?

This needs a degree of honesty that some team members may find uncomfortable. The feedback needs to be constructive and avoid getting personal. We are not looking to play the blame game here; we need to understand how things could be done better in the future.

For this to work effectively the organisation’s leadership needs to reward this honesty, and demonstrate it will not have a negative impact on individual careers.

Document and Share

It is important to document and share findings. The best way to do this is by creating a standard lessons learned report and a repository with good meta-data to help with identification. This should be kept updated with lessons from the most recent projects in order to take account of the current working environment, structures and constraints.

Standard format reports and meta-data will make it easier when reviewing multiple documents and searching the repository using keywords and phrases.


It is the job of the Project Management Office (PMO) to review lessons learned reports and pull out issues that arise multiple times. Recurring issues can be surfaced and presented in a general “read this first” list of lessons.

The PMO must look at what makes projects succeed and what makes them fail, and give recommendations that sit along side those of the project teams.


Lessons learned must be stored in a central repository with general access. Create a system for storage and retrieval of lessons. Online systems are ideal for this, giving easy access to the lessons. Most organisations have portals and Intranets that can be used for this purpose.


Retrieving lessons learned on a regular basis must be part of the organisation’s culture. Project managers should be expected to retrieve and review lessons prior to commencing a project. They should have this as part of their annual performance objectives and be able to demonstrate they have retrieved, reviewed and applied lessons wherever applicable.


Creation of a successful lessons learned culture needs leadership support as well as time and buy-in from project managers. Implementation of a simple process for collecting, collating, analysing and disseminating lessons learned is essential if it’s to be adopted.

Once lessons have been captured, they need to be made available to all project teams to help them avoid repeating problems of the past. It is important that these teams understand what past projects have to tell them and act upon that information.

History has a strange way of repeating itself. If we don’t take time to learn the lessons of the past, and moreover act upon them, we will continue to commit the same project management sins again and again. And don’t think it won’t happen to you, it will.

Remember, in the words of Derry Simmel, “…time spent in doing the work better is time well spent.”

Read more about Lessons Learned

Point and Shoot Project Management

My day job entails helping companies implement new project management software. Of all the companies I have worked with, including a number of household names, I would estimate that less than 5% of the managers I work with have any formal project management training. Most managers have project management training by experience in the trenches. Unfortunately, most never leave the trenches and get a better view and experience of project management. It is my experience that while there are many project managers, there are few excellent ones.

About ten years ago, I decided I wanted to learn to be a real photographer. I was tired of the point and shoot experience where more luck than skill was involved in the success of the picture. However, I quickly learned that becoming a serious photographer was quite the expensive undertaking. Besides the expense of upgrading to a professional camera, I was lacking training on how to actually use the machine. Not to mention, the cost of additional equipment ranging from lenses to tripods, and bags to filters. Lastly, the cost of film and development was high. These all became a large barrier to becoming the photographer I wanted to be. Being a college student at the time, I could not really afford to learn photography at a satisfactory pace.

However, over the past few years, new technology has largely reduced the barrier to entry and photography is now a hobby for the masses. In fact, my ability to take endless pictures without film and development costs along with the new built-in tools of my newest camera provides me the ability to progress rapidly. In many ways I can also make up for my mistakes using software and other photography tricks. I am no longer in the gloomy trenches of poor photography, but find encouragement and joy in my success.

I have observed that project management as a whole has paralleled somewhat the changes we have witnessed in photography. Project management also has been a skill for the few, with the barrier to entry being quite high. However, people have still been required to manage projects. Now, similar to photography, we are seeing a boom in technology that is leveling the playing field and giving opportunities for the average manager to be an excellent manager. From new software that is principle based and collaborative to online blogs, courses, books, and other excellent resources, project management is more accessible than ever.

The key to this change from mediocrity to excellence is not simply technology, however. No technology is by itself enough to make a manager excellent. Like photography, the barrier to entry is lowered, but the effort to take advantage of it still requires an investment.

Point and shoot project management just isn?t sufficient. Project managers need to learn the basic principles and best practices for project management. Many, if not most, of these principles are methodology-independent and can be learned for free or low cost through online resources, books, or even courses. The project management tools now available do not require a degree in project management or a PMP. They do, however, require a basic understanding of project management.

Most managers have grown up learning point and shoot project management. Trial and error project management is far too expensive, but it continues to be the most dominant. Organizations and individuals need to put forth the investment to learn. The lower barrier to entry should encourage us all to take project management to the masses!

Leading and Managing: A False Dichotomy

Kimberly Wiefling is on a leadership blogging kick this week over at the UCSC Extension in Silicon Valley’s “Art of Project Management” blog. Manage Cows, but LEAD People talks about the difference between management and leadership. Her post points out that just because someone is in a high level management position, that doesn’t mean they act like true leaders.

Sometimes leadership and management are put forth as a false dichotomy. They are really separate activities that can exist alone or together. When I first started managing people, I remember going to leadership training and how many managers insisted they were not managers at all, but leaders. That always seemed strange to me. Why does it have to be either/or?

You can be a manager without being a leader. You can be a leader without being a manager. If you have skill in both, they can create a synergy and really get people motivated and effective. In fact, I’m not even sure you can be a truly effective leader without great management skills, and vise-versa.

What are your thoughts on how leadership and management relate to one another? Please, leave a comment!

project management basics

Bringing Support Activity into Portfolio Management

In an article at [email protected], Tom Mochal discusses how enhancement work not directly related to a project should be added to the managed portfolio. This way, the business can ensure that the dollars are being spent in the most effective way on these non-project activities.

I agree with what Tom is saying. A point I’d like to add is that value judgment is in the eye of the beholder, and incentives are different for a portfolio manager than they are for a developer or department. The “enhancement” being worked on by a few individuals may take a lot of effort, but is the work being subjected to cost-benefit analysis beforehand? If it is not being managed with the rest of the portfolio, maybe not.

For instance, a developer may have a great idea about migrating an internal support application from one platform to another. There are many benefits of doing so, it will be faster and he can also make it look nicer while he’s at it.

But what if it works great just the way it is? What if the changes will create dissatisfaction for the users within the company? What if the business processes already have slack time for the application because the user is doing something else, and the increased speed will not result in overall improvement because it’s not the bottleneck in the first place?

These are questions a portfolio manager may want answered. A department head or manager may be more concerned about holding on to their budget than doing ROI analysis with all of these support activities. It’s all about incentives. The department head may be able to say we “doubled the application speed” and that looks great on a quarterly report.

Bringing some of these decisions into a portfolio with defined projects would certainly help ensure that the incentives of the decision-maker is more in line with the incentives of the business as a whole.

project management basics

Lessons Learned from Anita Wotiz

Anita Wotiz is the guest blogger this week over at the UCSC Extension in Silicon Valley Project Management blog. She published great post titled “An unrepeatable success?” Read it here.

It was great to hear about the project, specifically the lessons learned and trying to relate them to my own experience.

I wouldn’t write the first set of factors off as things that can’t be duplicated. Sure, it’s easier in some cases because these things fall into your lap, but these can be influenced to some extent. Paraphrased:

  1. Good team (competent, cooperative) –A PM can sometimes influence who works on their project, and ensure they are competent. Cooperation and team spirit is largely influenced by the PM, in my experience.
  2. Exciting work –Not every project is glamorous on the face of it, but the PM can and should figure out how to position the product being created to the team by selling them on how much value it will add for the end users, and how their individual and team contributions make it possible.
  3. Full access/utilization of previous work –Again, this usually doesn’t fall in your lap, but it’s amazing to me how many project managers don’t spend enough time during the planning phases trying find previous work that can be re-used. Many seem to want to re-invent the wheel with each project.

As for the other factors, paraphrased:

  1. Don’t constrain the project to a preconceived solution –Three points; I see this so many times, where the sponsor and stakeholders have a preconceived notion of what the solution should look like before they even fully understand the problem! Granted, sometimes there are real constraints that are necessary. I think it’s human nature to start coming up with possible solutions very early in the process, and difficult to avoid. Personally though, I’ve found the best results come from forcing yourself to focus strictly on the need/problem during early planning, including the charter, preliminary scope statement, and initial requirements gathering processes.
  2. Good WBS creation and decomposition, bottom-up estimating –Bingo! This agrees completely with my experience about what helps make a project successful. I’ve had a lot of luck in the past using a delphi-style method of estimating, where we go through each task in a room with the experts who will be performing them, and each person writes down an optimistic, likely, and pessimistic point estimate. I take all the estimate sheets afterwards and roll them together, ask about any outliers, and can usually come up with pretty good ranged estimates with a solid grasp on standard deviation and confidence levels.
  3. Management cost/time buffers available –I agree that it’s critical for the sponsor/customer to realize that buffers are there for a reason…they are not just downtime or waste, they are crucial components of a good project that can handle the inevitable risks that will arise.
  4. Collaboration –It sounds like Anita was able to get the whole team to collaborate on scheduling by using post-it notes on the wall. I think that is excellent, although alternative methods may work just as well to have the team collaborate on schedule and task dependencies.
  5. Iterative Development –This is a benefit I’ve used and seen in my projects too. If you can push out iterative releases that are functional, you can start getting feedback from the customer and make subsequent development based off a real foundation, instead of a theoretical one. Writing code to specs is one thing, but if you can immediately test it against an initial release of the pieces it has to integrate with, you’re way ahead of the game.

project management basics